Author Archive

Celebrating “The Gathering of the Lost” & The Power of Environment

Having a new book come out is a hugely exciting time and the moment, with a continuing series, where I really have a sense of standing poised between the past and future of the story. Part of that process involves reflecting on the influences that shaped the just-finished book, and whether they will hold the same sway over the next-in-series.

One of the strongest influences on my writing has always been environment – my appreciation of the natural, technological and cultural elements of the surrounding world, with a flow-on to the creation of milieus within my works. This is particularly true of The Gathering of the Lost, where readers will encounter new lands within THE WALL OF NIGHT world, such as the River, Emer, and Aralorn. Imagination certainly counts in fantastic world building, but when writing a great river, for example, it helps to have experienced big river systems, whether the Waikato and Clutha, in my own New Zealand, the Murray in Australia, or the Mississippi in the US. The River in The Gathering of the Lost is not any of those waterways, but I suspect that growing up with the Waikato and the Clutha has helped give it authenticity. I lived close to the Waikato for a considerable period, but did not get to know the Clutha until I was an adult. Yet by then it was already entrenched in the landscape of my imagination—because of family stories and its place in New Zealand’s colonial history of gold mining, as well as its prevalence in photographic and painting art. My own view is that it is not possible to live with a landscape that resonates so powerfully in culture and history and not be influenced by it. After all, even a conscious decision to fight against its sway is still an influence.

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Myth, Legend and History: The Shaping of THE HEIR OF NIGHT

When asked, I always describe The Heir of Night as “classic epic fantasy.” In part this is because it is a hero tale with the fate of the world, and perhaps even of all worlds, at stake. It’s a tale of adventure and magic and battles, of friendship and betrayal and love, of both individuals and a whole people under pressure: all the stuff in which the mythologies and legends that underpin our western culture—the Greek, the Norse and the Celtic, with a fair dash of side influence from the Egyptian and Babylonian—are steeped. The Heir of Night is not a retelling of any particular saga, but it definitely draws on the concerns that inform mythic stories, which are not simply war and hero journeys, but the conflicts surrounding power and the big questions of ethical and/or correct behaviour when tested. So in this sense, it is very much in the classic tradition that goes back well beyond The Lord of the Rings: to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Morte D’Arthur of the medieval era, and further back again, to Beowulf, Sigurd and Cuchulain, Achilles and Penthesilea, Jason and Medea.

But myth and legend are not the only influences I believe shape The Heir of Night’s style of epic fantasy. History also tends to be a major driver, with the classic model for epic worlds, from Middle Earth to Westeros, being primarily medieval. Although there are exceptions, such as the Troy of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Firebrand or the Greece of David Gemmell’s Lion of Macedon, the worlds, their politics and players, as well as weapons and technology are still historically based. The Heir of Night is set in an alternate world, one where the technology and society are fundamentally pre-industrial, although with hints that this might once have been otherwise. Culturally, the basic concept is western European—and other elements from history have definitely informed the story. These include the initial age of the central protagonists as discussed in my recent “The Evolution of Character” post, to the Derai people’s elitism and militarism (think of the Spartans) and the civil strife and prejudice against elements within their own society that has characterised their recent history. (You may take your historical pick of civil wars, from the Roman to the Spanish, as well as a plethora of religious and racial conflicts and discrimination, for source material here!) (more…)

The Evolution of Character: Malian of Night and the Heroic Tradition

Recently I was asked, ‘what makes Malian, your main character in The Heir of Night unique in epic fantasy? And what makes a hero, anyway?’ My initial response was ‘aargh, the pressure’—not just of an example, but of encapsulating what is often the slow delicate process of character evolution. And Malian of Night’s character did evolve over many years, from long before I first put pen to paper: sometimes in small increments, occasionally in giant leaps. I have spoken elsewhere of the similar emergence of the Wall of Night world: from around the age of 10 I had a vision of a rugged, shadowy, wind-blasted environment, and the concept of a youthful female protagonist within that world developed at much the same time.

Although both the world and the character have evolved considerably from those first principles, the notion that Malian should initially be a youthful protagonist has remained unchanged. In this first book—of four in the series—she is thirteen, while Kalan, the second protagonist, is fourteen. Although this may seem young to us, thirteen and fourteen year olds have been regarded as adult or near adult through much of history (Shakespeare’s Juliet, for example, is fourteen; marriageable age at that time.) The age of these two central characters, at the cusp between childhood and adult responsibility, is one where—although not yet independent agents—most of us are making choices:  about who we are, what beliefs and values we subscribe to, and whether we buy into the status quo or desire change. In the case of Malian and Kalan, these choices are not just personal but reflect the issues at stake in their wider society, known as the Derai—a people who believe they champion good, but are divided by prejudice, suspicion and fear. (more…)

Martial Arts and Me: 5 Reasons Why I Love ‘Em

Recently, I was invited to attend Natcon, New Zealand’s national Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention as a guest of honour. As such, I was also asked to put forward some panel suggestions. One of the first that occurred to me arose out of an earlier post here on Orbit about the grand symbiosis between fantasy and history. But I didn’t want to just repeat that discussion, so I’ve added in an extra wrinkle, focusing on weapons and armour, battles and military tactics in the historical context—another fascination that arises, not just out of my love of history, but from my martial arts background.

I am not sure why I’ve always loved martial arts. As kids, my brothers and I were always making ourselves toy swords, bows and arrows, and wooden guns so we could run wild and whack each other with them. I suspect this experience probably established the first element of my love for martial arts—their physicality. The martial arts are all about knowing your own physical strength and limitations, learning those of others, and finding sneaky ways to deal to those with superior strength. Physicality and sneakiness lead straight to the next reason I have always enjoyed martial arts—they’re really fun. I’ve practiced a number of different martial arts and found a great spirit of camaraderie in all of them. And in “aikido, the early years” (aikido is the martial art I have practiced longest) training always wound up with a session of “elbow-waza”, i.e. bending our elbows as we all raised a glass together at the pub. (more…)

A Little Bit About—the Sir Julius Vogel Awards

Recently, the Orbit team—thank you, Orbit team!—posted that The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night 1) had been shortlisted for a Sir Julius Vogel Award.

But it occurred to me that although Orbit blog readers are switched-on SFF folk, not everyone will necessarily have heard of this award from the far side of the world. So “just in case”, here’s a little background.

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards are a reader-voted award made annually under the auspices of SFFANZ, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Association of New Zealand, to recognise achievement in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror by New Zealanders or New Zealand residents. Like other science fiction and fantasy awards around the globe, the Sir Julius Vogels include both professional and fan categories for various forms of writing, artwork, dramatic presentation, and editing.

The Award itself was designed by Weta Workshops, which has been involved with the making of a large number of major films, most famously The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The reason why it’s called the Sir Julius Vogel Award, when Sir Julius was a nineteenth century NZ prime minister—is because he is also held to be NZ’s first speculative fiction author, publishing a novel called Anno Domini 2000 – A Woman’s Destiny in 1889. The premise of the book is one where women have achieved suffrage (which NZ actually enacted in 1893, just four years later) and gone on to hold major positions of authority in politics, law and industry. Given that shortly after 2000, NZ’s prime minister, as well as our governor general, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the chief executive of NZ’s largest private company, were all women, Sir Julius’s speculation is now held to be uncommonly prescient … (more…)

My Top Three: Historically-Influenced Fantasy Settings

Recently, I posted about the influence of history on fantasy and that got me thinking about some of my favourite, historically influenced fantasy periods. Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana would have to be right up there—in fact I think it was the authentic, Italian renaissance setting of the opening sequences that helped me fall in love with the story. And the basic premise of the story is straight from history—the divided peninsula of little kingdoms which fail to see the danger of encroaching empires until it is too late. Kay plays with this in Tigana, but basically France and the Holy Roman Empire—with the Turks a very real threat as well—were both encroaching on Italy during the Renaissance period.

I have always loved the stories of 5th century BC Greece—Thermopylae, Marathon and Salamis; the Peloponnesian war; and the Anabasis, the march of the 10,000 out of Asia Minor. I also love the older, more legendary stories such as the siege of Troy and Theseus and the Minotaur, which are both at least semi-historical. I particularly enjoy a fantastic twist on these tales, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Firebrand and David Gemmell’s Macedonian duology, Lion of Macedon and Dark Prince. With Bradley, I liked the way she told the old tale of Troy from the perspective of the women, just as she did with the Arthurian legend in The Mists of Avalon. In the Lion of Macedon, I was fascinated by the way Gemmell focused, not directly on Alexander and his father Philip, but on the general Parmenion. Parmenion is relatively unknown by comparison, but there is some historical weight to the view that it was his military genius that brought about Philip’s victories, which effectively conquered all of Greece. (more…)

The Grand Symbiosis: Fantasy & History

On March 3, The Heir of Night’s (UK | ANZ) release day, I mentioned the relationship between epic fantasy and momentous events—and their often catastrophic consequences for the individuals and societies swept up in them. Sounds like history, doesn’t it?

It’s certainly hard to argue that the relationship between fantasy and history is not a very close one. There’s straight out alternate history; epic fantasy tends to draw extensively on the medieval period, while steampunk prefers the 19th century, which was the great mechanical and engineering age; and there’s a respectable number of fantasies that draw on the Greco-Roman era, with a notable overlap into the Arthurian cycle. Most historically informed fantasy draws on European history, but there are a few notable exceptions, such as the Empire of Tsuranuanni in Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts Empire series, C. J. Cherryh’s The Paladin, and Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds, where the influencing historical periods are medieval Asian. Alternatively, Orson Scott Card’s drew on the history and folklore of colonial and post-independence North America for his Alvin Maker series. (more…)

The Heir of Night – today’s UK release

Up until a week ago, I was really looking forward to the UK release of The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night, Book One) today and was busy making plans around how to best celebrate on my blog. But I live in Christchurch, New Zealand, and just over one week ago we were hit by a massive and destructive earthquake. Although fortunate enough to survive, and very well off compared to many, it does not seem like the right time for the usual release day celebrations.

The road to publication—from the original idea, through giving effect to it on paper, the production process and finally printing and distribution—is a long one and release day is the obvious time to celebrate your book finally getting to the shelves and the public, and party up. But release day also gives you the opportunity simply to hold the book in your hands and enjoy the tangible sense of completion that gives you, even if there is no opportunity for fanfare.

And I do love this UK edition of the book: the starkness of the black-on-red colour scheme and the way the cover image captures both the strength and vulnerability of the central character of Malian, the Heir of Night. Most of all though, holding The Heir of Night in the context of the last week’s terrible events has made me reflect on the story being told inside the dramatic cover. The Heir of Night is epic fantasy, and in this case, an epic that speculates on both the grand sweep of events and their catastrophic consequences for the individuals and societies caught up in them. Love and hate, fear and courage, struggle, friendship and people choosing to support or undermine each other—this may be epic fantasy, but it is also absolutely the stuff of real life as it has played out in Christchurch over the past week.

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“The Heir of Night”: Keeping It Real with Armour and Weapons

As a kid, I always loved armour and weapons. We lived in Singapore for some years, too, so in addition to western traditions including medieval armour, then cuirassiers, and later the long rifle, I was also aware of oriental armour and weaponry. I even had a Chinese sword—imitation, of course—and horse rider’s composite bow. From endless childhood games in which wars and battles were re-enacted, it is perhaps not surprising that I graduated to fencing during my high school and university years. As an adult, I trained first in tai chi and kung fu, and then the Japanese martial art aikido, which involves both “empty hand” training and weapons, including the Japanese sword, knife, and staff. (more…)

The Heir of Night: Introducing The World of Haarth

Although Worldcon goers got a sneak preview several weeks back, The Heir of Night, (which is the first book of my epic The Wall of Night quartet) will be officially available for sale in Australia and New Zealand on 7 October — although UK readers will have to wait a little longer, until March 2011 — and I will definitely be celebrating! But a book coming on sale is a time for reflection, as well: not just about the path to that point, but also about the nature of the story I’ve told and what makes it special—for me, and I hope for readers ‘out there’.

One of the aspects I have always loved about Fantasy-Science Fiction (F-SF) is the door it opens into fantastic worlds. Science Fiction offers worlds such as Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Union/Alliance space of CJ Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, while Fantasy gives us Middle-Earth (Tolkien), Earthsea (Le Guin) and Bas-Lag (Miéville), to name only a very few. So it is perhaps not surprising that in The Heir of Night (Heir) I introduce my own world of Haarth. (more…)