Friday, April 17, 2009

Interview with Sara Douglass

This interview appeared at my old Suite101 site a few years ago that I thought I would share again. Sara Douglass is a Fantasy author with interesting and varied books. She is an Australian author with a unique voice in the genre. Her books are vivid tales with compelling characters, interesting themes and gripping plots. Among her many books she is best known for the “Wayfarer Redemption” series consisting of: The Wayfarer Redemption, Enchanter, Starman, Sinner, Pilgrim and Crusader. Many of her other books take place in this world or are set in other worlds she has created. More information about Ms. Douglass can be found at her web site:

Debbie Ledesma: How did you decide to become a writer?

Sara Douglass: Because I enjoyed it, and because I had trained as one. Writing was something I had always done well, and something I had always been at ease with, since I was a child. I always wrote: I kept diaries, I penned letters, I wrote novels, theses, lectures, talks, articles, non-fiction books. I don't think I ever 'decided' to become a writer. I just did it as a part of my daily life.

DL: Why did you choose the Fantasy genre?

SD: Again, because I had the background and the skills for it. I was never a particular fan of reading fantasy, but I enjoy writing it. I have been trained as a medieval historian - thus I am comfortable with alternate worlds - and I was trained as a writer as part of my training to be a historian. Many fantasy writers come from medieval teaching backgrounds. It's a natural breeding ground for fantasists!

DL: What authors, Fantasy or otherwise, influence your writing?

SD: None that I am aware of. I read a huge amount of material, mostly
non-fiction, and everything I read influences me in one way or the other, but there has never been a single author, or group of authors, who I can point to and say, "That author/book has influenced me".

DL: Does living in Australia influence your writing?

SD: Short answer: No. If it influences me to be any different than any
other nationality of writer then I am not aware of it.

DL: Have current events like talk of the war, 9/11, etc. influenced your writing?

SD: Not that I am aware of.

DL: Are you planning to branch out into other genres?

SD: Who knows what the future holds! At the moment I have no plans to
'branch out', but I can never rule out the possibility. I tend to write, and other people tend to categorize me. I send in a manuscript to a publisher, and someone in their wisdom says, "This is fantasy!" or "This is historical drama!" and I just shrug and say, "OK, if that's what you say" and go along with the entire publicity campaign.

DL: What themes or modern day issues do you include in your works that you want to share with readers?

SD: Hmmm. There are probably many 'issues', although not necessarily modern day ones. It's often been said that the entire Axis Trilogy (which the USA has as the first 3 books of the Wayfarer Redemption) is one gigantic diatribe against the medieval Christian Church, which is certainly true. The medieval church preached endlessly about the evilness and dangers of untamed territories (forests and mountains) and the majority of the environmental problems we have today are as a direct result medieval teaching (ever noticed how we always talk about landscape in war like terms? 'Conquering' mountains, for example. Most extreme sports are in effect war against the natural environment, man against land, which derives from our medieval past. I always have a go against organized religion, in whatever form, because I see it only as a form of social control (again, highly apparent in the first 3 books of the Wayfarer Redemption, and more particularly apparent in a series called The Crucible).

DL: I love books with mythic themes. Do you use any mythology sources for your writing?

SD: Not in any coherent sense. I would probably tend to use medieval
romance epics more than mythology, but then romance epics draw on
mythology. I generally take elements that appeal to me and mix them
up higgeldy piggedly, which annoys the Fact Nazis!

DL: What do you think about the current state of the Fantasy genre. Do you think that many books are too derivative?

SD: I have no idea what is happening in the current state of the Fantasy
genre! I haven't read a fantasy book for at least 20 years (unless
for a blurb). Like so many genre authors, I stay away from reading
within my own genre. Who wants to read for pleasure what they've
been slogging away at for 8 hours a day? It is also, I think (and this
view is also shared by many authors, and I've heard it stated many
times) highly dangerous to read within your own genre to any large
extent. This is for 2 reasons: 1) who can stay fresh if you are constantly reading what everyone else is doing?; and 2) the possibilities of unconscious plagiarism are massive (and in the current climate of suing for any mild reason, no author wants to plagiarize). You read something - a scene, a piece of dialogue - think that it's fabulous, and then 12 years later you unwittingly use that in one of your own books. Next thing you know you're in court. I read a great deal of crime, but at least then I am far more away if I am trying to transpose something admirable from a crime book into a fantasy book (having to change the AK47 into a magical sword, for instance. :))

DL: What do you think is the important function of Fantasy?

SD: I enjoy writing it, beyond that I honestly don't know. I don't try to rationalize or justify what I enjoy! :)

DL: With the success of Fantasy movies like “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter,” do you think any of your books would make good movies?

SD: Movies leave me stone cold dead. I don't think I’ve been to the movies in over 5 years. Any one of my books might, I suppose, make a good movie, but authors generally get such a rotten deal out of movie rights that, quite frankly, I would rather not know about it!

DL: What themes do you find most compelling to include in your writing?

SD: Well, the constant diatribe against organized religion, which I loathe ... and a good brutal birth scene normally always features somewhere! I also like to investigate the nature of evil. I hate it when the entire experience of life gets brutalized down to the simplistic good against evil. Neither inherent good nor inherent evil exist. We are all a mixtures of both. Life is nothing but a myriad shades of grey. I very much enjoy taking a set of 'good' characters at the beginning of a series and turning them into 'evil' characters by the end of the series merely by changing the readers' perceptions of 'good' and 'evil' (I don't do this so much in the
Troy Game, but I certainly do it in the last 3 books of the Wayfarer Redemption, and very particularly in The Crucible).

DL: The Wayfarer Redemption books have been published in the U.S. What other Fantasy books have you written?

SD: There are another 3 books in the Wayfarer series (Sinner, Pilgrim and Crusader), plus a trilogy called the Crucible (made up of The Nameless Day, The Wounded Hawk, and The Crippled Angel), a standalone called Threshold, another standalone called Beyond the Hanging Wall, and a non-fiction (and somewhat anti-fantasy!!) book called The Betrayal of Arthur (which debunks the entire Arthurian legend). There's also Hades’ Daughter, of course, available in the USA!

DL: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

SD: Write. If you want to write, then ... write. There is so much advice
everywhere that everyone forgets the simple rule; all it takes to be
a writer is to write. You may not be a publishable writer, but at
least you will be a writer.

DL: What books are in your future?

SD: The final three books of The Troy Game! Beyond that I haven't

DL: Thank you very much Ms. Douglass for this interview.

P.S. Recent news on Sara Douglass is worrisome. She has been diagonosed with ovarian cancer. My prayers are for her to beat this terrible disease.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Alan Garner

Imagine. A group of children fight magical forces in another world. Ghostly hunts cross the skies, hounds baying for their prey. A silver tea service is the key to breaking an ancient curse. These images are part of the Fantasy worlds of author Alan Garner. He is a talented writer that brings magic to life with descriptive words. Though he hasn’t produced any books, the existing ones are all Fantasy gems.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is the first of Mr. Garner’s books. It tells the story of two youngsters, Colin and Susan, that move to a country home in England. While wandering through the woods, they are captured by dangerous creatures. A wizard named Cadellin rescues them. The children help him by going on a quest and are helped by the magical stone of the title.

In the next book, which is a sequel, The Moon of Gomrath, Susan and Colin release the Wild Hunt. The wizard Cadellin helps them again. Colin must save his sister from the effects of an ancient magic. Some Arthurian elements slip i nto both books with the king and his warriors sleeping under the hill. Mr. Garner imbues both books with vivid images of imaginative detail.

Elidor is a Contemporary Fantasy that straddles two worlds. The story begins in a depressed neighborhood of Manchester, England. Some youngsters find their way into the Fantasy world of Elidor. They are needed to save this world and restore its magic. The children flee back to our world with magical objects and the unicorn Findhorn, pursued by evil. A suspenseful tale ensues with Mr. Garner’s usual descriptive talent.

Perhaps his most powerful book is The Owl Service. This Fantasy possesses a mythic quality that resonates deeply with the reader. The story takes place in a Welsh village where the inhabitants are curse Ød to repeat the tragic myth of the woman made of flowers. Allison, Gwyn and Roger find an old bunch of plates with owls on them. One of the owls disappears, setting the myth in motion. The three young people must strive to break the curse before it ends in tragedy again. The characters are well drawn and the setting of the Welsh village is very realistic. This is a Mythic Fantasy not to be missed.

Alan Garner is not a prolific author, but his few books are gems in the Fantasy genre. Do not let the Young Adult label deter you either. He uses vivid descriptions and images to bring his worlds to life. Welsh and Arthurian myths blend with realistic British settings to create memorable stories of ordinary characters. Mr. Garner is an author worth seeking out. Hopefully, he will create more stories in the future.

Other books:

The Strandloper

The Voice That Thunders - This is his biography.