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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Guest Blog Post - Michael Pryor - How the Laws of Magic Started

With Michael's 'Hour of Need' book 6 of the Laws of Magic series released this month, we asked Michael if he would tell us how he first started the series.


In 2002 I started writing Blaze of Glory, the first book in what became The Laws of Magic series. I was no novice to writing novels, having already published nearly twenty books for young adult readers, so I’d learned a great deal about the challenges of constructing a narrative. I had my writing organisation well worked out and I knew how to approach the task in what I felt was an efficient way. This was vital, as I was working full time. Writing had to take place in the evenings, weekends and in what used to be holidays.

At the time, I was also immersed in working with Paul Collins on the wide-ranging, ever growing creative project that was The Quentaris Chronicles. This was Australia’s first shared world series, a classic fantasy for younger readers, but it meant that as well as writing some of the titles in this series, Paul and I were series editors. We were chief guardians of the concept, making sure all the extremely talented writers who were involved were on the right track and comfortable working with the scenario. Paul and I read drafts, discussed and consulted, checked and vetted to ensure quality and consistency.

While I was doing this, however, I had an urge to spread my wings. The books in the Quentaris series were 25,000 words. They were neat and contained, but after writing a number of these adventures, I wanted to work with a larger canvas and for an older age group.

And so to the first stirrings of The Laws of Magic.

When I’m writing Fantasy, I tend to look to history for inspiration. The stories in our past are rich, remarkable and, by necessity, thoroughly human. I find that drawing on them can add backbone to a Fantasy concept, as well as useful coherence. The Quentaris series had been roughly Middle Ages/early Renaissance in flavour, so I looked elsewhere for a fertile historical period.

This is where a writer’s own reading is important in terms of influence. I’d always

loved the Steampunk genre, ever since reading its first flowerings in the middle-1980s. I remember reading Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates and thoroughly enjoying its panache, its adventurousness and its recreation of Victorian times. In 2002, Steampunk was quiet, barely bubbling along, so I thought it might be fun to revisit it.

Naturally, inspiration is just a starting point. The more I researched my Victorian times, the more I became interested in the latter part of good Queen Vic’s reign. Eventually, I became absorbed in the era of her son, Edward, and the period at the beginning of the twentieth century. So many social changes! So many scientific developments! So much going on in international politics! I began to think that this time was shaping up as particularly fertile for a writer. They had the best of the past (the manners and formality, particularly in the relationships between males and females) but the modern age was dawning (the women’s suffrage movement, changes in social stratification – workers uniting!).

I maintain that Fantasy is the literature of location. A writer needs a thorough grasp of this ‘otherworld’, the place that tells a reader that they’ve somewhere different, where normal rules may not apply. Geography is one thing, but the sense of setting is more than that. It’s architecture, clothing, modes of transport, weather, food and a thousand other minute details. I researched, made notes, read authors from the time (Arthur Conan Doyle was particularly helpful), took on vocabulary and turns of speech both consciously and by osmosis, marinating myself in Edwardiana until I felt odd at zipping up my fly instead of buttoning it.

With all this, however, I still wasn’t ready to begin writing. I needed characters. At least one would be a good start, so I began working on an idea for a protagonist.

I was tired of reading YA fiction with main characters who were difficult to warm to. I’d also had enough of brooding characters who were aimless and meandered through life. I wanted to write that most unfashionable of characters: a hero. I wanted someone who was intelligent, witty, brave, resourceful, ambitious and selfless. Since I was writing Fantasy, it seemed natural for him to be a magic user of some genius.

But what were his flaws? If he was going to be so capable, wouldn’t the story be boring, with every challenge no challenge at all? I began thinking about how to make things difficult for him and, unprompted, a first line popped into my head: ‘Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead. It made things much harder than they needed to be.’

Now, this sort of thing doesn’t happen all that often. When it does, I pay attention. Here, I had a name for my main character (always tricky) and he was immediately working under considerable difficulty, being dead and all. How he was dead and continuing to do anything at all was something I hadn’t worked out, but I was sure this was a good start. Working out the whys and wherefores was going to lead to some delicious, meaty stuff.

With the setting under control, and an intriguing main character shaping up, it was a matter of working out some sort of plot. To do this, I went back to history. The Edwardians didn’t know it, but their golden times were leading to a ghastly war. That tipped me into considering the politics, the manoeuvring, the espionage, the arms build up and the momentum that seized the world. My main character was going to be involved in this, I was sure. No passive observer, he. He was going to be involved in an assassination attempt, various magical conspiracies, while supporting his father – who turned out to be a former Prime Minister looking to gain the leadership of the nation again.

Then I sat down and began writing. Nine years, six books and nearly 700,000 words later and it’s all come to a conclusion. I feel satisfied, pleased, but strangely bereft. I’ve lived with Aubrey, George and Caroline for a long time. I’ve seen them grow. I’ve watched them risk their lives, save millions of people and misunderstand each other in awkward (and familiar) ways.

Waving goodbye to them was hard.

Vital Statistics
Full Name: Michael Pryor
Date of Birth: 23 April
Place of Birth: Swan Hill, Victoria
Height: 173 cm
Weight: Variable
Interests: Computers, the Internet, games of all sorts, sport, reading, food, wine, gardening
Favourite Colour: Blue
Favourite Book: Probably Lord of the Rings
Favourite Film: It changes, but currently The Big Lebowski
Favourite Dinosaur: Triceratops
Favourite Food: Curry
Favourite Word: Cashmere
Favourite Animal: Pig, with otter a close second

If you would like to know more, then visit the wonderful website of Michael Pryor here.

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