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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Author Interview: Lian Tanner

Lian Tanner is the award-winning author of the popular The Keepers and Hidden series. Kids' Book Review's Jo Burnell caught up with Lian recently to ask her about her writing process.

Each of your fantasy series has a strong female character as the star. Was this purposeful? Why?
Yes, completely purposeful! It’s partly because I just like writing about bold girls – it’s fun to see them overcoming difficulties, making their way in the world and learning about themselves in the process.

On a deeper level, I’m writing for myself in Grade 5/6. I was a shy and rather timid child (a bit like Rain in Sunker’s Deep), but I desperately wanted to be brave and forthright, and have extraordinary adventures. So this is my chance to be that person.

Your worlds are so complex, with not a single detail out of place. How do you successfully plug all the potential gaps in believability? Do you use a particular strategy to fact check your created worlds?
I’m really pleased that you see my fantasy worlds like that. I love creating them, and I try very hard to make them believable and accurate. I do a lot of research, particularly when I’m writing about something like ships or submarines that I know absolutely nothing about. And during the second-last draft, when I think I’ve got most things in place, I try to find someone who’s an expert in those areas to read the manuscript for me and tell me where I’m going wrong.

So for Ice Breaker I found an engineer who’d been to Antarctica a dozen times, and who knew a lot about both ice and ships. For Sunker’s Deep I gave the manuscript to an ex-submarine commander. Both those people helped me make the world more convincing and saved me from some very embarrassing mistakes!

Which comes first for you—fantasy world, character, theme, voice? Or do you develop all of these simultaneously? Please tell us a little about how you build story.
It varies a bit with each book, but usually it’s a scrap of an idea about the fantasy world that comes first. With Icebreaker, I started off with a picture in my mind of a huge old ship circling the southern ice for hundreds and hundreds of years, and never changing its course.I had no idea why the ship was there or who was on board or even what sort of ship it was. But very early on I knew that the crew of the ship never saw anyone else, year in, year out. Until one day a stranger appeared.

Once I’ve got that initial idea, I play around with it for a long time in a notebook, jotting down thoughts and questions, and sticking in pictures that inspire me, and writing scraps of dialogue and possible characters. I get a sense of the main character fairly quickly, and I like to find names fairly early on too, because for me they’re an important part of the character.

But at the same time, I don’t like to be too definite at this early stage. I don’t like to pin things down too soon. I find the process works best for me if I ask questions for as long as possible, rather than looking for final answers.

When I’m sick of making notes and asking questions, I do a rough outline (which is never anything like the final book). Then I start writing.

My first draft is usually very ordinary, and the world and the characters and everything else are not at all convincing. But as I write draft after draft, I put down more and more layers. So really, everything gets developed simultaneously. And by the time I’m up to my fourth or fifth draft, the characters and the world and the voice and theme are starting to become rich enough and complex enough to satisfy me – and hopefully to satisfy a reader as well!

We have travelled ancient and mythical worlds through the Museum of Thieves and the future both underwater and on land. What are you planning next? We'd love to know.

By the time I handed in the third book of the Hidden series, Fetcher’s Song, I’d been writing solidly for seven years without a break, and the thought of starting a new series straight away made me want to run away and hide. So I took six months off – I was editing Fetcher’s Song during that time, and helping my cat Harry with his blog, but definitely not thinking about what I was going to write next.

That six months is now up, and I’m looking forward to starting the new series. I don’t know much about it yet, and I don’t like talking about my books until they’re pretty much written. All I can say at this stage is that it might involve camels.


Lian Tanner is an award-winning Australian author and playwright. Her novels include three The Keeper trilogy titles (Museum of Thieves, City of Lies, Path of Beasts) and the first two books in The Hidden Series (Ice Breaker and Sunker's Deep). Visit Lian's website and Facebook page for more information about her books and writing.

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