Saturday, December 22, 2007

Die Pellinor-Saga

I don't know. I'm always the last to know...

I just found out, via German Amazon, that The Gift came out there this month! Gasp! And the two others won't be far behind.

But better still, I found the covers. I love them!


Friday, December 21, 2007

Pub dates

No, this doesn't mean that I'm going on a pub crawl. I have investigated the publication dates for the The Singing (which comes out next year, as any good Pellinorite knows).

The Singing will come out in Australia first, in June 2008. And then the UK and the US will both publish it in September.

Meanwhile, the Australian re-release of the Pellinor series (in those gorgeous UK covers) will happen in May, with all three books in the Story So Far. The US paperback edition of The Crow is due out August 2008.

2008 is also my debut in Germany, where Verlagsgruppe Lübbe is bringing out The Gift (Die Gabe) and The Riddle (Das Rätsel) in the northern spring. They also publish JRR Tolkien, Tamora Pierce, Mary Gentle, Robin Hobb and Marion Zimmer Bradley, so I'm in good company.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wish fulfilment

Another post! Well, I'm spending today catching up on Pellinor stuff. One of the things I didn't expect when I wrote these books was the creativity of the readers - they've generated some gorgeous fan act and fan fiction (and some frankly bizarre fantasies, as well!) And now they're moving into videos.

Anyway, today, courtesy of a reader called Icelands on my sffworld forum, I post for your amusement a fake trailer for The Riddle. (A harbinger, perhaps, of Things to Come - one of the questions I am most often asked is when the movie is going to be made, so maybe in the next five decades...) I hate to think how many copyrights the video contravenes - it clips from practically every fantasy movie ever made - but Icelands has nicely put a copyright notice at the end. And I rather like it!

Oh, and while I'm at it - Walker Books has put The Singing in its catalogue, with Patrick Insole's wonderful cover. So I thought I'd post that too. Sharp-eyed Bardic experts will notice the map behind the image, which gives some hints on where the story is, as it were, going...


The post long promised, plus some poetry

I keep saying it's been a crazy year, and it has. And I'm a bit tired. When you get to my age (about a hundred and forty two, Bard years, of course) the end of every year is when it all catches up.

But yes, my life as a theatre critic was demanding in '07. It even began to look suspiciously like what other people call a career, when I was appointed Melbourne reviewer for the national daily newspaper, the Australian. (I'm not very good at careers, which is partly how I ended up writing fantasy novels). I finished another book of poems, which will be published next year by Salt Publishing. And - of course - I finished The Singing.

In fact, I'm still finishing The Singing. I'll be finishing it for some time yet - there's copyediting and proofing to go yet, it goes on and on! Sometimes I think anyone who writes a novel ought to have their head read, it is such a lot of labour - and not just for the author, but for the editors, the designers, the illustrators, the typesetters, all the other people who work so hard making the book.

The first and major edit will be completed before Christmas, and I am just now doing the final pieces of writing, including the poems I put before each section. The good news is I am proud of it - I do think it's the best book yet, which is as it should be. The bad news - yes, I fear there is some - is that its UK publication has been put back to September 2008 - I still don't know publication dates for Australia or the US, although it will be out first here and I expect them all in 2008 - so the wait will be a little longer. But the delay takes a little pressure off, which is a relief.

Anyway, a couple of readers have been asking if I will be writing more about Edil-Amarandh. There's a little story which Walker will be publishing as a separate book next year (called The Friends) but, aside from that, I think I'm all spent on that world. I would be very surprised if I did. I have lots of ideas for other stories, and once I fully recover from the shock of actually finishing a quartet, I will probably start one of them. I can only write stories if they grab hold of me by the throat: if I wrote more stories about Edil-Amarandh just because it was expected, I think they would be disappointing.

To be honest, I have made a solemn and dreadful vow that I will never write another series. It takes a lot out of you, you know. But it's a bit dangerous for writers to say things like that. Until last week I was also saying that I had probably finished with poetry, too. And then I started doing a version of Beowulf, an Old English poem that is the beginning of English literature. (Why? I don't know! Writing is like that...) You probably all know that a movie has been made of it. I've been debating whether to see it, even though it's written by Neil Gaiman: the trailers put me off a bit. I just can't quite get my head around Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother. I might catch it on DVD, out of curiosity, and find I'm wrong.

Beowulf is one of the major inspirations behind The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien, who was an expert on Beowulf and, indeed, wrote a deeply influential lecture about it (Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics) that is still routinely referred to by scholars, basically took the Geats and Scyldings and added horses to make the Rohirrim. Want to know where he got the names "Middle Earth" or Eomer? Read Beowulf.

It's a terrific poem, although it's all very, well, manly. (In The Gift, the men at Gilman's Cot whom Maerad escapes at the beginning of the story are a rather sardonic version of the men in Beowulf - they like drinking, boasting and fighting, more or less in that order). It's written in 43 fitts, or parts, and it's more than 3000 lines long, and I am trying to write a translation that reads like a poem, with poetry's beauty and skill, but which is plain and strong, like a good sword. Because that's what I think the Old English is like.

Anyway, I thought I'd post a little of the poem, because it might interest some of you. This bit occurs when Beowulf arrives at the hall of the Danish King, Hrothgar, claiming he will kill the monster Grendel. Heorot is the name of the hall, and for 12 years Grendel has been terrorising the Danes, attacking the hall and eating Hrothgar's thanes. One of Hrothgar's men, Unferth, is jealous and taunts Beowulf. It's a fine piece of manly boasting!

Unferth spoke, Edgelaf’s son,
from the feet of the Scylding king.
Irked by Beowulf’s brave adventure,
he let loose his hidden thoughts,
vexed that any stood before him
to be praised in middle earth.
“Are you the Beowulf who took on Breca
daring to swim the open seas,
risking your lives for a foolish boast?
No man, friend or foe, could stop you
from that sorry venture. You both rowed out
into the strait and embraced the currents,
weaving the water with your hands,
gliding over the winter swells.
For seven nights you fought the sea
but he got the better of you,
being stronger. In the morning
he was cast up on Heatho-Ream’s shore
and from there sought his own homeland,
dear to his people, the Bronding’s land,
where he was rich in land and rings.
The son of Beanstan fulfilled his boast.
And so I expect the worst for you,
however you prevail in war,
if you wait at night for Grendel.”

Beowulf answered him, son of Ecgetheow:
“Listen well, my friend Unferth.
In your cups you boast of Breca,
but the truth is, I am stronger.
I had it harder than he did
out in the ocean. Young and reckless,
we agreed to risk our lives.
We rowed out into the sound
with naked swords hard in our hands
to keep the whales off.
He could go no faster than I,
not a hand’s breadth came between us.
Neck and neck we swam together
for five nights, until the waves
drove us apart. The water surged
in the bitter weather, and night came dark
as the north wind whipped the wild waves.
Then a fish of the deep ocean
wrathfully struck me. My hand-linked mailshirt
helped me then, my braided armour
covered my breast. The monster pulled me
down to the sea-bed, it held me fast
in its cruel grip, but I stabbed hard
with my edged sword. I destroyed
that mighty sea-beast.

“Again and again savage assailants
pressed me sorely, but I served them
proper justice. Those wicked monsters
held no feast on my dead flesh.
In the morning their slashed corpses
littered the shore, and never since
have they hindered unwary travellers
on that sea-road. God’s bright beacon
rose in the east, the wild sea stilled
and at last I saw the headlands.
If courage endures, fate will spare
a hero from death. It was my good fortune
to kill nine monsters with my sword.
I have not heard of more grievous battle
waged at night under heaven’s vault,
nor of a man more wretched than I was
adrift on the sea. Yet I survived.
Weary from battle, the sea-flood bore me
off to Finn land. I have not heard
such stories of you, nor of Breca,
that either of you made such bright terror
in your swordplay. I do not boast of it.
But you have only killed your brother,
saving your sword for your own kinsman,
and you are damned for it. Sharp as you are,
I say to you truly, son of Edgelaf,
that if your heart were as battle-fierce
as your talk is, Grendel would never
have humbled Heorot. There’s no fight,
no storm of blades from the Victory-Scyldings
to spoil his pleasures.
He takes his toll, sparing no one.
I’ll show Grendel the might of the Geats,
I’ll bring him war now, and when the sun
brings the new day clad in radiance,
men will be able to drink in peace.”


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Yes, yes, I know...

I'm afraid I've been a very delinquent blogger here. My apologies all, but it has been a crazy time. A crazy year, in fact, and I'm really rather tired. October was a huge feast of theatre - the Melbourne Festival was on and I was wearing my critic's hat and obviously had to see as much as I could... (as a critic, I get free tickets, and it's a little difficult to hold back sometimes). Not that I am complaining, it was indeed a wonderful time. As soon as I discharged my onerous duties there - this no doubt will interest you more - I finished the rewrite of The Singing, working with my marvellous editor, Chris Kloet, so I can report that it moves ever closer to being an actual book. The UK (and consequently Australian) cover design is well in hand and I think the idea is brilliant. I hope you'll forgive me for saying that I think this book is the best yet (I also hope that you think so too, when you get to read it). In the course of the four books, I think I've become a much better writer. Nothing like a 2000 page epic to make you watch your adverbs...

All that's left to do is the final appendices and some poems. And the copy-edit and the proofs and... really, sometimes when I think of all the work a book is, especially when you take into account the labour of other people besides the writer, it's amazing so many get written and published. But they do.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Books, books, books

One of the fringe benefits of being a writer is that I seem to get constant deliveries of books. Not just the books we buy and read, but mysterious parcels that arrive in the post. Sometimes they're books by friends, usually poets; sometimes they're my own books (I have a shelf full of Pellinors!) and sometimes they're books to which I've contributed in some way.

In the past couple of days I've had two of those. One of them is an handsome orange paperback called Contemporary Australian Poetry, in which I have a poem. I'm not sure which poem it is - I contributed it along time ago - because I can't read a word of it: it's all in Chinese. It's edited by John Kinsella and Chinese-Australian poet Ooyang Yu, and translated by Ooyang. Translation is a mysterious business. In European languages, you might not understand the words, but you can still see the shape of the poem. In Chinese, I can't even see that - I just stare at the page in baffled admiration!

I can read the other book, though. This one is called The World of the Golden Compass, and it's a collection of essays on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, written by young adult authors (including not a few Australians, such as Juliet Marillier and Sophie Masson). It's edited by Scott Westerfield and put out by Ben Bella Books as a Borders exclusive. For that one, I wrote about the poetry Pullman used - there's a lot of it - thus combining two of my passions, poetry and fantasy. I loved writing that essay. The whole thing is a great read, so look out for it. (I think, though, that it's only available in the US).


Friday, September 14, 2007


Brilliant news from Penguin Books Australia, who are my home publishers. They're planning to repackage the Pellinor books, relaunching the whole series a few months before The Singing is released mid-next year. And they're planning to use the Walker Books covers (right), which will be familiar to UK readers.

I'm very fond of these covers, which are designed by Patrick Insole. Assiduous Pellinor readers will be familiar with Patrick as Professor of Ancient Languages of the University of Leeds - when I asked him to help me out, he also designed the Treesong runes for me. (This might surprise some of you, but I have absolutely no visual imagination.)

As for The Singing, Draft 2 is now in hand. As usual, there is an extra chapter to write (this has happened three times now: it's always either at the beginning or the end. In this case, it's at the beginning). I always enjoy editing and rewriting: I get the buzz of writing the book without the panicky feeling that I might never finish it!


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Launch of The Crow and The Website

The Crow is launched in the US today, woohoo! And to mark its launch, my publishers Candlewick have created a wonderful website for The Books of Pellinor. It has all sorts of bells and whistles - author interviews, descriptions of the characters, maps, poems and lovely graphics. I am thrilled.

(And now I have to make the official weasely blogger apology for neglecting this blog. I'll be in more often, I swear, but maybe after October, which is the Melbourne Festival, one of my favourite but most exhausting times of the year. If you want to see how tired I've been, check out the rather wan author photo on the site!)


Monday, August 20, 2007

The boring bits

One of the most illuminating and helpful things I ever read about writing novels was a comment by Patrick White, Australian Nobel Prize winner and novelist extraordinaire. Writing a novel, he said (I recall approximately), is a matter of writing one sentence after another, until they build up into a book.

Sometimes encountering the blindingly obvious can have a revelatory effect. The thought has comforted me ever since. Especially in the middle of a book, when it seems to me that actually finishing this benighted piece of prose - which I began in an idle and perhaps slightly insane fit of thoughtlessness in some previous life - is utterly unimaginable. If I keep writing those sentences, stubbornly placing one foot in front of the other, I will eventually reach the end. It stands to reason.

Hand in hand with this blindingly obvious discovery was another: that each one of those sentences has to be as right as you can get it. And this brings you into intimate contact with GRAMMAR and SPELLING. One of the most important - maybe the most important - aspects of writing is making sure that your grammar and syntax are working for you and not against you. It's the difference between a good book and a bad book, and quite possibly between a good book and a great book. Genius, as Gertrude Stein once said, is "the infinite capacity for taking pains".

There is, it must be said, nothing exciting about this aspect of writing. It is simply essential. And after 25 years of writing for a living, I am still learning. I still make mistakes. I am still a little unsure of the difference between "that" and "which", and sometimes my verbs disagree, and I have to check three times before I spell "weird" correctly.

The people who have taught me most about grammar have been my very patient editors and copy-editors, a saintly group who shall be annointed in heaven. They carefully underline my grammatical and stylistic sins in red pen. They have made me a much better writer, because I figure that the more right I get it the first time through, the less work I'll have to do afterwards. This is a very attractive thought, because on the tenth proofread, you can get very tired of your own book, and would rather read something else.

I have never done anything sensible like go out and buy The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, which is the classic advisory on writing clear English, and which, despite my own delinquency, I advise all young writers to purchase. If you do not possess this book, you could do worse than peruse this advice from, How To Write Good. The first ten rules (of a very long and funny list) are:

1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
2. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They're old hat.)
3. Also, always avoid awkward, affected, and annoying alliteration, which is almost always alienating.
4. Don't use no double negatives.
5. Avoid excessive use of ampersands & abbrevs., etc.
6. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
7. No sentence fragments.
8. Be more or less specific.
9. Being a careful writer, dangling modifiers are always avoided.
10. Foreign words and phrases are not invariably à propos.

Once you understand all these precepts - and only then, really - you can get to the fun part, which is breaking the rules. An obedient writer is an oxymoron, and no really exciting writer ever sticks to a style guide. I break quite a lot of rules, especially when I'm writing poems; but if I have learned anything over the past two decades, it's that it's no use breaking a rule until you first understand what it is. If you don't, you'll just be making mistakes.

This is the hard labour part of writing. Sadly, the more you write, the more you understand that there is always more to learn. All the same, I swear on my heart that it's absolutely fascinating. Really. And when you begin to understand how English works, then you can use the language, instead of the language using you.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Is Irc a New Caledonian Crow?

As Hem's constant companion Irc keeps saying (with some justification) in The Crow: "I am a clever crow". And today there's a BBC story that suggests that perhaps he was the ancestor of New Caledonian crows, which showed marked intelligence in a test posed to them by scientists. It seems they are especially ingenious tool-makers.

Irc himself is actually based on some pet magpies I had as a child, which we rescued from certain death when they fell out of their nests onto the roadside. We never clipped their wings, and they'd stay for a year or so before flapping off to start their magpie lives. Australian magpies, unlike the European versions, are members of the crow family. They make charming, intelligent and funny pets, and are brilliant mimics.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Time. Don't Waste It.

I often remember that Albert Camus had a sign on his desk saying: "Time. Don't waste it". I am looking at my diary and I am out for the next four nights seeing plays. I will be reviewing everything I see (two for the newspaper, all of them for my blog) and I want to see all of them. (Well, maybe I want to see three of them, and am hoping to enjoy the other one.) And I have a meeting on Saturday afternoon, talking with a dance company, who are all brilliant people, which is why I said yes. I still have to write that review of Le Guin's Voices. (I said "yes" to that because I love Le Guin's work).

I spent this morning having a fun time writing background stuff about the Pellinor books for the Candlewick web page, doing small rewrites for the Oz on a review of a wonderful film of Hamlet I saw on Sunday night at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and walking around in circles in my kitchen, sneezing. (This is true). I am not at all sure if this is normal behaviour. Any of it.

Ok, this is a busy week. But I'm getting a little edgy. I think I have to write something. I mean, something that isn't a review. One thing I have to do is work on my next book of poems, which is supposed to come out next year. I'll have to stop being wimpy soon and get down to it. At the moment I'm feeling a little squeeeeezed. I'm not complaining; not only is it all my fault, I'm having the most wonderfully interesting time. But I am wondering how I wrote The Singing, because I didn't seem much less busy then. How do you tell if you're wasting time?


Friday, August 3, 2007

Excuses, excuses

The moment I get some free time, what happens? I catch a cold, that's what happens, and instead of cheerfully checking off my "to do" list, I hang around in my attractive dalmation dressing gown (yes, white with black spots, stop laughing) and grizzle at my family. I've had to cancel several outings this week so I can huddle by the heater and feel sorry for myself. I feel like a hypochondriac old lady, and although my kids will confirm this description with interest, they've been as ill as I have, so they're on shaky ground. So this is why my promised post on writing hasn't happened yet.

Anyway, in between blowing my nose and grumbling, I've been doing various things (Top Secret Things To Be Revealed In Due Course) for the upcoming Books of Pellinor website that Candlewick Books is now putting together to coincide with the US release of The Crow in September. It's all very exciting and I can't wait to see what they do with it. And my editor has given The Singing the thumbs up (the quote is "come up trumps"), which is excellent news. She is a great editor and I trust her instincts. Of course, after that she tells me there is more to do, but I know that already...


Sunday, July 29, 2007


Great to see readers here, and welcome! In particular, thanks for liking the books so much. One reason I wrote them was because I remembered how much some books mattered to me when I was young (actually, books still matter enormously to me: but there's something about the books you read when you're younger, they stay with you) and I hoped that the Pellinor books might be like that for others. So you don't know how wonderful it is to hear from readers who love the books.

Quite a few of you have been asking some interesting questions about how the books were written (ah, that past tense is so wonderful!) and I'm revolving a post in my head which I'll put up sometime next week. At the moment I'm flat out with theatre - four shows in three days! I put on my favourite dress to see the Royal Shakespeare Company do King Lear last night (disappointing) and am off to see whether they make a better fist of Chekhov's The Seagull tonight. I hope so. And I'm also reviewing Ursula Le Guin's wonderful book Voices for ABC Radio... Once I've done my reviews - I review some shows twice, once for the newspaper and once for the theatre blog - I'll have a bit of a rest and talk about me.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pellinor web page

Exciting news from my US publishers Candlewick, who are putting together a special Pellinor website. (This is thrilling for me: a website designed by proper designers? Wow! I can't wait!) They're planning to include audio interviews, Q&As, fan features and other goodies. I expect it will be launched to coincide with the release of the gorgeous hardback edition of The Crow this September. I'll keep you posted.


Friday, July 20, 2007

On why procrastination is important

One of the commonest questions I am asked by readers is: do you have any writing tips? And it usually reduces me to silence: I never quite know where to begin. Worse, some of the most sensible things I have to say about writing are really boring. However, I have been promising for years that I would write something about writing and, now The Singing is finished, I no longer have any excuses.

So I thought I'd start an irregular series of reflections on the process of writing, as I've experienced it, anyway. In any case, today I am supposed to be reviewing a very thick, very complicated book for The Book Show on ABC Radio (it's not the kind of book you can read in bed, because if you fell asleep reading it, it would knock you out). And I suddenly thought I'd like to do something else.

Which leads me to my first observation: writers are, without exception, huge procrastinators. I have never known a writer - and in my time I've met a few - who wasn't. A writer with a deadline tends to be a writer with well-ironed clothes, or with a sudden strange desire to evict the spiders who have been living peaceably in the hall cupboard for years. One of the most frustrating things about writing - for the writer, at least - can be a weird allergy that develops towards the activity that, supposedly, you love most of all in the world.

There is a good reason for this. A lot of the most important work you do occurs when you're not actually writing, or even thinking about writing. Somewhere at the back of your mind something is going on: wheels are whirring, cogs are clicking, feelings are being felt. The annoying thing is that it's impossible to know what that work is until it appears on the page. The only thing experience teaches you is how to tell when it's ready, when it's "cooked" - and even experience doesn't mean that you're certain. Once it's "cooked", the hard work starts. I'll talk about the hard work in another post.

If that "underneath" work has happened, then what you write down will surprise you: things will occur that you don't expect, people will turn up whom you don't know. (This has always struck me as one of the most mysterious things about writing a story: where does it come from? The author doesn't necessarily know, you know.)

This is why I don't believe in writer's block. If you can't write - really can't, no matter how hard you try - it's because the writing isn't ready. Do something else. Your brain is cooking. And yes, sometimes this cooking takes a very long time. Sometimes it can take years.

Did I say that being a writer requires patience?

But - I hear you ask - if you can't control this "underneath" work, how do you get anything done? And how do you know what you want to do?

Sometimes you don't know, and sometimes you do. You can get glimpses of what's going on - feelings and desires, an image maybe, or a person saying something - enough to give you some idea of what it is you want to make. You might even sketch out a plan. But unless the "underneath" work does its job, what you write will feel empty. It's like the difference between joining the dots and making a beautiful painting. You can plan all you like, but what makes something seem real and full is the unexpected things that happen as you discover what it is that you're making. And you only discover that when you make it.

So, the best thing to do is to feed that hidden part of your mind. Go for a walk. Read a book. Watch people on the street, notice how they walk or speak to each other. Read a poem. Go to the art gallery and find a painting you really like and really, really look at it. Think about your writing, and then put it out of your mind. Read some more. Read all kinds of things: fiction and non-fiction, poetry and plays, comic books and visual novels. Make sure that you read things you really enjoy. Put on your favourite CD and listen to it over and over again. Talk to the cat.

If people accuse you of being lazy, tell them that you're working really, really hard. Tell them that you're feeding the book that is growing in the dark part of your mind. They probably won't believe you, but it will be true.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Newsy bits

The big news is that I have finished The Singing. Or at least, I have written to the end of it (there will be editing to come - not much, I hope!) So, at last, the story of Maerad and Cadvan and Hem and Saliman and all the others, has come to an end. The book is due out in Australia and the UK in 2008 (no US pub date yet). I'm certain none of you wanted me to finish it more than I did! And yes, I'm very pleased. I won't know until it actually gets into the hands of readers, but I don't think it's an anti-climax. I have a feeling it's the best written of the lot.

I spent two weeks delirious with disbelief and relief, and have come back down to earth with a bad cold. And realising now that I have to do all the work that fell behind while I was writing The Singing. No rest for the wicked...

In the meantime, the largest independent German publisher Verlagsgruppe Luebbe (who also, I notice, publish Dan Brown) has bought the Pellinor books for release in Germany. I found out today that they have bought The Riddle and The Crow as well as The Gift - wow! That's demonstrating some faith in the series - the first one isn't even out yet! The Gift is due out some time later this year, with The Riddle due out early next year. Which seems very quick to me!


First post

I've decided to start this blog for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that I don't have batallions of secretaries (ok, one would do) who can answer my mail for me and - pathetic though it sounds - I'm getting very behind on answering my fanmail. I can't even keep up with my SFFWorld discussion forum. And I'm beginning to feel very guilty.

This is partly disorganisation, and partly that I'm incredibly busy. I have too many lives: I don't just write fantasy books, I also write poetry (I ought to be working on my next collection right now), edit an online magazine called Masthead (which I'm also feeling guilty about) and spend a lot of my time at the theatre - a passion of mine - which I review for the Australian newspaper and my review blog Theatre Notes. And sometimes my family likes to see me, too.

Meanwhile, lots of things are happening with the books. And my webpage is getting more and more out of date. A blog seemed to be the answer for all these problems. So here it is.