Snapshot 2014: Ian Irvine

ian irvineIAN IRVINE, a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia’s national guidelines for protection of the marine environment, has also written 30 novels. These include the bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence (The View from the Mirror, The Well of Echoes and Song of the Tears), which has sold over a million copies, a trilogy of eco-thrillers set in a world undergoing catastrophic climate change, and 12 novels for younger readers. Ian’s latest fantasy novel is Justice, Book 3 of The Tainted Realm trilogy. He is currently writing the long-awaited sequel to The View from the Mirror. Find out more at www.ian-irvine.com and on Facebook.

 

1. You’ve been self-publishing some of your back catalogue. What have been the challenges and rewards of that?

The challenges:

It’s relatively easy to publish an e-book, but it takes a fair bit of work to make it look good on the full range of reading devices – various kinds of computers, Kindles, iPads, other tablets, other e-readers, and smart phones. To self-publish successfully requires a considerable investment in time to learn how the system works, including book formatting, graphics, cover design, tax issues, uploading issues, marketing and promotion. I’d put it at a couple of hundred hours, all up.

For instance, I took the final Microsoft Word files for my backlist, stripped the formatting out in a text editor then reformatted each book from scratch. This took several hours for each book (and I did 15 books). You don’t have to do this, but it’s strongly recommended, otherwise hidden formatting codes in your book may cause it to look terrible on some e-readers.

Some of the rewards:

• I’ve made available a number of my children’s books that were hard to find in some markets, or out of print.

• I’ve enjoyed the process and learned a lot.

• I’ve had the opportunity to correct and update some of my books.

• I can give away e-books whenever I want for promotional purposes or in competitions.

• I can price my books in any way I want, and change the price at need to encourage sales.

• Even though I’ve done virtually no promotion of my e-books so far, I’m earning five times as much from them as when they were published by my previous publisher.

 
2. What have been the challenges in going back to write a sequel (indeed, a new trilogy) to The View From the Mirror quartet, some 15 years later?

shadow of the glass by ian irvineThe View from the Mirror quartet, which I began in 1987 and was first published in 1998-1999, is my biggest selling series and begins my 11-volume Three Worlds epic fantasy sequence. The quartet is a greatly loved work – at conventions people constantly come up to me with battered old copies they’ve read many times, and tell me how they grew up reading the sequence.

I wrote the quartet in an elevated, high fantasy style, but with each succeeding series my style has changed, especially when writing kids’ books, or thrillers. These days I write in a much simpler style, so should I go back to my old style, or not? I’m not sure I can write in that style any more, or want to.

The greatest challenge, though, is that very few sequels are as good as the original. I’m putting everything into this one, trying to make it as good as The View from the Mirror, if not better. But even if it is better, it may not seem so to people who were profoundly influenced by the original when they were young.

 
3. You get to travel to some interesting places as part of your marine science work – most recently the seemingly unlikely marine destination of Mongolia. How has that travel informed your work?

My scientific work is mainly in the marine environment (I’m an expert on contaminated sediments) but I’ve also done a lot of work on contaminated industrial sites, and on river sediments. The Mongolia job has to do with river sediments.

Over the past 30-odd years I’ve worked in more than a dozen countries, and it’s fantastic for recharging the batteries, and for the exposure to new landscapes, cultures, histories, political systems, and ordinary and extraordinary people. I rarely use any of this directly in a book, but it all goes into the melting pot and helps when I’m creating new characters, settings and conflicts.

At the moment I’m reading a book on Mongolian shamanism, which is still important there. It may well influence a character I create sometime in the future.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I haven’t read much spec fic lately, to be honest – I find it difficult to read it when I’m writing it. However I picked up a copy of Scott Baker’s The Rule of Knowledge at Supanova in Sydney recently, and boy, if you like furious-paced, bloodthirsty, all-action time-travelling thrillers, this book is for you. It’s like Matthew Reilly on steroids.

 
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

A couple of years back I decided to simplify my life – I’d been writing one huge epic fantasy novel plus one or more kids’ books or other novels every year for a decade, and I was fed up with being totally overcommitted. I’m now focusing on fantasy and I’m just writing one book a year, plus one or two related novellas or shorter stories.

In five years time, I hope I’ll still be writing epic fantasy and publishing it with Orbit Books, my publisher since 1999. I expect I’ll be self-publishing those books whose rights have reverted, and possibly one or two anthologies of novellas or short stories, since big publishers aren’t much interested in them. But the industry is changing very rapidly and I don’t think anyone can predict what publishing will be like in the future.

However one thing is certain – since e-books never go out of print, the number of titles available for sale will keep increasing at a rapid rate, and hence the competition for sales and attention. And the law of supply and demand says that the price of books can only decrease. Challenging times.

Reading? Hopefully, some of the thousand or so books I’ve bought in the past few years that I haven’t managed to read yet.

 

2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Catching up with the cool kids: 12 for Christmas

Wow. December already. It’s been all hands on deck here at Chez Hectic, but outside the wheels have been turning. Some happenings of interest, 12 in fact, because that’s suitably Christmassy:

  • Ian Irvine talks oceanic pollution, climate change and his writing with Mary-Lou at ABC Sunshine Coast radio (and doesn’t Aunty need as many local word warriors as it can get). Mary-Lou has a trove of interviews for your listening pleasure, including Kimberley Freeman, Kate Morton, Gary Crew, Helene Young and many more.
  • So cool to see Traci Harding’s new Chinese-set series The Timekeepers heading towards the shelves. I interviewed her back in May last year and she was so excited about this series, sparked in part by a news item about a wristwatch found in an ancient Chinese tomb.
  • The Rabbit Hole, an intensive weekend of writing, has provided the content for an issue of Review of Australian Fiction — sadly, hosted on that most irritating of book platforms, Booki.sh. Of particular interest to this former Queenslander is Jodi Cleghorn’s novelette ‘Elyora’ — hitting the right tone of outback weirdness — and the touching, non-speculative ‘The Slow Death of Plastic Stars’ by fellow Brisbanite Kate Zahnleiter. It’s worth noting that Jodi’s publishing house, eMergent, has a Christmas collection out. More Rabbit Holes are scheduled for 2013, the first on January 11-13.
  • Writers Digest has listed its most popular posts about writing.
  • Robert Hood has unveiled a new book, Fragments of a Broken Land!
  • Have snaffled tix for Emilie Autumn’s tour in March. Can’t wait to see the new show, based on her sumptuous book of asylum life.
  • On Goodreads the Australian Speculative Fiction Authors Challenge has been announced, riffing off this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge (which is set to happen again next year). Still haven’t decided whether to give it a go … hey, still haven’t joined Goodreads!
    Update 24/12: have signed up for AWW2013.
  • Poet a.rawlings, this year’s Queensland poet in residence, has unveiled Gibber, a project she conducted during her residency. Some gorgeous material here (so many birds!)!
  • Canberra’s Donna Maree Hanson has brought outer space to Harlequin’s Escape imprint with her Rayessa and the Space Pirates, due out in January.
  • Matt Rubinstein has an interesting essay at ABR about the digital book era including this quote:

    People who love books don’t steal books. But, you know, they might lend or borrow books, they might sample books and only pay for the ones they do love, they might torrent a book they have already bought in hard copy, they might pay what they think they can afford. They will do these things whether we like it or not. And it’s probably not in our interests to treat every illegal download as an act of aggression. As an empirical matter, it may turn out that that download has led to a handful of legitimate sales. Or it might not. We just don’t know. We can be pretty sure that insisting that book-lovers are our enemies will be self-fulfilling and soon self-defeating

  • Peter M Ball has, a while back now, offered sage advice for those considering indie publishing.
  • And I did mention my wife’s new book is now available as an ebook, didn’t I? And, ahem, so is mine.
  • Snapshot 2012: Ian Irvine

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoIAN Irvine, a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia’s national guidelines for protection of the marine environment and continues to work in this field, has written 28 novels. These include the internationally bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence (The View from the Mirror, The Well of Echoes and Song of the Tears), which has sold over a million copies, a trilogy of thrillers set in a world undergoing catastrophic climate change, Human Rites, and 12 books for younger readers, the most recent being the humorous fantasy quartet, Grim and Grimmer.

    Ian’s latest fantasy novel is Vengeance, Book 1 of The Tainted Realm trilogy. He’s currently doing the final edits of the second book, Rebellion, which will be published in Australia in October 2012, and the US and UK in early 2013.

    Keep up with Ian at his website www.ian-irvine.com and on Facebook.

    Your eco-thrillers have been recently re-released: how has the market for such stories changed since they were first published?
    I don’t know that it has, actually. As far as I can tell, the market for eco-thrillers has never been a huge one. Even at times when the public had a high level of concern about environmental issues, and has been flocking to eco-disaster movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, I’m told that sales of eco-thriller books have generally been modest. I’m not sure why – perhaps it’s a bit close to home.


    Your latest novel is called Vengeance. What topics have you found that fantasy can talk about more easily or more effectively than other genres, if any?
    I’ve long been fascinated by the ways that seizing or maintaining political power can undermine the legitimacy of a realm – it happens all the time in history. For instance in Australia, the current Gillard government is constantly being white-anted because of the way its previous prime minister was overthrown. Malcolm Fraser’s government 30 years ago also suffered from the way the previous Whitlam government was deposed.

    This issue formed the germ of the idea behind The Tainted Realm – a nation, scarred by a deep sense of national guilt about its own origins, that now faces a resurgent enemy it has no idea how to fight.


    Your recent releases include a series for younger readers and now this new, epic fantasy. What are the different joys and challenges you’ve experienced in writing for these two audiences?
    One of the best things about being a writer is the ‘next-book dream’ – that the story I’m about to write will be original or provocative or funny or life-changing, or non-stop, edge-of-the-seat suspenseful. Sometimes, in moments of authorial madness, I imagine that it can be all of the above. And everything in my life: every snippet of research, every odd idea jotted down or moment of inspiration can go into the pot, get a good stir, simmer for weeks or years, then miraculously and effortlessly flow into the story. Ha!

    One of the worst aspects is grinding out the first draft. It usually starts well, and sometimes runs well for as much as eight or 10 chapters. Vengeance did. And I was lulled, poor fool that I am. Yes, I thought, this book is going to be a snap.
    Then suddenly I was in the writer’s ‘death zone’ where every word came with an effort, every sentence sounded banal, every character was done to death, every situation boring and repetitive. Nothing worked; nothing felt inspired. What had gone wrong? Had I used all my ideas up and burned myself out as a writer? I started to think that I’ll never write anything worth reading again.

    Nearly every novel has this stage, which generally occurs about a quarter of the way in, and sometimes lasts until half-way. Of all my books, the only ones I’ve not been stuck on were the last two books of my humorous adventure stories for younger readers, Grim and Grimmer. They were written to such short deadlines and with such wild and wacky enthusiasm that there wasn’t time to get into the death zone. It was the first time I’d ever completely let go as a writer, and they were the most fun I’ve had writing.

    Vengeance, on the other hand, was one of the worst because I had so many interruptions from other deadlines – pre-existing commitments for the last Runcible Jones YA novel plus the four Grim and Grimmers. Writing is hard work at the best of times, but doubly hard when I’m forced to jump back and forth between different kinds of books.

    Also, because really big books present a writing challenge that doesn’t occur with small ones – it’s difficult to keep the whole vast canvas in mind at once. The only way to write such books (for me, anyway) is in long, uninterrupted slabs of time, otherwise every interruption hurls me out of the characters’ heads and I have to laboriously write my way back in again. And no matter how well yesterday’s writing went, each new day presents the same challenge.


    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    I’m a big fan of Richard Harland’s steampunk world, as exemplified in his terrific World Shaker and Liberator. I’ve also enjoyed Stephen Irwin’s dark thriller The Dead Path, and Trent Jamieson’s excellent trilogy The Business of Death. Apart from that, I’ve bought lots of Aussie speculative fiction recently but it’s still on the ever-growing unread pile.

    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    Sorry, I don’t have the faintest idea. I’m only now emerging from the busiest time of my writing life, and I rarely read short stories, so any emerging trends in Aussie speculative fiction have passed me by.

    However, looking at the publishing and bookselling side of things, we face challenges we haven’t seen in the past decade and a half, since Aussie SF publishing, sales and international success exploded in the mid-to-late ’90s. From now on, due to the high dollar, the demise of book chains and the explosion in e-books and self-publication, it’s going to be a lot harder to get published by a traditional print publisher than it has been at any time since 1995, and sales, for the most part, are liable to be smaller because we’re also competing with a million self-published e-book titles. They might only sell a handful of copies individually, but because there’s so many of them, they add up to a significant chunk of the market. So, tough times ahead, but fantastic opportunities as well.

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    THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

    Notions Unlimited opens, and other writerly news

    Yay for Chuck McKenzie who, after four years running a Dymocks shop, has gone it alone with Notions Unlimited spec fic book store at Melbourne’s bayside Chelsea. Ensconced between a coffee shop and a liquour outlet and with a sushi store right outside the door, he must be occupying some prime real estate. Add in an amazingly wide range of genre reading — a dedicated small press section, graphic novels, and all the F, SF and H you can point a stick at, whether big guns or more oscure or up-and-coming writers — and a seriously luxurious looking set of sofas, and he might be needed a bouncer to kick the customers out at closing time. It’s a tough time for bricks and mortar enterprises, but a niche store with a knowledgeable and welcoming owner is in with a chance. There’s nothing quite like that human element when it comes to, ‘if you bought this, you might also like…’

  • In what at times feels like a stampede to be published — by someone, anyone, even ourselves — it’s worth taking a breath and deciding just how much we value our written words and the time and effort (yes, it takes effort!) taken to tell that particular story. Check out these posts at Writer Beware, giving pause for thought about writing contests and dodgy publisher deals.
  • Ellen Datlow, much awarded and respected editor of all things grim and ghoulish, has a new Best Horror on the way — Aussie Margo Lanagan flies the flag in the TOC. Ellen’s listed her honourable mentions, and Antipodeans Alan Baxter, John Harwood, Terry Dowling and Kaaron Warren are included. Nice.
  • Ian Irvine is giving away an iPad3 as part of a Facebook promotion.
  • More good stuff, inc. Aussie dark fantasy at Apex

    Still catching up after some touring — more on that once I’ve sorted through the metric s-load of photos and try to remember where I was for the past month — but it’s worth a peep over at Apex, where Tansy Rayner Roberts surveys a bunch of Aussie writers about their weird stuff. Interesting stuff, about our love-fear relationship with the bush and the sun, and a great quote from Margo Lanagan:

    “I’m regularly surprised by how timid and squeamish some readers are”

  • I couldn’t get to the Digital Writers Conference in Brisbane, but Alan Baxter was a panelist and his report makes me jealous! Alan also reports on the launch of Hope, a suicide awareness anthology that has an enviable TOC of spec fic writers — the Paul Haines story in particular pops out and demands attention; get it anywhere you can!
  • Two very informative writer-bloggers have been prolific while I’ve been away and I’m still trying to catch up, but for starters, I loved the suspense and tension post from Terribleminds, and Ian Irvine has given prolific a bad name, actually, not only unveiling his own painful path to publication but getting guests in to share their writerly wisdom e.g. this excellent post from Stephen M Irwin on the first step.
  • It’s Nanowrimo — I’m not indulging, have already done a couple of sprints this year and needing a little chance to catch a breath before the new year. There’s some wisdom from Patrick Duffy for those who are, though.
  • Our fellow World Fantasy colleague Ellen Gregory has provided a glimpse into both the con and San Diego’s Old Town. World Fantasy is a superb conference for writers due to its focus on the business, even if this year’s program was a little less interesting for my interests. A panel on the social impact of true immortality was an eye-opener, however; I hope I can find my notes! Plus there was the ‘for the hell of it’ Aussie party catered by the always generous Garth Nix, Jonathan Strahan and Sean Williams, and the Brits did a great job of raising interest in Brighton 2013, though the Marmite almost cost them the goodwill!
  • Another snippet of nom nom nom: for those unpublished writers with a YA MS hot to trot, check out the Hardie Grant call as posted at Perilous Adventures.

  • I am a judge for the Aurealis Awards. This post is the personal opinion of the writer, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any judging panel, the judging coordinator or the Aurealis Awards management team.

    Writerly round-up, including the Big Sleep I’ve just had and the one I’m about to…

    the big sleep by raymond chandlerI recently read The Big Sleep. Unfortunately, I’d recently watched the movie, too, so my head is filled with Bogie doing his thing. Unlikeable hero, much? I enjoyed the book, some laugh-out-loud sass, lovely attention to detail, awesome metaphors. Sadly, despite these and other inspirational viewings, I still don’t have more than one scene for the paranormal noir short story I’m trying to write — I do wish the hero would just decide what they want to be and roll with it. Maybe if I try harder to talk like Bogart. OR Bacall… I just dunno.

    I’ve also recently read Glenda Larke’s The Stormlord’s Exile — the Aussie cover is by Vincent Chong, who cleaned up at the recent (controversial) British Fantasy Awards. It was an enjoyable end to the series, adding new scenery to the already beautifully sketched world of the Quartern. Respect one another and respect the planet might be the dual themes.

    Elsewhere, I’ve been drawing sustenance from Ian Irvine’s blog — I can’t recommend enough his one-page guide to storytelling; it’s a handy little checklist to keep by that nagging chapter rundown spreadsheet. Ian has also updated — or rather, is in the process of updating — his virtually seminal discussion of the Truth About Publishing — it’s worth catching up with.

    Louise Cusack has been making the most of a storm to really get into the zone with her characters. This again makes me think of Glenda’s book and how important the weather is, and how much of an old Goth I am, throwing thunderstorms around for dramatic effect — and then using the contrast of a blue, bright day to do the same. Seriously, UV IS bad for you. (LOL)

    The zone also came to the fore when I read this piece from Dmetri Kakmi, in particular this line:

    “When the individual returns to the mundane, he sees reality as ‘repellent’.”

    He’s talking about Nietzsche and Hamlet, but it sounds like a writer coming out of long spell “in the zone” to me!

    I’ve had to live vicariously through Narrelle M Harris’s account of SheKilda — that’s a great pun, I can’t believe only now as I typed it that I fully got it; damn, I must be tired. I ditto what she says about finding inspiration at conventions.

    amanda palmer san diego concert posterWhich is my segue for the rest I’m about to have. Sure, the paying job seems determined to bite at my heels for part of the journey, but for the most part, it’s downtime in some of my favourite places in the world with, as luck would have it, a couple of my favourite in the world. Life is good. And there will be convention goodness, thanks to World Fantasy in San Diego. It’s a bit of Gaiman Con this year, we’re told, with added Amanda Palmer — all good — and it’ll be ace to soak up the vibe and maybe make a pal or two. I’m taking a big bag, so I can finally break the moratorium on fun stuff when I hit the dealers’ room. I wonder if I can read Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book before I get there? Will it put me over my weight allowance? Is this another reason to buy an e-reader, and if so, which one?

    But first, there’ll be sleeping. It’s been a long couple of weeks, but that burr in the saddle that pays the bills notwithstanding, the to do list is looking pretty clean right about now. One of the things I love about being on the road is being the hell away from the interwebs. This compulsion to be plugged in and engaged can be damn tiring, damn distracting. It’ll be nice to have a rest, even if there’s always a persistent niggle that the world has taken a step to the left without me knowing. Anyhoo, it’s R&R time. Wake me up when we get there, and let me know what I’ve missed.

    (It’s worth waiting for the guitar solo!)