Mary Victoria, much like her character Tymon, is a traveller of the world - someone who finds it very hard to settle down. With her first series The Chronicle of the Tree now complete, Mary is looking forward to trying something new in the next phase of her writing career.
Mary kindly found some time to talk with FBR reviewer Ryan Lawler.
Hi Mary, thanks for taking the time to speak to Fantasy Book Review. Could you tell me a little about yourself.
Thanks for having me over! Let’s see, a bit about me… The main thing to know I guess is that I’m compulsively itinerant, always on the move. This applies as much to what I do as where I live. I can’t seem to settle down, whether it’s in one particular planetary hemisphere or in a career. I worked in visual effects for almost ten years before trying my hand at fantasy fiction. My husband has suggested we build crates that convert to shelves, so we don’t have to unpack and repack whenever we move houses and continents – which seems to be every other week.
It looks like you have had very creative career. What made you decide to try writing?
To be honest I was always writing. Even during a decade of animating for film and television, that’s all I could think about. I was a closet writer. I’d write after hours, shamefaced, with the curtains drawn. I wrote short stories that were too obscure to publish and well, yes, poetry. I was a writer who happened to like animating, too. And animating paid the bills.
In the end, the writing won out, though. I had an idea for a world set in a giant tree. It wouldn’t go away and leave me alone! I’d just finished work on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies and took what I thought would be a short sabbatical, to learn the craft of novel-writing and hopefully get this Tree business off my chest. Seven years later, I’m still on holiday. (It’s only fair to point out here that none of this would have happened without the help of my wonderfully supportive husband, Frank Victoria, and that I also had my baby daughter in the intervening years, just by the by.)
Tymon's Flight is one of the best fantasy novels I have read. Did you know you were onto a winner when you were writing?
You’re very kind to say so! I had no idea, starting out, if anyone else would be interested in the story. All I knew was that the idea gripped me completely. I had to write it. I had to learn to write so I could write it, if you follow. Novels are intricate beasts and no amount of closet poetry will prepare you for tackling one, cold. The whole affair took time; learning the craft of writing took time. But the story sat there in the back of my head and nagged me until I buckled down.
The World Tree is such a unique setting. Where did you get the idea for it?
Many sources. An obvious one of course is the Norse myth of Yggdrasil, which contains Midguard, the human world, in its branches. But in terms of what decided me to use such a setting for a story – that would be my husband’s fault, again. I remember him waking up one morning and saying he’d dreamt of cities floating in the sky. ‘Gosh’, said I, ‘That would make a great fantasy setting.’ But the more I thought of those cities, the more I saw roots and branches connecting them, supporting them. Eventually I realised that what I was imagining were settlements in the branches of a gigantic Tree the size of the Himalayan mountain range.
What was it like working on the set of Lord of the Rings? Did it help influence your writing?
I never worked on set, I was chained to a computer in a dark room for three and a half years! (No, honestly, it was fun.) But yes, I did have the privilege of visiting the sets on occasion. They were indeed inspiring. Of course Tolkien loved trees and gave them a special place in his stories, and the sets for Rivendell in particular reflected that. Artist Alan Lee imagined a whole architecture based on interwoven branches, and that concept was translated into the sets the talented folks at Weta Workshop produced.
Did you have an opportunity to work directly with Peter Jackson? Is it true he started growing hair on the top of his feet during filming?
Peter Jackson would sometimes come and sit beside the animators and look at their work, particularly during the first movie. After that he had less time to ‘make the rounds’ but commented on our work in daily viewing sessions. I don’t know whether he started growing hair on his feet, but I do have this abiding memory of looking out of the window after a rainstorm to see him hopping out of a car onto the sidewalk, barefoot and dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt. Now when I say rainstorm, you have to picture typical Wellington weather, which includes gale force winds and our trademark circular rain.
What's next for Mary Victoria? Do you plan on revisiting The World Tree? Do you have any new projects you can tell us about?
I’m working on a new book – nothing to do with the Chronicles of the Tree, in fact a different style of writing entirely (I told you I keep trying new things, I can’t help it.) I don’t have plans to revisit the World Tree for the moment. The three books do form a finished arc in themselves, and I worry about drawing out a series to the point where it loses momentum. But I haven’t ruled out returning to that universe altogether. In the meantime, if readers want their fix of things Tree-related, I’d suggest looking up the ‘Dictionary of the Tree’ on my website. It’s a species of extended glossary containing titbits that don’t appear in the books, as well as my own ‘behind the scenes’ perspective (if that interests anyone.)
Finally, can you name three of your favourite fantasy stories?
I can’t choose particular stories, so I’ll go for authors. I’m a diehard fan of Ursula K. Le Guin. Her style is both spare and evocative, her Earthsea fantasy series still one of the best out there. I also have a soft spot for Tolkien and Peter Beagle. I realise this is more than three, but in recent years I’ve enjoyed China Mieville and Ian McDonald. But there are so many more. It’s a wonderful, fermenting, creative time for speculative fiction. The stories just keep getting better, and the new writers emerging right now are fascinating.
All the best Mary, thanks for talking to us. I cant wait to start Samiha's Song.
It’s been a joy to come here! I hope you enjoy your continuing adventures in the World Tree…
Sometimes in fantasy you will come across a hidden gem, a book that you cross paths with having heard absolutely nothing about it, a book that you were unprepared for that completely blows you away. I have been very lucky having found quite a number of these hidden gems in the past twelve months, but of these hidden gems few can compare to Tymon's Flight by Mary Victoria, a book that has taken a remarkable idea and complemented it with one of the most engaging stories I have read.