Name Satima Flavell
Age Old enough for the pension
Where are you from?
Born Manchester, England
A little about yourself ie your education Family life etc
We came to live in Australia when I was eight years old, and I haven’t stopped traveling since. At last count, I had lived at over seventy different addresses in five different countries.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news
Book two of The Talismans Trilogy, The Cloak of Challiver, is in preparation. I’m hoping to launch it at Swancon, Perth’s annual SF convention, next year.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I started to write when I was about five, and my first published work, a poem, appeared on the Manchester Guardian’s kids’ page when I was seven. Here it is:
Go to sleep my little one, go into dreamland
Elves and gnomes and fairies too
Will all be there to welcome you
So go to sleep my little one, go into dreamland.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
As soon as that poem was published!
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I was working in a boring but physically exhausting housekeeping job in Devon, UK, in 1985. Every night after work I would veg out in front of the TV, watching Coronation Street and East Enders, until suddenly one night, just as I was about to turn the TV on, a sentence popped into my head. It ran ‘Being left a widow at the age of twenty-one may sound like a tragedy, but to be honest, I felt relieved at Reyel’s death’. I knew at once that it was the start of an SF novel – not one I’d read, but a new one. My very own book! I grabbed pen and paper and started to write, and I soon realized it was the story of a woman who travelled around the world – her world, not this one – meeting many different races and having all kinds of adventures, just as I was doing at the time! The next day I went out and bought a nice new exercise book and every night thereafter I wrote a bit more of the story. It was very episodic and far short of publication standard, but eventually I did finish it, learning a lot about the craft of writing in the process.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Apart from that one first person effort, I try to write the style I love to read – a tight third person POV. I’m not as good at it as, say, Margo Lanagan or Joe Abercrombie, but every time I start something new I can see that I’m getting better at it!
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The titles of the current trilogy became obvious as soon as I’d written the first chapter of book one, The Dagger of Dresnia. In that chapter, a queen makes talismans (a dagger, a cloak and a staff) for her triplet sons, so the series is called The Talismans and each individual title refers to one of the three.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
‘Message’ might be a bit too preachy for my intent. There are themes, certainly, which I didn’t deliberately put there, but they stand out quite clearly now book one is finished. Other writers tell me it’s normal not to know your themes until the book is finished, and I think I agree! Now book one is complete and book two is shaping up, I can see lots of themes: the nature of love in its many forms; the development of intimacy in different kinds of relationships; the singularising nature of an unusual talent; dealing with the consequences of the decisions we make; internal conflict; family conflict; problem teenagers; racial conflict – and the potentially healing power of family ties.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Replace the magic in the story with another kind of talent, such as music or engineering, and the book is as realistic as most family sagas. (See ‘themes’ above!) I believe good speculative fiction uses imaginary worlds to show us the human condition we experience in this one.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
It’s inevitable that our own life stories and those of our friends, families, favourite books, movies and TV shows will affect the stories we write, but there is no direct borrowing from any of the above. It’s amazing how our unconscious minds can twist and reorder things we and others say, do and experience!
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Crikey, I’m dredging the memory here, right back to the stories my older sisters read to me when I was tiny! I guess Enid Blyton was a big influence – I read almost everything of hers in my primary and junior secondary years. After that I graduated to Elizabeth Goudge and Mary Stewart, among others, and like most people I studied writers of earlier generations in school. Shakespeare, with his unerring understanding of the human condition, has been both an inspiration and an influence. He is by far my favourite writer.
I have been extremely fortunate in having a wonderful resource right here in Perth. At the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre (http://kspf.iinet.net.au/) I’ve been lucky enough to study under some fabulous writers, including Juliet Marillier and Glenda Larke and Dave Luckett, three of the best fantasists around.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I like to have a fiction and a non-fiction opus on the go at any given time. Right now the non-fiction is The Middle Ages Unlocked by Gillian Polack and Katrin Kania and the fiction is Joe Abercrombie’s Half a War.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Not new, but new to me, is the historical novelist Paul Fraser Collard, who follows in the footsteps of another favourite, Bernard Cornwell.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Preparing The Cloak of Challiver for publication and getting started on book three, The Seer of Syland.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
To pick one out of the many, many people who have inspired, educated and informed my writing would be impossible! But I will point out my writing buddies Carol Ryles, Helen Venn, Joanna Faye and Sarah Lee Parker as having been towers of strength on my writing journey.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
No. Apart from the occasional editing gig, I am all but retired now. I’d just like to get this trilogy finished before I fall off the perch!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
A word here and there, maybe. Overall, I think The Dagger of Dresnia is as good as I could make it.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Reading and being read to. Even as a pre-schooler, I used to tell people that I was going to be a children’s authoress like Enid Blyton when I grew up! However, my work so far is definitely not for children!
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
The Cloak of Challiver can almost be split into two novellas, each one telling a love story. Here’s an early scene from the tale of Princess Milana of Syland, who has just learnt that a new suitor has arrived by ship and is on his way to her father’s castle:
Her mother was waiting impatiently for her. She already had Milana’s best dark red velvet overgown, trimmed with ermine, lying on the bed. Appearances were important, at first meetings especially.
‘Hurry up, Milana’, said her mother. ‘We only got word of Prince Morifer’s arrival an hour ago. Here, let me unlace your robe.’
The lacings loosened, Milana stepped out of the robe and pulled her shirt over her head. Her mother handed her a new cream silk shirt that had been imported from Aristand only the week before. Then came the heavy overgown with its draped sleeves, and an embroidered surcoat that felt as heavy as one of the soup pots that hung over the kitchen fire.
Milana looked at herself critically in the bronze mirror that hung over her clothes chest. Her long fair plaits resembled foxes’ tails. She loosed her tresses and tugged a comb through the tangles.
Her mother shook her head in despair. ‘Here, sit down, child! You can’t go down looking like a goatherd’s daughter.’ She dragged the comb through Milana’s tresses again and again, jerking Milana’s head forward and back.
‘Mother, you’re hurting me!’
‘All right, all right, that will have to do! Come on, we’d better go down. He’ll be here any minute!’
Pushing stray strands of hair back as best she could with one hand, Milana gathered her skirts in the other and headed for the door. A page approached as they closed the door.
‘His majesty has asked that you come down as soon as possible, Madam. The Falrouvian delegation is on its way up the hill.’
‘Oh, by the Lady’s tears, Milana, make haste! It will look terrible if we’re not on the steps when Prince Morifer arrives!’ Her mother seized her hand and dragged her toward the staircase.
They hurried downstairs and through the Great Hall to the steps of the keep. Milana’s jewelled belt came undone as they reached the front door. She loosed herself from her mother’s grasp and tied the belt in place as the page on door duty let in the sunlight.
Breathless, mother and daughter joined their menfolk just as Prince Morifer and his retinue rode in. He was attended by several pages, a scribe or two, a brace of priests and a number of gentlemen-at-arms. It took Milana a few moments to work out why there were so many, and then she realised that they had come in the expectation of negotiating a marriage agreement, with arrangements for a dowry, trade partnerships and such.
‘Daddy, I thought we were only going to talk about it this time,’ she whispered. She was already starting to feel trapped.
‘So did I,’ replied her father, ‘but it looks as though Morifer’s already made up his mind!’
Prince Morifer was obviously into his thirties, but he was tall and well built, with regular features. Milana regarded him cautiously. His face was handsome enough, but his lanky fair hair and pale skin gave him a somewhat insipid air, and Milana was not especially impressed. With perfect manners, he greeted them one by one, and called forward several servants bearing gifts for each member of the family. Proudly, he presented Milana with a hound.
‘She comes from Falrouvia’s finest bloodlines,’ he boasted. ‘She’ll outrun a hare on level ground.’
Milana eyed the creature warily. It was a great brute of a bitch, standing as high as her hip. Milana beckoned a servant to come and take the leash from the prince’s hand. She smiled and thanked him, but inwardly she groaned. She detested hunting and only rarely went out with the parties her father occasionally organised. Even when she went, she took a book with her.
‘I don’t suppose I can expect Morifer to know my tastes and interests,’ she consoled herself, as she led the guests into the castle. ‘Maybe as we get to know each other, we’ll find some common ground.’ But in her heart, she knew she was clutching at a vain hope. Already, she knew Morifer was not the kind of man she wanted.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Being succinct without leaving out important information, and giving all the necessary info without boring the reader. It’s always a fine balance!
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’d hate to have to pick a single favourite! I love too many authors to do that. Try these for starters: Joe Abercrombie, Ben Aaronovitch, Bernard Cornwell, Ken Follett, Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, Guy Gavriel Kay, Glenda Larke, Dave Luckett, Juliet Marillier, George RR Martin, Karen Miller and Marianne de Pierres. Lucky thirteen!
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Much as I would like to attend every conference and convention in the country, finance forbids! Every year, I try to get to Swancon (Perth’s local convention) the Perth Writers Festival, and the national SF convention, which is held in a different state every year.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The Dagger of Dresnia’s lovely cover is the work of the very talented Marieke Ormsby, and I’m hoping she will be available to create covers for the rest of the trilogy.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The constant revision. I joined Online Writers Workshop when the book was first finished, and some very knowledgeable critiquers gave me a great deal of help. But of course, when you have a lot of critiquers, there is the danger of too many cooks spoiling the broth! Being critiqued made me a better critic of my own work and that of other writers. The input of my Egoboo buddies and other local writers has been invaluable.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
The first book – the one I started when working in the UK – was a practice run. While the first draft of The Dagger of Dresnia was not perfect, I’d at least been able to apply what I’d learnt from writing the earlier novel, so editing it was not such an onerous task.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Keep at it. I like to pass on an encouraging remark made by Tim Powers at a convention some years ago: If you’ve written a good enough novel, keep sending it out and eventually someone, somewhere, will publish it. (The difficulty, of course, lies in writing a ‘good enough’ novel!)
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Carry on reading! Writers can only go on writing if readers go on reading!
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The Adventures of Rupert. It was read to me over and over again until I knew it off by heart, so was able to use it to teach myself to read. I was three years old at the time.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Many things, the news being one. But the work of many other writers from Shakespeare onwards has given me cause to laugh and cry. When I need cheering up I turn to old favourites such as Three Men in a Boat.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Shakespeare, of course.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
That’s up to others to decide. Writing one’s own epitaph seems a tad egotistical!
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Yup – belly dancing. I trained originally in music and dance (I still teach one ballet class a week) and in my declining years belly dance has proved a godsend to keep me moving and shaking!
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Anything that’s either funny or historical. And, of course, fantasy. I’m utterly hooked on Game of Thrones!
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Salad and cheese, and cake. One after the other, of course, not both at once! (Although being of Yorkshire stock, I do love cheese with fruit cake.)
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Dancing (and teaching dance) has always been as important to me as writing, and I’ve been lucky enough to scrape by on these two sources of income, with a bit of help from occasional office work or housekeeping. It’s nice to have two things to love and to make a living from them.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
www.satimaflavell.com.au – but there is something happening to the host server shortly than might make it temporarily unavailable. I believe my blog – www.satimaflavell.blogspot.com.au – should not be affected, however.