1.) When did you first start writing?
I was still in elementary school when I discovered I could write stories and – better still – I could persuade other kids to listen to them. When a teacher asked us what we would like to be when we grew up, my reply was ‘an authoress’!
2.) What made you want to write fantasy?
My first novel (unpublished!) was actually not fantasy at all. It was a thriller with a strong dash of romance, set in Malaysia, where I was living at the time. I showed it to someone, and to my alarm discovered that she equated the main character’s views with mine simply because the main character was, like me, an Australian living in Malaysia. I figured that the book – if ever it was published – would get me into trouble with the community I was living in at the time, so I shelved it and turned instead to writing fantasy. After all, no one was going to equate me with a woman born in the Keeper Isles and living in a place called Gorthan Spit, were they? (It was no hardship switching genres, of course. I loved reading fantasy and it makes sense to write what you love.)
3.) Who are some of your major influences in the genre?
It’s hard to single out any particular book or writer. I suspect it was Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ that started me reading fantasy in the first place. The authors I read in the 1980s as I was developing my skills as a writer of fantasy were people like Barbara Hambly, Janny Wurts, Guy Gavriel Kay, Raymond Feist and Ann McCaffrey.
4.) Where did the idea for The Lascar’s Dagger come from?
There’s never a single idea! If I had to sum up the sources for my inspiration, I’d say: the great port cities of the Netherlands and the U.K. in the time of sailing ships, my mother-in-law’s kitchen, the Malay dagger, my ancestor sailing around the world on Captain Cook’s ‘Endeavor’, the spice trade, my husband’s background, privateers, birds of paradise…
The Malay/Indonesian dagger, with its distinct wavy blade, is part of my husband’s culture. Called a kris, it is a traditional weapon of his people, and historically it was thought to contain a spirit or presence (which can be good or evil). Folk tales often tell stories of a kris with magical powers. What fantasy writer can resist the idea of that?
Most of the trilogy, though, is set in my version of Europe about to embark on colonial expansion and trade dominance of the East. There’s a bit of a twist on our history, though: in my books, the East has a novel way of fighting back…
5.) How was the switch between the Stormlord trilogy and the Forsaken Lands? Did you have to do anything different approaching this new series?
By the time I have written three books in one world, I am always anxious to try something quite new. The switch – from a world where fresh water is the precious commodity and magic is centred around it, to a world where spices threaten to upset the economy and the magic comes from a very different source – that was a jump I revelled in!
The biggest difference was I did a lot more research for these books. They aren’t set in our world, but I sourced a lot of background material from the 18th century spice trade between Europe and South-east Asia. Of course, having lived and worked in Malaysia (including on tropical islands) for over thirty years, and having travelled in Indonesia, was a great help!
6.) Who was your favorite character to write? Favorite scene in the book?
I enjoyed writing two of the minor characters. Lord Juster is a privateer (not, he insists, to be confused with a buccaneer). He has a sense of humour and an interestingly flexible morality. Lady Mathilda, on the other hand, is manipulative and totally unscrupulous, but she’s also a woman prepared to use her wiles to redress the appalling inequality of the way in which she is treated. They were both fun to write.
One of my favourite scenes is where three of the main characters – Mathilda’s handmaiden, the priest hero (who happens to be naked at the time), and the heir to the throne – meet up on a windswept heath in the middle of nowhere – and have a fight.
The opening scene was fun too: where the priest meets the lascar for the first time while they are both separately indulging in some breaking and entering. Of course, they get caught red-handed…
7.) You have a very intricate world of faith, magic, and politics all intertwined. Was it difficult to balance and intermix the three?
8.) How much research, if any, did you have to do?
The world is a totally fantasy one, so I suppose, in theory, the answer should be “none”. In fact, I did a great deal.
I researched everything from European castles, freshwater fish and wildflowers, to square rigged sailing ships, scurvy and the aroma of nutmeg flowers, from keel-hauling to marriage contracts of European royalty.
I watched videos and read books about the spice trade and birds of paradise. I pored over charts and designs, visited maritime museums and explored two replica sailing ships from the 17th and 18th centuries, the originals of which sailed to Australia and the Indonesian islands. I also drew on my own experiences exploring Europe and Asia.
9.) What is next for Saker, Ardhi and company?
In Book 2, we take a look at the Va-forsaken lands of this world and things go from bad to worse… There’s a big reveal about the magic, and a lot of action.
10.) If you could say one thing to future readers of The Lascar’s Dagger what would it be?