karenmiller (karenmiller) wrote,

Fantastic Women: Glenda Larke

So, Glenda Larke. What can I say about this extraordinary woman, who’s dedicated her life to the cause of conservation, who’s lived the last 30 years in what could be described as an alien world: Malaysia, whose love affair with fiction started in an isolated borderline outback childhood, who’s travelled the world living in Europe and Africa and many places in between, whose fantasy worldbuilding skills are as good as it gets in the spec fic genre, bar none, and who I am privileged to call my friend?

Words just don’t do her justice, really. She’s witty and wise, passionate and dedicated. Her determination and perseverance are a testament to her fighting spirit. She’s the walking, talking personification of class. There’s not a mean bone in Glenda’s body. She champions other writers with open-hearted zeal, and all she wants is for them to succeed.

If you haven’t read Glenda’s wonderful fantasy novels, you’re missing out on a treat. A full list of her publications appears at the end of this interview. Before you rush out to buy them, or borrow them from your local library, take a moment to learn all about her … in her own words.


1. Give us a brief bio: The Fabulous Life and Times of You!

My American editor told me to start a blog because “you lead such an exotic life.” Of course, I don’t, at least not to me. I take the rubbish out and mop the floors just like everyone else.

I grew up on a farm in the nineteen-forties and fifties (yeah, I’m ancient), without much in the line of material wealth. Where I slept did not warrant the term “bedroom” – it was just “the sleepout”, an unlined, partly enclosed area on the farmhouse verandah. One of the walls was canvas. There was no ceiling; just the zinc roof. Nowadays people would say we were dirt poor, but they would be wrong. We weren’t poor at all. We ate like kings, we were loved, we had everything we needed. I would have been astonished if I’d heard anyone call us poor.

There was only one thing I would have liked more of: books. There was no public library nearby and the school teachers doled out “library” books on a ration of one a week. I inevitably read mine within the first hour – and then badgered everyone else in the class to lend me theirs. On a farm, books were company. So was my imagination.

Before I left primary school, I knew two things about my future: I was going to travel, and I was going to be a writer. The travelling started as soon as I could get the money together by working as a housemaid in school holidays. The writing started much earlier, but somehow I never seemed to make the progression to published author. Instead, I became a teacher, married, moved to Malaysia (my husband’s home), raised a family, earned a living. Exotic? Not to me. A baby’s nappy may be a diaper in another country, but it’s still not exotic!

I have now lived on four continents. But whether the city was Kuala Lumpur, or Vienna, or Tunisia, or Kota Kinabalu or Sydney, whether I spoke Malay or French or German or English in the local shop – I still took out the rubbish and mopped the floors…and wrote. I always wrote.

My first published work was non-fiction: travel articles about places like Albania and Algeria, or glossy looks at the Malaysian rainforest. And then one day I decided I had to get serious about writing the book, the one that would make me a published book author. I was living in Vienna at the time. That book got me my agent but it was two continents, three more books and eight years later that I finally had a published novel in my hand. Funnily enough the book (“The Aware”) was also finally published – thirteen years after I wrote it. It was short-listed for the Aurealis best fantasy of 2003, and it is now being published in four languages by six different publishers on three continents. Maybe I was ahead of my time…?

Now I live in Malaysia and divide my time between rainforest conservation (feeding the leeches?), and writing books. Sometimes the two things overlap and I end up writing books in the rainforest while flicking off the leeches…

2. What drew you to writing speculative fiction?

It was what I liked to read – and the alternative – writing an honest book about Malaysia – would probably have made a great many people very, very unhappy. Besides, spec fic was the only place where I could really let my imagination fly.

3. Describe a typical writing day.

Get up and go for a half hour brisk walk. Buy the newspaper and have a leisurely breakfast at home reading the newspaper. Look at my emails and other stuff. Start writing about nine. Write throughout the day, interspersing it with housework, blogging, meals, shopping and so on – into the night.

4. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Writing. I’m addicted. Have been since I was seven or so.
If you were to ask what’s the best thing about being published, I would have to say the people I have met as a consequence. Writers, publishers, booksellers, readers – everyone who loves books and is willing to talk to me about writing and books. Come to think of it, maybe that’s an addiction too.

5. What’s the worst thing about being a writer?

The pay. And the hours. We need a union. Except I still wouldn’t do it any differently…

6. What other literary genres appeal to you, and why?

I love reading and there’s not much I will dismiss out of hand. I am not that fond of chick lit. Or porn. And once when I was first in Malaysia I landed up at my in-laws kampung house for a week with nothing to read but shelf after shelf of Mills and Boon romances. I’d never read one before. After a week of them, I never wanted to again. (Remember, this was back in the sixties, when all the romantic heroines simpered when the heroes told them what to do…) Other than that, I’ll read just about anything.

7. What are you working on at the moment?

The Random Rain Quartet, four books entitled: Drouthlord, Droughtmaster, Waterpainter and Rainmaker. Four books about a world short of water, where all the magic concerns water. It’s about the misuse of power, and what happens to a land when something precious to us all is rare. It’s a story of passion and love and scheming betrayal and courageous sacrifice. Heroism and villainy on a large scale. I have tried to avoid some of what other writers have done in the past, where desert landscapes often have a Saharan feel to them, and desert folk have an Arab-like nomadic culture and ride about on camels. And it’s not Dune, either. My desert is unique, reflecting (I hope) my love of seamlessly integrating realistic worldbuilding into the story. It has a slightly Australian feel, but it’s not our Red Heart, either.

It’s the best thing I’ve ever written. You’ll feel the grit in the wind when you read these books. You’ll be getting up to go drink something, preferably with lots of ice in it…

8. How has the spec fic field changed since you joined it?

It has broadened and become much less rigid and confined by current convention. I had several fantasies turned down at the beginning because I mixed genres. That would no longer be a reason. Now, anything goes as long as it is well-written. The spec fic scene is therefore much more exciting.

9. What do you know about the publishing game now that you wish you’d known when you first started out?

Well, I am certainly glad I didn’t know just how hard it can be to get published! Probably the handiest thing to have known would have been that getting published is just the beginning. When you are starting out, that’s your goal. When you reach that goal you suddenly realise there is so much more.

10. What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

I hate to say it, but I learned most of what I know by making mistakes. I made every mistake in, um, well, in the book. When I was learning, I was isolated. There was nobody to look over my shoulder, no writing courses, and nothing to read on how to do it, not where I was living. But probably the best advice I had was from my agent: if a scene doesn’t have tension, toss it.

11. What’s the best piece of writing advice you never received?

“What the hell is taking you so long?” Someone should have said that to me at least fifteen years before I said it to myself. I played at writing far too long before I got serious.

12. What’s the one piece of writing advice you’d like to pass along?

To someone who has not yet got a contract? You may never get published. If you don’t, will you feel that you have wasted your life by spending much of it writing? If the answer is yes, then maybe you are contemplating the wrong career. You have to love writing enough for it to be an end in itself, even as you hope it is a bridge to something else, and work towards that goal. And if you do love it that much, you probably will be published.

13. Who’s the most influential writer in your life?

I don’t have just one. I read different people to learn different things. Jane Austen for subtlety and irony; Heyer for romance; G.R.R.Martin for epic storytelling; Jenny Fallon for exuberant entertainment and pacing; Karen Miller for dialogue; Guy Gavriel Kay for atmosphere and story skills; Hobb for character; crime writers for intricate plotting; prize winners for lucid prose or lyricism … I could go on and on.

14. What are you future writing plans?

Write until I die. On my deathbed, I want to be scribbling the outline of another plot.

15. What’s the one book you think all aspiring spec fic writers should read?

There isn’t one. We all learn in different ways. What is an inspiration to one person, another will find boring. Aspiring writers should read widely though, in and out of their genre. I can’t stress that enough. They should definitely read the type of book that they want to write – they should know the playing field they want to play on. Every so often you hear an established spec fic writer say – usually with an edge of contempt – that they don’t read the genre any more. Well, it shows. They write the same old same old, while the world passes them by.

Spend a little time talking about your books and writing -- the themes you gravitate towards, why you've written these particular stories, why your characters are the people they are, and how they reflect elements of yourself. What is it you hope your readers will gain/experience from reading your books?

First and foremost I want to tell a compelling story. That must come first, and everything else is subordinate to that. But I also want to tell stories of consequence. That is why I have touched on all sorts of themes – cultural clash, intolerance, religious conundrums, the horrors of extremism, the paradox of the weakness of moderation, the ironies of life, and most of all: the problems of being an outsider. Because I have spent my whole life being the stranger looking in through the window, nose pressed to the glass, wondering how to belong, or even if I wanted to ...

What would I like a reader of one of my books to do? Immerse themselves in a tale and enjoy the journey. To close the book at the end feeling satisfied. And then, maybe, to start thinking …


Glenda’s blog is found at: http://glendalarke.blogspot.com

Glenda’s Bibliography:

(writing as Glenda Noramly)
Virgin Worlds 1999 UK
Heyne Germany 2000
Russia 2000

THE AWARE (shortlisted Aurealis 2003)
Voyager Oz 2003
Ace Penguin US 2005
Russia 2006
J'ai Lu 2008 France

Voyager Oz 2004
Ace Penguin US 2005
Russia 2007
J'ai Lu France 2008

THE TAINTED (shortlisted Aurealis 2004)
Voyager Oz 2004
Ace Penguin US 2006
J'ai Lu France 2009

HEART OF THE MIRAGE (Shortlisted Aurealis 2006)
Voyager Oz 2006
Orbit UK August 2007

Voyager Oz 2007
Orbit UK 2007

Voyager Oz July 2007
Orbit UK 2008


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