Melbournite Cecilia Dart-Thornton is one of Australia’s top fantasy writers, with several lengthy fantasy series under her belt since she was discovered on the internet and a publisher snapped her up at the beginning of this decade.
Her debut series, The Bitterbynde Trilogy is packed full of interesting ideas and creatures drawn from traditional European folk tales and legend, as well as a hint of romance. You can find Keeping the Door‘s review of the first book in the series, The Ill-Made Mute, here.
Dart-Thornton’s second series, The Crowthistle Chronicles, concluded in 2007 with Fallowblade. The series is similarly concerned with Celtic folklore.
But Dart-Thornton isn’t a one-dimensional persion; she has various other areas of her life that are important to her. The author, according to Wikipedia, is a keen supporter of animal rights and wilderness conservation, and is also interested in clay culpting, performing folk music, and even digital media. We conducted an email interview with Dart-Thornton to find out what’s up and what’s next.
With The Crowthistle Chronicles finished, what can you let slip about new projects you’re working on?
I can let slip that my projects are too many and too few. Too many in that as ever I find myself inundated with ideas for stories, but too few in that I have pieces of unfinished work all over the place, because my muse currently appears to have attention deficit disorder. I have always been a writer who’s carried on the waves of passion and spontaneity. If I feel like writing, I write. If not, I don’t. Forcing myself to write kills creativity and leads to a lack-lustre result. If I feel charged with excitement about a story I’ll want to do nothing *but* write.
Recently, however, I have been so taken with new ideas (not always associated with writing) that I have not been seeing old ones through to their conclusion. So there you have it. I may never finish anything again, and if so, ‘c’est la vie’. The world will have to content itself with seven finished novels, a couple of short stories and half a dozen unfinished manuscripts from me!
Having said that, my novella The Enchanted will be coming out next year in an anthology tentatively titled Australian Legends of Fantasy, edited by Jack Dann and Jonathan Strahan. Harpercollins will be publishing it.
(Postscript: being a fully paid-up nerd, one of the projects that I’ve been dabbling in is web design, so feel free to take a look at my lovely new website at http://www.dartthornton.com/ and my webshop at http://www.my-bookcafe.com.)
When reading The Bitterbynde Trilogy, I was struck by the lush language you used in describing your created world. Where did you pick up so many words that we rarely (but probably should) use in the English language?
Ever since childhood, when I read (experienced would be a better term) the Narnia books and then The Lord of the Rings, I have always wanted to create a world of my own. When I was writing Bitterbynde I knew that this was it, and I wanted to pour everything into it – my obsession with languages, my fascination with meteorology, with the seasons, botany, flight, geology, customs and traditions, folklore… all that I loved would go into the making of this world.
In my ‘spare’ time I paint pictures in oils, and when writing The Bitterbynde Trilogy I felt like an artist trying to capture my inner world with words instead of paints. And I wanted to use every shade on the palette that I could possibly blend.
Shakespeare, one of my literary heroes, had an extraordinary vocabulary. ‘About.com’ says, “While most English speakers can boast of a 4,000-word vocabulary, Shakespeare’s vocabulary spanned over 29,000 words.”
Given the quarter of a million words that make up the English language (depending on one’s definition of ‘word’1), I thought, why not use them as they were meant to be used? Why restrict yourself to ‘red’ when you could have nuances of ruby, garnet, scarlet, crimson, amaranth, carmine, vermilion, alizarin and more? Why stick to buttered toast when you could have a twenty course feast? Why not add yet another rhetorical question and consider dipping one’s toe in a puddle as compared to splashing and diving in a life-size champagne fountain?
For years it’s been my habit to read dictionaries and thesauri for recreation so I was able to indulge myself most luxuriously. And self-indulgence was what the creation of The Bitterbynde sprang from. I delighted, too, in resurrecting a number of archaisms that appealed to me. I am a hoarder, not a discarder, and it galls me to think of perfectly good words falling out of use.
Your books so far seem to draw on much Celtic and broader European folklore – but not necessarily the traditional Tolkienesque tropes of the fantasy genre. Do you anticipate that you will continue to be fascinated by this area of myth, or can you see yourselve using different settings?
The folklore of the United Kingdom and Eire is a life-long love, for me. I can never visualise myself losing interest in it. Discovering some new creature or traditional tale still makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise. Nonetheless, one of the part-finished works in my ‘filing system’ deals with creatures inspired, instead, by Biblical myth. I would hesitate to write about elves, dwarves and orcs, because The Lord of Fantasy has already done so, and in short, none can compare. The rest of us are simply Not Worthy.
It’s rare that we find an Australian fantasy author whose work is so well-developed (Keeping the Door is based in Sydney). What is your opinion of the Australian fantasy author scene, and what can be done to improve it?
Hmm. You know Renai, I have a really nice back garden. Visitors exclaim over it because it is a flourishing edible landscape of real beauty and productiveness. But no one ever asks me my opinion on the Australian gardening scene. Thank goodness – because I might be okay at looking after my own patch but I have very little idea of what other people are doing in theirs. (Except when a dose of curly-leaf blows in on my nectarine tree and I know that gardeners nearby haven’t been using Bordeaux Mixture).
I do know that writers such as Alison Goodman and Trudi Canavan have been spectacularly successful internationally, and I have a smattering of other knowledge, but I find it hard to read any fantasy these days a) in case I unconsciously pick up someone else’s ideas and b) because I find myself making technical judgements instead of losing myself in the story.
I do feel that the Internet has made us all more global than local and that there is no reason why an Australian writer should have more or less of a chance to become successful than writers anywhere else.
Critics of your work have negatively focused on the plot and character development in your novels, while praising your descriptive and world-building skills. How would you respond to such criticism?
[Editor's note: Fair point!]
And I have no argument. When I wrote the trilogy I was writing it for an audience of one – myself. I wrote the whole trilogy – more than half a million words – not knowing whether it would ever be published. After it was finished I did not show it to anyone for months, and then I only let a close friend take a look. Long afterwards I decided to reveal it to the world, and if the world had rejected it, I would have been disappointed but not shattered. I had done what I set out to do and that would have been enough.
While I like people, I am not consumed by curiosity as to their motives, their idiosyncrasies, their quirks and characteristics. Of course people interest me, but so does the wide world with its myriad surprises. My desire was not to explore characters so much as to discover this virtual world. I make no apology for that. I have never done a course in creative writing and at that stage did not know that writers are ‘supposed to’ develop characters and make stories character-driven.
I did not know that we are not ‘supposed’ to indulge in long descriptions, nor that the literary community largely considers it a grievous error to employ ‘said-bookisms’. I was writing by instinct, not according to the manual. Even my wide vocabulary, I learned later, might normally have proved a stumbling block in the path to publication.
Three of the characters in particular did interest me, and these are the ones best-beloved by readers. They are Ashalind, Thorn and Sianadh. People tell me they *love* these three; that they have wept and laughed with them and cared deeply for them. And yes, the other characters probably were one-dimensional. As for the plot – I had no idea where it was taking me. But it must have had something going for it because well before the final book was due to hit the shops I had received hundreds of email begging for it to be released earlier, and it had to be re-printed in the first week of publication.
I feel that some of the ideas in your books have been gently subversive in the fantasy genre; for example, themes against animal cruelty. Did you set out to provoke discussion in some areas, even subtly?
‘Gently subversive’ is probably something of an understatement. I would tend to use an analogy involving a hammer. There was not a lot of subtlety about it. Yes I was aware that people would probably resent being preached at about animal rights in the Crowthistle Chronicles, but unfortunately for me I am a person whose conscience makes her do what seems to be the right thing even when it is against her own interests.
The fantasy genre as a whole appears to be expanding and taking on new life as so-called urban fantasy (vampires, werewolves in modern life etc) is attracting a lot of attention. What is your reaction to the strong challenge posed to traditional fantasy tropes by urban fantasy?
Bring it on! The more fantasy the better; it’s enriching the genre. I wouldn’t consider urban fantasy as a challenge – it’s more of an augmentation. Buffy? Can’t get enough. Twilight? In all likelihood I would have swooned over it as a teenager.
Over the years, have you gotten a feel for what kind of reader is typically attracted to your books?
The kind of person who resembles me. The kind of person who loves the pre-Raphaelite artists, the romantic poets, the classic authors and movies such as Labyrinth, Willow and The House of Flying Daggers; people whose inner life is set in some misty European-type landscape of snow-capped mountains, dark forests and fast-flowing rivers; people who are kind, intuitive, creative and of course *highly* intelligent with *superb* taste in literature.
What have been your favourite books that you have read over the past several years?
I recommend a book of short stories by Kelly Link called The Wrong Grave. Yes it is fantasy, which I’ve mentioned I normally avoid, but the publishers were kind enough to send it to me for review, so I gave it a look and was truly delighted. During the past few years I’ve greeted Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell with rapture, and I am always ready to devour any of Pratchett’s Discworld books.
I choose to read ‘popular nonfiction’ by people like Simon Winchester, Victoria Finlay and Dava Sobel. I like a good Bill Bryson too, but just to show I’m not *all* about erudition and hilarity I recently enjoyed The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, a thrilling zombie romp-in-the-woods.
Could you describe your writing environment (eg desk, computer, room etc)?
A second storey room with a huge window overlooking my leafy garden which is filled with singing birds. Green boughs overhang my balcony. I write at my best among tree tops. I theorise this is something to do with humanity’s ape-like ancestors seeking the heights for shelter; some residual pre-historic gene I ended up with.
There are books and mess strewn everywhere throughout the room, not by my choosing but because I am a hoarder with too many interests. I would prefer uncluttered tidiness but it doesn’t happen to me. Besides, I need my precious books near at hand for reference and entertainment.
Décor colours are calm yet invigorating – a kind of pale peachy-apricot shade. Colours are important. Sunlight is important, and birdsong is vital. (Human music is banned.) Blowing leaves are vital, too. In fact in my ‘baby book’ my Mum recorded that one of my favourite occupations at the age of a few months was to lie in a bassinet in the garden and stare at blowing leaves.
I work on a notebook computer and if any computer company out there would like to sponsor me I’ll say I’m using theirs. Except that now I’ve completely blown my chance as everyone will know I was ready to say *anything* in return for a deal. What a sellout…
Anyway, back to search engine optimisation now. Thanks for interviewing me Renai, it’s been a pleasure!
- Towers of Midnight: Wheel of Time book 13 (269)
- Dune twitterers ridicule Kevin J. Anderson (61)
- Asimov estate authorises I, Robot sequels (61)
- New Hitchhiker’s Guide book “not very funny” (46)
- How good are the new Dune books? (42)
- Brent Weeks’ next book: Black Prism (30)
- Iain Banks’ Transition gets mixed reviews (27)
- Are science fiction/fantasy writers insane? (19)
- Next Wheel of Time book: Read chapter one (19)
- Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings: Review (19)
Popular topicsa dance with dragons a song of ice and fire australia brandon sanderson dune fantasy forever peace frank herbert george r. r. martin grrm guy gavriel kay haruki murakami iain m. banks janny wurts joe abercrombie joe haldeman karen miller kevin j. anderson kim stanley robinson mistborn neil gaiman neuromancer patrick rothfuss review robert jordan robin hobb science fiction stephanie meyer the fionavar tapestry the forever war the gathering storm the name of the wind the prodigal mage the summer tree the wheel of time the wise man's fear tor twilight twitter uk ursula k. le guin vampire video wheel of time william gibson
- Keeping the Door shuttered
- Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear: Review
- A Dance with Dragons is *really* complete
- Review: Iain M. Banks’ The Player of Games
- Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven: Review
- George R. R. Martin hates A Dance With Dragons delay too
- Early reviews of The Wise Man’s Fear are positive
- Review: Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas
- Review: Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief
- Towers of Midnight: Review
- Peter V. Brett’s The Painted Man: Review
- Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings: Review
- The Left Hand of God: Review
- Robin Hobb’s Dragon Haven: Review
- Gardens of the Moon: Review
No related posts.