Monday, September 01, 2008

Interview with Lara Morgan

Lara Morgan is the author of Awakening, The Twins of Saranthium Book One published by Pan Macmillan's Tor imprint on September 1 this year. Awakening is a fantasy novel set in the hot lands of Saranthium where the pact between serpents and humans is failing and the rumours of the return of the banished god of the serpents, Azoth, leads twins Shaan and Tallis into a journey they may not survive. It's good versus evil but one in which the lines between become increasingly blurred.

Awakening is Lara's first book and took over ten years to see the light of day which she thinks is not bad in the overall scheme of things. Lara has a BA in English, has travelled to many odd places and has been a gallery assistant, arts project manager and the consulting editor of a newspaper. She lives in Geraldton, Western Australia.

What was your inspiration for writing Awakening?
I started it so long ago it's hard to remember! But I don't think it was any one thing, the story grew very slowly from a small seed and changed a great deal along the way. I think one of the things I find most inspiring though is how people cope with being thrust into extraordinary circumstances and I like to explore that in the book. The characters have to deal with quite a lot.

Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?
Some of my favourite books growing up are still my favourite books now, such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Narnia Chronicles. I was also addicted for a while to the Famous Five and I was wildly into Sidney Sheldon in my teens but that's a different kind of fantasy all together! Now I'd say one of my favourite authors is Ursula Le Guin. I never tire of reading her Earthsea books and am always amazed by her ability with language, she just writes so beautifully. I also love Isobelle Carmody, Sara Douglas, JV Jones, Scot Westerfeld, Fred Vargas, Donna Tartt, Juliet Marillier, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Mark Twain, Geraldine Brooks ...the list goes on and on.

What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?
I think it's the attraction of a world less ordinary, a reality less mundane than the one I inhabit. I was always the kid who believed in fairies and was convinced there was something living under my bed at night and I don't think I've ever really grown out of it, I've just moved on to wanting to write about it and create my own strange worlds. I also think good fantasy and science fiction can go just as far in exploring the nature of humanity as any literary novel and I get as much satisfaction from reading someone like LeGuin as from reading Hemmingway, if not more.

Why did you decide to make Shaan and Tallis twins?
The twin idea came about because of the mythic significance of twins and also because of the powerful connection twins have, even when they grow up apart, and that is very important to the story, especially for Tallis. He feels a strong sense of something missing from his life until he finally meets his twin. And Shaan as well even though she wasn't as aware of it. Then again, I'm not entirely sure I decided to make my characters anything. I really feel that most of the time they are telling me what is going on and who they are, almost as if I am writing their history. It's as if Shaan and Tallis and their story already exist and I'm just the typist elected to jot it all down.

What (besides writing) do you do for fun?
Browsing in second hand bookshops - in fact I'm trying to convince myself it's a kind of sport. Travelling, especially to places with ruins, walking on the beach and of course reading, reading, reading garnished with an addiction for watching science fiction tv shows: Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Buffy, Supernatural etc etc. I'm a total sucker for anything mildly speculative.

What sort of research did you do to write this book? What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?
I spent some time reading about weapons and ancient civilisations but I don't do a great deal of pointed research unless I get stuck on a particular detail while I'm writing, such as how big a sword should be, the logistics of a serpent flying, or something like that. I researched the anatomy of dinosaurs for the serpents. Any preparation mostly consists of me making sure I have a cup of tea handy - it's like a ritual I find it hard to get to work unless I have tea.

Shaan really wants to become a serpent rider, to be one of the elite warriors that patrol the skies. Would you like to do that too?
I guess I would like to be some kind of powerful warrior woman who can command serpents in theory - except that I am really quite short and afraid of heights and I think that could be a tiny problem. Basically most of the characters in Awakening are braver than I am - especially Shaan, she doesn't run away from a fight whereas I would be the one hiding behind whatever large metal object I could find trying to offer a diplomatic solution.

If you were Shaan or Tallis and found out you were descended from a maniacal god and had to surrender to an already decided fate, what would you do?
I think I would probably head straight for the nearest inn and down a lot of Cermezian wine - but then as I said I am not as brave as either of them. Although it would be quite handy to have Tallis's powers. I don't think I'd mind that.

What are you writing now?
I'm working on book two of the Twins of Saranthium trilogy.

Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?
I've written since I was in primary school but I didn't consciously decide I really wanted to be a writer until my late 20s, despite studying creative writing at uni. I thought for a while I'd be a journalist but realised I didn't like politics enough to do that. It was after returning from seven months overseas in 1997 that I got up one day and decided to write a book and it snowballed from there - although very slowly. I wrote stories, collected rejections and dabbled away at this book until in 2003 when I entered the Women's Weekly short story competition and won. That really changed everything. I got noticed, went to a writers festival and was asked to submit a story for Penguin's Girl's Night In 4. After that I had something to put on my resume. I wrote another book, this time a young adult sci fi novel, and got a mentorship through Writing WA with Isobelle Carmody. That sci fi novel hasn't been sold yet but not long after that I tried selling Awakening to various agents and was picked up by Curtis Brown - my agent was actually a judge on the Weekly competition and remembered me so I think that really helped - and by the end of 2007 Awakening and the rest of the Twins of Saranthium trilogy had been sold to Pan Macmillan. So it only took about ten years!

What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?
I wish I could say I write all day like some kind of female Bryce Courtney but the reality is I make tea and spend quite a chunk of time staring at what I wrote the day before and trying not to get distracted by the internet before I really get down to writing. I usually write about four hours a day, six on a good day, and try to aim for 2000 words, but I don't always make it. I comfort myself by remembering that sometimes James Joyce only managed seven words a day ( or so it's rumoured). This is especially important on days when I've done more deleting than creating. If I get really stuck I will write long hand or just try jotting down notes for the next scene so I at least have something to work with.

Where do you write?
Usually sitting at my desk straight into the computer and often cross legged because I can't reach the floor, which results in painful bouts of pins and needles and a reminder to myself that I should invest in a foot rest.

What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?
The easiest is imagining how the story will progress and the hardest thing is writing it. I often have trouble with the logistics of fight/actions scenes and making sure it isn't just stilted detail and dialogue is like pulling teeth with a set of Barbie's plastic tweezers. I find writing a character's interior monologue and describing surroundings the least difficult.

This is your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there.
This is my first book but I have written another, a much shorter book for young adults, which is yet to be sold and as mentioned before I have had a short story published in Girl's Night In 4, but under the name Lara Martin.

What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?
I think the purpose is the same as any other form of writing: to try to make sense of humanity and what we do, albeit in a slightly different setting. I also think in some aspects it is just really, really entertaining and a great way to escape from this mad world we've created, because god knows sometimes you just want to be taken somewhere where you can't see the pile of dishes you haven't done today!

Thanks for the interview, Lara!

Awakening is available through Dymocks, Pan Macmillan, Leading Edge Books and many other bookstores.

Lara also has a myspace page and will have her own website soon.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

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