What was your highlight from AussieCon 4 and why?
My highlight from the Con was meeting and speaking with fellow authors, and of course the hard-working members of my Voyager family. I’d never corresponded with my publishing editor, Stephanie Smith, other than by phone or email, and it was a joy to see her and her wonderful colleagues face to face for the first time. It was a particular joy to meet Voyager veterans Glenda Larke and Fiona McIntosh, who both extended a protective wing over me, newbie that I am. I am grateful to them, and to authors Gillian Polack and Helen Lowe, for making my first Con a thoroughly welcoming one. I was also lucky enough to meet up with several long-standing friends from Facebook and the blogging world.
All in all, Aussiecon was an eye-opening, moving, overwhelming experience. I’m still recovering from it!
For those unfamiliar with your fiction, how would you describe it?
My first book, Tymon’s Flight, is a classic coming-of-age fantasy. I would call it borderline YA, or YA crossover: the themes and characters lend themselves to a younger audience, though of course anyone can read the book, from eight to eighty! The second in the series, Samiha’s Song, which will be released in February 2011, has a darker feel and is more properly ‘adult’ fantasy. All the classic stuff set up in the first book will be duly thrown out and smashed to pieces in the second, I fear. The third, which I am writing now – due to be released in August 2011 – will wrap up the main story lines from books one and two.
If I were to draw comparisons as an indicator to readers of what they might expect, I would say that Tymon’s Flight recalls bildungsroman tales from the first two Earthsea books to The King Must Die by Mary Renault, while Samiha’s Song is perhaps a more personal story.
The synopsis for Tymon’s Flight begins: “The World Tree rises up out of the seething clouds like a green mountain, lifting its children up to the light. All creation nestles in its gigantic branches: all take shelter beneath its canopy. There is no world besides this one – or so the priests in Argos city would have everyone believe. What then if the green God should wither away, or withdraw Her blessings from her children?” What is the key to creating a situation of strong conflict to sustain a novel-length story?
The key in my very humble opinion is passion. I feel strongly about my stories and draw from personal experience in telling the tale – even if it is fantasy, even if the characters and places are entirely made up. If I were to lose that passion, that interest in my world and its inhabitants, I would no longer be able to write about them. An author’s emotional and intellectual involvement brings characters to life and gives the novel its strength and direction.
How did you come to write a novel and get it published?
I couldn’t help myself! I began the novel because the idea was clawing its way out of me like an alien parasite and would not go away. I came from another background to writing – I was an animator to begin with – so I had to learn to write, the hard way, by doing. I wrote a book. It took me two years to complete. By the end of that time, I realised I’d produced utter nonsense. I threw it all out and started again. Another two years went by and I finally had a salable product. I started this whole learning curve in 2004: by the time I signed up with an agent it was 2008. The book sold in 2009, and it takes a year to go from sale to actual publication, which is where we are now. Thankfully, the second and third installments were much speedier operations.
Who is one of your favourite fictional characters and why?
I love the character Pnin in the eponymous novel by Nabokov. There is something immensely touching about him. He is a deracinated, fussy, small and slightly paranoid individual: all things I can relate to. His greatest moment of drama comes while washing the dishes – he is afraid of breaking a glass bowl given him by the boy he thinks of as his son. Nabokov, despite his love of reversing readers’ expectations, depicts this character with a kind of bemused benevolence… one can’t help but like Pnin.
What makes a great first chapter, or what is an example of a first chapter you like and what made it work so well for you?
First chapters are terribly difficult. Mine make me want to scream and tear my hair out. One of my favourite examples of a brilliant first chapter, or initial premise, happens to be from a fellow Voyager author I discovered recently, Jennifer Fallon. In her Tide Lords series she introduces us to characters who are immortal. She sets up that idea by having us watch the execution of a character who cannot die. People try to kill him, without success. It’s terribly simple, but there you are: the themes of the book in a nutshell, drama, emotional involvement and heart-stopping action from the word go.
Another opening chapter I love for very different reasons is from Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. In the first two paragraphs Lewis sets up a tension that lasts throughout the book. It is the story of one woman’s complaint, or testimony against the gods. She sets out to bear witness against divine powers and as a result you fear for her until the very end. Brilliant.
What kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading and do you have some favourites?
A good friend recently called my library that of a ‘literature nerd’. There’s some truth to that! I love my Nabokov, my Hardy, Yourcenar, James. I do read other things, however. I’m trying to catch up on so-called ‘genre’ reading (as far as I’m concerned, it’s all storytelling and such categories are irrelevant.) My current favourite is China Mieville. I love his City and the City. He received the Hugo for it this year of course, along with Bacigalupi – a well-deserved win. Of course you could argue that I love ‘City’ because I love Borges and Kafka. It certainly follows in that literary tradition.
What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give for new writers?
I am a new writer! For what my advice is worth at this early point in my career, I’d say: stick with it. It’s so easy to listen to those nagging demons of self-doubt. Don’t give up. Never surrender. Write, learn, hone the craft, write some more, throw it all away, start again, write.
What is next for your fiction writing?
I have to finish this third installment of the Chronicles of the Tree, due in January. Thereafter I’ll be free to start a new project. I already have one: a standalone novel. To be honest I’m itching to write it. I won’t say more however, as I’m superstitious that way. Ideas need to germinate in secret for a while, below ground.
You can read more about the influences on Mary Victoria’s fiction at the Voyager blog (http://voyagerblog.com.au/2009/10/07/author-mary-victoria-on-her-influences).
The Australian Literature Review