Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ian Irvine is Grilled by Fans

I was going to interview myself today, but my Facebook fans asked such good questions that I've given them full rein.

Ian Irvine: This may seem a bit of a lol, but I'm doing an interview with Ian Irvine for my blog and I need some really curly questions, because I've heard he's a slippery customer. Tricky questions would be much appreciated; I really want to put the scoundrel on the spot.

Ami: Have you developed multiple personalities or something???

Ian: Ha ha, yes I have, says Ian. No I haven't, says Ian. I don't understand the question, says Ian. Are we there yet? says Ian. Need we go on, Ami? chorus the Ians, sweetly.

Alison: Who would you ask to finish your novels if you ever (heaven forbid) died before they were completed (e.g. Brandon Sanderson for Robert Jordan).

Ian: I have no idea, Alison. I don't know of any fantasy novelists who write the way I do, or about the kinds of things I write about. But maybe someone else does. I might have to throw that one back to my Facebook page and see if anyone comes up. In the meantime, i'll try hard not to die.

John: Or would you actually want someone else finishing them off in that situation?

Ian: To be honest, John, I don't think I'd want anyone finishing off a series of mine. Perhaps I'm a control freak. But I think the story would end up very differently to the way I'd imagined it. But then, since I've been so inconsiderate as to die in the middle of a series, instead of waiting until the story is completely wrapped up, I guess I can't complain. I'd certainly want to see it finished rather than just left hanging ...

John: Who is your favourite (or favourites if you can't choose one) of the characters you've created?

Ian: It changes all the time. At the moment I'd say it's Tali, the slave girl from Vengeance who, when just a little girl, saw her mother murdered and some mysterious object taken from her. Now she's 18, she's full of a burning rage and an utter determination to see justice done to the killers. I've spent a long time inside her head and really like her. I also like Tobry, from that story, because he's scarred, reckless, thinks the whole universe is a joke, yet is utterly loyal to his friends. But at other times it can be any of my heroes or heroines, even the alien Ryll from the Three Worlds, or Useless Ike from Grim and Grimmer.

Renee:  If there was one thing you had to change about your favourite character what would it be?

Ian: Depends on the character, Renee. If Tali, I think I'd make her a little bit less nice (not that she's completely nice; she has her flaws) and a lot more conflicted about every aspect of her life. Make everything she does, and every choice she makes, a struggle between incompatibles. She can have one or the other, but not both, and she HAS to choose.

Dusty: What character do you associate yourself with the most??

Ian: Dusty, I suspect that would be Llian from The View from the Mirror. There's a lot of me in most of my characters (especially the evil ones, glee, glee! says the bad Ian) because I'm the only person I know, or can know, from the inside. But I think in Llian, because he was one of my first characters, it's closer to the surface. Pity he's such an idiot at times.

Deborah: Why did Ian decide to write fantasy, other than any other genre? What does family think of his novels? Does he envisage that he will still be writing them when he is in 70s? Does Ian believe that the dark side of his personality is expressed in his evil characters?..... (will stop for now,......)

Ian: Why fantasy, Deborah? Because that's what I most enjoyed reading back in the far-off days when I began writing. And though I read far less fantasy these days, I still love it, and especially love writing it. 

What does my family think? See my sister Kathy's reply, below. I come from a large family, and so does my wife, and most of the people in our families love books and reading. They're very supportive, and constantly talking about my books to others, and rearranging them in bookshops so they face out, etc.

  • Kathy: Yes Deborah, family think he is awesome, totally talented, amazingly intuitive, and sensitive to the needs of his characters. Appreciate that he can poke fun at himself and has remained level headed throughout. Love his wicked sense of humour and his imagination. I also hope he will be writing for many years to come. :-)
  • Ian: And I blush easily, and often.

When will I stop writing? I certainly hope to be still writing in my 70s, and even in my 80s should I live that long. Most of the people in my family live to ripe and reasonably healthy old age, so if I have that good fortune I'll keep writing.

The dark side of my personality? What are you talking about? What dark side? All 27 of my personalities are glowing with light – 'Hey, what about me?' says evil Ian. 'Glmph!' He's bound, gagged and thrust under the table out of sight. 'Now, where was i ...?'

Traci: Who would Ian turn gay for? (Weeeelll, you did ask for tricky questions & there was no specifications on the questions being 'work' related).

Ian: Apart from Bridget Jones, and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. But wait, that wouldn't be turning gay, would it? I guess no one. 

Sue: Ian, can you ask Ian for me... does he believe in in life forms beyond earth and how did life on earth begin? Thanks Ians.

Ians: Well, Sue, there are a few hundred billion galaxies in the visible universe, and each galaxy could have hundreds of billions of stars, and most of those stars could have planets. And of course, there could be billions of universes apart from our own. So the chances of there not being life out there somewhere seem implausibly remote to me. Yes, i do believe there's life out there. Intelligent life is another matter; i don't think it evolves very often and perhaps doesn't last long when it does, but even so, I reckon it exists somewhere.

How did life on Earth begin? Probably in the rich soup of the primordial oceans. It's possible that it could have evolved elsewhere and Earth been seeded with primitive life forms which then evolved here, but that doesn't seem nearly as likely to me. Space is a hostile place for life compared to a protected ocean.

Brian: Do you think the world will end in 2012, if so, are you a believer in he zombie apocalypse or just the plain old destruction of the planet?

Ian: No, I don't, Brian. I can't say I'm a great fan of zombies, though a zombie apocalypse does have a certain ikky charm. I don't think the planet is going to be destroyed any time soon, unless there's a nearby supernova. Earth is pretty resilient. Of course, that doesn't mean we can't make it unsuitable for a vast range of advanced life, including ourselves.

Marta: Why do some writers use a pseudonym to write different books. Is there a particular reason for that because sometimes it can get confusing if your favourite author writes under a pseudonym and you don't know about it. You miss out on reading those books unless you accidentally come across it.

Ian: Marta, if an author is well known for a certain kind of books (say, fantasy) but wants to write something completely different, say, crime or thrillers or romance, they often use a pseudonym to avoid confusing readers and booksellers (otherwise booksellers will often shelve their books in the wrong place). But also, if an author's first book or two have gone really badly, bookshops aren't going to order many of the next book, because they always order based on sales of the last book by that author. It may not be possible to get published at all unless the author changes their name, which wipes the slate.

Danny: Would you ever consider taking on a protege... What would your code names be?

Ian: Do you mean a co-writer, Danny? No, I don't think so. I just want to write my own books in my own way.

Cassandra: Would you change anything about any of your books? If so which ones?

Ian: That's a continent-sized question, Cassandra. If I really needed to update any of my books, I imagine I'd change many things, and I'd certain cut out a lot of verbal flab, as I did when I for the revised editions of the 3 Human Rites eco-thrillers. I cut about 10 K words out of the first, 14 K from the second and 20 K from the third book. But if I'm rewriting old books, I'm not writing new ones, so it's not the best use of my time.

Mitchell: Have you ever had a thought like this? About how strange things happen, when your going around the twist?

Ian: If I thought I was going round the twist, Mitchell, do you really think I'd post it on the internet? [Sidles off, twitching and laughing maniacally]

Thanks very much, Guys, great questions, as always.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ian's Lime Liqueur Recipe

I firmly believe that an essential part of a writer's education is the creation of at least one drink recipe. So here, in celebration of the magnificent life of my lime tree, and mourning for its sudden, tragic death last week, is the recipe for my glorious lime liqueur.

1. Take about 30 FRESHLY PICKED limes when they're just ripe (ie, before the skin has started to yellow) and at their most aromatic. If they're not aromatic (or worse, they're supermarket limes) it doesn't work well. Test them by scratching the skin with a fingernail and sniffing. If they don't smell wonderful, don't bother – this is an all or nothing recipe.

2. Rinse the limes and remove any blemishes. With a potato peeler, carefully shave the green zest off, trying to avoid the white pith (it will make the liqueur bitter).

3. Put the zest in a large jar with about 250 g of sugar (more or less according to how sweet you like the liqueur).

4. Pour in a litre of good quality vodka, cap and shake until sugar is dissolved.

5. You can give the liqueur a bit more colour and fragrance by adding a few freshly picked lime leaves to the jar, if the leaves are really aromatic.

6. Cap the jar and leave in a cool dry place for a minimum of six weeks (3 months is better; longer than that doesn't make any difference).

6. Strain off the zest, bottle the pale green-gold liqueur and allow it to age for a couple of months, or longer. It lasts for years but is best drunk within a year or two. 

7. Before use, put the bottle in the freezer for several hours (it won't freeze due to the alcohol content). Drink ice cold, preferably from a chilled brandy balloon, in good company. Or listening to Hayley Westenra sing Amazing Grace,

Theoretically this should work for other citrus fruits but I haven't had nearly as much success with oranges or lemons – I think because the oils in the peel weren't strong or fragrant enough. I'm going to try it with Seville oranges, when my tree is big enough.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Josephine Pennicott on Obstacles and Inspirations

Josephine Pennicott is a multi-award winning crime writer who has won the Scarlet Stiletto and (twice) the wonderfully named Kerry Greenwood Domestic Malice Prize. Jo has also written a dark fantasy trilogy, Circle of Nine. Today she reflects on writing obstacles and inspirations.

Thank you Ian, for inviting me to submit to your Blog. Those of us lucky enough to know Ian personally, know that he’s a gentleman who is incredibly generous with his support for other writers. Being part of an online writing community of fellow Selwa Anthony authors, I’ve read and gleaned a lot from Ian’s experience and wisdom over the years. So, of course I couldn’t refuse his invitation to be a part of his online project to help others.

My first novels were Dark Fantasy, published by Simon and Schuster (Earthlight imprint) - Circle of Nine (2001),Bride of the Stone (2002) and A Fire in the Shell (2004). They were the result of years studying painting at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney. They evolved from my own artwork, my interest in Surrealism, fairy tales, mythology and comparative religions, in particular Paganism. Circle of Nine was selected by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow as one of the top ten debut books for their prestigious 2001 anthology, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. They will soon be republished by Pan Macmillan as e-books.

Afterwards I spent three years – a very difficult time with all sorts of obstacles in the way of my writing - working on what I shall jokingly refer to as my ‘masterpiece.’ You know when you read authors saying they wrote a list of all the things they loved, put all those elements in their book, and it became a bestseller? Well, that’s what I was after! I began writing a historical, supernatural murder mystery called The Witches of Paris. I submitted the proposal to Selwa, who was very keen. Sophia Coppola was rumoured to be directing a movie based on Marie Antoinette; my book was set in a similar location and so it seemed like a timely idea.

But in 2007, when The Witches of Paris was still not quite done, I went on holiday with my family to Stanley on the North-West Coast of Tasmania and fell in love with a white house by the sea. A house that became incredibly important to my writing career. It gave me an idea for a new book, Poet’s Cottage, which Selwa encouraged me to start while I was waiting for an editor’s report on The Witches Of Paris.

The more I worked on Poet’s Cottage, the more the characters came to me. I had been to India in my early twenties and stayed at a well-known spiritual Guru’s ashram who had a saying, ‘Take one step towards me and I’ll take a thousand towards you.’ This book was exactly like that. My characters literally dragged me into the story. They were waiting for me every morning and the process became very exciting.

I forgot my previous project for the time being as I began to lose myself in the mystery of who killed Pearl Tatlow, bohemian children’s writer, in her dark and eerie cellar on a foggy day in Pencubitt, Tasmania in July 1936. Was she really murdered by ‘the Tasmanian devil that Mummy kept in the cellar to threaten us with when she was writing?’ as her daughter Thomasina, who witnessed the murder, claimed. Or, did something far more sinister cross the threshold of Poet’s Cottage? A stranger to the town, as the local people kept insisting – or someone Pearl knew and trusted?

As I mentioned, I was on holiday with my family when I first spotted the house that ignited the spark that became the book Poet’s Cottage.

In my Sydney life, I live with my daughter and my writer husband, David Levell, in a small, historic brick house in the inner-west. It’s like a tiny doll’s house and my husband is used to me falling in love with houses on all my trips. I’m a very proud fifth generation Tasmanian - and often homesick for my home state.

This particular house ticked all my boxes – it was a white Georgian-style home that looked like something the Bronte sisters would have lived in. It overlooked the sea, in a picturesque, Tasmanian sea-fishing village. A village that was a combination of wild gothic, isolated coastline contrasted with a very Cornish looking, cosy village that could have come straight from an Enid Blyton or Daphne du Maurier novel!

I felt that this house had a story to tell me. There didn’t appear to be anybody living there and so my imagination was free to conjure up a myriad of scenarios. I spent a lot of time standing outside the gates, listening for the secrets and stories that I felt sure the house was trying to whisper to me.

There was a friendly gentleman who said hello to me in the street every day. On one of our meetings, I confided I’d fallen in love with the house, and he beamed, ‘That’s Poet’s Cottage! And I’m the poet who used to live there!’ This friendly local was Lin Eldridge – when he discovered I was a writer - he introduced me to his 90-something year old wife, whose name is Marguerite Eldridge. Marguerite and Lin live in Gull Cottage; my Birdie Pinkerton lives in Seagull Cottage in the novel. I had no idea when first meeting this charming, pretty and twinkly eyed lady that she was actually quite a well-known identity in Tasmania. Marguerite, who has never left her fishing village (and I can easily understand why) has self-published several books on life in Stanley. She has been instrumental in her town for starting creative ventures. In January 2011, she was awarded an Australia Day Award, for her service to the creative arts and her community.

They were a most welcoming couple, just as Birdie does in Poet’s Cottage, Marguerite urged me to ‘help yourself to my Daphne’ and they tolerated with good spirits my small daughter running amuck in Gull Cottage. Marguerite helped to inspire my character of Birdie Pinkerton - as did another elderly lady that I knew and visited in my high school years in Tasmania. But Birdie Pinkerton is not Marguerite - despite sharing several things in common.

Over the years I was always fascinated by the story of Enid Blyton’s two daughters, Gillian and Imogen, having opposing views of their mother. I remember one story in the UK Telegraph, Was Enid Blyton the Mother from Hell? I’ve seen in my own family how different members could all have totally variant views of an incident- and how sometimes it was impossible to fathom what was truth.

I’m also addicted to the UK TV show Midsomer Murders, with its surreal but quite realistic juxtaposition of pretty English villages and murder most foul. Daphne du Maurier and Agatha Christie are both writers I love. I’ve won quite a few awards over the years for my crime writing short stories, which were always very dark. I love reading cosy, English-style mysteries and I wanted to set myself the challenge of writing an English style mystery but with an Australian setting. All these elements came together at Stanley. Tasmania was a perfect place to set the book as it’s so English looking!

I used elements of two Tasmanian towns for my imaginary town of Pencubitt for Poet’s Cottage, Stanley in the North-West and also Oatlands, which is the very pretty midlands Georgian village where I spent my high school years. My early years were spent in Papua New Guinea. Generations of Pennicotts have settled in Oatlands and the name seems to belong to the town and area.

It was a joy to escape into my imaginary fishing village of Pencubitt every day from my garden writing shed in Sydney with planes flying overhead and heavy traffic outside the front door of our brick house. I based the character of Sadie (in the present day thread of the book) and her daughter, Betty on a lot of mothers I saw around me in Sydney’s inner-west. A majority were older mothers and trying to parent in a different way to their mother’s generation. They weren’t trying to be friends so much with their children but there was a difference in the dynamic that I was trying to capture. Sadie also helped to partially satisfy my own longing for a sea-change.

Pearl Tatlow in the 30s thread evolved from years of watching crime dramas set in the 1930s. And also a little of Enid Blyton and Jerry Hall, the Texan model went into my boho Pearl. I once saw Jerry Hall strut her stuff down a Sydney street and never forgot the impact her beauty and sassy attitude had on the gawping crowd of normally too-cool-for-school city folk.

Birdie Pinkerton was inspired by the two older ladies mentioned above. She was always very strong and quite stern with me when I wasn’t capturing some aspect of her character.

Maxwell was inspired by a gentlemanly, kind and caring Uncle of mine. I always enjoyed Maxwell’s sweet and considerate manners when I was working.

Thomasina just came striding in to the writing shed, with her beanie on her head, filled with a terrible memory and some really fun scenes for me to write for her. She was always strong, always unpredictable and very touching to connect with. I grew to care for all my characters very deeply over the three years it took to writePoet’s Cottage.

Looking back, I’m thrilled with how things worked out. The Witches of Paris was a love letter to France and I still hope to see it published one day. Poet’s Cottage is a love letter to Tasmania, my home state. My father, who had always been one of my most staunch believers of my writing from when I was a little girl, has been battling a very aggressive cancer for five years. I realised towards the end of writing Poet’s Cottage – the cancer reached his liver just as I finished the copy edit - that Poet’s Cottage itself had become not just another historic house I had fallen in love with - but rather it represented something a lot more personal. It was a dwelling between the worlds where my ancestors resided and represented all the secrets, dramas, misunderstanding, passions and mysteries (not to mention the enormous family love) that we all have hidden in our respective family cupboards.

If you’re in need of some inspiration to get you out of any pity-tea party you may be enjoying when it comes to your writing, I hope you can find it in my post. I was determined, focused and able to walk away from three years of working on a dream and start again for another three years with a different book. If I can do it –so can you. Sometimes whether we realise it or not - and however it may seem at the time – everything does work for our greater good. If you get rejected and your ‘masterpiece’ is knocked back – then write another. If it takes you years as it did me – that’ s fine. Your ego will live with it if you’re following your spirit’s path.

We’re all conditioned to believe all the success stories on writers the media broadcast but the reality is much grimmer for working writers that I know. They may get a few books published and then they have to go back to the drawing board. It’s a touch business, it can crack your heart open - and you do have to be tough as old boots to cope with it at times.

Looking back, I can see how all the characters in my writing career played their parts perfectly. I’m forever grateful that Poet’s Cottage beat The Witches of Paris to publication because it meant so much to my father to see me finally get taken seriously with a book set in Tasmania. And, I do plan on returning to my Parisian witches with all the new skills I’ve learnt over the last seven years. But first I have another mystery novel to complete for Pan Macmillan.

Writing can be a tough, bitchy, hard, isolating, heart-breaking profession at times. And that’s the good days. But I’m very honoured to be a Tale Peddler and to experience the joyful bliss of characters flowing, manifesting and telling their story. So give thanks for it all. The good fortune, the set-backs, the rejections and the awards. Don’t believe books and your career have to follow a set path. Keep open to your own personal timing and rhythm. No matter how things may appear at the time – use the experience. Both the so-called ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ can honour a higher purpose - and if you are patient and diligent enough – and believe in a little bit of pixie and glittery wishing dust - the seeds you scatter will be harvested.

Thanks very much, Jo, that's a lovely and inspiring story. Poet’s Cottage will be published by Pan Macmillan in May 2012.
Josephine Pennicott's site is here:
You can find Josephine on her blog Tale Peddler,
and on Twitter, Facebook or Good Reads.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jason Nahrung on Writing Joys and Frustrations

Jason Nahrung has been a newspaper journalist for more than two decades. He's also a fiction editor, judge of speculative fiction, and writer of darkly themed tales including the supernatural thriller, The Darkness Within. Today, Jason muses on the joys and frustrations of being a writer.

It’s not you, it’s us.

It has been an ... interesting past couple of months. My wife, Kirstyn, has been devoting every spare moment to her novel – by coincidence, her publisher’s deadline coincides with our departure for a wee break. And I’ve had a self-imposed deadline, knowing it will be good for my morale to be able to go away and leave my agent with the latest iteration of the novel I’ve been trying to get right for more than 10 years. This time, please Writing Gods, may it all make sense...

All of which means we’ve been fairly anti-social. I’ve stayed in partly out of sympathy, not wanting my wife to feel like some kind of pariah while I’m off gallivanting around the country. Plus, it’s a great excuse for me to stay home and be indulgent: a short story here, that pesky novel mostly there.

So why the guilt?

Why the compulsion to explain in rigorous details about publishers and deadlines and day jobs and available time and word counts? Why the compulsion to apologise?

After all, if I said we weren’t attending some soiree or event because I had to train for the grand final, there’d be nothing but words of encouragement. If I said I was pulling serious over-time because the office was understaffed, there’d be nods of knowing understanding. But not doing something because you’re writing? In my case, without even a deadline? Without even the certainty of a pay packet at the end of it?

What sort of alien must I be?

Writing is, after all, at my level of the vocation, something to be fitted in around the day job. Around life. You pay the bills, you catch up with the people you care about, you be entertained ... and then you write.

I hate that I am so used to the arts not mattering that I automatically become defensive when explaining how I’ve made my art, if I may be high-falutin’ for a moment and call what I do art (hm, is that that defensiveness coming in? It’s a nice story, dahlink, but is it art?), a priority. How, like sport, it needs to be practised and trained for; how, like a day job, it needs regular attention and commitment. How, sometimes, especially towards the end of a project, it can require a degree of sacrifice. No telly. No cinema. No gigs (no gigs!).

You can take it too far, just as you can with sport and your career. You can sacrifice the enjoyment of life, the company of friends and family, for a supposedly loftier goal, and therein lies the risk of a pyrrhic victory. But sometimes, you have to give in order to get – sometimes, the enjoyment of life means having to give something up – even if those around you might not understand.

Fortunately, most of our friends and family do. Without that acceptance, it’d make the job that much harder. It’s important, I think, if you’re going to snub someone, that they understand exactly why; that they know that the job’s important – not more important, just, at this moment, important enough to skip lunch.

I have to take my hat off to Kirstyn. I don’t know how she can work her day job and then switch over for a six-hour writing stint, night after night. By knock-off time, my eyes are dripping out of my skull, the keyboard is an arcane thing, but there she sits, crafting, crafting, crafting. Occasionally fending off the cat, who hasn’t had lap time for, like, forever.

I’m looking forward to going out once more. I’m looking forward to our holiday. I’m looking forward to seeing Kirstyn’s book upon the shelf, and maybe mine, too (please Writing Gods, this time...?). Bear with us, gentle friends; we will return to the scheduled program, right after these messages... but I’m trying not to apologise for the interruption. I’m sure you’ll understand.

Jason Nahrung's only novel, The Darkness Within, can be difficult to find these days (you can try the Book Depository UK), but he's got a bunch of short stories out this year in various Australian anthologies, and a couple due out next year, too. Track him down Kirstyn McDermott's debut novel, Madigan Mine, came out last year. She's almost finished her second novel, working title Perfections. Almost. You'll hear the  shout of joy first at

Thanks, Jason. A timely reminder that (believe it or not) we writers are people like everyone else. Well, except that we can go to work in our underwear and have afternoon naps by the fire, ha! Beat that, commuting work slaves!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I've been running this weekly competition on my Facebook fan page all year, and it'll run into 2012. Each week all year I've been giving away three of my trilogies and quartets, signed, except for breaks where I've given away two iPad 2s.

Total number of books won so far: 359.

To enter, go here,, Like my page then enter from the Promos tab.

For the next few weeks I'll be giving away 3 copies of my brand new book,Vengeance, each week.

WEEK 33 QUESTION – Do you prefer heroes or villains? Why?  The cleverest, funniest, most moving or wittiest entries win. No knowledge of my books needed. 

THERE ARE THREE FIRST PRIZES – each a copy of my latest book, VENGEANCE, signed. 

Week 33 (44 entries). 

1st, Stephanie Elizabeth Kirsch, 2nd, Scott Mooney, 3rd, Amber Charlene Craddock. 

Honourable Mentions (get 3 HMs and you also win). 
Lisa Leigh, Julie Strahan, Sue Knight, Thijs Roeloffs.

The complete list of winners for 2011 can be found here: