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Ian Irvine
talks about his fast-paced quartet
The View from the Mirror

(e-interviewed by Hilary Williamson)

Q: I have been reading excellent new fantasy series by several Aussie authors in the last few years - yourself, Sara Douglass and Cecelia Dart-Thornton (and I'm sure I've missed some). Do you think Australia's unique flora and fauna create a fertile breeding ground for the genre?

A: Yes, they probably do (and I've used some of it in my fantasies and my eco-thrillers, as has Cecelia in her books). Our unique national origins and character, and our generally harsh environment, are also strong influences. Despite the apparent similarities with the US and other English-speaking peoples, under the skin Australians are different in almost every respect. So we write differently, though I'm not sure that there is anything like a canon of Australian fantasy, distinctly different to other countries, yet.

There has been a flood of Australian fantasy writers in recent years (others who have done well in the US include Kate Forsyth, Jane Routley, Garth Nix, Juliet Marillier and Isobelle Carmody). The reasons for this are partly historical. Until a decade ago it was almost impossible to get published in this field in Australia, an odd situation since Australians read more books than most other nationalities and imported fantasy has always been huge here. However one or two publishers took the gamble and succeeded beyond their expectations, which spurred other publishers to do the same. Starting about five years ago there began an explosion of fantasy publishing here as all those pent-up writers came out of the woodwork, and this still continues. Long may it go on!

Q: You have some unusual species in your stories, for example the Faellem whose translucent skin shows veins and blood flow, and the jellyfish eating Telt who appeared in The Tower on the Rift. How much does your background in marine science influence the design of these races?

A: It does, to a degree. Certainly my science training and experience gives me a slightly different viewpoint to most other fantasy writers, though I don't go out of my way to design other human species (or aliens for that matter) in a scientific way. Since it's fantasy rather than science fiction, I prefer to give the 'flavour' of an organism rather than design them from tooth to claw.

Also, though I'm basically writing adventure stories, I go out of my way to make them different to the great tradition of fantasy writing. I spent years world-building for the sake of it before I started writing fantasy (in fact even before I planned to write at all).

Q: Did you set out to create a strong, tough female character in Karan (she is athletic, determined, resilient), or did she just develop that way on her own? Do you have a role model for her?

A: Karan just appeared on page one (of the initial draft) and I didn't know anything about her. I don't create characters in advance, as a rule. I prefer them to evolve as I write and then develop them in the rewriting. I do a lot of rewriting - eight to ten drafts of each book - which gives me the chance to gain some perspective on my characters and add complexity to them.

Karan is one of my favourite characters and from the moment I began writing about her I knew she was going to be the hero of the book. I don't have a role model for her though I well know that women can have more endurance and be more mentally tough than men. I didn't start out to create such a strong female character; she evolved as the book went on. It does irritate me that most of the heroes in fantasy are males, and stereotypical males at that, while females are usually in traditional roles or, if they are heroes, tend to be portrayed like Amazons (big, strong and generally acting like men rather than women).

One of the most important characteristics of Karan is that she is small (about five foot two). She's fit and athletic but not physically strong, and so the world of adventure is a different (and much more dangerous and frightening) place to her. She can't fight a warrior or a monster and expect to win, so she has to use her intelligence, her dexterity and her native cunning.

Q: Though I appreciate Karan, I have especially enjoyed the vulnerability of the bumbling dreamer Llian and his growth in the first two volumes. Is there any of yourself in Llian (after all he is a Chronicler)?

A: One of my friends read the first draft of Shadow on the Glass about 15 years ago and his only comment was: 'That Llian's a bit of a prat. Obviously based on the author.'

Yes, there is a bit of me in Llian. I was always a dreamer, hopelessly impractical and (when I was young, at least) not quite at home in the real world. The similarity between his name and mine, however, is coincidental. He was originally called Kyllian until I realised that I had three main characters whose names started with the same letter. But Llian is not BASED on me (or anyone else). I never base my characters on real people (or fictional people in books or movies) and if I realised that a character had something in common with either I would certainly change that aspect of them.

And it's the same with all my characters. I've tried to get away from the fantasy stereotypes, and where I've written characters that seemed to be a typical fantasy warrior or mage or ruler, I've reworked them to make them different.

I like Llian a lot, and I understand him too. he can be a bit stupid, though, which is probably why I like to see him make a fool of himself occasionally and suffer a lot. He is subjected to some terrific indignities in volume 3,
Dark is the Moon, which are rather character-forming.

Q: The leaders of the various races seem very conflicted, in particular Yggur, Tensor, Mendark and Faelamor. Their actions are a blending of good and evil. Have you based them on a belief that 'power corrupts'?

A: I've tried to make them real people. In real life, the greatest villains usually have something good, or kind, or noble or generous about them, and I just can't write characters that are totally evil. Perhaps it's my scientific training but I tend to see all sides of a question, rather than just black or white. Mendark is a good example - power has corrupted him; he wants to control and he's obsessed about his reputation (and rewriting it) but a lot of the time he acts from good motives.

And as for the other characters, such as Faelamor: they may DO evil but none of them ARE evil. They aren't motivated by malice, or hatred of other people. Faelamor believes that she is acting to ensure the survival of her kind, and what higher motivation can there be?

Q: Along the same lines, is Rulke really a bad guy or just one of the gang of semi-corrupt leaders? In other words, have you moved away from Tolkien's ultimate evil style of fantasy?

A: As to whether Rulke is a bad guy or not, I'd prefer not to answer that as it is one of the central questions of the Quartet. I would just say to readers: look carefully at everything he says and does, and see if you can work him out.

To the second question, an emphatic YES. I loved Tolkien's books but I don't want to rewrite them. Most of the fantasy books I've read since Tolkien have the same theme of good vs evil and it no longer moves me. I like to think of
The View from the Mirror series as 'Darwinian' fantasy. It's about survival versus extinction, and that's also a big question and a more poignant one.

Q: Though The Tower on the Rift was full of action and some character development, it didn't give many answers to questions raised in the first volume. When will we find out more about puzzles like Maigraith's origins, the purpose of the Mirror, who killed the crippled girl and so on?

A: The View from the Mirror Quartet is a novel in four volumes rather than a series of linked novels, so the first book and the second leave a lot of questions unanswered. It has a big, complex plot with lots of intertwining threads and puzzles (including the glyphs on the covers, which must be deciphered) that are gradually unravelled in the third book, Dark is the Moon (July 2002) and the fourth, The Way between the Worlds (January 2003). I promise readers that all those threads are teased out, and all the questions answered, by the end of The Way Between the Worlds.

Q: The one thing that has stood out for me most in your writing, as compared to other multi-volume fantasy series, is its unrelenting action. Did you watch a lot of cliffhangers as a child, and how do you keep up the pace?

A: I watched virtually no cliffhangers as a child. I didn't go to the movies much and we didn't have a TV at home until after I finished high school (my parents thought it would be bad for my studies), so I grew up as a reader rather than a watcher. A voracious reader of all kinds of popular fiction except fantasy (I read thousands of SF books but didn't discover fantasy until I was at university.)

I guess my policy as a writer is to put my characters into the most difficult or desperate situations I can manage and then write them out of it, only to immediately plunge them into even deeper trouble. I usually don't know how they are going to get out of difficulty when I put them in it, and it can be quite a challenge to come up with a plausible means of escape that's within the limits of their capabilities. Perhaps because of my scientific training the escape has to be plausible and I work hard to make it so. I also think that readers who have bought my books deserve a few hours of terrific entertainment and I do my best not to disappoint them.

Q: I understand that you have written other series. Can you tell us something about them. Do they move as fast as The View from the Mirror, and when do you expect them to be available in N. America?

A: The View from the Mirror Quartet is the first part of a series of ten novels called the Three Worlds Cycle, consisting of the Quartet, a trilogy, a pair of novels and a single novel. The final, single novel will reach back to the Quartet. The trilogy and the pair of novels will be closely related.

The trilogy is called
The Well of Echoes, a similar kind of fantasy to the View from the Mirror though a little darker in places. Its first volume, Geomancer, has recently been published here in Australia and it is a pretty fast moving book too. It will be published in the UK next year but at this stage I don't know when it will be available in North America. I've written the second and third volumes in draft form and they will appear here next year and the one after.

I'm also writing a trilogy of thrillers about eco-terrorism and earth's future. Volume 1,
The Last Albatross, was published here last year. It will be available on in February 2002.
Find out more about Ian Irvine - Ian Irvine at Time Warner Bookmark, and Science Fantasy by Ian Irvine.
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