Today, I welcome Science fiction and fantasy author Carolyn Denman to the blog and we're chatting about her exciting and unique Sentinels series.
Megan: Hi Carolyn. You completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne and then came to the awkward realisation that you didn’t want to do research in a lab for the rest of your life. You then found work in the finance industry. How have these helped you in writing science fiction and fantasy?
Carolyn: I studied science because it interests me, not because I had any particular career goal in mind. Given that evolutionary ecology was one of my favourite subjects, perhaps it was inevitable that my curiosity about the Garden of Eden went a little too deep!
Let me be clear – I have no definitive answers as to how much of early Genesis is poetry or metaphor (or a history of the planet told in a format that could be easily passed down as spoken story from one generation to the next), and how much is literal. My passion is simply that those stories are there for us to explore and perhaps even learn from.
As for my experience with finance, I guess it helps me to avoid the cliché of the starving artist! More or less…
Megan: When did you discover that you were a writer of fiction? And what drew you to science fiction and fantasy in particular?
Carolyn: I’ve been obsessed with reading speculative fiction ever since Elyne Mitchell led me to it using books about horses (sneaky). My dad and brother were great role models for me too. They had a pretty good collection of books for me to lose myself in. Not once did I ever think I’d end up writing. Not until a few years ago. My eldest daughter is to blame for inspiring me to give that a go. I had no idea it would be so addictive.
Megan: I love that you’ve set your series in Australia. I’m writing a sci-fi novel set in Australia too as our country has such an amazing country with a rich and varied landscape. Why did you decide to set your series in the Wimmera region?
Carolyn: At first I tried to write the story without referring to a particular place at all, which worked fine until the story left the country town it was set in. Then it just became confusing. Besides, I decided that if I was setting it in Australia then wherever it was, there would have been traditional custodians of that land. So which nation would I acknowledge? In the end I decided on a general region, mostly so I could pay my respects. I hope it’s clear that I was not trying to hijack anyone’s history.
Megan: I love hearing the story behind the story. What was the inspiration behind the series? And did you intend it to be a series when you started to write it?
Carolyn: When I started to write it, I’m not even certain I intended it to be a whole novel, let alone a series. I had a few scenes in my mind, and then the characters just kept talking to each other and wouldn’t shut up until I wrote out their conversations. And then they started asking questions about their past, which I had to answer.
Honestly, Lainie can be like a dog with a bone sometimes. That first draft of Songlines took me about six weeks to complete. It probably would have been even faster if I hadn’t had to keep looking up how to write prose correctly. Then when I wrote that last page, I just kept going. I could hardly just leave everyone where they were, could I?
Megan: What research did you have to do for the books?
Carolyn: Other than googling what dangling modifiers were? (Being an avid reader did not mean I knew how to structure a sentence well). I did ask a heap of questions every time I met anyone who had ever lived or worked on a commercial farm. There is always more to learn about farming. And always more stories about growing up on one!
Last year on holidays I started chatting with a man in the café at the Hobbiton movie set. He mentioned he’d just dropped in to help with the shearing, so I grilled him on all sorts of local sheep disease questions. It was only at the end of our chat that he mentioned he was the property owner. Yes, he was the one who (many years ago) answered the door to a man who wanted to know if he would consider letting a film crew in to shoot a movie. Boy had I been asking the wrong questions. He seemed so pleased to be asked about his sheep for a change, though.
Megan: What prompted you to intertwine the various belief systems?
Carolyn: I guess that really stemmed from intertwining my Christian beliefs with my ecology studies. I don’t believe they need to contradict each other, and I have a deep respect for a creationist belief system despite not following it myself.
There is no ‘science vs religion’. Science is simply a method of enquiry. It doesn’t ‘verse’ anything. Neither does religion. And neither do I believe that religions need to compete with each other. To write a story about Christian beliefs set in Australia and ignore an Indigenous perspective would have been inexcusable. On the other hand, their stories belong to them. They are sacred.
Eden is also a sacred story, and that’s something I felt I could speak about. Perhaps if Christians can comprehend why stories of Eden should be kept hidden, then we can also understand why other stories might also be hidden for good reason.
Megan: Good points. Is there ever a time in the course of your series where your main character, Lainie, is afraid? If so, how did she overcome her fear?
Carolyn: That’s an interesting question which is addressed more in the final book. Lainie has some different instincts to other people. That’s one of the reasons Cherubim need Guardians. She doesn’t get easily daunted by physical danger, but she does fear things.
Fear has many different faces. She fears loss and failure very keenly. She fears letting people down. Ultimately she has to overcome her fears the same way we all do. Firstly, she needs to recognise them, and then try to put things in perspective. Ironically, she also needs to learn to trust her instincts.
Megan: Are you working on any new stories at the moment?
Carolyn: I love getting stuck into fresh writing, but I also know that when I do I need to put aside almost everything else for a while until it’s done. Otherwise the pace of the story really gets lost. My newest series is a post-singularity time-travel romance. A very rough draft of the first book is done, and book two is calling to me.
Getting my teeth stuck into it will be a lovely reward for all the other work I need to do to get the Sentinels series out into the world. When that day comes, could someone please feed my kids from time to time?
Megan: What advice do you have for anyone thinking about writing a story?
Carolyn: Start with the parts that excite you the most and don’t worry too much about how everything will fit together. Yes, you will probably end up throwing out a heap of good writing by not planning it all out first, but if you let yourself enjoy the writing process then that time will not have been wasted. Every sentence you write helps to improve your craft. And you never know what gems you’ll stumble across when you free yourself up to just ‘create’.
Three fun facts about Carolyn Denman:
Carolyn lives on a hobby farm on the outskirts of Melbourne with her husband, two daughters, and her parents. The fact that she always has at least three of her pets following her around at any one time in no way means that she is the fairest in the land. They probably just like her taste in music.
As well as writing stories for Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways magazines, Carolyn is also the author of the YA Australian fantasy series The Sentinels of Eden.
Songlines, Sanguine and Sympath are available now through Odyssey Books and all the usual online bookstores. The final book in the series is due for release early 2019.
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