Thursday, June 17, 2010
Last Tuesday Tansy Rayner Roberts came in to the studio. She is author of a number of books, most recently 'Power and Majesty' which is the first of three in the Creature Court Series (Harper Voyager, 2010). Tansy is a Doctor of Classics, a mother, a prodigy, somewhat of a cause celebre when she was first published at age 19 and she makes for a good interviewee with her knowledge of the writing, the world and her passion for the Romans.
'Power and Majesty' is "effectively a superhero story or urban fantasy," firmly placed in the genre of fantasy. Tansy identifies as a writer of fantasy "(it) is a particular kind of escapism," she said, and while there is the argument that all writing is escapism, fantasy takes you further, allows you escape more - because it is often set in other worlds. It is literary tourism and readers experience a world completely other than their own. She mused on the seeming decline in popularity of science fiction as compared to fantasy - speculating that "the reason sci fi has retreated so much - space ships and computers - is because our world is already sci fi and what fantasy offers is a world that is not already there, a dip into a world that is different without giving up our creature comfort, our twitter and our microwaves."
Tansy was has been known to me for many years - when she was 19 (11 years ago) she was feted as a prodigious new talent. She had her first novel published at that tender age - in an industry that was as difficult to gain a foothold in then, as it is now. Describing the publication of her first novel as "a bolt of luck" (she won a competition by a publisher looking to increase their science fiction and fantasy titles), she acknowledges that it's not every 19 year old who has a completed fantasy novel in their bottom drawer.
She says it's "not one of those things where you pay your dues, it was bang! and get your book published." While she suggests "it is tempting when you're a teenager to write fantasy because you don't know very much about the real world, so making it up from scratch seems easy," it is a rare bird who has the novel, submits it, is published once - and then published again and again and again.
And it is fantasy that she has returned to, and that she still draws a lot of satisfaction from - the possibility of redesigning a world from the bottom up. It has, she believes, a lot of elements in common with the historical novel; the need to provide the reader the the background experience as well as the narrative of the story.
Tansy started young - reading full length novels by age five, planning her first 20 volume fantasy epic at age 12.
Her process of writing has evolved from precious to practical. When she began to write seriously for publication she could have no one else in the house, only one spot she could sit in and no sound whatsoever. That has all changed since she has had children - and she squeezes in squirts of writing between naps and drop offs and pick ups - "I just write, I have a lap top, write anywhere, have learnt to write with music, even if there are lyrics."
Her characters keep her entertained "I have definatley been surprised," she says - "it's more like having pets - you think you know what your cats get up to when you're out of the house but you come back and they surprise you."
'Power and Majesty' is volume one of three, involving many characters each with their own back stories, connections and passions. "spreadsheets are my friend," says Tansy. This way she knows what happened to her characters five to ten years before, and what the other characters were doing at that time. "I want to write about them as adults and because of that, even in adult fantasy, most people start the story with the young farm boy when he's 15 - they have character, ex lovers and baggage."
She is in the process of editing volume two of the Creature Court Trilogy - and has just received the edit letter "it's hard, I think that the freaking out is part of the process. You read through, you flail your arms 'how can they misunderstand my genius?' then you get over it and have a cup of tea and then you say "yeah, they have a point." The edit process is obviously crucial to publication - and writer, editor and publisher want the best book they can make. "Writers who can't take criticism at all are never going to improve never going to become better writers and develop their craft."
Tansy has a PhD in Classics - and she sees parallels in contemporary fantasy writing and in some classical writing "there are definately a lot of elements of classical stories that we now recognise as fantasy, a lot of stories that were treated as history but they had Gods walking in - as modern readers we think 'now, hang on, that was Aphrodite walking past, should I suspend my disbelief now?' mythology didn't seem quite as obsessed as pinning down what was real and there was not as strong a line between history and mythology as we draw now."
"Look at 'The Odyssey,' a marvellous work of fantasy full of Cyclops and sorceresses and amazing magical adventures."
The full interview is available for podcast by clicking on the title above.