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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Though I did not have much to do with my Pop, and my Nan died when I was a baby, their art was always around, inspiring me that maybe someday I could do the same. My parents separated and later divorced when I was 13. And, as my father was violent, we had to go into hiding. Though in years later I did meet up with my dad and have a small amount to do with him, it was not a lot and he no longer was doing any art. He has since passed away.
My big breakthrough with both my art and my writing (which I thought I was all good with) came when I picked up a copy of, The Artists Way by Julia Cameron at the beginning of this year. It was first published in 1992 and, as Ali Stewart has so aptly put it in her recent blog post, Three Important Insights from The Artists Way, ‘with umpteen reprints, several spinoffs, and numerous nips, tucks, and facelifts, the perennial title continues to unstick stuck creatives.’ It has certainly unstuck me.
So, what was it that unstuck me and helped me overcome my fears? A lot of hard work and commitment for the full 12 weeks of The Artists Way program, and committed to stretching and challenging myself ever since, that’s what. Each week of The Artists Way program, especially at the beginning, you have to work through questions and activities to find what is keeping you stuck. I was amazed how the very act of WRITING an experience down and seeing it black and white could unblock something within. Do it! It will amaze, shock, and surprise you.
For me, it was a combination of having my classmates laugh at my stories. I was a shy kid with very poor self-esteem. Looking back now I can see that my stories were funny. At high school, I would write stories straight out of left field and have a totally different take on the assignment. This also caused my classmates to burst into laughter and for me to wish I could just sink into the floor and disappear.
My art was different. I had one great art teacher for three terms in year eight. But, the rest of the time my art teachers were interested in Abstract Art which I hated. I wanted to learn to draw and paint nature, people, and animals. As I said at the beginning, I couldn’t get past the ‘yuk’ stage. I didn’t know how.
About five years ago I got hold of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. This was my first breakthrough. Going through the exercises and then trying to draw later I was amazed at the difference. As you can see below, there is a remarkable distinction between the two drawings.
In The Artists Way there is a section of affirmations. One spoke to me and has made one of the biggest impacts. I can nurture my artist. Up to this point, because I felt my artwork was no good, I didn’t need to invest time and/or money on courses or good materials. Oh. My. Goodness. The change that happened when I gave myself permission to invest in good quality paints, paint brushes, paper, liners, as well as online courses was incredible.
So, what did I do after The Artists Way?
I drew. I painted. I continued to take myself on Artists Dates. I spoke with illustrators like Giuseppe Poli and Katrin Dreiling and picked their brains. You can read what they told me here and here. With Giuseppe’s encouragement, I joined the 52 Week Facebook Illustration Challenge and started putting up my work online, not just in that group but everywhere on my social media pages.
My illustrations aren’t great. But, the very act of having to come up with a new piece every week is a wonderful discipline. These were my Artist Dates as well as going to the art store for art supplies. And I can see the improvement already. I often sit in amazement of what I just completed. I also signed up with Skillshare and started taking Nina Rycroft’s illustration courses, as well as any other courses that I felt could help me learn how to use the different mediums.
For me, putting up my art on public display is about conquering my fear of not being good enough and feeling afraid of never measuring up. I have changed my thinking. I no longer compare myself to my friend Ester, who is an amazing artist, and an incredible illustrator. Nor do I compare me to anyone else. I am me. I look at the world differently to anyone else. I am discovering my own style. And, most of all, I am having fun. I experiment all the time. I now compare myself to myself and how far I have come in such a short time.
And do you know what has surprised me the most? This release, this freedom I have found in my art has found its way into my writing. I play with words. I have fun with them. I have fun in my stories. I especially noticed this in the Sci-fi/fantasy novel I just finished. I had an absolutely thrilling time writing the last part of my novel. Each time I sat down I felt exhilarated.
As for my art, I have signed up to take Nina Rycroft’s illustration Masterclass e-course. And my friend Ester is taking it with me. We’ll be doing it together. How cool is that?
So, what about you? What can you do to become all that you can be and start understanding your fears, overcome those that hold your back?
- Identify your fear and have a good look at it. Is what you afraid of going to hurt you, or put you into danger? If yes, I can’t help you and you need more than this blog post can provide. (I’m not making light of your situation. I’ve been there.) If the answer is no…please continue.
- Write down where you think these fears stem from. It could be a childhood incident. It could be more than one and is still impacting you today.
- Work through that incident. What did you think and feel about it at the time? What was really true about it? How do you feel about it today? Write it all down.
- What can you do to challenge yourself creatively to get yourself out of your comfort zone, and also, what can you do to play? Then go ahead and do it!
- Do something new each week. Or it could be the same activity but stretch yourself a little more all the time. For example, the first week you may go to an art store and buy yourself some art supplies. (Or it could be the $2 shop depending on budget). The next week you could actually draw and paint. The next week you could watch a YouTube clip and try out some of the painting or drawing techniques. Or you could check out your local Neighbourhood Learning Centre and learn rope art, or glass blowing, or sculpture.
- Ooo. Did I say play and have some fun.
- Put your work out there. You never know where it can lead.
Valerie Khoo is now getting commissions for her rope art AND her artworks. Katrin Dreiling has just had her first book come out. It’s written by Michelle Worthington and illustrated by her. It's called, The World's Worst Pirate.
As for me, people are liking my illustrations and watching my journey. One day, I will realise my dream and write and illustrate my own picture book.
You can find out more about Julia Cameron and her book: The Artists Way
Betty Edwards has a website. Find out more here and read her book and do the exercises. It’s amazing.
I am not a counselor. If you need expert help, get it, please.
I am is someone who has had first hand experience of fear, and overcoming them.
I had the typical childhood fears. I was absolutely certain that there were monsters under my bed. I didn't tell my parents. For years my mother wondered why I slept right in the middle of the bed. I mean, that was the only spot that the monsters hands could not get me.
I was afraid of the dark and the things in the dark. I was afraid of the monster that lived in the toilet pipes. I could him rattle and bang around in there. I was always waiting for him to grab my butt. (Though, living in Queensland, it would have been a big green frog that would have touched my butt).
I grew up in a household with an alcoholic and abusive father, where everyday I lived in fear. I was kicked out of home at sixteen and lived on the streets. Fear kept me alive and I survived. In the past few years, living with a chronic illness has it's own unique set of fears that I must face daily.
To quote Aristotle, "Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible."
So what do I do?
- I acknowledge that I am afraid and what I am afraid of.
- I take deep breaths and try to focus on what I can do.
- I endeavour to manage my stress and to exercise.
- I practice courageous acts: I do things that I don't think I can (eg. I went to the Philippines on a Mission Trip with my church while in the middle of our winter. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to walk much, I was afraid as it was my first time overseas and my daughter and I went a day early).
- I make myself face the things that I am afraid of, over and over again.
- I focus on the good things, the things that give me hope, meaning and purpose.
Children can do these things also to overcome their fears, one step at a time. Then they too, can live a courageous life, as can you.
On my blog you will find:
I'm passionate about helping people overcome their fears and live courageously.
I love to share as I learn.
I have dyslexia.
I share what it is like living with a chronic illness, Fibromyalgia, and learning to live in the moment and enjoy my life.
There are writing tips from my Writers' Group, Dribbles and Scribbles, as well as short stories that my friends and I have written.
I am a qualified Youth Worker and Education Support Worker. I am an Associate Member of the Australian Society of Authors, and a member of Writer's Victoria.
The content on this blog is information only and the author is not liable for what you, the reader, do (or not do) with that information.
Raymund And The Fear Monster
The content on this website and blog is information only and the author is not liable for what you, the reader, do (or not do) with that information.