An interview with Alison Goodman
Alison Goodman was born in Melbourne and, after a bit of wandering, recently returned to live there. She was a D.J. O’Hearn Memorial Fellow at Melbourne University, holds a Masters degree and teaches creative writing at postgraduate level. Her debut novel was the award-winning futuristic thriller Singing the Dogstar Blues. EON: Rise of the Dragoneye was inspired by an aunt’s Japanese heritage and an early love for Sci-Fi and Cyperpunk, developing an idea she had whilst researching Feng Shui during the writing of an earlier novel. It has been published as The Two Pearls of Wisdom for an adult readership in the UK. Alison kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in January 2010.
EON: Rise of the Dragoneye is ideal for younger readers but can also be read and enjoyed by adults of all ages. What do you think it is that makes your book, and others such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle, so appealing to all, regardless of age?
The quick answer is that they are fun and exciting, and usually written as an adventure story. But on a deeper level, I think they appeal to all ages because they touch on the common desire to be special or to have a destiny that is important to the world. In a fantasy novel, there is more often than not a hero or heroine who is “the chosen one”, someone with special gifts and a special fate, and the reader is invited to identify with this character. Another attractive aspect of these books is that the goal of the main character is usually very clear, and a quest of some kind, which taps into the human desire to search for meaning and to create order out of chaos.
Did you ever think that you were taking a risk in making your leading character female, considering that the fantasy genre has historically leaned heavily towards the male hero?
No, not at all. I sold the book to my Australian publisher via a one sentence verbal pitch, so it was never a risky proposition in terms of getting a publisher interested. It was also sold into the USA on the strength of a few chapters, and subsequently snapped up by eleven other countries, which pretty much pointed to the appeal of a female lead character. Nor have I ever felt that a female lead in any way weakens the appeal of a story. In fact, with EON: Rise of the Dragoneye it is probably the opposite – the story works because Eon is female.
What are the major differences between The Two Pearls of Wisdom and EON: Rise of the Dragoneye?
They are the same book, so the only difference is the cover. I specifically wrote EON: Rise of the Dragoneye as a cross-over novel, that is, one that would appeal to both adult and young adult audiences, so no changes were required when the different editions were created.
Does an author’s country of origin make any difference in regards to getting a book published and marketed? Would your path have been any harder/easier had you been American or British, rather than Australian?
It is difficult to get published whatever nationality you are. Whenever I chat to other authors about their pathways to publication, they are all so different and idiosyncratic that it is hard to come to any idea of what common factors play a part, including nationality. No doubt being an Australian author helped me come to the notice of Australian publishers at the beginning of my career, but I don’t think it played a major role in being picked up by overseas publishers. In the end, it is the work that is your passport.
You teach creative writing at postgraduate level. In your experience, have you found writing talent to be inherent or something that can be learned?
A good question, and one that is still being slugged out in the professional journals and papers. Personally, I think there are people who have a natural ability with language. I also think that these people can be taught the craft of writing to support and develop that ability. What can’t be taught is the art of writing – that leap into creating something new that puts forward a unique and truthful vision of the human experience. It can be encouraged, but it can’t be taught.
Is it true that EON was inspired by an aunt’s Japanese heritage and based on ancient Chinese myths and traditions?
Yes, that is true. My late aunt was Japanese and her influence prompted a life-long interest in Asian cultures. I also researched a lot of Chinese myth and traditions and used them as a springboard for the creation of the world in EON: Rise of the Dragoneye.
Your book shows signs of extensive research. Were there any books that proved invaluable during the writing of Eon?
Quite a few. Perhaps the most influential was a fascinating book about Chinese eunuchs by Taisuke Mitamura which also covered interesting aspects of Chinese court life. I also used a number of Lillian Too’s excellent books about Feng Shui and an interesting book about the The Forbidden City, which also had a number of great photos that helped me create the Palace in my novel. If readers are interested, I have detailed the books I used for research on my website.
Will there be a sequel to EON: Rise of the Dragoneye?
Absolutely. It is titled EONA and is the concluding sequel.
Are there any fantasy books that you remember fondly from your own childhood?
Too many to list them all here, but a few include Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy, Jhereg by Steven Brust, the Dragons of Pern books by Anne McCaffrey, and when I was very little, The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.