Interview by Ben Peek
Fiona McIntosh is the author of six novels, with another six on the way. Her two trilogies are the Quickening and Trinity, and a new triogy, Percheron, will begin with Odalisque at Xmas. Check her website for details on all.
1) If it’s one thing that the speculative fiction likes to say, is that it doesn’t get respect. But within the spec fic community, what often doesn’t get any respect is high fantasy, the genre within the genre that is, arguably, keeping spec fic alive on the bookshelves. (By this I mean that science fiction appears to translate well and popularly to film, but high fantasy, outside Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, often doesn’t translate.) Does this have any effect on how you interact with the community at large?
Well, I sneer a lot — is that what you mean? I must be honest and say I have personally never felt a lack of respect within the spec fiction community. If anything I rarely failed to be surprised by the unexpected warmth that is extended to all writers of genres within the genre. I don’t care for the term ‘high fantasy’ because it tends to perpetuate that wrongly held notion of wizards with bolts of magic coming from fingertips and a dragon or goblins in every tale. I’m working hard in the promotional area to reach as wide an audience as I can to educate them about high quality fantasy (rather than high fantasy!). Peter Jackson did a marvelous thing for all of us in the genre by bringing LOTR to the big screen and in such spectacular fashion. I feel it’s a case of water dripping constantly on stone — we will wear the wider community down into reading speculative fiction as mainstream…but it’s a long term campaign. And should I come across anyone who considers what I and so many write and enjoy inferior, then I and the others should just look at our sales and smile.
2) After having published six novels of high fantasy, and with a contract for another six, what are the things that you look for to challenge yourself with each book?
The challenge for me with the next six books is to find the right recipe that allows me to escape the pigeon-hole of ‘fantasy’ and move over into mainstream fiction. I don’t want to be genre writer. My stories carelessly trample across the boundaries of historical fiction, thriller, romance, horror, even crime, so I want to breakout from the back of the store! Too many readers of popular mainstream fiction still wrongly believe that fantasy is somehow childish — usually those who’ve never read a quality fantasy series. I’d like to change that attitude by luring mainstream readers into the tales unwittingly — it begins with different sort of artwork on covers and will require a new sort of marketing as well as a change in mindset of retailers.
3) I haven’t done any kind of study for this, mind, but I’ve found that high fantasy is drawing a lot of female authors to it. What I’m curious about, is if that means that high fantasy is drawing a lot of female readers to it — especially since for a long time, science fiction has been considered a boys kind of thing.
I run what we think is Australia’s largest monthly bookclub and it’s true, the boys are drawn towards sci fi — I know this from my own teenage sons who love space opera as a first choice. But when we’ve insisted everyone read Orson Scott Card for example, or Joel Shepherd, it was enjoyed across the board. You’re probably beginning to suspect that I don’t like that label of high fantasy one bit — it’s meaningless to me. Just more pigeon-holing that I detest. Most of my daily email from around the world is from men, all hooked on fantasy and the huge emotional ride of the tales, so I think the notion that more women are attracted to fantasy is a fallacy but I do think women enjoy the strong relationships in fantasy that has perhaps not been given such a high profile in sci fi. But even that is changing. Fantasy’s great attraction to the reading public right now is the total escape it offers — and particularly from today’s often ugly reality — and I don’t think that need is felt more greatly by either sex. Everyone wants it (the escape, not sex…ahem)
4) You’re dead. You were a victim of Alanis Morrisette irony, which means you won the lotto, and died the next day, died. I know, it’s more tragic than ironic, but what can you say? Since you’re dead, nothing. You go to Heaven (assuming you believe, blah blah) and you see God. You say?
“Want to buy a lottery ticket?”
5) Favourite swear word?
When you stub a toe, burn your silk shirt beneath the iron, jump into the shower and the water’s cold, there simply is no finer curse than ‘fuck!’ … and it holds good for most irritations and inconveniences plus can be said in a variety of different tones and volumes to convey different sorts of messages. I find it very powerful and helpful. That said, ‘bollocks’ rolls easily off the tongue when a situation has gone bad and the tried and much trusted ‘bugger’ is great for when you drop your toast buttered side down or go through the dying glow of amber traffic lights and realise there’s a camera flashing somewhere.