Lian Tanner is a children’s author and playwright. Her best-selling fantasy trilogy, The Keepers, is published by Allen & Unwin in Australia, Delacorte (Random House) in the USA and Hachette in India, and has been translated into seven languages. The first book in the trilogy, Museum of Thieves, won the Aurealis Award for Children’s Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Independent Booksellers’ Award, the Australian Book Industry Award and the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award. It was one of Amazon.com’s Best Children’s Books for 2010. City of Lies (The Keepers Book 2) has also been shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards, and the third book, Path of Beasts, will be published in October 2012.
1. The Keepers series is receiving both popular and critical acclaim (I’ve loved both books so far and can’t wait until Path of Beastscomes out!). Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind the series?
The original inspiration came from one of those serendipitous collisions between several ideas. Several years ago, there was a conversation in the media about what they were calling ‘bubblewrap children’ i.e. children who were grossly overprotected by their parents. I found this conversation really interesting, because like most people of my generation I had a very free-range childhood, and I’m convinced that the mistakes I made, and the dangers I stumbled into, taught me a lot. The other reason I found it interesting was because, at the time, there was an eight-year-old boy living in my street who fitted the classic bubblewrap model. His mother hardly allowed him out the door, and on the few occasions he managed to escape I noticed that he couldn’t do all the things the other kids in the street could do – climb trees, climb fences, throw balls etc. I started to think about the irony of the whole thing – how the more you protect kids, the more vulnerable you make them.
So this was all bubbling away in my mind, slowly turning into a story. And I was wondering where to set it. For some time I had wanted to create an enormous place – a maze, a building, a rubbish dump – I didn’t quite know what it was, but I knew it was big enough to get lost in, and that only certain people would be able to find their way around it. And then I read an article, reprinted from the Guardian newspaper, about the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. This was just after the film Russian Ark was made, and the journalist wrote, ‘All great old museums are places where time stretches, floats, accumulates dust… You lose yourself, cut free from linear time into something more oceanic.’
As soon as I read it, that was it. I knew the story would be set in a museum, in a society where people were paranoid about danger. The rest of it sprang from there.
2. You are based in Tasmania, which is becoming well known for having a creative kind of population – what challenges are there for you, as an author, being located just a little out of the way of the mainland?
I can’t really think of a downside to being based in Tassie, particularly with the ease of contact the internet gives you. On the contrary, there are plenty of pluses to being away from the main centres of Sydney and Melbourne. People are a little less connected to what’s happening in the big cities, which means that creativity is more likely to find its own shape, and often wanders along some very interesting shores. On top of that, Tasmania is full of stories – they sprout from the fences and erupt out of the ground. There’s history everywhere, much of it murky and violent, and growing up with those stories and that history is a wonderful background for a writer.
3. So we know The Keepers is rounding out with Path of Beasts later this year, but what’s happening next? Are there more projects already bubbling in the creative oven? Do you plan to continue writing for children, or is there something else in the works?
I’m currently more than halfway through a stand-alone novel for children, calledFrozen. It’s set on an ancient icebreaker that has been on the same course for the last three hundred years, and it’s a little bit fantasy, a little bit steampunk. Once that is done, I want to go back to the world of the Keepers, and write a couple of prequels about when Herro Dan and Olga Ciavolga were children. And then maybe write another book set in the Frozen world. And then some more prequels to the Keepers. And then… Um, quite a few projects bubbling away, actually!
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Pretty much anything by Margo Lanagan – I adore her short stories and loved Tender Morsels. I’ve got Sea Hearts sitting in my to-read pile – a friend recently said it was the best book she had ever read, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m also a big fan of Melina Marchetta, and was so pleased when she wrote a fantasy, Finnikin of the Rock, which is a deeply satisfying book. The sequel, Froi of the Exiles, is in my to-read pile next to Sea Hearts.
In younger books, the standouts for me have been Scott Westerfeld’s ‘Leviathin’ and Carole Wilkinson’s ‘Dragonkeeper’ series.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
Oh dear, I never know how to answer questions like this. But one of the interesting things for me at the moment is Garth Nix’s dive into space opera. I haven’t read his new book yet, but I’m curious to see if other authors follow him. I love space opera, so I’d be quite happy if they did!