Sunday, 1 February 2015

Interview - Glenda Larke

Hi Everyone,

I am stoked to be able to bring you the latest edition of our interview series with Australian writers. Glenda Larke has been writing for many years now, and she is arguably one of Australia's most talented and witty authors (she has cut yours truly down on twitter before brilliantly! I have a long memory Glenda!). She graciously took time out of her busy schedule to talk about her latest series The Forsaken Lands and other various topics. 

Glenda Larke, welcome to Smash Dragons!

Thank you! Dare I say that the dragon does look a bit smashed?

First up, tell us a bit about yourself and your new fantasy series entitled The Forsaken Lands.

In summary: I was born on a very small farm in Australia, a long, long time ago. Life was good, but I decided the world was too exciting not to explore … I’ve lived and worked on four continents, and now I have returned to retire within 70km of where I was born. In fact, to where we holidayed by the sea when I was a kid.

My first published book was a standalone, Havenstar, in 1999. That was followed by three unconnected trilogies: The Isles of Glory, The Mirage Makers, and The Watergivers (also known as the Stormlord trilogy). I’m working on my thirteenth book at the moment, which will bring my fourth trilogy, The Forsaken Lands, to a close. 

Why did you become a writer? When did you first realise you had a knack for story telling?

I knew when I was about eight, after teachers kept asking me to read out my compositions and I realised that other kids liked to hear the stories I made up. I never wavered in the desire to write books — but, alas, I was not so steadfast in setting about achieving it! Life got in the way for a long while.

Where did the idea for your new series come from? What challenges did you face when writing this new series?

The ideas? 

From history:

The horror that a greed for spices brought to South-east Asia. People still cry on Banda Island today when recounting the horror of what happened to their people in the 17th century; it is seared into their collective memory and re-enacted in their folk dances.

From my own working and travelling life: 

My job involved time spent on many islands of the South China, Sulu and Celebes Seas. I have lived, as a local, longer in South-east Asia than anywhere else. 
I lived in Europe for years (Vienna) and I travelled widely there, exploring museums and old towns, ports and cities. Most of the trilogy actually takes place in what I think of as 18th century England and the Netherlands.

The Challenges?

Bringing big ideas into the novel (colonialism, trade rivalry, clash of cultures, religious wars) yet not allowing those ideas to swamp the intimate story of a small group of people trying to combat the viciousness of the evil that threatens them — all without losing their own humanity.

Did you undertake much research prior to writing this new series?

I always have a stack of books and papers on my desk. In this case, books and articles and DVDs on all of the following: household crafts prior to the industrial revolution; European plants and animals and fish; shipbuilding and ship designs, sailing and voyages of exploration; spice trees, sea battles of sailing ships, life on a sailing ship, 18th century Netherlands, castles, 18th century ports and maps…

I look up things when I need to know them.

You have lived overseas for a significant amount of time in your life. Has this experience helped shape your writing and the direction it has taken?

When you become an immigrant, you need to understand the underpinnings of that society and their culture. You learn to look for clues because you have to learn how to behave all over again. What’s polite in Country A can be bad manners in Country B.

I can’t think of a better grounding in worldbuilding than to live in another culture and climate, amongst people following a different religion and speaking a language not even vaguely related to your own. 

What was your worst experience whilst travelling?

Oh, the time I almost got arrested and deported because I mistook the expiry date of a visa. Long story, but I ended up making not one, but two planes late, and needless to say, missed my flight. Unravelling the result of my stupidity involved the Prime Minister’s Department of an Asean country… 

No, you don’t want to know. And I want to forget.

One of the things I adore about your books is how different they are to most other fantasy stories. Do you think that fantasy writers still rely too much on the same old tropes (knights on horseback for example) and ideals?

Not nowadays, no. There was a time when it seemed to be if you didn’t produce the “norm” of medieval settings, it was hard to get published, but those days have vanished, thank goodness. My agent was trying for eight years to sell Havenstar, Heart of the Mirage and The Aware in the  1990s. No one would buy them. And then, all of a sudden, perhaps because non-standard settings took off, she sold them all, one after the other. 

Nowadays, fantasy settings encompass everything from prehistoric to steampunk to modern urban to dystopia, from Africa to Asia to Europe to …anywhere really.

The fantasy genre is so exciting and challenging now, and the boundaries keep expanding.

Saker is a fascinating character. I especially found the dynamic of being a spy and also a member of the clergy very interesting. Did you draw from historical precedents when devising him?

Well, I’ve always found Mazarin fascinating — he started out as a 17th century diplomat and a papal agent. He was a brave peacemaker (mostly), a gambler, a wise administrator with a genius for thwarting court intrigues, and amazingly moderate and generous considering the times he lived in. He ended up a Cardinal and Chief Minister of France, virtually ruling with Queen Anne because the heir (Louis XIV) was a child …

The Lascar’s Dagger is set in a rich and deeply layered world. Do you draw upon your experience as a conservationist when designing fantasy worlds from the ground up?

Absolutely. Climate, natural disasters, natural resources, food sources, wildlife, humanity — everything fits together like a jigsaw. Working for twenty years in the rainforest taught me so much about how ecosystems interrelate. An excellent grounding for world building!

We both share a passion for bird watching. What has been your best bird watching experience so far?

So many wonderful times in so many different countries! A Blue-footed Booby untying my shoelaces in Galapagos, perhaps? What I’m proudest of though, was following and photographing the nesting of a pair of Malaysian White-bellied Woodpeckers, from courtship through two nesting seasons, including their prolonged warfare with a pair of nest-robbing Dollarbirds. It was the first record of a nest in the country. I also started (with three others) the Malaysian birding group, which is still extant.

What is your worst writing habit?  

Finding other stuff to do when I should be writing! Like birding.

Magic and nature seem to go hand in hand in your books (The Stormlord series springs to mind). Is this a conscious move on your part, or does it just occur naturally in terms of the storytelling?

A very conscious move. Nature is so magical anyway…

When writing are you an architect or a gardener?

Bit of both, but probably more slash and burn than design and construct…

If you were chosen as one of the first individuals to travel to Mars and colonise it what three books would you take and why?

Obviously, the manual titled “How to survive on Mars for Dummies”.

Probably “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” simply because of the amount of quality reading in it and things that can be re-read and still enjoyed. Third choice? The entire “Song of Fire and Ice” eBook, all volumes including the last, because I want to find out what happens…

Tell me about your latest release, The Dagger’s Path. What can readers expect in this book?

The first book stayed mostly in “Europe”. Half of the second, The Dagger’s Path, is set on the other side of the world — and what happens there is going to be the driving force for Book 3, which will take place back in “Europe” again. This middle book clarifies a lot of the mysteries of Book 1 — what Fox is really up to, what the dagger and the feathers really mean, why Saker was granted that particular witchery…

What are you currently working on?

Book 3. As yet unnamed. It will be out early next year.

What do you think about the state of Australian speculative fiction at the moment? Is there anyone we should look out for in 2015? 

We have amazing talent here. We have great small presses, podcasters, editors, writers… Many of the names on the Australian scene are huge internationally as well. Writers represent some of the best of every facet of SF/F/H, shorts and novels, adult and YA. Look at this selection of names, and the wide variety of the huge talent here in this short list: Trudi Canavan. Karen Miller. Juliet Marillier. Garth Nix. Keri Arthur. Jonathan Strahan. Margo Lanagan. Greg Egan. Kaaron Warren. People know these names the world over.

I could go on and on. 

My reading is way behind (I blame writing) so I’m not nearly up-to-date, unfortunately. I would hate to be an Aurealis judge this year.

And finally, will fans be able to see you at any events or conventions in 2015?

Only Swancon, I think. Perth, Western Australia, over Easter, with international guest John Scalzi.

Glenda Larke, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to talk with Smash Dragons!

My pleasure.

You can find copies of all of Glenda's work at all reputable bookstores and online retailers. I highly recommended checking them out... they are simply unique and beautiful to read!

Until next time peeps, stay nice and keep on reading!

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