Last October I had the exciting experience of publishing my first novel “We Do Not Kill Children”, and Jem kindly interviewed me on this blog where I said:
“My project is to write entertaining non-epic fantasy, creating a place where women are not marginalised, or oppressed – or have to use all the narrative energy of the story defeating their oppressors.”
This is still my view, and anyone who wants to know more about why I thought there was a need for equal-opportunity fantasy can find further discussion here: http://www.penelopewallace.com/swm/.
Now Jem has again allowed me a little online soapbox, as I launch the second volume of the Tales from Ragaris on the world (“The Tenth Province of Jaryar”, coming out in print or e-book on 11th December.)
When I started writing, there were other things, I realise, that bored or annoyed me about oh-so-many fictional societies:
- They’re always at war. Country A invades or rebels against Country B – look, isn’t war horrible? (Because that’s something we really didn’t know before.) Or Malevolent Sorcerer A or Evil God B unleashes unstoppable magic and innumerable minions to pillage and destroy – how can our heroes destroy him/her against impossible odds?
And so we have to have battle after battle, destroyed village after destroyed village, if we’re unlucky rape and torture, despair and not a lot of fun. But even in Fantasyland might there be pauses between wars, and rulers who already know that peace is preferable?
Many people love war stories, but I can’t be the only person who finds battle scenes on the whole dull and confusing, even with added maps. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields is the only literary battle I have ever managed to follow.
- They always produce spectacularly gifted people. Many characters in fantasy have magical powers, and the protagonist is usually the most magically talented of them all, surpassing everyone in their school or generation. (Harry Potter is an honourable exception, but even here Hermione is implausibly brilliant.) Frequently their skills are inherited from a wonderful bloodline. They or their friends are often the most beautiful, the most cunning, the most heroic and tallest people around as well. I know this is for wish-fulfilment, but personally I do not identify with super-people. I am not tall.
- Despite often being pseudo-medieval, they give no serious space or consideration to religion, one of the major preoccupations of all pre-modern societies. Gods are there in “low” fantasy to be sworn by; in “high” fantasy to manifest occasionally to kill each other, or order the protagonists around. Priests or other professionally religious people may exist, but are normally a) indifferent to their faith, b) irrationally fanatical or c) hypocritical. The devout layperson who does normal things like pray and attend church or temple does not exist.
So the goal was, and is, to write stories about life in peacetime, with characters who only have a normal allowance of good looks, talent and charisma – and still keep readers on the edge of their seats, unable to put the book down.
That was the general challenge. What was the particular, the Signature Challenge as they might say on Bake-Off, for this second book?
I am a Scot, and therefore I was brought up on the Wars of Independence which medieval Scotland fought against England and won.
As my countrymen memorably said in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320:
“It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
Stirring stuff. But being the thrawn (“twisted, perverse”) person that I am, I’ve never been sure that I agree with the Declaration. Is it better to live free than to die occupied?
In Fantasyland, I’ve noticed, almost everyone believes it is.
So I invented a country called Haymon where not everyone is eager to die rather than be conquered by the big bad Jaryari from the south. I asked myself what it would be like to live in the country that gave in.
It gives me great pleasure to have five more countries to write about in the future, and as much of their history as I choose to invent.