Snapshot 2012: Glenda Larke

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoGLENDA Larke is an Australian who has spent most of her adult life abroad, living in Malaysia (including Borneo), Austria and Tunisia, yet still feels herself to be 100 per cent Australian. She has worked as an English teacher and as a conservationist, specifically tropical bird conservation, on jobs that have taken her from peat swamps and tropical islands, to logging camps and fishing villages. Her 10 published novels, including three trilogies (Isles of Glory, Mirage Makers and the latest, Watergivers) have been published in six different countries, and she has had books short-listed seven times for the Aurealis Best Fantasy of the Year. She is now working on another trilogy set in a fantasy version of the 17th European century spice trade to Indonesia, involving buccaneers, birds of paradise, witchery, magical daggers — and the morality of colonialism. The first book is called The Lascar’s Dagger.

Find Glenda online at www.glendalarke.com and on her blog, www.glendalarke.blogspot.com.

Your most recent series have been set in arid lands — what’s the attraction for you as a storyteller?
As an Australian, the daughter of a farmer, I know about the preciousness of water. We bathed in untreated water pumped up from the river when I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are about shortages – the summer a rat drowned in our rainwater tank, for example. Or the night my father walked through the smouldering remains of a bushfire to pump more water from the river so we could fight the fire. They are the stories of my childhood, and they have been reinforced by what is happened in today’s world. Wars are going to be fought over water.

In the 21st century, for the first time in recorded history, the Rio Grande has failed several years to flow out to the ocean. The Marsh Arabs had their livelihood and life styles taken from them because others wanted their water. In Australia we contaminate our underground water with salt water intrusion and endanger it with fracking. Fresh water is the most precious of all the world’s resources and we should treat it as precious.

There are so many water stories out there!

You mention on your blog that publishers are reluctant to buy a series based on a proposal, even from authors with your track record. Is this another sign of the decimation of the midlist we hear about?
It certainly seems to be a widespread complaint among authors that proposals have been a hard sell lately, especially last year. I was astonished by some of the Big Name Authors who have had been unable to sell their next works without a finished book in their hands. I think it stems from publishers being more circumspect about buying on spec while they try to work out where their industry is going. Once they decide what direction their company is taking, and have invested in new methods of distribution and sales, then things will settle down. It won’t be the same industry, but it will be perhaps less volatile and a tad more predictable than it has over the past year or two.

You are a regular visitor to Swancon, in your home state where you’re planning to retire to … soon? What is it about the convention that draws you to make the long flight from Malaysia each year?
Not every year, alas. But that is something I intend to work on once we move to Mandurah, which I hope will be within the next 12 months. Swancon was my very first con. I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I dragged my sister (a school teacher-librarian) along because I was so scared of having no one to talk to! I needn’t have worried, of course. I had a wonderful time, people were so welcoming, and they wanted to talk about all the things I wanted to talk about – it opened my eyes to a community of writers and readers and fans that I’d had no idea was out there anywhere. Every time I go to Swancon, it feels like home.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court trilogy and Karen Miller’s Blight of Mages. I thought the first two books of Tansy’s were utterly brilliant, worthy of huge international acclaim. I had a few plot issues with the last one that I am dying to chat to Tansy about next time I see her, but that trilogy as a whole is one of the most original and well-written works to come out of Oz fantasy writers since, oh, since The Etched City by KJ Bishop.

Blight of Mages is a tour de force – for a start, it’s a prequel that can be read by people familiar with the series or by those new to her work, and either way it offers a startling read. On one level it’s a brilliant character study of two flawed people and the disaster they create. On another it’s a tragic love story. On another it’s a traditional fantasy with lots of magic and battles on an epic scale. I was surprised it never made the Aurealis shortlist.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Hard for me to say because, living abroad, I am always so far behind in my reading. If I wasn’t, I’d probably be adding, say, Lanagan, Anderton or Freeman to the list of authors mentioned in the above paragraph…

From a distance, then, I would say it has been the healthy growth and outstanding success of the small press; the international success of Australian podcasts; the success of Australian woman in fantasy, horror and science fiction writing. Generally, Australia appears to produce a huge pool of talent when you consider the small population. What I’d love to see in the next couple of years is some great Australian fantasy from indigenous writers and immigrant writers drawing on their own cultural/ethnic roots.

Taking a broader outlook, I think Australian readers/writers of all kinds have to think very carefully about what kind of reading experience they want in the future. Simply put, if you want bookshops in High Street you have to buy from bookshops in High Street. If we want cheaper books, then we have to rethink how it can be done without bringing Australian publishing to its knees.

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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:

Callout to Queensland authors of 2011, and other writerly news

queensland writers centre logoQueensland Writers Centre is compiling a booklet, Books from our Backyard, of Queensland authors to have had a book published in 2011. Must be first edition, paper or e-book, with ISBN and cover image. Details at the website.

Also, the centre has compiled a website of reaction to the summary cancellation of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards by incoming premier Campbell Newman. The centre is looking to salvage something from the debacle and provides some avenues for reaction to the move. A separate push is underway to establish the Queensland Literary Awards.

  • In award news, and much more positive all round, Aussies Jonathan Strahan and the gang from Galactic Suburbia podcast have made the shortlist for the Hugo Awards — Strahan twice, for best short form editor and also his co-hosted Notes from Coode St podcast. Way to go!
  • The Blood-Red Pencil hosts two posts about the life of agents, including their changing role in an industry where self-publishing is no longer the path of last resort.
  • At the Lair, Sean Williams and Karen Miller talk joining Forces with the Star Wars franchise.
  • In Lisa Hannett’s Tuesday Therapy (it’s been a busy week), Kim Falconer offers some down-to-earth advice about setting goals and achieving them despite all the good advice. In today’s Theraphy, Angela Slatters offers excellent advice about both offering and receiving favours of a literary nature.
  • Looking ahead: Swancon 2013 has announced a guest list of Gail Simone, Charles Stross, John Birmingham and Lucy Sussex. w00t!

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court series is pushing into overseas markets — great to see a publisher investing in local talent.
  • And finally, this piece from Call My Agent! about the cultural cringe and Australian novels. I’d like to think that the efforts of our fantasy, crime and romance writers, in particular, are changing the apparent reluctance of readers to buy locally … This post riffs off a previous one about why it’s hard to get an Aussie novel published, which kicked along a meme about ‘what Australian book have you bought recently’. You don’t buy local just because it is local, of course, but because it’s local and good: it’s that last part that has had buyers doubting, but they’re out of excuses these days. Now it’s how to raise awareness in an ever-crowded market place.
  • Late addition: I’ve been meaning to add 20c to this excellent post about the value of a book cover over at Patrick O’Duffy’s place, but that’s gonna have to wait for another day. When you see the amount of quality info Angry Robot has packed onto that back cover … wow. The absence of a back cover on an e-book — that requirement that the browser has picked up that info on the web page — is an interesting quandary that I haven’t got around to pondering in any meaningful way. Patrick, it’s up to you!
  • AWWNYRC #2: The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts

    This is the second book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

    The Shattered City

    Book 2 of the Creature Court trilogy
    by Tansy Rayner Roberts
    Harper Voyager, 2011, ISBN: 9 780 7322 8944 7

    shattered city by tansy rayner roberts

    IN WHICH the Tasmanian author furthers the tale begun in Power and Majesty (reviewed here). For those who came in late: the city of Aufleur is under attack, with interdimensional rifts trying to destroy it overnight. Defending the city is a bunch of hedonistic and political shape shifters, led by a Power and Majesty. In book 1, the ruling P&M was whisked away through a split in the sky, and was replaced — not by the most likely candidate, the damaged and reluctant Ashiol, but seamstress Velody.

    It’s a complex world, with Italian Renaissance overtones, and both the workings of the magical world and its relationship with the physical are explored further in The Shattered City. Velody grows into her role on the great chess board, introducing a new regime of polite behaviour — of community — into the fractious, scheming Court, while her fellow seamstresses — Rhian, all but neglected for much of this story, and fiery Delphine — also find their place in the new world order.

    australian women writers challenge 2012The actual story that drives this book — an assassin in the ranks and the sense that the city faces its most deadly threat yet — takes a while to get going, but there’s no time for slacking off. There are so many points of view, often thrown altogether within each chapter, and some make only one or few appearances: it’s easy to lose track of just whose head you’re in.

    It’s a strength that the immediate story arcs of books 1 and 2 are both resolved between their covers, while the larger story stretches across them. As with the first, the second delivers some delicious moments, beautifully dressed and dead sexy, and what a relief it is to finally have the plot point that kicked the whole thing off finally out in the open. Rayner Roberts is wise to not present it as a surprise, but use it as leverage for a greater goal. The Creature Court series offers a layered, detailed, credible world, peopled with a cast of complex, motivated individuals. How fortunate that, given the impending showdown foreshadowed here, that book 3, Reign of Beasts, is out now!


    This review has also been posted at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus, who made the review copy available.

    Previous Challenge reviews:

  • Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.
  • Power and Majesty: a right royal success

    power and majesty

    Power and Majesty (HarperCollins Voyager) came out last year. It’s the first volume of the Creature Court series by Tasmanian writer Tansy Rayner Roberts — the second volume, The Shattered City, is out now. I polished Power and Majesty off on the flight to Perth for Swancon at Easter, where it was awarded a Ditmar for best novel of 2010. It’s also up for an Aurealis Award, to be announced later this month.

    The story is set in Aufleur, where Velody and two friends run a dress shop. Aufleur comes across as an Italian-style town — Renaissance with steamtrains — where festivals are a prime social and economic activity; even the calendar is set by the celebrations.

    Behind the superficiality of the social calendar lurks a different reality, however. The sky is an enemy, raining death and destruction in a most creative way — the population is unawares of their peril from this extradimensional danger. It falls to a band of shape-shifting magic users to defend the plane, but they are far from a cohesive entity. Their number has been whittled down by combat and politics and they hunger for leadership from a king. Ashiol is the prime candidate, but abused and ashamed, he wants none of it. And so the jostling begins, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance…

    It’s a superbly crafted world though the lens is focused on core features; there’s a pervading sense of gloom and hedonism, suitable for the end-of-days backdrop that informs the tale. The idea of having a battle for survival being played out in the sky above — of entire towns being erased from map and memory — without anyone much noticing is well handled given its difficulties. The magic also crackles on the page, with depictions of shape changers erupting into mobs of birds and animals, and psychic warfare in the sky, all underpinned by a well thought out science of how it all works.

    While Latin is the language of choice for festivities, there’s a fair crack of Australian sensibility in the dialogue (drug users are, for instance, “off their face”), which is in the most part sharp and engaging.

    The story itself is a little choppy in the early scenes as the ground is laid and characters set — large swathes of italic monologue and a lot of jumping about felt disorienting. But then the second act kicks off and the pace settles and the world rises up and the characters come into their own. Macready, for instance, brings a welcome dash of Irish humour while offering a pragmatic preparedness for swordplay.

    It is in such characters that Power and Majesty truly shines. There’s a large cast, a dozen or more who get their time to strut and fret, each pursuing their own agenda. And the main players have wonderful points of distinction, clear motivations and intertwined histories that still resonate in their actions of the day. Politics and friendship, ambition and jealousy, love and desire, guilt and regret: very real human emotions that drive the narrative and breathe life into the characters and power the plot.

    Amid the politics of the Creature Court, Velody is forced to assess just what she wants from her life — is being a dressmaker to high society enough? How much is she willing to sacrifice for her friends, her own happiness, and indeed the world?

    I found Power and Majesty to be an enjoyable blend of fantasy and romance with entertaining characters who bring tension and intrigue to the story, all against a well-realised backdrop. Bravo!