Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
  • Writing
  • September13th

    • Don’t place your Forest of Terror right next door to your Mountains of Doom alongside your Chasm of Eternal Fear. You can have too much of a good thing.
    • Remember: rivers flow from the mountains to the sea, not the other way around. Tempting though it may be to have water running uphill, the laws of hydrodynamics are fairly well understood and if broken, will have unfortunate consequences for urban sewerage and waste water disposal.
    • Weather happens.
    • Never try to have a capital of the Evil Empire of Doom without a Z, K or X in the name. It just doesn’t work.
    • The Web of Life is really tricky in fantasyland. Dragons as your top-level predator play hell with the food chain.
    • Never put anything interesting in the middle of your fantasyland. If your map goes to two pages, you can lose important stuff in the gutter …
    • Cities are where they are for three reasons: protection, trade routes and ‘lost in the mists of time’, which is always handy.
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  • February16th

    music notes small

    I like listening to and reading about other writers. I find the process of writing fascinating, and I find the multitude of different approaches empowering. There is no single magical formula for writing. There are a million ways to do it and to do it well.

    Take the business of music while writing. I’ve asked many writers about their aural habits while writing, and the responses are truly varied. Some insist on absolute silence. Some will allow birdsong and other natural noises but nothing else. Some fill the room with heavy metal mayhem until the dust shakes down from the ceiling.

    Me? I can have music, but I prefer it to be music without words. Words, even sung words, can intrude too much, especially if I’m writing dialogue. So instrumental music is fine, classical music can be good, but my favourite is movie music. Film scores can be sensational for nudging the right mood along. Vangelis’s ‘Bladerunner’ soundtrack is excellent if I’m in a futuristic world. ‘Lord of the Rings’ is perfect if I’m doing a battle scene. Erich Korngold’s score for ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ or the Indiana Jones march are terrific for those ‘let’s go adventuring’ moments, while if I’m after epic grandeur, I love Maurice Jarre’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Spooky, creepy moments? Try Bernard Hermann’s ‘Vertigo’ or (if you’re up to it) ‘Psycho’. Romance? I love Max Steiner’s lushness. ‘Casablanca’ is an all time favourite, but when I find I’m thinking of Ingrid Bergman instead of what I’m meant to be writing, I know I need to change the playlist.

     

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  • September19th

    fantasyland5

    If you’ve ever looked at our world with discontent, unhappiness or a feeling of ‘I could do better than that!’ then fantasy writing is for you. In a lifetime of reading Fantasy and half a lifetime writing it, I’ve compiled a number of hints, tips and techniques for novice world-builders. And since I’m not loathe to offer advice, here’s a pick of the best of them.

    • Don’t place your Forest of Terror right next door to your Mountains of Doom alongside your Chasm of Eternal Fear. You can have too much of a good thing.
    • Remember: rivers flow from the mountains to the sea, not the other way around. Tempting though it may be to have water running uphill, the laws of hydrodynamics are fairly well understood and if broken, will have unfortunate consequences for urban sewerage and waste water disposal.
    • Weather happens.
    • Never try to have a capital of the Evil Empire of Doom without a Z, K or X in the name. It just doesn’t work.
    • The Web of Life is really tricky in imaginary worlds. Dragons as your top-level predator play hell with the food chain.
    • Never put anything interesting in the middle of your imaginary world. If your map goes to two pages, you can lose really interesting things in the gutter.
    • Cities are where they are for three reasons: protection, trade routes and ‘lost in the mists of time’. Always handy.
    • ‘Wetlands’ is a more congenial name for ‘swamp’.
    • There’s no reason why the north has to be cold and the south hot. Such an approach is Northern Hemisphere-centric.
    • Remember: you have to stop map-making sometime and start writing.
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  • August13th

     

    One of the other hats I wear is as co-publisher of Aurealis, Australia’s longest-running magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In a recent editorial, I wanted to let the writers out there know what we’re looking for. It turned into a statement of principles, the criteria by which we select stories for inclusion.

    Here it is again, for your interest.

    At Aurealis, we want to see:

    1. Good writing. By this, we mean more than a simple facility with written English. Even though this is important, it should be a given, a basic expectation of any submission. Rather, we enjoy apposite language, sentences with flexibility and rhythm, dialogue that is alive with character and intonation, complexity of construction and stark simplicity used in the right times and places.
    2. This is hard to define, and has much to do with Point 1, above. Your story should sound individual and alive through its narrative point of view.
    3. Your main character should be engaging. That’s it in a nutshell. Of course, there are a million different ways to make your main character engaging. You just have to choose the right one and implement it deftly.
    4. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your central premise needs to be wildly new, although this is desirable. A fresh take on a well-established concept is good. Quirky, idiosyncratic characters are also useful in upping your originality quotient.
    5. Be economical with your story.
    6. Quick movement into the heart of the story. We are a short story journal, which means you don’t have unlimited space to work with. This can be a challenge in Fantasy and SF, where world-building and background detail is important, but do your best. Don’t linger too long in the set-up. You’ll lose us.
    7. Hard SF. We don’t get enough of these sort of stories.
    8. Humour – but it has to be really
    9. Think about your characters. Are you making unwarranted assumptions about dominant cultures? Are you overlooking possibilities?
    10. The X Factor. It could be freshness, it could be the unexpected, it could be something shocking, it could be something that makes us grin or wince or sit up straight after the first paragraph. We can’t tell you what the X factor is, exactly, but we know it when we see it. Including it is a good thing.
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  • July1st

    jfk

    I’ve nominated a bunch of top Alternative History books here. But how does one go about writing in this challenging, but alluring, sub-genre?

    Alternative Histories are where the writer changes something in our past and imagines what difference it would make t0 the now divergent timeline. For example, because of the gold rush, Australia in the 1880s was the richest country in the world. But the gold ran out. What if it didn’t? What if today Australia was the richest, most powerful country in the world, dominating politically, economically, technologically, and in the media? What sort of a world would it be?

    It’s like dropping a stone into a pond and watching the ripples spread. With Alternative  Histories, the longer ago the event was, the further the ripples spread and the more impact they have. Imagine, for instance, if Cleopatra’s navy had defeated the Romans at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC? We could be living in a world where Egypt is the superpower! What would living in an Egyptian world be like?

    A good Alternative  History looks at the implications of a historical change, but without sacrificing narrative and character. In fact, the changed circumstances can provide a fertile ground for exploring such aspects of story. How would a person behave in a world where the Reformation and Enlightenment didn’t happen, and where religious conformity is paramount? What would be the large-scale, society wide differences? What would be the more intimate, personal differences? In such, narrative grows.

    Here are a few scenarios for you to play around with. What would today’s world be like if these changes had happened?

    1. The east coast of Australia isn’t settled by the British. It’s settled/invaded by the French. Or Chinese. Or a variety of settlers/invaders.
    2. Early in European settlement, a treaty was signed with the indigenous people.
    3. A major Australian political or social figure was assassinated.
    4. Massive Saudi sized oilfields are discovered in Central Australia.
    5. Rabbits weren’t liberated near Geelong in 1859.

    Have fun!

    Bonus: here are a few more top notch Alternative History books. Click on the covers for Wikipedia descriptions.

    Wikipedia descriptions here: The Peshawar Lancers, Romanitas, Without Warning.
    Bonus bonus: Alternative History or Alternate History? Both abound out there in netland, but I’ve gone with Alternative as, strictly, Alternate is used to describe two things taking turn about. Alternative History suggests more than two options, which I like.

     

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  • June17th

    My first novel was published in 1996. I was publishing short stories for four or five years before that, which means that I’ve been in the writing game for about twenty-five years. Time to reflect, perhaps, and this is what I came up with.writing

    1. It’s useful if writers can talk
    2. There is no magic formula
    3. The gap between readers and writers is narrower than ever
    4. Publishing is a business
    5. The future is uncertain.
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  • May28th

     

     

    1. Force 10 from Westminster
    2. The Disraeli Identity
    3. Mary Shelley, Princess of Power
    4. Gilbert and Sullivan and International Domination
    5. Have Pith Helmet, Will Travel
    6. The Revenge of the Colonies
    7. Dirigibles, Digging Machines and Great Big Tanks
    8. The Tea-time Ultimatum
    9. Giant Cats Destroy London via the Underground (some work needed on that one)
    10. Manners, Morals and the Exploitation of the Working Class

     

     

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  • March15th

    authors at lunch

    Authors at lunch

    Look at this for a roll call of kids and YA authors: Deb Abela, Felice Arena, Tim Baker, Tristan Bancks, the multiple person who is Angelica Banks, David Burton, Peter Carnavas, Nick Earls, Carmen Gray, Dave Hackett, Leanne Hall, Jacquie Harvey, Nicole Hayes, Jack Heath, Megan Jacobson, Andy Jones, Leisel Jones, Luka Lesson, Alice Pung, Chris Richardson, Matthew Ryan, Lian Tanner, Paula Tierney, Gabrielle Tozer, Frances Watts, Lesley Williams, Tammy Williams, Fiona Wood and Claire Zorn. Whew! That’s a stellar line-up in anyone’s terms and the breadth and diversity of offerings is a tribute to the organizers of the latest Somerset Celebration of Literature, which I was lucky enough to be part of last week – 8 to 11 March 2016 on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

    photo credit Chris Richardson

    That’s me – photo credit Chris Richardson

    And what a time was had by all. Consider the numbers. 20,000 tickets were sold to individual sessions. I repeat, 20,000! That’s a lot of young readers seeing their favourite authors in person, possibly for the first time, and getting irreplaceable insights into the craft of books and writing. Even more impressively, Somerset College funded a thousand kids from regional Queensland schools and the Northern Territory and helped them attend the festival. That sort of contribution to the community is remarkable and deserves recognition.

    The result was four days of outstanding fun, full of talk, sharing and high spirits all dedicated to the wonderful world of books, reading and writing. I was in my element.

    photo credit Elke Schneider

    I talk the good talk – photo credit Elke Schneider

    As a measure of the enthusiasm of the attendees, I had a workshop session with Grade 6 students, late on the Wednesday. In order to get to the festival on time, some of these kids had been up since 4.30 that morning – and in this workshop they were still keen, good-humoured and totally on task. Of course, the teachers deserve enormous buckets of credit, too. They go above and beyond the call of duty in organising these squads of students and then shepherding through the whole experience. They are worth their weight in gold.

    From an author’s point of view, the festival is exemplary. In some ways, it’s a chance for some author professional development as we can slip into the back of our colleagues’ presentations and glean some tips, as well as having a chance to discuss the nitty-gritty of the writing industry over the excellent coffee in the salubrious Green Room.

    One way to ensure that a festival is memorable for authors is to make sure that it’s smoothly organised. Here, Somerset Celebration is a model for others to aspire to. Managing scores of sessions, a multitude of venues and a motley bunch of authors could be seen as a challenge, but the Somerset crew made everything run like clockwork – aided by the many, many cheerful and hospitable volunteers who were essential in making everything hum along.

    In thanking Andrea Lewis, Karen Mackie, Anna Kirkby, Lisa Thomson and Cecilia Robertson I’m sure I’m neglecting to name others who contributed – please forgive me.

    The Somerset Celebration of Literature is one of the high points in Australia’s literary calendar. It was a privilege to attend.

    authors at Literary Dinner

    Authors at the final night’s Literary Dinner – photo credit Dave Hackett

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  • January20th

    fantasy-735265_1280

    After a recent trip to the chemist I’ve become convinced that the pharmaceutical industry has hundreds of Fantasy writers working for it.

    I’m not sure if this has been a deliberate policy of recruiting down-at-heel Fantasy writers whose last trilogy was cut short after Book 2 or if hordes of canny Fantasy writers have seen an opportunity to ply their craft in an area of untold riches, but there is little doubt that the language of Fantasy is everywhere you look in over-the-counter medications.

    What I’m talking about is the names of these preparations. Some might think that these names are nicely sciencey, but to the veteran Fantasy reader the effect is entirely different. Running an eye along the shelves, one is immediately transported to far off, mystical realms where larger-than-life characters wield powers far beyond mortal ken and converse in eldritch tones while consulting ancient scrolls that speak of doom and great deeds.

    Consider Zantac, for instance. It may be the name of a useful anti-heartburn medication, but it could equally be the name of a sorcerer of great power, but one with a fatal weakness that will turn him to dark and malignant plotting.

    Voltaren is a handy cream for bruises and muscle pain, but it sounds as if it could be the name of Zantac’s mortal enemy, a venerable mage of great power who is troubled by actions in his past that were prophesied by a wise woman of whom he took insufficient notice, the fool.

    Once started in this mode, it’s easy to detect the hand of the Fantasy writer. Below, I’ve listed some pharmaceutical items the names of which would be perfectly at home in a major fantasy series. See what you think.

    • Allerfexo. A bard, and possible comic relief. Known for his ribald versification, and is likely to have his head cut off after offending some noble or other.
    • Mylanta. Possibly a place name, a far-off land of beauty and many lakes, ruled by a queen who is both just and fair.
    • Gaviscon. Rugged, but internally tortured, main character. Stolid, taciturn, loyal. Not dull, though.
    • Flixonase. Companion to the rugged, but internally tortured, main character. Humorous. Possibly plays the flute. Borderline annoying.
    • Hirudoid. A warrior tribe in a distant land – ‘the fierce and unrelenting Hirudoid’.
    • Claratyne. Another place name, possibly in the mountains and featuring many towers. ‘To see the spires of Claratyne is to see the heights of creation.’
    • Telfast. An innkeeper. Wears an apron. Fat.
    • Lamisil. A sorceress of formidable power, the dread Lady Lamisil. She has a notable laugh that probably drives men mad.
    • Finalgon. A lesser wizard. Appears once in the story and then is never heard of again.
    • Zovirax. Evil. Wizard, warrior, doesn’t matter – is simply evil. Bound to be, with a Z and an X in his/her name.
    • Vosol. A soldier. Brave, loyal, accompanies the main character into dangerous territory and dies for his trouble.
    • Alcon. Possibly a city – ‘brawling, bustling, breathtaking Alcon’. Possibly a thief – ‘nimble-fingered Alcon, to whom no lock is barred. Possibly a river – ‘swift and deep the mighty Alcon ran, league to league, through forest and mountain, from the plains to the sea, unmatched in its breadth and wetness’.
    • Savlon. A city. Not a very interesting one.
    • Coloxyl. A villainous duke. Oily, ingratiating, sinister, and sports a sensational goatee.
    • Dulcolax. Another villainous duke? Not as villainous as Coloxyl. Good with money, though.
    • Sorbolene. ‘Ah, Sorbolene, fair Sorbolene, the fey and star-eyed elven queen!/She makes this world both kind and clean, does hygienic Sorbolene!’ Or similar.
    • Imodium. Another city, most likely with a fortress that will be besieged by the ravening hordes of evil. Has impressive walls.
    • Combantrin. The dark and doom-wracked warrior overlord, Combantrin both stalks his fate and fears it. Whatever that means.

    See what I mean? Over-the-counter medications abound with names that could have been ripped straight from the pages of Fantasy novels. The alternative explanation is, as I’ve suggested, that Fantasy writers have found a neat sideline, a way to make some bread-and-butter money through their stock in trade – inventing names. Is it any wonder that wandering around today’s chemist is like entering a grand, epic, sweeping tale of good versus evil, where fast magics are unleashed and brave goatherds are revealed to be the rightful heir to the throne after his or her courageous and self-sacrificing deeds.

    Thank you Big Pharma.

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  • December21st

    A couple of weeks ago, martianI was asked in to 774 ABC Melbourne for Raf Epstein’s monthly ‘Read with Raf’ book club, to chat about ‘The Martian’. I’d sent in a review based on my blog piece and Raf enjoyed it enough to want more. Raf, Alicia Sometimes and I had a good twenty, twenty-five minutes discussing, analysing and exploring Andy Weir’s book, as well as taking responses from the public via phone and text. We also broadened the discussion into the whole world of Science Fiction and its appeal. Good fun all round.

    Here’s a podcast of the session.

     

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