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INTERVIEW: Ian Irvine, author of 'Justice'

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Ian Irvine is one of Australia's bestselling fantasy authors, and was recently a guest at the Speculative Fiction Festival at the NSW Writers Centre in Rozelle. 

Here, Ian answers my five flash questions:

What is your latest novel all about?

It's called 'Justice', Book 3 of an epic fantasy trilogy called The Tainted Realm, and it's set in a land, Hightspall, that has been forever tainted by the brutal way it was colonised two thousand years ago (I'm not trying to draw a parallel with Australia's colonial history here). But now the land itself is fighting back with one natural disaster after another, and the long oppressed Cythonian natives know that it's time to take back their country. 

Only one person can prevent Hightspall from running with blood – an escaped slave called Tali who, as a girl, saw her mother murdered for the magical ebony pearl secretly cultured inside her head. Tali is determined to bring the killers to justice, but then she discovers that she too has an ebony pearl in her head – the master pearl, in fact. And every scoundrel in the land wants to hack it out of her, including the killers. 

In Book 1, 'Vengeance', Tali pursues the killers, and is herself pursued, through a land at war. To avenge her murdered mother she has to take on a wizard-king, Lyf, who first died two thousand years ago.

In Book 2, 'Rebellion', the enemy have won and are tearing down Hightspall to restore their ancient realm of Cythe. But when Tali discovers that her people face genocide she must confront her darkest fear, a return to slavery, before she can hope to save them.

In Book 3, 'Justice', to give her country a chance of survival, Tali has to choose between gaining justice at any cost, or abandoning her quest and supporting her mother's killer in his darkest hour.

How did you get the first idea for it?

As a rule, I don't give much thought to a theme before I begin my books, or even during the writing process. I simply allow a subtle theme or themes to be expressed through the behaviour of the characters. 

However in The Tainted Realm I wanted to explore the theme of justice. How far one is entitled to go in the pursuit of justice and, in particular, the point at which its single-minded pursuit tips over into obsession and vengeance. When the character who professes to want justice at all costs begins to act as unjustly as the original perpetrator. 

It's been a fascinating exercise.

What do you love most about writing speculative fiction?

That I can write about anything I want, in any place, on any world, in any universe.I love taking my readers to places they've never been before, not even in other fantasy novels, and giving them experiences they've never had before, or even imagined. So in one sense it's the world-building I love though, when it comes down to it, a good story is really about the characters, their seemingly impossible goals, and all the trouble, heartache and pain they experience as they give everything to achieve those goals. 

And sometimes succeed … though even when they do, they never get everything they're looking for.

What are the top 5 books you've read recently?

Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Project. A professor of genetics with Asperger's Syndrome sets out to find a wife using logic and questionnaires. A very funny and moving book. I loved it.

Michael Benson – Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle. The universe in a series of stunning photographs.

Janet Evanovich – High Five. The fifth in the Stephanie Plum series about a lovable but incompetent bounty hunter.

CJ Sansom – Sovereign. Third in his series about Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer detective in the time of Henry VIII. A masterly storyteller who gets better with each book. 

Richard Harland – Liberator. The second book in the series that began with Worldshaker. A brilliant effort.

What lies ahead of you in the next year?

It's the daunting challenge of going back to the world of my first quartet, The View from the Mirror, which I started writing way back in 1987 and worked on solidly, draft after draft, for the next 12 years. It's a much loved series and my most frequently asked question is, 'When are you going to write the sequel you promised well over a decade ago?'

Writing the sequel presents many challenges. That series was written in a more elevated high fantasy style than any of my more recent works, so marrying the new to the old will be tricky. And there's the sequel problem itself. It's hard enough to write good sequels within a series, and there are a lot more bad ones than good ones. But it's far, far harder to write a new series that's a sequel to an existing series.

It's going to be a very interesting year. Actually, three.


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