The Year of Ancient Ghosts: haunting stuff

year of ancient ghosts by kim wilkinsThe Year of Ancient Ghosts (Ticonderoga Publications, 2013) is the first collection for Brisbane writer Kim Wilkins, who has more than 20 books to her credit.

Her work spans children’s, YA, adult dark fantasy and horror, and women’s lit, but this collection of five novellas — two previously unpublished — is firmly rooted in fantasy. It’s damned impressive, too.

It opens with the titular story, a touching tale in which a wife and mother takes her young daughter to a remote Scottish locale, there to discover more about her husband’s past and the supernatural traditions of his home.

The other new story in this collection is the final one, ‘The Lark and the River’, a beautifully rendered description, inspired by an actual place, of the collision between Norman monotheism and Celtic paganism, with our heroine caught in the middle.

australian women writers review challenge logoIn the middle, one novella presages a long-awaited and yet-to-arrive traditional fantasy story in which illicit love threatens a realm; another revisits Arthurian myth, again with a focus on the heroine in Bathory-hot water; and the third also happens in the contemporary world, but with Norse gods involved — the Kiwi television show The Almighty Johnsons came to mind when reading this one.

Character is queen in these stories, the fears and ambitions of the heroines pulling us through the realistically rendered worlds. Wilkins’s love of Norse and Celtic history comes to the fore in the small details so unobtrusively but effectively used in the setting, opening a window into the life of her societies and the challenges her characters face.

The two new stories are perhaps the most emotive, dealing as they do with heartfelt loss, and the emotional world as dutifully, smoothly rendered as the physical one.

I can only hope Wilkins gets to that high fantasy novel sooner rather than later.

  • This is my sixth review as part of the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge — the first was Glenda Larke’s Havenstar; the second, Krissy Kneen’s Steeplechase; the third, Christine Bongers’ Dust; the fourth, Alison Croggon’s Black Spring; and the fifth, Courtney Collins’s The Burial.
    Advertisements
  • Snapshot 2012: Louise Cusack

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoLOUISE Cusack is an international-award winning fantasy author whose best-selling Shadow Through Time trilogy with Simon & Schuster was selected by the Doubleday Book Club as their ‘Editors Choice’. This trilogy was released as e-books in February by Pan Macmillan’s digital imprint Momentum Books. Louise has been a Writer in Residence at the Queensland Writers Centre, and a key regional tutor. She also mentors other writers through her manuscript development business and conducts writing workshops, residencies and retreats with adults writers and in schools. louisecusack.wordpress.com


    Your Shadows Through Time fantasy trilogy has been re-released in e-format by Momentum. What have you been doing to add some puff to this second wind?
    In the lead-up to the re-release I created a new website which I linked to Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. My friend Lisa at Twine Marketing helped me organise my ideas into practical steps that would promote the books while at the same time engaging with other writers and readers to build my brand (I know that sounds pretentious but I’m starting to see what she means!). When you break it down into steps it’s actually fun and easy and I love the immediacy of Twitter and the feedback comments on blogs.


    How has your move to the picturesque cane coast of Queensland impacted on your writing?
    For a start, my productivity doubled! I think that’s a combination of not being distracted by writerly things in Brisbane, and not visiting family and friends as much as I had been. Once I arrived here, I was spending long stretches just pouring out drafts and I upped my output from 5000 good words a week to 10,000, which is pretty awesome when it’s rolling out like that. I also think the change of scenery has helped. Being near the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef is amazing. My tiny town is surrounded by fields of sugarcane, sweet potato, melons and strawberries that are always growing, being harvested or ploughed, which means I never have the same drive through it twice. Even my afternoon ambles along the esplanade are different depending on the tide time, the wind, the cloud cover. So much of Brisbane was the same day after day. I find the constantly changing environment here is really stimulating my creativity. As a fantasy author that’s gold.


    What lessons or themes have you brought to your fantasy fiction from your early days in Romance?
    I’ve always loved a good love story, so no matter what genre I write in I’ll always want to incorporate attraction, rejection, desire and love/hate in the stories. I’m also drawn to the theme of ‘stranger in a strange land’ which lends itself to fantasy and lost world stories, but that theme was also revealing itself early in my fledgling romance writing when I had an city animal rights activist turning up at a country rodeo for example. I like the clash of cultures, of landscapes, of characters feeling like they don’t belong, and then realising that they do. I think I had all these ideas before I even started writing romance, but what romance writing did teach me was to hold the thread. Once the hero and heroine met you were never allowed to sever the thread of their attraction to each other, and while that’s less important in novels where there’s a whole lot more going on than just the love story, it taught me to hold each thread and not break it: the thread of romance, the thread of political intrigue, the thread of physical/emotional/supernatural attack for instance. Every plot has its own threads that need to be maintained, and romance writing taught me not to break them — fabulous lessons in structure for a beginning writer.


    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    I’ve just finished Jessica Shirvington’s Embrace which I adored. I’m a pushover for a good love triangle, but Jessica has done so much more with hers than the usual YA fantasy, and her bad-boy angel Phoenix is seriously hot! I can’t wait to read other novels in the series.


    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    I can only speak for my own experience, both as a reader and a writer, to say that the price and availability of e-readers has changed my world profoundly. I bought a Kindle a year ago and since then have read more fiction in a year (both spec fic and other genres) than I had in the five years preceding it. I’ve read best-sellers, cheap and free self-published books, as well as novellas and short stories (which I never normally bought) and more ‘sample’ opening chapters of novels than I can readily remember. It’s a whole new way to select what you read, and being able to sample the openings of novels before I buy has sharpened my personal eye for what I like instead of just being drawn in by a book cover or a recommendation or review.

    This year I had a previously print-published fantasy trilogy released as e-books and I’m hearing that people who would never normally buy fantasy novels have sampled the opening of my first novel and bought it because the characters appealed to them. So I think that people buying e-books are going to be reading across genres more than they had, and also now that writers can self-publish, the power to decide what sells is largely back in the hands of readers rather than being solely at the discretion of publishing house editors. I see that some writers are self-publishing e-books without editing them properly, but a proportion of readers are fine with that so long as they love the story. It’s all about options, really, and the rise of e-books has increased options for writers and readers. That has to be good.

    * * *

    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:

    Snapshot 2012: Sophie Masson

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoNEW South Wales writer Sophie Masson has written more than 50 books ranging from fantasy to history, mystery to graphic novels. In 2011 her historical novel, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, while her alternative history novel, The Hand of Glory, won the Young Adult category of the 2002 Aurealis Awards. She has also written several novels for adults, and four romantic thrillers for teenagers under the pen-name of Isabelle Merlin.

    Her latest novels are The Boggle Hunters (Scholastic), a fantasy adventure for young readers 8-12, and My Brother Will (AchukaBooks), a novel for adults and young adults about a year in the Shakespeare family’s life, as told by William Shakespeare’s younger brother Gilbert. Forthcoming are the YA fairytale thriller Moonlight and Ashes (Random House) and the historical adventure novel for younger readers, Ned Kelly’s Secret (Scholastic).
    www.sophiemasson.org


    Your list of fairytale books is getting long! The latest, Moonlight and Ashes, is out this month. What was it about Cinderella that attracted you?
    Well, I’ve always loved the story and been fascinated by it and how it’s probably the most common fairytale theme across all cultures and different times — the theme of the neglected, abused, oppressed young girl who is gifted a better life and love of her own. It is a common human longing. The versions of the story I know best are the classic French one, Cendrillon, as told by Perrault (with the fairy godmother); the English one, Tattercoats, collected by Joseph Jacobs (which has a flute-playing gooseherd as the magic-worker, and which I used for my earlier novel Cold Iron) and the German one collected by the Grimm brothers, Ashputtel , which has no fairy godmother or gooseherd but instead a magic tree which grows from a hazel twig that Ashputtel hears about in a dream sent to her by her dead mother. I always liked that version because the Cinderella figure there is much more active than many of the others, and a lot depends on her own strength of character. It’s that which drove the creation of my own Cinderella character, Selena — though I’ve pushed it even further with her. And I’ve made a complete setting for her too — a fully fleshed out world, which is actually an alternative-world version if you like of the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the main setting, Ashberg, based on Prague, which I visited a couple of years ago. Fairytales are extraordinary and always reveal so much when you work with them and this one was no exception. It was an intense emotional experience, writing it.


    Your bibliography covers so many genres. In the recently published The Boggle Hunters, you seem to have mixed science fiction with fairy folk fantasy — did that pose any particular challenges?
    Not really. What I’ve done is updated many fairytale and folklore motifs and given them a modern twist, so that the Fays and Grays, the rival faery tribes in The Boggle Hunters, invent all kinds of very science-fiction sounding gadgets and suchlike, but in truth they are jazzed-up versions of very traditional things: the IWish card is an update of three wishes, for instance; the ‘glammer’ which the boggle hunters carry with them is a cross between a magic wand, a computer, camera and many other things! It was immense fun to do!


    With such a diverse back catalogue of genres and readerships, have you noticed any common themes? Or have you found that some genres suit different themes better than others?
    Well there certainly are common themes — among them that Cinderella theme of the neglected and left behind winning through to love and happiness; also an examination of courage and its antithesis, which to me isn’t cowardice so much as cruelty; the world within the world rather than beyond it — I am firmly imbued with the idea of what the Welsh called Annfwn, the ‘In-World’ — the magic world is not outside of ours but living by it and behind it. I think my own experiences growing up as a child between two worlds — France and Australia — and two languages — French and English — have contributed to that. I am also very much interested in metamorphosis in all its forms, and dreams.

    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    Very recently, I’ve loved Kate Forsyth’s gorgeous riff on the Rapunzel story, Bitter Greens, which weaves three different stories within its historical and magical framework. Richard Harland’s extraordinary steampunk Worldshaker series is also a great recent favourite. And though it’s not brand new, I’ve just read Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier, which is a beautiful, suspenseful and unusual version of another of my favourite fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast, which Juliet has set in Ireland around the 12th century, I think — anyway, there are Norman invaders, so I thought probably that time. (Incidentally, I’m at present writing my own Beauty and the Beast novel , titled Scarlet in the Snow, which is inspired by the Russian version of the story, The Scarlet Flower and set in a country called Ruvenya, within the same basic world as Moonlight and Ashes.)

    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    I’m not sure — but perhaps the biggest change, and challenge, has come actually from general trends in publishing including the global financial crisis, which sort of made things harder for both writers and publishers, and the disruption but also opportunity afforded by e-publishing. Things are still shaking down from all that.

    * * *

    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:

    Snapshot 2012: Scott Westerfeld

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoSCOTT Westerfeld is the author of five books for adults and 13 for young adults, including the New York Times-bestselling Uglies and Leviathan series. The latter was illustrated by Keith Thompson, and the former has just been adapted as a graphic novel series scripted by Devin Grayson, with art by Stephen Cummings. Scott’s work in progress is a meta-paranormal romance. Find Scott online at scottwesterfeld.com.


    How exciting is it to see Uglies being given a manga treatment — the sign of more cross-platform excursions to come?
    I’ve always wanted to rewrite the series from Shay’s point of view, simply as an exercise in perspective, but it seemed a bit lazy re-tell a story I’ve already told. But when the idea of a graphic novel adaptation came up, I realised that a different medium would be the right place to effect the shift in perspective. I’m working on an original graphic novel at the moment, having learned a lot from watching Devin Grayson adapt my outline for Shay’s Story.


    When you were writing your Leviathan series (which includes illustrations), did you expect it to be such a fashion hit in terms of the fan art? (I note that Uglies seems pretty popular, too…)
    Lots of people think that adding pictures to a book makes it younger, but in reality it just means reaching a different set of readers: those with a more visual bent, many of whom come out of manga and graphic novel traditions. So yes, there is a lot more fan art and cosplay for Leviathan than any of my other books. It really does change the kinds of questions readers ask. What are the dominant colors in this society? How do people dress for breakfast? Like fan fiction, fan art opens up countless new kettles of fish and makes the world of the book much bigger.


    You were on a panel about the fiction of the fantastic at the Sydney Writers Festival. What are some of the key ideas about writing fantasy and science fiction?
    World-building is a fundamental concern of our genre. Speculative writing quite often starts with a world and lets the stories, characters and conflicts come out of that world.


    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    Sea Hearts is a glorious read. It’s full of lovely sentences, as one would expect from Margo Lanagan, but also it’s one of the few multi-generational sagas I’ve read that doesn’t lose its flow as the decades pass. The bleak island setting is so unchanging and inescapable that the story can last a century and yet you always know right where you are.

    I’m also enjoying Library of Forgotten Books, a collection by Rjurik Davidson. The shorts stories are all darkly atmospheric, both in their themes and their language, which gives them an impact that’s more like a novel than a divertimento.


    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    I don’t know.

    * * *

    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:

    GenreCon for Sydney in November

    From the Queensland Writers Centre bulletin, a great event for genre writers:

    The Australian Writer’s Marketplace is proud to announce GenreCon!

    Rydges Paramatta, November 2-4th 2012

    GenreCon is a three-day convention for Australian fans and professionals working within the fields of romance, mystery, science fiction, crime, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and more. One part party, one part celebration, one part professional development: GenreCon is the place to be if you’re an aspiring or established writer with a penchant for the types of fiction that get relegated to their own corner of the bookstore. Featuring international guests Joe Abercrombie (Writer, The First Law Trilogy, Best Served Cold, The Heroes), Sarah Wendell (co-founder, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), and Ginger Clark (Literary Agent, Curtis Brown).

    For more information, visit GenreCon.com.au. Early bird rates available to the first 50 registrations.

    The event looks to have a strong industry and networking focus, and the ticketing system includes mention of pitching opportunities.

    Salvage: words in the seawrack

    salvage by jason nahrung

    As part of the Wednesday Writers guest post series over at Ebon Shores, I’ve offered some background to the inspiration and development of the novella Salvage that Twelfth Planet Press is publishing this year. The story took four years to appear on the page — that’s about 10,000 words a year — and arrived in response to three years of rather bruising disappointment. Bottom line: keep swimming.

    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.