Ian Irvine

Before heading south for Armageddon, Ian Irvine talked to Nalini Haynes of Dark Matter about writing, his books and more.

the journey 

Hello Ian, thank you for agreeing to talk to Dark Matter. How did you come to start writing?

That’s buried in the mists of time, because I’ve been writing for about a quarter of a century. I think I had a frustrated creative urge around about the time I went to uni (where I was studying science). Over the years the urge to write grew and grew until eventually one day I thought, “I’ve got to start today.” That was mid-September, 1987, and the book I started was A Shadow on the Glass, which became my first published book, although it took about 10 years before it was published. 

If it took 10 years for it to be published how long did it take you to write it?

Well, I was actually writing the whole The View from the Mirror quartet, which is 800,000 words – four very large books. It only took me three months to write the first draft of A Shadow on the Glass, but I tend to do a lot of drafts. Even now, I would not send anything to my editor until it was fourth or fifth draft, and for Shadow on the Glass I did 22 drafts. I reckon I spent over 5,000 hours on that book alone – my writing apprenticeship. When I began writing in the 80s, there were no Australian publishers accepting fantasy for the adult market. The only way you could get published here at that time was by writing children’s fantasy. That’s how Isobelle Carmody was published, for instance, with her Obernewtyn series that was written for children. You never saw it on the science fiction and fantasy shelves until around about the year 2000. You couldn’t get published with science fiction or fantasy in Australia until the early 90s. A few people were published then, eg Martin Middleton, Tony Shillitoe and Shannah Jay (fantasy), Graham Hague (horror), and Sean Williams with SF, but by the mid-90s publishers weren’t doing so well with Aussie authors and were pulling back.

A shadow on the glass cover

The boom in science fiction and fantasy publishing in Australia began with Sara Douglass’ Battleaxe in 1995. It was so successful that a lot of other speculative fiction writers were published in the next few years. I was one of them; Kate Forsyth was another; also Traci Harding and several others. The situation that prevails now, where it’s relatively easy to get published – in the sense that people get published in Australia every year – was quite different before 1995. It was almost impossible.

A Shadow on the Glass: wasn’t that published in 1998?

Yes. I sent it to publishers overseas between 1989 and 2003. I received encouraging rejections. In 2004 I started sending it to Aussie publishers. Pan Macmillan said that they liked it and agonised, ‘Will we publish it or not?’ They decided not to, which is the worst kind of letter you can get from a publisher. But they suggested I consider getting a professional manuscript reviewer to look at it, and recommended Van Ikin, an English lecturer at the University of WA who was also the science fiction and fantasy reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald for a couple of decades. I sent it to him in mid-1995 and paid him a very modest fee – a few hundred dollars. Van gave me fantastic advice, which I followed, and that’s what got it over the line. 

I’d been sending it out for seven years before it was finally accepted by Penguin in 1996. By then, publishing my work was a big ask, because I’d written the four novels of The View from the Mirror. Any publisher had to commit to publishing a quartet and if the first one bombed the others would too. But Penguin took it on, did a great job and gave me a wonderful editor, Kay Ronai.

The four books were published in 1998 and 1999. They were very successful, and almost immediately sold to the UK, US and various translations. But it was a long haul. On the other hand I think it’s not uncommon to writers to take five or 10 years to get published. I can think of quite a few: Cecilia Dart-Thornton worked on her Bitterbynde trilogy for 12 years. Trudi Canavan also worked on her first series for a long time. 

Who has encouraged you along the way?

My family are all book readers. They read my books and made kind remarks, though I was aware that writers need professional advice on the manuscript. To my recollection, no one ever tried to discourage me, though it would have made no difference if people had. I’m pretty determined. Every time a publisher rejected my manuscript I sat down, did another three or four drafts and then sent it to someone else. 

editing

So far I have interviewed three members of wRiters on the Rise and a few other authors who have beta readers or belong to a writers’ group. Apart from Van Ikin, how do you get feedback and how does your manuscript grow in that sense?

I don’t seek feedback from anyone these days, apart from my editors – I judge the book for myself and, having written so many books, I can tell when the story has a problem, and what to do about it. I don’t send my books out to anybody except a few family members who are interested in reading them in manuscript. Not for the purpose of getting feedback; I to send them out because people want to read them.  I write three or four drafts of a novel (or sometimes five, six or seven) then sent it to my editors for the structural edit – the big picture. My structural edits rarely come up with anything structural, though. Unless the publisher has asked to see the manuscript before I’m ready to give it, I usually have the structural problems sorted out. I’ll get their comments back and spend another six weeks or so doing another couple of drafts, taking into account all my editors’ suggestions plus all the ideas I’ve had myself in that time. Then I send it off for what is called the line edit or copy edit, where the editor looks at the fine details. Then I get that back and make final changes over a week or two. 

I’m currently studying editing so I’m learning about things like structural edits and copy edits, but a number of readers might not be familiar with this concept.  What does a structural edit entail?

A structural edit is looks at how the overall story is working: is the plot simple and clear, or are there subplots that end up going nowhere and need to be cut out, etc Are there characters that aren’t really relevant to the story, or characters that are poorly developed, or a number of characters that are too similar? The copy edit looks at details like spelling, grammar and speech. For example, in a page of dialogue, is the dialogue repetitive? Does the main character waffle on or is everything he or she says relevant to the central drama of the story? If a character is using a dialect, is it comprehensible or unintelligible to most
readers?

How important is your relationship with your editor?

It’s vital. The relationship with the editor is critical because, for most professional writers, the editor is the only person you ever get detailed, focused feedback from. Even from a writers group, it is rare to get a lot of useful feedback. People might comment on this or that but they rarely see the overall picture. Various people at my publishers will read the book, including the publisher, the editor and people in marketing, but the only person I get feedback from is the actual editor. I’ve worked with 12 or more editors over the years, because I’ve worked with five different publishers in Australia alone. Most of my editors have been freelancers. For instance my first editor at Penguin, Kay Ronai, was a former editor and publisher at Penguin who went freelance after she had children. She was a fantastic editor; we worked together on my first seven books before she went on to other things. I’ve never had an editor who has been autocratic. Usually the editor’s comments are couched as suggestions. All of my editors have been really experienced, and I would agree with 9 out of 10 of their suggestions. Even if I didn’t agree, I would look at the issue or problem they were raising and see why they were raising it, and see if I could rewrite that part of the story so as to address the concern my editor had identified. 

Other authors have talked about the editing process being a negotiation process, like ‘I’ll give you this if you let me keep that.’ Has that ever happened with you?

No, it hasn’t. I think there are a number of forces coming to play here. Some authors are very emotionally bound up with the story they’ve written. This is explicable because you might spend years writing a story, thinking about it constantly, obsessing. When you get your editor’s comments back, even though the comments are couched as suggestions and put in a nice way, by the time you get to the end of many pages of comments it can feel like a relentless assault of criticism, and some people deal with criticism better than others. I’ve never had fights with my editors. There’s certainly been points when my editor has said, ‘I think you should do this’ and I say, ‘ I’m sorry but I disagree and these are the reasons why.’ But I’m not emotionally bound up with my writing in that
way. A professional editor is wonderful because, as a beginning writer, one of the biggest problems you have is that it’s almost impossible to get useful criticism. You can give the story to your family and friends, and they will mostly be kind about it, but they will never give you a good analytical overview of the story and how it is working. You need professional criticism, but it is really hard to get. Some writers’ groups can be really good; others can be negative, egodriven and destructive.

world building

You’re really well-known for your intricate world building. What comes first: the world, the characters or the story?

In the case of my epic fantasies in the Three Worlds series, the eleven books I’m most well-known for, the world came first.  That’s partly because I started constructing this world when I was at uni back in the 70s. I was reading Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara, and I was really irritated by the map in the front of the book, which didn’t seem to bear any relationship to the
story. I was doing a Ph.D. in science then, and I felt that I ought to be able to create a better map for a fantasy world. I started drawing the map, then I created the world, and only at that stage did I think about writing a story set in the world. But I didn’t start
writing for another 10 years because of children, renovating houses, and working at a demanding consulting job.

I don’t necessarily start out by creating a world, though. Sometimes I start with a character. I’ve written a quartet of children’s fantasy novels about a character called Runcible Jones, who was sent to the worst school in the world. This school is specifically there for children with the gift of magic, and is designed to utterly destroy their ability to do magic. With these books, I began with the character, not the setting. 

But to fully answer the question, every book in every series I’ve written has been done differently. Also, every writer is different. What works for me won’t work for someone else. For instance, I like to write my first drafts really quickly, in about six weeks. I was talking to Traci Harding about this; she likes to take about nine months on a first draft, working through it over and over again. When she gets to the end she simply reads the draft through, tidies it up and is finished. Whereas I write a first draft in six weeks, and I do six or eight or even 10 drafts before I am happy with it.

Back to the geography and the maps and world building; I have heard that some of your maps are the size of a door. Do you enjoy the cartography?

Yes, they are. These days I don’t do them in quite such detail, but I do enjoy the cartography. Sometimes when I’m giving school talks or attending conventions I take one of the maps with me, a map of the continent of Lauralin in my world of Santhenar, which is the main world in The View from the Mirror. It’s the size of a rather wide door. I drew it on drafting film about 30 years ago, and the map probably took me a couple of hundred hours. It was most therapeutic working at my drafting table with this map, hour after hour, day after day. But I wouldn’t do it in such detail these days, because of writing commitments. I simply don’t have time to sit down and spend hundreds of hours on a huge map.

Is there any talk about releasing your maps as posters?

No. Fans have asked from time to time, and I’m going to put up the detailed maps on my website fairly soon. I’ve got a section on maps on my website already; there are about 20 maps up there but they’re mostly small ones. I’m planning to put some of the big ones up soon, as PDFs that fans can get printed for themselves, if they choose to; that’s the best I can do. Realistically, unless my books sold millions and millions, no publisher is going to go to the expense of producing a big map like that for a poster in these troubled times. No, the global financial crisis and all of that.

plotting

Vengeance cover

Apparently Neil Gaiman writes his plots in a linear fashion but Dave McKean writes plot points on notes, puts them on cards, puts them on the floor and arranges them in a really organic way. How do you plan your plots?

I begin with one particular character, usually the hero or heroine, the main viewpoint character, but not always, and I start with the big problem they have to solve. The problem might be that they’re being hunted and have to survive, or they might have a quest they have to achieve. Then I put every conceivable obstacle I can in the way of that character achieving that goal. For instance, in Vengeance, the book which is coming out next week, the story begins with Tali, an 8-year-old slave girl witnessing her mother’s murder. Tali’s family is originally of noble origins but her people have been held slaves underground for hundreds and hundreds of years. When Tali comes of age, she realises that she is also going to be murdered for some reason connected to her family that she doesn’t understand. Now she is hunted, and she has to survive and escape, although no one has ever escaped from the underground realm of Cython. She has two goals: one is to survive. The other is to gain justice for her murdered mother. The main part of the plot is her trying to escape and gain justice, while the people who are hunting her are closing in. Every single thing in her life as a slave conspires to prevent to from achieving her goal and gaining justice. That’s basically how I plotted that book.

characters

How do you create the characters?

Vengeance is about Tali, a slave, and another child who witnessed the murder – a boy called Rix who is heir to the biggest fortune in the land of Hightspall. The stories of these two characters are intertwined. Creating Tali’s character – she’s small because the slaves don’t get enough food, but she’s not weak. You can’t create a good story if the character is weak and refuses to grow. A furious anger burns inside of Tali, and sometimes it explodes at the worst time. Though she’s a powerless slave, she also has a great determination to gain justice for her mother – it’s the inciting incident in her life, the incident that crystallises her overriding goal to bring the killers to justice. That’s how I created Tali. I didn’t do a lot more character development than that at first. As I started writing her character, and her story entwined with Rix’s and with other characters in the story, I went back and developed her a little more. For instance I discovered, in the seventh or eighth draft, that the moment Tali escapes to the world above, she is afflicted by agoraphobia – the fear of open spaces. She has spent her entire existence in a world of caverns and tunnels where  the walls are always close by on either side the roof is never far above, she can never see more than 100 yards ahead, and suddenly she is out in this vast open landscape. She’s entered the world that her people have yearned for the past thousand years of their slavery, and it’s an incredibly emotional moment; she feels as though she is coming home at last. But the vast open space is terrifying. She has a paralysing panic attack and doesn’t know how to deal with it. This was an aspect of her character that hadn’t occurred to me when I started developing it. For me, character development is an iterative process: I start with a little bit of detail about a character and then I write the story, then as I need to develop more I do so. 

Do you always know where your characters are going or do they take you by surprise sometimes?

Oh, they often do. Sometimes characters simply appear on the page. For instance in my Three Worlds saga, in The Well of Echoes and The Song of the Tears, with Xervish Flydd. He’s a powerful leader, partly a magician, partly a powerful administrator, a dominating figure yet I never planned him. The characters in the first book, Geomancer, were dragged into an interview with Flydd and they were terrified of him. He opened his mouth and spoke, I wrote down what he said and did, and it was perfect. Flydd was a little, wizened, ugly, scarred man who was incredibly powerful and could also be charming as well if he wanted to be. Fans loved him, and yet no effort went into creating him. 

Other characters can be a nightmare. In The View from the Mirror I have a character called Maigraith. I struggled and struggled to understand her. At one stage, around the fifth or sixth draft, I still did not know what she was thinking and what motivated her. I had to spend weeks analysing her character and her past, and trying to work out what made her tick, before I really understood her. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard; sometimes you plan it, sometimes you can’t plan it and it simply flows out. It’s a mysterious process. 

I must confess I haven’t read all of your books, but don’t you continue writing about Maigraith? Doesn’t she appear later?

She first appears in The View from the Mirror. She’s also present in the background in The Well of Echoes, with a different name. She reappears in Song of the Tears, the trilogy that ends the Three Worlds saga, so far. She’s a long-lived character who ends up totally changed as a result of her obsessions. 

So you went from struggling to get to know her to having an established relationship with her and she just keeps popping up. 

Maigraith was an obsessive character. When I finished writing The Way between the Worlds, the last book in The View from the Mirror, she was starting to display some disturbing obsessive characteristics. I didn’t know what was going to come of that. When I finished The View from the Mirror I didn’t have any immediate intention of writing any more in that series. When I started writing the next series, The Well of Echoes, there was a character in the background called the Numinator, who had some control over the world but never actually appeared. I didn’t know who the Numinator was, and I think I had been writing that series for several years before I realised it was Maigraith in disguise. Her obsession was with her lover Rulke, who was killed at the end of The View from the Mirror. He was supposedly the last of a powerful human species called the Charon, and she became totally obsessed with reconstructing the species, because she was pregnant to him. This obsession grew until it became overwhelming and changed the world, though this idea was very slow to crystallise.

Readers often think that you start out with the whole idea of a book in your mind, and you simply write it down and edit it. That’s not always true for me. Sometimes I’ll get a great idea in the fifth or sixth draft of the story. Sometimes I’ll get a great idea, when I’m
actually two-thirds of the way through a trilogy, that reshapes the whole story. Writing is a mysterious process 

other books

Last Albatross cover

What can you tell me about the other series that you’ve written, without giving away huge spoilers?

I’ve written six series. There’s a series of eco-thrillers, set in the future of our world, called Human Rites. It begins with The Last Albatross. These books are set 20 or 30 or 40 years in our future, in a world dramatically re-shaped by catastrophic climate change. One aspect of this was the melting of the West Antarctic ice cap, the smaller ice cap on Antarctica, which is known to have melted a number of times in the last million years. When it melts it raises sea level by about 6 m and we can immediately see how dramatic an effect that would be. In Australia, there are around about 700,000 addresses that would be affected by a 1 metre sea level rise. So you can imagine 6 metres is probably going to affect several million houses and many businesses. Sydney Airport, for starters, and it will flood a lot of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and other coastal towns and cities, and almost the entirety of the Gold Coast. It would also flood most of Bangladesh, displacing tens of millions of people, plus more in the Nile  Valley, Thailand, China and many other countries. In the Human Rites series the ice cap’s melted, sea level has risen 6 metres and you’ve got half a billion refugees, so what effect is that going to have on the world?

Thorn Castle cover

We’ve seen in Australia over the last 10 or 15 years, with boat people, how a few thousand people have dramatically affected the political landscape. What are 500 million refugees going to do to the world? They’ve got to go somewhere and the changes they wreak will be profound. As will the loss of all that infrastructure – all those airports and towns and houses and railway lines and factories and farms below the 6 metre level. You can’t build a walls around everything; it’s either got to be moved, or if it can’t be moved, abandoned. The sea level rise causes a massive destruction of physical capital in most countries of the world, and either people become poorer because so much has been lost, or taxes have to be monumentally high to replace it. The money has to come from somewhere. I envisaged global recession and huge political changes, though that wasn’t the story, just the setting for my story. The Human Rites books originally came out in the early 2000s and were recently republished by Simon & Schuster, in a nice trade paperback edition, in 2008 and 2010, when I had an opportunity to completely revise and update them. 

My other series’ are all for children. There’s a quartet of little fantasy novels called The Sorcerer’s Tower which were for
middle primary school readers. They’re only 10,000 words each. They were wonderfully illustrated by DM Cornish who wrote the fantasy series Monster Blood Tattoo

Runcible Jones cover

Another, bigger series for children, which I’ve already talked about, is the Runcible Jones quartet

Grim and Grimmer cover
My latest series, also a quartet, is called Grim and Grimmer. At the end of each big fantasy series I try to write something different, to freshen and restore and improve my writing. Grim and Grimmer is humorous adventure fantasy for children ages 8 to 14. It was the most fun I’ve ever had writing. The last book came out in June this year. 

I don’t write short stories, though I have written 2 novellas.

typecasting

You put in so much effort into the building the world for The View from the Mirror and then you move on to something different; what is it like to leave a world and to turn around and create something new?

It’s sad in a way; particularly with the world for The View from the Mirror, the first quartet of my Three Worlds series. Partly  because I spent 12 years writing those books and working over and over that world in detail – the societies, the characters, the history and culture and so forth. It was a wrench to leave those worlds, but I don’t want to become typecast. I know from talking to other writers that you can become so typecast as a writer that your publisher doesn’t want you to write anything else. I first discovered this when I went to a talk by Raymond Feist about the time I was published. It took him years to convince his publisher to do Faerie Tale, because it was so different to his other books. Publishers know that if you’re a popular writer, most of your fans want more of the same. Most of my fans want more of the Three Worlds series. At Aussiecon 3 in 1999, I recall Robert Silverberg saying that when Stephen Donaldson didn’t want to write any more Thomas Covenant books, and wrote other fantasy, he lost 75% of his readers. Then, when he didn’t want to write fantasy any more and he started writing science fiction, he lost another 75% of his readers. Then he was down to 1/16th of the readers he had when he was writing the Thomas Covenant books. And publishers know that most readers want more of the same; that’s why they don’t want you to write something really different. 

On the other hand, it is possible to take readers with you. Robert Jordan’s first Wheel of Time book was classic adventure fantasy, whereas the last few books in the series are totally different, more philosophy and intrigue, with much less adventure and  erringdo. Because he changed his writing slowly, Jordan was able to take his readers with him. But change your writing  dramatically and you’re probably going to lose a lot of your readers.

I wanted to write different kinds of books early on, so I wouldn’t be typecast. Though perhaps if I had written twenty Three Worlds books, I would have sold a lot more. 

I loved the first Thomas Covenant trilogy, even though I found Thomas himself to be an extraordinarily irritating character and I longed to him to suffer a cruel and ironic fate. I got halfway through the second trilogy and I’d had enough.

I think that was part of the appeal with Thomas: at the time those books appeared, in the late 70s, he was a breakthrough hero. Most heroes in epic fantasy back then were much more heroic and more romanticised. 

Unlike these days we go from the epic hero to Sir Apropos of NothingThere is a huge gap between the two.

Much fantasy in the 70s was saccharine and in need of renovation.

planning future novels

With Vengeance, do you know how the series is going to progress?

When I’m writing a series, as soon as I’ve done the detailed planning the first book I realise how the series is going to end. So I always have something to aim for, but I rarely know how I’m going to get there. At the moment I’m planning and drafting Rebellion, the second book of The Tainted Realm, and making notes about the third book, Justice. Rebellion will be going to the structural edit around the end of February. I won’t do detailed planning for the third book until Rebellion is nearly finalised, because as I draft and redraft I constantly get new ideas that will change the direction of the book or give me new options for it. These can change so much as I write and rewrite a book that I wouldn’t want to be constrained in the final book by having planned it too rigidly. 

book trailers

Book trailers are becoming more common; do you have any book trailers?

I did several, years ago. I haven’t done any for four years. I’m not convinced that they’re much use for book promotion. Good trailers aren’t cheap to do, and it takes a very long time to script the hundred or so words you’ll use. I don’t think many adult people watch book trailers and, unless they are absolutely compelling, I don’t think they convince people to buy the book. One problem with book trailers is that a lot of people compare them unfavourably with movie or game trailers, forgetting that the movie has an enormous budget, professional actors and cameraman, and hours of great footage to choose from. Even if you spend thousands of dollars on a book trailer, as I have, you can’t get that professional look.. Occasionally a book trailer will go viral and get 20 – 30,000 views on YouTube, but if you look at the stats most trailers are lucky to get 1,000 views. If you get a thousand views and only five people buy the book, it’s a waste of time and money.

day job

Speaking of working: you’ve got day job as a scientist. How do you manage to balance both careers?

It’s not really a day job – I’ve essentially been a full time writer for the past 12 years – but I still have the little consulting company  I set up 25 years ago, and I do work in my field of expertise, in what’s laughingly called my free time. I’m a marine scientist and an expert in the investigation and management of contaminated sediments. It’s a huge environmental problem worldwide. I work from home, so it’s not like having a full-time job working for another employer, working long hours with travel time on top. I couldn’t write the number of books I do if I had a job that was taking me away from writing 60+ hours a week, like most professional jobs would do these days. 

How do you think your scientific background has influenced your writing?

Every writer writes out of their own life experience. For example Sara Douglass was a university lecturer in mediaeval history. It coloured what she wrote about, and the kinds of characters and societies she created. Tolkien was a professor of English and a philologist, and he created the languages of Middle Earth before he began to write the stories. In fact, originally when he began to write stories set in Middle Earth, it was as a background for the languages he had created. As a scientist, I have a lot of  knowledge about the physical and biological world we live in. Not only does it affect the way I create my world-building,  landscapes, ecosystems and societies and so forth, but I might be thinking of a magical phenomenon with some kind of scientific imagery that I have seen at some stage in my career. For instance in Chimaera, the final book of the Well of Echoes, one of the magical devices is like a sun trapped in a bottle. The sun image I remembered from astronomy; I imagined this blazing, coruscating sun trapped in an old-style laboratory bell jar, and this image was used on the cover of the English edition. Having
a scientific background gives me a slightly different way of looking at the world, which means I write a bit differently than someone whose background is in the arts and history. 

novel influences

Is there anything that you particularly do for recreation that might influence your writing? I’m thinking of Joe Abercrombie who plays computer games as well as reading non-fiction. He said that is research: playing Red Dead Redemption was research for writing his next novel. 

I read, walk and garden for recreation; and travel, though not as much as I used to. I don’t play computer games, though I used to play Dungeons and Dragons back in the day when you had to make up your own dungeons and map them yourself on graph
paper – back in the 70s. 

Do you think that influenced your developing the world that The View from the Mirror series is set in?

There would have been some influence, though I didn’t use any of those dungeons or characters in my writing. I think my main influences were the thousands of adventure and fantasy stories I’d read before I began writing, my own life and background, and my interests and fascinations – for instance, volcanoes.  I was recently in New Zealand, checking out the volcanic thermal areas around Rotorua and Lake Taupo in New Zealand. A similar environment occurs in Vengeance. When you arrive in Rotorua, the first thing you notice is the smell – the whole place smells of sulphur, which is seeping out from all the hot springs around the town. That kind of detail helps to make the setting of a story real.

I don’t read much fantasy these days, partly because I’ve read so much of it in the past, partly because I don’t want to be influenced, and partly because, in common with a lot of other writers, I find it hard to enjoy fiction in the genre I’m writing in. Sometimes I find myself mentally editing the book I’m reading. I read crime, thrillers, romance and a lot of non-fiction; I’m interested in practically everything; history, philosophy, archaeology. Writers need to read as widely as possible, not just in the genre they’re writing in. It is also important to read some bad books. Sometimes you can learn more from the bad books than you do from the good ones.

relationship with fans

You have a great relationship with your fan base built through Facebook and your website. Why do you use both Facebook and an independent website?

Because they have different functions in a writer’s promotional platform. An author’s website is (or should be) the first and most reliable source of info about the author and his books. Mine is here. Facebook is less useful for this purpose, but it’s the best way to develop and engage with a community of people who love your books. I’ve had my website about 10 years. In the early days my site and e-mail were the primary ways of communicating with fans, because ten years ago social media were insignificant. It was only with MySpace in 2003 and 2004, and then Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, that social media began to take off. In the early days, when a book came out, I might get a hundred e-mails in a week or two. Replying to all those e-mails individually – a lot of them were asking the same questions – was an enormous labour and I was always behind. Many writers don’t reply to e-mails from fans.

They don’t have the time or they don’t want to. E-mails from fans are great and I love getting them, but it was an enormous amount of labour to reply to them.

Facebook has largely replaced fan email, and is much better. It allows me to talk to fans of my books about stuff that they’re interested in, and for them to talk to me. My Facebook fan (ie business) page: thousands of fans have joined it. A personal Facebook page isn’t all that useful, but a fan page can be a fantastic way of communicating with fans.

How do you think your relationship with your fan base is affecting your writing?

I don’t think it has a lot of effect on my writing. Fans sometimes ask if I’m planning to write more about a particular aspect of my story world, or an aspect of its history, or a character they love. I note these ideas down and, occasionally, if it suits, I might write
more on that aspect. That’s the only way it affects my writing. 

A number of authors have their books produced in other media: for example Marianne de Pierres has had one of her books produced as a role-playing game. Kelley Armstrong has produced a comic book as a fan service depicting an early segment of one of the characters’ lives. Have you ever thought about expanding into another medium?

I have thought about it. I think Marianne is both interested and knowledgeable about role-playing games, whereas I’m not, and I think it would be foolish to do it myself. Kelley Armstrong has written graphic novels and I dare say has all the contacts to do such things, and as a hugely bestselling author no doubt gets profitable publication offers all the time. I’ve never even read a graphic novel and probably shouldn’t attempt to write one. However If some publisher wanted to buy the rights to produce a graphic novel of any of my books, I imagine I would say yes. Getting my books out to a new audience would be great, but it’s not something I have any control over.

the future

What does the future holds for you at this point in time?

More books. The last 6 or 7 years have been frantic because I’d overcommitted myself with fascinating book projects that all ended up being done at the same time: the Runcible Jones series, Grim and Grimmer series, The Song of the Tears and The Tainted Realm. I’ve been working on some of these series since late 2004, and it was too much.  I’ve decided not to work on anything else until The Tainted Realm is finished at the end of 2012. After that I’m going to write a book (or maybe a trilogy) set in the Three Worlds. After that I’ll see. I’ve got lots of book ideas, and I can’t imagine stopping writing. I’m in good health; I would hope that I’ll still writing books in 10 or 15 years time. You can never tell with writing, though; not many writers have a really long career. A 20-year career is exceptional. But as long as my books keep selling and people want more I plan to write more, because I really enjoy every aspect of writing. 

Well that’s good to hear. I hear you’re going to Armageddon this weekend.

Yes. I haven’t been to Armageddon before but I’ve been to Supanova so I’ve got a rough idea what it will be like. Unfortunately there won’t be any advance copies of Vengeance there. The first copies have turned up this week. In fact I’ve got one sitting on my desk at this moment. I haven’t even opened the package yet because it came in after you called, so I haven’t even seen the book. I’ll be at Supanova in Brisbane in the first week of November with the books. I’m looking forward to that. I was there in April, and that was terrific.

That sounds very exciting. I’d better let you go so you can open your package. I would imagine seeing your books at the first time would be very exciting.

It is very exciting and even though this is book number 27 it’s a big deal and I’m really looking forward to it. I know that Orbit has done a great job, the typography and the cover look great. All the books I’ve had out in the last three years have been either children’s books or revised editions of my eco-thrillers. This is my first fantasy novel since 2008 and it’s very exciting. Fans of my fantasy novels have had a long wait, for which I must apologise. 

I’m sure they’ll be really happy. 

I think it’s one of my best.

That’s really good to hear. Thank you for talking to Dark Matter.

Well thank you Nalini, it’s been terrific. I hope it all goes well for you.

I’ll see you at Armageddon.

I’ll look forward to it, cheers.