[This is a continuation from the post below.]
It’s interesting to see how you create your worlds; do you have a method of managing them? Do you lay out the world and story-arc before you start writing or is it more of an organic process?
The story-arc begins first and the world develops alongside it.
I start by doing a great deal of thinking. My favourite time for this is while driving or doing housework. I rarely write much of this down, because I end up knowing my world – the part I am writing about anyway – just as well as I know this one. I know without looking it up in my notes that the fishing boats of my invented land put out to sea in the morning and return to port before nightfall, just as I know, without doing a Google search, that our refrigerated boats here on Earth don’t have to do that.
I like to have the larger picture in place before I begin – the politics, the commerce, the religion, the landscape, the climate. Much of the detail, however, is only conceived while I am writing the story. I try to integrate these details as the story unfolds (rather than throw them in huge chunks at the reader), much the same way we learn the details of our new surroundings when we move to another country. I’m an expert on the real thing – I’ve lived on four different continents!
I do start with a map, though. It may, however, be altered to suit the story as I write. If a river is in the way of characters on a journey, I will re-route the whole valley!
The story-arc remains flexible until I write the last word, but when I start on the first chapter I must have a clear idea of the beginning, the end and the highlights – the key scenes. The rest is a bit fuzzy, like looking through a fog which won’t clear until I get there.
Can you tell us a bit about where the idea for The Mirage Makers came from?
As a young mother, I was horrified by two real life stories emerging from two countries. One was an Australian tragedy of almost incomprehensible hubris, where many Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their parents, supposedly for the benefit of the children. They were often raised with no knowledge of their own culture or families, sometimes even taught to denigrate their heritage. The second story was the tragedy of the “Disappeared Ones” of Argentina. During this time, pregnant women caught up in the political brutality had their babies taken away at birth, to be raised by the families of their captors, while they themselves were murdered.
These events moved me. How terrible it must have been not only to lose your child, but to know they would be raised by people with different values, possibly values you despised.
A little later we moved to Vienna, Austria. One evening, I watched a TV historical drama (in Italian, which I don’t speak) sub-titled in German (which I can read, but too slowly to keep up with sub-titling). It was about an Imperial investigator being sent by Rome to Jerusalem to find out why people believed that a man had survived his crucifixion a year or two earlier. The investigator scorns the story as pure fantasy… About then, it became too complicated for me to follow, but it didn’t matter. My own imagination was already hard at work.
All those things came together to form the basis of the plot for Heart of the Mirage. I didn’t do anything about it at the time because I was writing The Isles of Glory, but a year or two later my husband transferred to Tunisia, and I could see the ruins of Roman Carthage from my study window and we had the base of a Roman pillar in our rose garden. When southerly winds blew, Saharan dust piled up at my front door, desert on the move…
That was when I had to start writing the Mirage Makers trilogy.
Ligea is such a strong and interesting female character and it was wonderful to see how she grew over the trilogy. Do you have any favourites among your characters?
Part of me loves all my characters, even the villains. I do like Ligea, not because she’s a lovely person − she’s definitely not that – but because I feel for her. She’s a woman who would probably have been kind and loving and nurturing, if she had not been raised to kill ruthlessly in the service of her Emperor and her manipulative mentor. She’s the child removed from her culture and her family, to be raised by her enemies to despise both. She does not have much of a chance, yet she manages to rise above her beginnings and develop as a human being. She can never entirely leave her past behind, but in the end, she does her best.
The character whose life history tore me up most when I was chronicling it, however, was Arrant. So many awful things happened to him, none of which he deserved, and sometimes I almost wept as I wrote about them. It was heartbreaking.