Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why I’m Writing The Tainted Realm (and why it’s taken so darn long)

Between 1998 and 2008, 11 of my bestselling fantasy novels in the Three Worlds sagahttp://www.ian-irvine.com/threeworlds.html were published, but the last of them, The Destiny of the Dead, came out in three years ago. Why the inordinate delay, I hear people ask? Has Ian Irvine retired to count his millions (LOL)? Has he lost the plot? Is he doing a George RR Martin? When is the next Three Worlds story coming? How much longer do we have to wait, how much longer?

At the end of each big fantasy series I always write something completely different. I do this for a number of reasons, one being to freshen and rejuvenate my writing. The problem with writing such vast sagas (the Three Worlds sequence runs to 2.3 million words thus far), is that I’ve used up an enormous number of different characters, settings and plot elements, and the more I write, the more I’m likely (indeed, prone) to repeat myself. Not that this is necessarily a problem – quite a few writers, who shall go unnamed, have made a fine and lucrative career out of writing the same book over and over again. But I don’t want to do that.
Another reason is that, like most other writers, I crave variety: I don’t just want to write the same kinds of books. And a third reason: by the end of The Destiny of the Dead I was creatively exhausted and desperately needed a rest.
Around that time, the opportunity arose to do something I’d never done before – write a series of humorous children’s books, the Grim and Grimmer series, http://www.ian-irvine.com/grimgrimmer.html. I hadn’t written humour before, but I really wanted to. It would be a challenge, and might not work (though I’m pleased to report that it did), but it was bound to be good for me. And best of all, the four books were to be short – only 25,000 words each. A doddle, I thought. What can go wrong?

Things always go wrong or move around in publishing and my publisher decided they wanted the books to be around 40 K each. Suddenly I was up for nearly twice as much writing as I’d counted on, at the same time as I was finishing the last Runcible Jones book, doing revisions for the revised editions of my Human Rites eco-thrillers, writing a novella for Legends of Australian Fantasy and working on my new epic fantasy for Orbit Books, The Tainted Realm. For two and a half years I was so seriously overcommitted that my life was literally out of control.
Writing is hard work at the best of times. It’s doubly hard when you’re constantly going from one book to another. And it’s trebly hard when you’re jumping back and forth between different kinds of books. It’s also extremely inefficient – it can take twice as much work to get a story done because you spend so much time spinning your wheels.
So it proved. The smaller stories weren’t badly affected because they could be written and edited in quick, intense bursts where I could remain ‘in the zone’ for the whole book. But epic fantasy novels are a different matter. They’re so big, and take so long, that constant interruptions really affect the schedule. That’s why the book was delayed. It was really hard to get it right, and it didn’t come right until all my other writing commitments were completed and I could devote several months to working on it draft after draft, full-time, seven days a week.
In the end, I spent around 2,800 hours writing Vengeance, Book 1 of The Tainted Realmhttp://www.ian-irvine.com/taintedrealm.html, instead of the 1,800 hours that the first book of a new series would normally have taken. But all that work was worth it; I’m modestly pleased with how it has turned out.
But why are you writing a brand new epic fantasy series, when your loyal readers are constantly asking for the next episode in the Three Worlds saga? Have you no compassion? Are you being deliberately cruel?
Not deliberately, ha ha! The simple answer is that, having spent two-thirds of my writing time since 1987 on that vast saga, I wasn’t ready to go back to it. I didn’t want to grind out the next book or trilogy, whatever it might turn out to be, full of reluctance and angst, and let readers down with a story that wasn’t good enough. I wanted to be excited about the Three Worlds and overflowing with white-hot enthusiasm for the next episode – the one that finally tells what fate befell Karan, Llian and the children.
Because I wasn’t ready, I turned to The Tainted Realm, a new epic fantasy series set in an entirely new fantasy world. Or at least, a small part of a new world. The world is rapidly becoming a snowball planet; most of it is covered in ice and the ice sheets are steadily closing around the last place where people still survive, the land of Hightspall which is still largely ice free because it’s so incredibly volcanic. Though the eruptions have been catastrophic in the distant past, and they’re getting worse …
What’s it going to be, oblivion in fire or ice?
Hightspall, once the island paradise of Cythe and home to the peace-loving Cythians, was brutally colonised two thousand years ago by a fleet from the other side of the world. The colonists were led by a band of Herovians, a supremacist race whose ancient sourcebook, the Immortal Text, told them that the land was theirs by right. The Herovians waged war, did their best to exterminate the Cythians and their culture, and thought they had.
For fifteen hundred years the surviving Cythians have lived underground in Cython, served by their Pale slaves, the descendants of noble Hightspaller children once given as hostages but never ransomed. For all this time, the Cythians' lives have been shaped by the alchymical books called the Solaces, sorcerously bestowed upon them by an unknown benefactor.
Now Hightspall is struggling under one natural disaster after another, and both their power and their magery are failing. The very land seems to be rising up to defeat Hightspall. It’s as if the nation is cursed. Then the last of the Solaces appears in Cython, the iron book called The Consolation of Vengeance, and the Cythians know that it is time to take back their land.
I’ve long been fascinated by the nature of political power, and in particular how the means of seizing or maintaining power can undermine the legitimacy of the realm – it happens all the time in history. We’ve seen it recently in Australia, with Julia Gillard’s government marred by the way her predecessor was overthrown. In the US Nixon’s presidency was fatally damaged, then destroyed, by the Watergate affair.
Musing on these and similar events gave me the germ of the idea behind The Tainted Realm– a once great nation, now tainted by a deep sense of national guilt and shame about its own origins, and about to face a resurgent enemy it has no idea how to fight.
Book 1, Vengeance, will be published in Australia in November 2011, and in the US and UK in April 2012. 

The Fate of the Children
That’s all very well, I hear you say, but what about the Three Worlds? What about the story you’ve been promising to write for more than a decade, the follow-on from The View from the Mirror to be called The Fate of the Children?
It’s next, I promise you. Honest! I’ll be finished The Tainted Realm around the end of 2012, and I’ll start the story straight after that. At this stage I don’t know whether it’ll be a single book, a pair, a trilogy, or longer. That will depend on what comes up when I rereadThe View from the Mirror, which I haven’t opened since the series was finished back in 1999. I’m looking forward to seeing how it reads after so long.

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