Today it is my great pleasure to feature a really interesting interview I did recently with Jane Routley, multi-award-winning author of haunting and gripping fantasy novels, whose earlier books, I’m delighted to see, are enjoying a deserved comeback through ClanDestine Press, but who’s also hard at work on several new fantasy novel projects. And she’s also continuing with another wonderful side to her writing–Station Stories, intriguing non-fiction vignettes inspired by her day job. Read on!
Your new ebook, The Three Sisters, has just been released by ClanDestine Press. It was first published in 2004 under the pseudonym of Rebecca Locksley, and received fantastic reviews, including one from the great fantasy author Sara Douglass, who deemed it a ‘captivating read’. Can you tell us a bit about the book’s journey from its initial publication to its new release now? Did you make any changes to the original book, and how did you approach the question of pseudonyms for this new release?
The pseudonym Rebecca Locksley was an attempt to re-launch me for marketing reasons. At that time big bookshops like Borders were only ordering numbers of books on the strength of previous sales. Harper Collins had enough faith in me to think it might be worth re-launching me and making a big marketing push with posters and dump bins etc… In The Three Sisters I had wanted to write a prequel to my Dion Chronicles, to deal with the history of the Klementari and their contact with the Aramayans. The name change came when I was too deep in the book to change the story. To be honest even though I understood the reasoning, I wasn’t very happy about it. I changed the names and some of the geography, but the magic system and the characters – everything that mattered -remained the same.
Since the name change didn’t achieve what Harper Collins had hoped and publishing has changed enormously with the advent of ebooks, I thought I might as well consolidate and change my name back for the re-issue.
Oddly enough when Clan Destine offered to re-releaseThe Three Sisters under my own name,I started out changing the world back to that of the Dion Chronicles. Somehow it just felt wrong so I must have changed more than it seemed at the time. Also I was worried people would think I was setting out to deceive.
The Three Sisters has been re-copy edited and I’ve smoothed out some stylistic edges that seem rough to me now but otherwise it’s much the same book that was released in print.
There is a sequel to The Three Sisters which has never been in print, which I spent a lot of time writing and which people still write and ask me about. Fingers crossed Clan Destine will bring it out some time next year.
In both your earlier Dion Chronicles and this book, you have created vivid and intriguing characters, acting in richly-depicted fantasy settings. How do you go about creating the world of your books?
I usually start out with an idea or a character. I’ve always loved the vividness of Angela Carter and Vernon Lee and I’ve tried to emulate it. Fairy tale and history fuel my world building. I tend to imagine my self living in my worlds. I imagine daily life, the smell of fresh bread and the feel of velvet robes. Hence there must always be the sense that there are bakers and seamstresses in the back ground even if they are not described. You need to make sure that everything follows logically.
For instance, your characters need ways to earn livings, which leads to ideas about social structure and economies.
The Three Sisters is set in a kind of medieval world but one in which a country is being colonized. I’ve plundered a lot of my history reading for that. For instance the local women are regarded as valuable slaves because of their skill at weaving. The women captured after the fall of Troy were used in just such a way. Later in Medieval times the work of weavers was the basis of much of the wealth of the Medici’s and the English Monarchy. Hence my history reading fuelled that piece of world building.
On the other hand fairytales are the back ground for a lot of my writing about the Tari. But even though they are magical they still have to eat! And they are human enough to need something to do during the day. I always notice in fantasy books when someone is just sitting round in their castle/cottage/flat waiting for the plot to catch up with them and it always irritates me. Real people,even magical real people, get bored with nothing to do. Even if you never mention it, at least have an idea in your head for what they do every day.
As a writer, are you a plotter or a gambler’? Do you plan your journey into a book, or do you just set out and see what happens?
As a writer I’m more of a gambler than a plotter. I know what I’m interested in writing about and I usually have some idea of where I want to go, but I never have much idea of how I’m going to get there. Every book I start I try to be more of a plotter. It must save so much time and angst. I always get to a point where the book goes dead and I’ve learned that that’s because I’m trying to make the characters do something that doesn’t work. Gee it’s miserable when it happens! I wish I didn’t have to go through it. On the other hand I get bored easily, so perhaps it’s best if I don’t know how things are going to go.
As a gambler, I know I write stories and books to see what’s going to happen if… For instance I’m interested in female roles in fantasy. In The Three Sisters I wanted to subvert the idea of the beautiful woman everyone desires. My suspicion would be that it would be horrible to be so desired. Sort of like that famous photo by Ruth Orkin of an American girl in Italy 1951 running the gauntlet of leering men. Elena’s quality of fatal beauty deprives her of much of her chance for agency and forces her to make a horrible sacrifice that many women in history have had to make. And I wanted to portray what it would be like to occupied by a colonizing force, which is an important theme in Australian History. So I keep asking what happens next when these conditions apply and over time I dig into the story and get closer and closer to the story that feels right for me. It’s a bit like being an archaeologist or painting an oil painting.
Are you working on a new novel now? If so, can you tell us about it?
My current project Shadow in the Empire of Light, is an example of the way I work. I was tired of reading traditional patriarchal gender roles and especially tired of the nice girls don’t have love affairs trope that is so much a part of traditional fantasy. It’s Fantasy for heaven’s sake!! Let’s live a little!! So I tried to design a world in which women are men’s equal and gender is less of an issue. At first it came out a bit dull. I hadn’t realized how much the sex war supplied tensions.
So I added the element of class. In the Empire of Light wealth is passed down the female line and all mages become nobles. Those without magic are peasants.
My heroine Shine Lucheyart is well born but she has no magic and no mother to leave her an inheritance. She works as a poor relation in the house of powerful sorcerer relatives. But she’s smart and feisty and in the first book she spends a lot of time getting sorcerer cousins out of trouble.
Her main aim is the cut loose from her family and, with her telepathic cat for company, make her fortune. I had a lot of fun with gendered language and also fun making it a sexy silky kind of book. I’m looking for a publisher now.
You are a multi-award winning, internationally-published author. How do you think the genre of fantasy fiction has changed over the years since you were first published?
The introduction of sparkly vampires and the growth of urban fantasy is one major new part of the genre. Fairy tales seems to have left nature and have become more and more entwined with our grungy urban settings. I’m not sure the type of historical fantasy I write has changed all that much. A lot of it seems just as sexist and humourless as it was when I started out. There are a lot of women centred fantasy novels nibbling away at the edges, but the mainstream….? Women are still being married off to save their brothers from ruination or in constant danger of being ravished by every man they meet. On the other hand there is the Game of Thrones phenomenon which can only be good for all fantasy writers simply because it’s gone so mainstream. Looking at G o T is a great way of looking at gender roles in Fantasy. A lot of women say that G o T is too rapey. That’s true. It’s set in a war and that’s what happens in the chaos of war. But there are a lot of strong women in the book. You have Aya, Danerys and even the appalling Cerci just to name the main ones. On the other hand you could accuse it of exceptionalism since all these ladies are exceptional and not the norm and the rapeiness is a drag to read if you’re a woman. Still compared with Tolkien we are definitely making progress. I guess one should be happy for small steps.
Separately to your fiction, you have created a wonderful compendium of non-fiction ‘Station Stories’ of vignettes and micro-stories inspired by your work as a station host at a Melbourne station host. How did ‘Station Stories’ start, and how do you see it as developing? Can you share with us one or two stories that stand out?
As a writer I’ve always wanted to celebrate everyday life – to make little photographs of it but with scents and sounds. Because everyday life is full of tiny transcendent jewel-like moments of delight and sorrow and interest. Fantasy writing doesn’t give you much scope for this. When I first started to work at a railway station (unfortunately my writing doesn’t pay the bills)I was delighted by all the little stories that played out on station platforms and kept a diary so that they wouldn’t be lost. Over time and with my discovery of social media these have metamorphosed into ‘Station Stories’. I really wrote them for my own pleasure. People tell me to look for a publisher for them and perhaps I will. But I already think of it as a small weekly column and I try to post one every weekend. I’d love to build up a following for them so that lots of people get this little story maybe on their mobiles maybe on Monday mornings as a bit of a sweetener. Without really planning it that seems to be what I’m working towards.
Here are two of my favourites.
G, one of our regulars is extremely disabled. He drives his wheelchair with a stick mounted on his head and communicates by tapping out words on a communicator. Were I so disabled, I think I’d be scared to leave the house, but G goes out to his job most days and has a busy social life. Recently I was tasteless enough to tease him about checking out the pretty girls. The way he tapped out “I’m engaged” and the dignified way he looked at me as it sounded out, made me feel rather small. Serves me right!
Yesterday he was waiting for a friend at the barriers and we got chatting. Hundreds of people headed for the Soundwave festival were going past and my task was to call out “Soundwave passengers – buses to the left!” at regular intervals.
I was startled to hear a little mechanical voice repeating my words. G had typed the words into his communicator and helpfully kept pressing the button at regular intervals until his friend arrived and he shot off in his wheel chair to greet him.
Today the Crystal lady was in great distress (although not willing to miss her train) because she had dropped a container of freshly made organic peanut butter on the train tracks. I leapt in to help like the hero station host I am. Although these days railway employees are forbidden to enter the Pit (this is the evocative name we rail types use for the area of train track between the platforms) I do have a Scoopy Thing. This thing, created by some great hero station officer of times past,is a plastic milk bottle cut in half and attached to a pole. It enables me to fish all kinds of things – mostly mobile phones safely out of the Pit.
The ST performed admirably but to be honest, I’m not sure the Crystal Lady will want the peanut butter as the jar has a big germ emitting crack in it. Still that’s her decision for tomorrow.
Station Stories can be followed at www.janeroutley.com