Friday Spotlight with Ciara Ballintyne
Ciara is a writer of high fantasy. She has been reading fantasy since she was 9 and writing it since she was 11. Born argumentative and recognising the long road to make money out of writing, Ciara wisely invested her natural inclinations in a career in law. Which means she is not only talented but also way smarter than I am. I love that about her.
Without further ado, lets turn on the spotlight and point it towards Ciara as she sheilds her eyes.
Q. Hi Ciara. Where are you from?
A. Sydney, Australia. G’day mate! That sounds so corny, but it’s true. Well, not for me. I don’t personally say ‘G’day mate’. But lots of Aussies do. Especially the blokes.
(G’day mate! )
Q. When and why did you begin writing?
A. I’ve been writing for so long sometimes I feel like an old dog who has been around the traps a few times, even though I’m not that old. The earliest memory I have of writing is in 1992. I was eleven. I wrote a short story about silver brumbies. A brumby is what we here in Australia call a mustang. Uh, not the car type. I’m not sure if you’ll know the books, but an Australian author, Elyne Mitchell, wrote a series of children’s books called The Silver Brumby Series. So my short story was essentially fanfiction, though I’m sure at that age I had never heard the term. It quickly moved from horse stories to high fantasy, which I’d been reading for a few years then. Who knows what my teachers thought of the little girl writing about swordfights!
I’m certain I began writing purely because it was a required part of the school curriculum. I kept writing because I started to realise ‘Hey, I can do this’. It was fun and I began having my own ideas for stories and being paid to daydream sounded like a really good gig. It still does. Of course, at eleven, I didn’t realise how hard that dream was to realise.
(Brumby…I love that word!)
Q. What books and/or authors have most influenced you?
A. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time – this is epic fantasy at its most epic. The story is huge, on such a grand scale, I couldn’t hope to achieve something like it. I don’t know how he kept it all straight.
Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth – Just awesome. Such a powerful character. If my style resembles anyone, it might be Terry Goodkind. Just a little. I love kick-arse characters. Of course, proportionately terrible things need to happen to them to counteract their total awesomeness.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld – If only I was this funny. But I’m not and I doubt I ever will be. My strength seems to run to tragedies. It probably makes me admire him more. His writing is near flawless. Very economical.
Brandon Sanderson – Also a brilliant technical writer. Reading him just makes me green with envy. Everything I’ve ever been slapped on the wrist by beta readers or editors – this man doesn’t do.
Q. What book are you reading now?
A. Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings: Part 2. So yeah, I’m green with envy right now. I hate you, Brandon. Except I don’t, not really. I’d like to. But I can’t.
(Yeah, I love pretending to hate people, too. I’ve tried to actually hate people but it takes so much concentration that I’ve decided to just fake it.)
Q. Are there any new authors that have captured your interest?
Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself is in my reading list. It was recommended to me by a member of my offline critique group for the bizarre reason that both it and the short story they were critiquing for me that month had a mysterious heavy box, contents unknown. Total coincidence since I haven’t read it, but he rated it very highly so I thought I’d take a look. Since then it has come highly recommended from a number of other people. I think Joe and I are going to have a very long relationship.
Q. Can you share a little of your current work with us?
A. My current work is Deathhawk’s Betrayal. It’s the first book in the first of two trilogies (the Deathhawk Trilogy and then the Nemesis Trilogy) about the world of Aldanya, a world circled by three moons where the greatest magicians have been murdered by outlawed practitioners of blood magic. The protagonist is a woman assassin named Astarl, who risks death when she must choose between love and loyalty. It’s not currently published as I’ve chosen to enter it in Writing Australia’s Unpublished Manuscript Award first. The winner is to be announced at the end of November. There are some excerpts from Deathhawk’s Betrayal on my blog Flight of the Dragon for Six Sentence Sunday and are likely to be a few more in the future. Here is a short excerpt:
‘You heard him,’ Gavalon said. Astarl watched Hawlicke add drops of an amber liquid to a flask of water. One, two, three, four… Horror mounted in her. It was glaumweed, the distilled essence of an herb commonly used as an abortifacient. That dose would kill her. Hawlicke knew, and didn’t care, or his herb lore wasn’t as good as he thought.
Hawlicke nodded to Gavalon. The captain seized her jaw in an iron grip. Astarl thrashed, tried to break his grip. Her hands were still tingling and numb, and the shoulder she had dislocated wouldn’t seem to do what she wanted. He forced her teeth apart. The funnel invaded her mouth. A gush of liquid filled her mouth, choking her. Coughing, she swallowed reflexively. She managed to spray some out feebly before choking on a fresh flood of liquid. Redoubling her efforts, she thrashed again.
This time her elbow connected with something. Gavalon grunted, his grip easing for a moment. She tore free, falling to the ground. She rolled, hit the bard’s legs and knocked him over. Halfway through the second roll, she got hold of her knife. Gavalon shouted. The glass flask shattered against the stone floor. Hawlicke cursed.
How much did I swallow? Astarl sawed frantically at the ropes around her ankles. Gavalon seized her from behind. She sliced at him with the knife and he danced backwards. The second time he came at her, she threw her bound feet at him over her head and took him full in the face. The gargling yell said she’d broken his nose more thoroughly than his soldier’s.
The last piece of rope parted. Leaping up, she almost toppled over as numb feet refused to hold her weight. Hawlicke lunged at her and sent both of them crashing to the ground. With a tinkle of broken glass, the lantern went out, engulfing them in darkness. Astarl slashed and stabbed at Hawlicke wildly. Her knee caught him in the gut. His breath whooshed out, his face inches away. She head butted him, and he collapsed backwards, freeing her knife hand to stab him again. Warm wetness ran over her hand. With a shove, she rolled him off and crawled across the straw-strewn floor to the wall. Leaning against it, she climbed to her feet.
Nausea flooded her and for a moment she felt the room was spinning. Too much, that’s how much. The thought was alarmingly hazy. Hawlicke was silent. Gavalon was breathing wetly through his broken nose in the darkness, waiting for her to make the first move.
Her legs almost gave way as she took a step towards the light of the doorway. Lurching, she caught herself against the wall. Gavalon appeared, coming at her from the side. He had a knife; the light from the door gleamed on the steel. Too little time. She blinked, saw double, watched the images slide back together, and then threw.
Running the moment the hilt left her fingers, she staggered crookedly towards the door. There was a yell of pain behind her. Using her momentum, she careened around the door, swinging it shut. Gavalon hit it before it closed all the way, slammed it back into her. She didn’t stop. There were shadows at the edge of her vision and she ran as straight and as fast as she could.
Q. That was awesome, Ciara! Thank you so much for sharing! Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
A. Patience. I used to think I had no patience, but after I’d been writing for a while I realised that was wrong. Anyone who can spend a year writing a book is not lacking in patience. Writing taught me that what I really lacked was tolerance. Mostly for idiocy. Nowadays you only need to read my Twitter profile to learn that!
Q. Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read. Write. Revise. Edit. Get feedback. Grow a thick skin. Study. Repeat.
Don’t think your first draft of your first written work is publishable. Those of us who have been around a while have first works somewhere – and we’re not telling you where because we don’t want you to read them. You don’t want to realise the same after you’ve already posted it on your blog or self-published it. By all means share it with a critique group and beta readers – they are an important part of the revision and editing process. No matter how much you think you can see your own errors and plot holes, you can’t. Not even the ones big enough to drive a Mack truck through. You read what your brain knows should be there, not what actually is there. That’s true of anything, not just creative writing. We pass documents around the law firm for peer review for the same reason.
Above all, patience is a virtue. So is gratitude, by the way. Thank your beta readers and critique groups – it often takes longer to meaningfully comment on a piece of work than it does to write it.
Time to switch gears and get to know the real you, Ciara!
Q. What is your favourite guilty pleasure?
It would have to be between country music and muffins. I really did have a muffin addiction happening. I was buying a muffin every day at the train station (sometimes twice a day!). I recently had to kick the habit. Some of my Twitter followers would have noticed me counting days as I resisted the lure of the muffin once again. It’s not so bad now, but if I want to indulge I’ll generally choose something else. I’m not giving up the country music, no matter how much my husband dislikes it. My evil campaign to convert him is underway and showing results.
(I would like to be kept apprised of the progress in this evil plan.)
Q. Where in the world would you most like to visit?
Scotland. OK, OK, I’ve already been there. But it’s still top of my list for when we next travel overseas. It costs about $10K to fly a family of 4 from Australia to somewhere else, so we need to be selective. I loved Scotland. It gave me this incredible feeling of coming home. Within two weeks of being home, my husband and I were homesick for Scotland. But I wouldn’t want to live there. If I ever get obscenely rich out of my books (ha!) I’ll live 6 months of the year in Australia and 6 months in Scotland. Summer both ways, of course!
There might well be a side trip to America though. I’m getting a list of people I want to meet there
Q. What is your oddest quirk?
This is something I’ve had occasion to ask my friends previously. The answers ranged from ‘Everything’ to ‘You think your quirks are virtues – ha ha quirtues!’ and ‘What? How do you pick just one?!’ My husband says I pull a fish face when I want him to kiss me and that’s the weirdest damn thing he’s ever seen. It’s kind of like puckering up for a kiss and then wiggling the lips. Go on, try it. It’s funny. Don’t tell him I do it just to push his buttons!
The short answer is probably I’m an extreme example of an extreme personality type. I’m left of left of centre. Yes, those two lefts are deliberate. But I like me just the way I am, so don’t expect anything to change anytime soon!
Q. Halloween just passed this week. Do you celebrate Halloween in Australia, and if so, what was the best costume you have ever dressed in?
A. Nope, we don’t really celebrate it in Australia, though it’s trying to catch on. But we do occassionally do fancy dress, and one of those was actually for a Halloween party. I went to that one as a pirate, with my pants stuffed inside knee high boots. The absolute feature item of my costume was me genuine cutlass. I spent all night drawing it for the people who wanted to know if it made a genuine ringing sound when I drew it. It does, by the way.
I think that was my ultimate costume come to think of it. We so rarely do costumes here that I made it count! I put a lot of effort into it. Duh, real sword, kind of goes without saying, hey? I had a talking parrot, too. Not a real one. A toy. It whistled and said ‘Who’s a pretty girl?’
(I love that! I don’t know what I want more; my own talking parrot or a genuine cutlass.)
Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your fans?
A. I’m not sure that I have a lot of fans yet. Well, OK, there are about 4000 people following me on Twitter and a lot of them seem to think I’m great (why?? Haven’t you people been paying attention!) and I am starting to get regular traffic on my blog. My Six Sentence Sunday posts seem to be generating a lot of interest. If there was something I wanted to say to them, I think it would have to be a quote from the song High as performed by Trace Adkins:
‘I get high standing in the spotlight, no words for what it feels like when you sing my songs back to me.’
It’s probably corny but it’s also true. I doubt I’ll ever forget the moment I was listening to that song and I realised I knew exactly the feeling he was talking about. It really is a high. So thank you everyone who helped me experience that feeling. There really are no words for it.
Q. Where can we find you?
A. My website is at www.ciaraballintyne.com There are links there to both of my blogs, but anyone who wants to go straight to the blogs can find Somebody Has To Say It, my rant or ‘soap box’ blog, at www.ciaraballintyne.blogspot.com and Flight of the Dragon, my blog devoted to all things fantasy, at www.ciaraballintyne-fantasy.blogspot.com You can also follow me on Twitter @CiaraBallintyne or like my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CiaraBallintybe
Thank you so much for stopping by, Ciara. Before I go, one last question. Who should I include in my next Threesome Thursday?
A. Viggo Mortensen, Craig Horner and Vin Diesel.
Done and done! Bow chicka wow wow
Folks, make sure to stalk the incredibly entertaining Ciara at any of the above links; she has 4000 followers for a reason!