2007 Snapshot Archive: Rowena Cory Daniells

Interviewed by Kathryn Linge

First published at ASiF!

Rowena Cory Daniells has been involved in speculative fiction since 1976, working in the fields of publishing, illustration and both adult and children’s fiction. Her fantasy trilogy ‘The Last T’En’ sold internationally, while her latest book ‘The Evil Overlord’ will be out in January 2008. Her website is http://www.corydaniells.com/

1. Your book ‘The Evil Overlord’ will be the third book in the children’s series ‘The Lost Shimmaron’ and will be out in early January 2008. Is it too early to ask what your story is about? Do you think it was easier or more difficult to sell a series written by seven different authors, compared to single author? (Or exactly the same??!)

‘The Evil Overlord’ is a rollicking boy’s own adventure with an annoying (read plucky) female protagonist who helps the boys out. As to whether it is easier to sell a series written by seven different authors, I couldn’t say. I think it is a challenge to sell anything these days. But it is definitely a bonus writing a series with my fellow RORees. (Our writing group, ROR, sold the series). Coming up with The Lost Shimmaron premise one evening at Varuna while sitting around the fire place sipping wine was loads of fun. With seven writers there isn’t the pressure to write all seven books. If the series takes off and one of us is too busy to write their next book, one of the others can step in. Taking the pressure off keeps you fresh as a writer. If you have fun writing the book, then the reader should have fun reading it.

2. wRiters on the Rise (ROR) has been meeting for about six year now. Did you expect the group to last so long when you co-founded it in 2001? How does the dynamic of the group work, given that each author writes in (sometimes) very different genres?

We didn’t think about how long the group would last. Marianne de Pierres and I established ROR to further our professional development. Critiquing different styles and genres pushes your boundaries as a writer and, as a reader, I enjoy reading across a number of genres. Besides, good writing is good writing no matter what genre.

ROR meets every twelve to eighteen months depending on our writing schedules. We read the manuscripts beforehand and write up reports. Then we get together for a weekend of intensive critiquing. The group dynamic works and, like a good marriage, it just keeps getting better because we are all passionate about writing. We come to each other’s books with the intention of making them the best book they can possibly be. I’ll admit it is harrowing to have your book dissected, but it is also cleansing. If five of the RORees all come up with the same negative reaction to a scene then you know it is not working. We make suggestions, get excited about the craft of writing. And when the books do well, as they have done with Margo winning a couple of World Fantasy awards and the Aurealis Awards our guys have been shortlisted for or won, then we all feel we have an investment in those books. We’re delighted with each other’s success.

3. You’ve recently started an MA in Creative Writing through QUT. What are you researching and what do you hope to get out of the process? What else can we expect form Cory Daniells in the future?

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) offered ten speculative fiction writers the chance to do an MA. I’d never done any academic writing so it was a steep learning curve. (Thanks to Nike Bourke for her patience!) At the moment I’m polishing my exegesis and book and when they are handed in I’ll heave a sigh of relief.

It was great getting to know the other writers in our spec fic cohort. We all chose fascinating research questions. Mine was: In what ways does fantasy explore discrimination and persecution. Science Fiction is known for exploring these topics and for raising the big questions such as what makes us human, while fantasy has generally played it safe by offering a comfort read. Not that there’s anything wrong with a comfort read but there’s no reason why fantasy can’t use the same SF device of cognitive estrangement to place characters in a constructed world and challenge the reader. Both genres are ideally situated to do this.

In my published fantasy trilogy ‘The Last T’En’ I explored discrimination because of gender and being differently abled (gifted magically). Since then I’ve been playing around with these concepts in a series of books that my ROR team have read. The MA helped me focus and, during the last eighteen months, I’ve written three completely new books. They’re set 600 years before the other trilogy and tell the story of that main character’s namesake, the original Imoshen, who led her people out of persecution.

This series follows the fate of a tribe of dispossessed mystics, the T’Enatuath. Vastly outnumbered by Meers (people without magical abilities), the mystics are persecuted because ordinary people fear their gifts. This persecution culminates in a bloody pogrom sanctioned by the Meer King who lays siege to the Celestial City, last bastion of the T’Enatuath. When the city falls at great cost to both sides, the T’En leader negotiates their surrender and the Mystics are exiled from their homeland.

Under Imoshen’s leadership, the T’Enatuath battle vindictive King Chald who has vowed to rid his country of hated Mystics, storms at sea, pirates, and even betrayal from within their own ranks. It’s a fantasy-family saga, the characters are linked by blood, love and vows as they struggle with misplaced loyalties, over-riding ambition and hidden secrets which could destroy them. Some make desperate alliances only to suffer betrayal by those they trust, and some discover great personal strength in times of adversity.

I’ve sent a proposal to my agent, John Jarrold, and he really likes the trilogy. Now we have to see if a publisher likes it.

4. Enough about the writing, what’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

I’ve been doing a lot of research into history, sociology and psychology so I haven’t been doing much fiction reading. But I did enjoy Glenda Larke’s ‘Heart of the Mirage’. I used this book as one of my case studies for the exegesis. I really admire Glenda’s work.

5. Finally, and certainly most inappropriately, you’re given the opportunity to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most. Who will it be and why?

Sherlock Holmes, I love the challenge of an interesting mind!

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