Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Interview with Glenda Larke

Glenda Larke is the author of nine books, Havenstar (written as Glenda Noramly), the Isles of Glory trilogy – The Aware, Gilfeather and The Tainted, the Mirage Makers trilogy – Heart of the Mirage, The Shadow of Tyr and Song of the Shiver Barrens and most recently The Watergivers trilogy of which the first two books, The Last Stormlord and Stormlord Rising are out. Stormlord's Exile, her tenth book and the final one in The Watergivers trilogy, is to be released later this year. She has been shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards several times and is a finalist in the Fantasy section of the 2010 Aurealis Awards with Stormlord Rising - results to be announced May 21

Egoboo WA caught up with Glenda in the build up to Swancon 2011 where she is an invited guest.

Welcome Glenda.

On your blog you describe yourself as exotic. You have certainly lived in a variety of places. What started you on your travels? Where have you lived?

I started on my travels aged about nine -- in the wash-house of our farm in Western Australia. That was where a stack of old National Geographics was kept – black and white ones, from the 1930s. (No, I’m not that old, just the magazines were.) I loved reading them and dreaming of getting to all those places.

I left Australia for the first time when I was at university, on a New Zealand hitchhiking holiday, paid for by working on Rottnest Island as a housemaid every vacation from the time I was fifteen. I’ve hated bed-making and ironing ever since, but that holiday was fantastic.

Since then, I’ve lived in Malaysia (including Borneo), Austria (Vienna), and Tunisia. So that’s four continents and an island altogether.

How have these moves impacted on your writing? Positively? Negatively?

I don’t think there has been a negative impact.

On the positive side: where can a fiction writer go wrong with travel? There are ideas to be had everywhere. The desert scenes in the Mirage Makers and the Watergiver trilogies came from my Australian travels outback, from the Sahara of Tunisia and Algeria, from flying over Iran.

Other inspiration for stories came from the millipedes of the tropical rainforest, bird stacks off the coast of Britain, Indian water painters, fish traps on mangrove mud flats, Asian street markets, Roman ruins…

Travel has certainly ensured that I can write anywhere – from airports to fishing boat decks or in a tent. Or, believe it or not, on a sun-lounge under a casuarina, overlooking the aquamarine waters of Krabi Bay, Thailand. Which is where I am right now, typing this answer.

You started out writing non-fiction articles so what was it that led you to write fantasy novels?

I actually started with fiction when I was about eight, and I’ve never stopped. My first published stuff, though, was non-fiction. I didn’t start with fantasy; my first novels were a mix of thriller, exotic destination and romance, rather like Mary Stewart novels. I changed to fantasy when I realise that anything I wrote set in the real world was going to freak out some of my husband’s relatives, who seemed unable to separate the writer from their writing. Of course, I loved fantasy as a genre, too!

You build intensely detailed and believable worlds. I remember an interview with Elizabeth Jolley who said her novel, The Well, started with a single image of a well and grew image by image until she had the idea of a story. What comes first when you are writing a novel – the setting or the story?

I always start with a single idea.

Havenstar started with a conversation about how convenient it would be if a map altered according to what was happening on the ground. This was in the days before the GPS. (Or, for that matter, J.K.Rowling. Do you think I could sue her for pinching my moving map idea?)

The Aware arose out of a comment someone made about how he was sick of fantasies because they were always set in the Middle Ages, with castles, horses and dark forests with wolves. So I thought I’d write a whole book set on a sand spit with nary a castle or a horse or a forest. The era was vaguely 1800 A.D., but still one reviewer called it medieval, so you can’t win.

After the idea, I commence building the world in my mind. I rarely write anything down at this stage. The progression to a story comes easily when I start having to answer questions like: What sort of person would be important/in trouble/a hero/a villain in this kind of world?

In the Havenstar world, the answer was a mapmaker would be of paramount importance. In the Watergiver trilogy, it was someone who can supply water. In The Aware it was the person who could see magic.

My next trilogy, just begun, has its origins in two ideas: What if you have a society which believes one in every set of twins is born evil? And: Trading in bird of paradise feathers made people rich in Europe a couple of hundred years ago. What if the birds had had a way to fight back?

What, for you, is the hardest part of writing a novel?

It varies from book to book, but there is always a stage where I am sure my writing is terrible and or boring. Sometimes I am right, and I have to re-write a large chunk, or re-arrange the way the story fits together. Sometimes I am panicking unnecessarily, or so my beta readers tell me. There’s no single or consistent problem. It can come at any stage of the story and the method of solving it varies. Sometimes I cut scenes, or I might add them. I might discard a character or include a new one.

At the micro level, for me the hardest thing in writing is to “get the hero out of the room”. Most writers will know what I mean. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with rooms or even with travel; it’s the problem of connecting two scenes so the transition makes sense without giving a lot of boring detail.

For example, if your protagonist has to dose his companion with a sleeping draught, where does he get the drug? It’s hard to make an explanation interesting when the method used has no impact on the story and is, in fact, utterly irrelevant. Yet if you don’t explain the “how”, then readers will ask in annoyance, “Hey, where did he get the drug from? He didn’t even have any money a moment ago, let along access to an apothecary!”

I hate getting the hero out of the room.

You write very strong female characters – two of my particular favourites are Blaze Halfbreed and Ryka Feldspar. So how do you develop these characters? What makes them memorable?

Well, I’ll leave it up to readers to decide whether the characters are memorable and why. Characters for me develop all by themselves as the story continues, moulded by events as they occur. I always have an idea of who they are at the beginning, but only rarely do they follow the path that I planned for them.

All I knew about Blaze at the start of The Aware was that she’d had an appalling life as a child and she’d survived by being strong. Only later did I discover that she had a soft centre, and a self-deprecating sense of humour. Ligea, in the Mirage Makers, was strong in a very masculine way, often ruthless, because she was raised by two very nasty men who used her as their weapon of choice in an international conflict. By the end of the trilogy, she’s a very different person.

Ryka was a challenge right from the beginning. I wanted a pregnant woman who is placed in a terrible position, yet who refuses to hate. Her relationship with Ravard was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to write, because it involved the interaction between the abused and her abuser. I wanted her to be the strong one, even though she was constantly in the position of the weaker. I hope I succeeded, without ever appearing to belittle the experience of women in such situations. How to end the story of Ryka, Kaneth and Ravard was a further challenge. I actually changed the ending several times before – I think – I got it right.

What was the first book that you remember reading that stuck in your memory?

There are three. One was a West Australian book by Katherine King, called Australian Holiday, which my mother read to me. I so loved that book, possibly because it was about things I knew – the Australian bush.

The second is one of the Milly Molly Mandy books. I can’t remember the exact title, but it was one of the first books I ever read by myself. However, it was mostly memorable because I was reading it on the (public) bus going to school when I was five and I missed the school bus stop. The school principal came looking for me by car… I remember that very clearly indeed!

The third was important because it was the last book my mother ever read to me: an unabridged version of Little Women printed in a tiny font. I was about seven, and once she’d read a chapter or two, I took the book from her because reading aloud was too slow, and I had to know what happened next. I’ve been a compulsive reader ever since.

With Stormlord's Exile, the final book in The Watergivers trilogy, coming out later this year in Australia what comes next?

I’ve started another trilogy, the first book of which is tentatively titled The Witchery of Spice. It’s about great trade routes and birds of paradise, set in an imaginary world equivalent to c.1600 A.D. of our history. Think Elizabethan-like buccaneers and Low Country burghers clashing as they venture into Far Eastern trade; think Western colonists confronting Eastern cultures in the spice islands of the tropics. Add in magic and mayhem, heroes and heroines from both hemispheres…and that’s just beginning.

Thank you, Glenda.


  1. Aw, one of my favourite authors! And how I love Ryka. Great post Helen.

  2. Great interview, Helen. And so nice to learn about your next trilogy, Glenda - although at the moment I'm hanging out for book three of The Watergivers!

    But those birds are already very alluring...

  3. Thanks for the interview! I loved the questions.

    I kinda loved Ryka too, Maya.

    Satima, I've never actually seen a bird of paradise - they are only found in eastern Indonesia, New Guinea and north Qld, but every one describes them as the king of birds, the most beautiful of all, and often with the most incredible mating rituals. Worthy of magic, right?

  4. This was a very engaging, down-to-earth interview, with a lot I could relate to.