Very excited to present an interview with Glenda Larke, one of my favourite fantasy writers and all around awesome person! I did a short post on her Stormlords series earlier and will be posting on her latest work soon - in the meantime if you're curious about her work, check out her books here and her blog Tropic Temper is packed with great travel pieces.
Thanks again, Glenda for agreeing to the interview - hope readers enjoy your answers as much as I did!
Ashley Capes: Fans will be well aware that you recently went to WorldCon in London and also visited Wales and Scotland too, and not long before that, the Pilbara region in WA (and WA comes to mind in the Stormlord series actually) so I wanted to ask, how important is travel to your writing, to evoking that sense of place that’s so powerful in your novels?
Glenda Larke: I think it’s been very important — quite apart from the fact that it was travelling that perfected my ability to write anywhere, from tents to aeroplanes to fishing boats!
Travel provides the seeds of ideas for stories. My love of deserts came from an Australian childhood, yes, but remember the slits in the garden walls for the water to run into underground cisterns in The Stormlord books? That was from an Algerian Saharan village. The bricked underground water tunnels came from seeing Iranian qanats bringing water to remote villages.
Perhaps even more important than providing ideas, though, is the fact that I lived forty years away from my Australian roots: in Asia, in Africa and in central Europe. Those years fostered an awareness that there are many ways to live one’s life, every one valid and fascinating. Fitting in as an outsider is sometimes not easy, and I had to learn cultural signals and subtleties, sometimes even unlearning behaviours which were acceptable or even encouraged elsewhere. (Possibly studying a couple of units of anthropology at uni helped with this too.) There can be no better way to build an imaginary society than to understand how real ones are constructed — and how and why they succeed.
AC: That’s amazing – you’ve covered a lot of ground. Does such a breadth of time living in so many places instill a sense of restlessness – or maybe curiosity is a better term – within you as a writer? If so, do you pass it on to any of your characters even?
GL: I developed that restlessness before I went anywhere. I was brought up on a small farm in a very small community. My first travelling was done through the pages of old black-and-white National Geographics stored in the wash-house! I’d decided by the time I was nine or ten that I wanted to write stories and I wanted to travel. I think I’ve got most of the wanderlust out of my system now, though. I still enjoy new places, but it’s no longer a driving passion.
However, the curiosity of a writer never leaves you. Ask any author. In the middle of a car accident, a writer is thinking, ‘I must remember what this feels like so I can put it into a story.’ I kid you not. We’re all crazy.
As for characters — oh, yes, curiosity getting people into trouble is a great plot device. Blaze and Flame deliberately choose to set out for other islands at the end of Book One of the Isles of Glory. In The Forsaken Lands, main characters — Saker, Sorrel, Ardhi, Juster — all chafe when they are constrained by society or circumstances to be sedentary. Which is perhaps why the sakti — the magic of the Va-forsaken — selects them in the first place.
AC: I recently got hold of The Lascar’s Dagger (Book 1 of the Forsaken Lands) and I’ve been too slow to read it in time for the interview, otherwise I’d be asking more questions about it the series – so for now, I’d like to backtrack a little and ask – what was the best thing about WorldCon?
GL: In general, I love SF/F conventions because it gives me an opportunity to talk to readers and fellow writers. Writing is a very solitary pastime, so I always appreciate that opportunity. Loncon3, however, was far more than that. It was spectacular.
Firstly…hey, it was London!
Secondly, the programme was a tour de force of planning. There was something for everyone. If you wanted to hear Connie Willis in conversation with G.R.R.Martin, or listen to a panel on the logistics of supplying troops, or watch classic SF films, or game with like-minded folk, or hear an expert deliver a paper on future trends in science…it was all there — in bulk. The problem was choosing what to do.
AC: Really wish I lived in the UK for that one! I’d love to ask you a bit more about characters next. Can you say which of your characters – from any series – has surprised you most?
GL: The surprises have always come from bit players. They’re so sneaky. I start by inventing them to do something small, and they have this habit of becoming real people wanting to take over the show. Dek in Gilfeather, for example. Portron or Corrian in Havenstar. Elmar Waggoner in the The Stormlord trilogy. Those darn spear carriers — they all want to be generals!
AC: Ah, Elmar is one of my favourites – maybe that’s why I like him so much? So do you find a converse or similar problem with leading characters?
GL: I don’t think the converse has happened. If it did and a main character turned out to be too mundane and pedantic, I’d cut them out of the story! However, my leading characters have sometimes developed in ways I didn’t expect when I first planned the story. What happens is that when I’m writing a key scene, a character might decide what would be an appropriate action or reaction. Those are lovely writing moments. For a while the book feels as if it’s writing itself and I know I have a well-rounded character who is going to appear very real to the reader. (I wish it was always that easy…)
AC: Your use of magic often strikes me as being beautifully linked to the natural world, which I think gives it a sense of inevitability. When your magic is portrayed as such, is this a conscious move on your part, or does it seem to occur organically from the story perhaps?
GL: A bit of both. I am first and foremost an environmentalist and I’ve worked in the field. A lot. I love the natural world and I’ve studied the interrelationships. Habitats, biodiversity, ecology … they are fantastic and wondrous to me, so why not take them one step further and look at the natural world supplying the magic in a fictional fantasy. Conversely, I like to look at how much you can lose when you upset the magic/natural world. That, I suppose, is where the sense of inevitability comes in.
Using the link between the natural world and magic is not new, of course. Most writers of Celtic stories use it, for example, and lots of others. What I try to do is give it a different slant.
AC: Yeah, that’s what I think I was noticing with the inevitability, it feels ‘right’ in that sense, you can tell you’ve planned the magic’s relationship to the world carefully. To stay with magic a little longer, I thought I’d ask about your favourite use of magic in any story out there, and about what you think makes magic so important to the genre?
GL: I especially like stories where magic use is expensive and carries a price for the magic-user. Celia Friedmann’s Magister trilogy springs to mind. So does Karen Miller’s Blight of Mages.
“Fantasy” is often synonymous with “magic” in our minds, and there are some readers who won’t read fantasy for that reason. It’s not “real”, they say (as if fiction is ever “real”). My answer to this is this: the part magic plays in a fantasy is very like that of power and/or wealth in an ordinary novel. Genre novels can look at how people behave when they have power, or are confronted with power, and the books can do it without ruining the element of escapism. Genre thought-provoking stories of consequence can still be entertaining rather than confrontational.
Secondly, we all love the story of the powerless, ordinary person finding his or her magic power, the goosegirl or shepherd boy who grows up to rule, the caped hero who comes to our rescue (or perhaps we all want to become the masked hero/heroine). Because of magic, fantasy is the best place to go to for wish fulfillment!
AC: Awesome, I’d never considered the parallel role of power or wealth to magic. How about music? I’m always curious about writers and their relationship to music and so I’d love to ask, is there any genre or particular music you like to work to? Or do you prefer more quiet when you write?
GL: I like classical stuff — full-blown symphonies preferably. They have the depth and the emotion for mood setting. Once I’ve settled in to write, though, I don’t even notice when the CD is finished!
AC: I agree, symphonies are perfect – I often turn to Rachmaninov’s ‘Isle of the Dead’ for darker scenes. Is there a particular composer you’d like to have score any of your books?
GL: Beethoven! In Vienna, I lived just around the corner from Beethovengang, a lovely little lane that led up into the Vienna Woods, and we sometimes had a meal in the restaurant down the road, which was once a house where he rented a room… Our closest U-bahn station was Heiligenstadt, a name that means a lot to Beethoven fans. Heady stuff, for someone who started out on a small Australian farm.
AC: Thanks for the great interview, Glenda – really enjoyed your responses and I have to tell you I’m busting to get started on The Lascar’s Dagger!
Hard for me to express how much I enjoyed this book (and the series) so I'm not going to try in any depth - but basically, I LOVED the world building and the cast of characters too, ace - some of the secondary players especially stood out.
The series also has a superb set of magic systems, one of which involves painting in a clever way which really puts some complications on the plot. And for someone living in Australia, the red desert-setting felt familiar yet chilling too, especially when water plays such a vital role in the story.
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Ashley Capes is an Australian writer of fiction, poetry and very occasional non-fiction.
Imperial Towers (Never Book 5) - draft 1
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Reed Lavender (working title) - draft 1
Unnamed Spec Fic - draft 1
Whisper of Leaves (sequel) - Outline