Paris and Pearlis

These are my two major cities in The Scrivener’s Tale.

Fantasy stories don’t just come in series simply out of habit; for the most part these tales are epic in scale – with big stakes and a big cast – that require some room to move and develop worlds with all their history, culture, social set up, architecture, politics, spirituality, etc.  Then there’s the magic – a whole new beast to consider – how does it work, what are its rules, who can wield it and why…and when?  Then there are the characters, often a host of them and that cast keeps growing through the volumes, each member requiring backstories and lives with personalities to be developed.  Phew….no wonder fantasy authors need lots of pages.

So with that in mind once the decision was made to break my mould of the last dozen years and write a single volume fantasy, choosing to return to Morgravia was easy … it was always my favourite land and Pearlis a capital city that felt instantly familiar.   Most importantly, all of the features I’ve just described in terms of ‘world building’ were already done for me in The Quickening.

Readers familiar with the story would slip back into the land of Morgravia with ease and new readers wouldn’t find it challenging because it smacks so strongly of the world we know.  The real bonus for me, though, meant I could just hit the world running, so to speak, and I didn’t need to commit precious words to developing all of those components in a big story that had to fit into one book.

To add a twist to the tale from the start I wanted it to be a parallel world story where someone in our world finds a way through to Morgravia.   The challenge was working out how and in employing magical means, making that feel credible and in a way alarming enough that a reader would let it rip, go with it, trust it and be eager to find out why it occurred and what is going to happen to that character.

That’s the basis of all magic in essence.  It’s not a case of fooling the reader.  Not at all!  It’s winning your trust, craft the magic to feel effortless within the world and if as the writer I can earn that trust and promise not to break faith with it, then the magic works and readers don’t stop to question it because it feels seamless, it feels credible even though we all know it’s make believe.

Anyway, back to the landscapes.  Paris has been my gateway of choice into Europe since I moved to Australia more than three decades ago and coming out of the travel industry ten years ago meant I had been travelling regularly through Europe for most of those thirty years.  It’s a city that not only I love but the rest of the world loves too and even though it’s a familiar stomping ground I still wouldn’t say that I know it well.  It still surprises, challenges, delights … and I do feel like a tourist still and it’s impossible to get bored of because I learn more about it with each visit.  Paris is made up of neighbourhoods and although I have favourites there is something to love about all of them and they vary markedly.  When you walk Paris, rather than drive it, you can feel the change of pace or personality as you move between these neighbourhoods or arondissements as they are called. Although I’m originally English, for some reason Paris felt like the perfect choice for my ‘real world’ city where we meet the somewhat lonely Gabe Figaret in his Left Bank apartment and I’ll tell you more about his neighbourhood in another blog.

And fortunately for me, I was required to do intensive research on Paris for my novel The Lavender Keeper and that meant I could do side by side research for The Scrivener’s Tale and share the load out over all the costs.  Research is expensive, there’s no escaping it, but too valuable in terms of a book’s depth and richness to ignore and so I was lucky to be able to walk through all of the streets that Gabe does and get to know his stomping ground so that it felt easy to write those early chapters.

Pearlis, by contrast, I carry around in my head.  I can’t research it, I can’t walk the streets – other than in my imagination and I can’t smell it, or touch it, hear it or taste it.  Nevertheless, it is achingly familiar and real enough for me that I can engage my senses.  The trick, of course, is being able to engage yours by making Pearlis feel real enough to you too.

Pearlis is every inch a thriving metropolis that Paris is, except Pearlis is medieval and the city we enter when we meet Gabe is contemporary Paris.  And Pearlis too has an amazing cathedral that is visited annually by thousands of pilgrims…more on that aspect in another blog.   The inspiration for Pearlis originally came from a visit to Prague ten years ago.  I loved its famous Charles Bridge – built by King Charles lV – with all its statuaries of saints that line the huge bridge in imposing style and connects the royal palace with the Old Town.  It was indeed the bridge that captured my attention and inspired the city of Pearlis to start coming together in my mind for The Quickening trilogy.

Paris is a city of bridges as well, so I rather like that synchrony.  But while there are many aspects of the two cities that mirror each other – even their names sound similar –  there are just as many aspects that differ.  For instance, Paris is a city with feminine overtones because of that exquisitely beautiful architecture.  Pearlis is the opposite.  Its castle, Stoneheart, is dark, imposing stone and its sits heavily over the city…not brooding so much as empowering it.  Curiously, though, and it is coincidence or perhaps my sub-conscience had a whiff of returning to Pearlis all those years ago when I wrote The Quickening and teaming it up with Paris, because within the castle grounds are beautiful courtyards that surprise the visitor because of their obvious femininity couched within this masculine hulk of a castle.  There are formal courtyards of delicate herbs or peeps into magnificent orangeries.  Magnus, the King of Morgravia in The Quickening, loved growing flowers and so we get a sense of that legacy within these imposing walls.

I think both landscapes complement each other marvellously – they embrace at certain points and they dash away at others to opposing points…almost like a dance….and now that I reflect on it, perhaps Pearlis is how Paris, one of the great European cities, may have felt hundreds of years ago.

I should qualify that you will get a greater sense of Pearlis if you read The Quickening because I had more time to dwell on it.  In Scrivener, I move the characters all over Morgravia.  Anyway, here’s to you enjoying Paris and Pearlis!

Next blog:  Gabe’s neighbourhood – the 6th arondissement…Saint-Germain

Hooray…my first standalone fantasy for adults

Welcome to my new blog in the run up to the release of The Scrivener’s Tale in November; I’m writing from Tasmania, which is my favourite place to produce my stories from and most of Scrivener was written at my desk in the Huon Valley, where this photo was snapped.  Lovely isn’t it?  Which writer wouldn’t be inspired!  I am extremely lucky.

The view from my window

Well, this one was a surprise for me.  For a decade I’d maintained that I would never return to a story – and the truth is, technically I haven’t – but I also didn’t believe in my heart that I would return to a land I’d written about.  For me the best trilogies do come in threes :) That said, it doesn’t make me any less eager to read the latest from writers I admire enormously like George R R Martin or Robin Hobb who have given the world such amazing and ongoing stories from familiar landscapes.

However, while I have now crafted four big trilogies set in different lands, privately I always see them belonging to the same ‘world’ because the natural rules of the landscapes I use not only mimic our own world but they are in keeping with each other.  In other words I’m not a fantasy novelist who will add a moon or two, or necessarily change how time moves or water flows in the imaginary world.

Returning to my point, saying for years to readers that I would find it highly unlikely that I would return to a realm, I found myself being drawn back to Morgravia after a nine year sabbatical.  You see I wanted to write a single novel so that readers of fantasy – for a rare opportunity – could get a whole story in one hit.  For so long the fantasy genre has trained its readers to accept its storytelling in series.  I suppose we can blame Tolkien and CS Lewis et al, but I also agree that I have always enjoyed reading my fantasies in series and I certainly have enjoyed writing them in trilogies.

Anyway, now that I find myself writing across various genres and thoroughly enjoying the challenge of juggling romantic adventure in period settings together with fantasy for adults and also for children, and even some contemporary crime, I realised it made more logistical sense – in terms of my workload – to deliver stories in one wallop.  I don’t see it as the future for fantasy novels but I do think the readership across the globe appreciates the odd opportunity to get a whole story from one volume.  I have adored GGK’s single volume fantasies for instance – they have always left me wanting more.  If I can achieve that longing for more story, then I reckon I’ve done my job and entertained you.

But!  The reality of writing my new adult fantasy in one novel was tougher that I had anticipated.  After years of writing tales of magic in three big volumes, I had to change my whole mindset and approach but mercifully I’d had some recent practice with the release of the historical sagas. So I reassured myself when the panic began to electrify that it required me to not so much rewire my writing brain for Scrivener but to tap into the new approach that I’ve learned through the crime writing and the historical saga.

In essence I had to hit the main gallop of the story faster and develop the characters more immediately and bring them all together more promptly. I really love this story but it gave me some heartache wrestling it into one volume as there were tempting moments to take it veering off into new pathways – as I normally would – but I had to stay focused on the main thrust of the tale and not keep introducing a pile of new characters or sub plots as I traditionally do within my series.

I thank my lucky stars that Morgravia was waiting for me too.  I wouldn’t like to have had to focus on building a new realm with all of its social, political, spiritual and physical structure from scratch, while trying to power along this big tale.

So, I’m looking forward to welcoming you all back to Morgravia, the main realm that those of you who have read The Quickening will recall.  However, I must say up front that this is not a continuation of The Quickening.  I have deliberately set the story a few generations on from when we left it, so Scrivener could not only stand on its own feet but would feel fresh to new and familiar readers alike.

Thanks for being interested…in my next blog I’ll tell you more about the two landscapes I have used.  Until then.  Best, F