Lian Tanner is a best-selling children’s author whose books are published in Australia, the USA and India, as well as being translated into nine languages. The first two books in her Keepers trilogy, Museum of Thieves and City of Lies, won consecutive Aurealis Awards for Best Australian Children’s Fantasy, and Museum of Thieves was named as a ‘White Raven’ (books that deserve worldwide attention) by the International Youth Library in Munich.
Lian’s new fantasy series, The Hidden, began with Ice Breaker in 2013. Ice Breaker was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award, and was a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book. The second book in the series, Sunker’s Deep, will be published in November 2014.
1. Your most recent work is Ice Breaker, the first book of The Hidden series, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Best Children’s Novel category in the Aurealis Awards. Would you like to tell us a little bit about this book and about the things that inspired it?
‘Ice Breaker’ is set in a world that has been taken over by Anti-Machinist zealots, who have dragged civilisation back to the Dark Ages. All that apparently remains of science and knowledge is an ancient ship, the Oyster, that has been circling the southern icecap for the last three hundred years, with a mechanical child hidden somewhere on board. The crew of the Oyster has forgotten about the mechanical child, and has broken down into three warring tribes. The only person without a tribe is twelve-year-old Petrel, the ship’s outcast. When a strange boy is found on the ice, Petrel saves his life in the hope that he might become a friend – but the outside world hasn’t forgotten the Oyster’s secret cargo, and the boy has a dire mission.
The story was inspired partly by the Aurora Australis, which is the ship that takes expeditioners to the Antarctic every year. The Aurora over-winters in Hobart, and I’ve been fascinated by it for years. Plus I think just about everyone is intrigued by the extremes of Antarctica, and the possibilities it holds. I was also interested in the idea of writing a science-based fantasy.
2. You have also written another award-winning series aimed at young readers, The Keepers trilogy. Have you always felt drawn to writing specifically for younger readers? Do you feel that there are things that writers of books aimed at younger readers should be particularly careful of?
When I first started writing professionally, I was writing over a number of different genres and forms – short stories for children and adults, plays, a bit of freelance journalism etc. The one I had most success with was the stories for children, so that’s the direction I followed. But it was also the one I enjoyed most – there’s something about children’s fantasy/adventure that is very appealing to me, and fun to write, as well, so I might have ended up there anyway.
As for things we have to be careful of, I think it varies depending on the author and on where you are published. Australian publishers tend to allow more robust stories than US publishers, who are all too aware of the conservative gatekeepers who could make or break a book. Having said that, I avoid explicit violence because I don’t think it’s appropriate for young readers. I tend to also shy away from romantic relationships, mainly because there’s SO much romance around, and so much pressure on even-quite-young girls to think in terms of romance. So even though I usually have a female protagonist with a male sidekick, they are friends rather than romantic partners. Some of my older readers would really like my characters to get together romantically, but I continue to resist!
3. You have two more books in The Hidden to be published. Is there anything on the radar after that trilogy is finished? Do you think you will remain writing entirely for younger readers?
I already have a fair idea of what I want to write next – it’s a story that has been hanging around my head for a couple of years now. It’s another series for younger readers, which is certainly the age group for which I most like writing. Though I’m finding myself increasingly intrigued by urban fantasy, so who knows – I might give that a try at some stage.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’m always a year or two behind with my reading at the very least, so I’ve only just read Jen Storer’s ‘Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children’. I really liked it – the humour, the characters and the gothic story.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
I try to avoid noticing the changes in the publishing industry, mainly because if I think about them too much I worry! So no, they haven’t influenced me, and I suspect they won’t, not for a while at least. I cling to the belief that people will always want good stories, no matter what form they are delivered in.
Five years from now? Although I do my best to ignore the changes, I’m aware that they’re there, and five years is quite a long time in the current state of flux. So I’ve got no idea what I’ll be publishing in five years’ time. Hopefully fantasy will still be big, because that’s my favourite genre to both read and write.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.