IAN Irvine, a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia’s national guidelines for protection of the marine environment and continues to work in this field, has written 28 novels. These include the internationally bestselling Three Worldsfantasy sequence (The View from the Mirror, The Well of Echoes and Song of the Tears), which has sold over a million copies, a trilogy of thrillers set in a world undergoing catastrophic climate change,Human Rites, and 12 books for younger readers, the most recent being the humorous fantasy quartet, Grim and Grimmer.
Ian’s latest fantasy novel is Vengeance, Book 1 of The Tainted Realm trilogy. He’s currently doing the final edits of the second book, Rebellion, which will be published in Australia in October 2012, and the US and UK in early 2013.
Your eco-thrillers have been recently re-released: how has the market for such stories changed since they were first published?
I don’t know that it has, actually. As far as I can tell, the market for eco-thrillers has never been a huge one. Even at times when the public had a high level of concern about environmental issues, and has been flocking to eco-disaster movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, I’m told that sales of eco-thriller books have generally been modest. I’m not sure why – perhaps it’s a bit close to home.
Your latest novel is called Vengeance. What topics have you found that fantasy can talk about more easily or more effectively than other genres, if any?
I’ve long been fascinated by the ways that seizing or maintaining political power can undermine the legitimacy of a realm – it happens all the time in history. For instance in Australia, the current Gillard government is constantly being white-anted because of the way its previous prime minister was overthrown. Malcolm Fraser’s government 30 years ago also suffered from the way the previous Whitlam government was deposed.
This issue formed the germ of the idea behind The Tainted Realm – a nation, scarred by a deep sense of national guilt about its own origins, that now faces a resurgent enemy it has no idea how to fight.
Your recent releases include a series for younger readers and now this new, epic fantasy. What are the different joys and challenges you’ve experienced in writing for these two audiences?
One of the best things about being a writer is the ‘next-book dream’ – that the story I’m about to write will be original or provocative or funny or life-changing, or non-stop, edge-of-the-seat suspenseful. Sometimes, in moments of authorial madness, I imagine that it can be all of the above. And everything in my life: every snippet of research, every odd idea jotted down or moment of inspiration can go into the pot, get a good stir, simmer for weeks or years, then miraculously and effortlessly flow into the story. Ha!
One of the worst aspects is grinding out the first draft. It usually starts well, and sometimes runs well for as much as eight or 10 chapters. Vengeance did. And I was lulled, poor fool that I am. Yes, I thought, this book is going to be a snap.
Then suddenly I was in the writer’s ‘death zone’ where every word came with an effort, every sentence sounded banal, every character was done to death, every situation boring and repetitive. Nothing worked; nothing felt inspired. What had gone wrong? Had I used all my ideas up and burned myself out as a writer? I started to think that I’ll never write anything worth reading again.
Nearly every novel has this stage, which generally occurs about a quarter of the way in, and sometimes lasts until half-way. Of all my books, the only ones I’ve not been stuck on were the last two books of my humorous adventure stories for younger readers, Grim and Grimmer. They were written to such short deadlines and with such wild and wacky enthusiasm that there wasn’t time to get into the death zone. It was the first time I’d ever completely let go as a writer, and they were the most fun I’ve had writing.
Vengeance, on the other hand, was one of the worst because I had so many interruptions from other deadlines – pre-existing commitments for the last Runcible Jones YA novel plus the fourGrim and Grimmers. Writing is hard work at the best of times, but doubly hard when I’m forced to jump back and forth between different kinds of books.
Also, because really big books present a writing challenge that doesn’t occur with small ones – it’s difficult to keep the whole vast canvas in mind at once. The only way to write such books (for me, anyway) is in long, uninterrupted slabs of time, otherwise every interruption hurls me out of the characters’ heads and I have to laboriously write my way back in again. And no matter how well yesterday’s writing went, each new day presents the same challenge.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’m a big fan of Richard Harland’s steampunk world, as exemplified in his terrific World Shakerand Liberator. I’ve also enjoyed Stephen Irwin’s dark thriller The Dead Path, and Trent Jamieson’s excellent trilogy The Business of Death. Apart from that, I’ve bought lots of Aussie speculative fiction recently but it’s still on the ever-growing unread pile.
What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Sorry, I don’t have the faintest idea. I’m only now emerging from the busiest time of my writing life, and I rarely read short stories, so any emerging trends in Aussie speculative fiction have passed me by.
However, looking at the publishing and bookselling side of things, we face challenges we haven’t seen in the past decade and a half, since Aussie SF publishing, sales and international success exploded in the mid-to-late ’90s. From now on, due to the high dollar, the demise of book chains and the explosion in e-books and self-publication, it’s going to be a lot harder to get published by a traditional print publisher than it has been at any time since 1995, and sales, for the most part, are liable to be smaller because we’re also competing with a million self-published e-book titles. They might only sell a handful of copies individually, but because there’s so many of them, they add up to a significant chunk of the market. So, tough times ahead, but fantastic opportunities as well.