I met Alison Goodman in 2008 when I interviewed her on 'The Two Pearls of Wisdom' and now having read The Necklace of the Gods I very much wanted to know how things had been and what her research experiences had been for the new book. She has very kindly answered some questions from me.
Vicky: The build up from The Two Pearls of Wisdom to The Necklace of the Gods is brilliant (the books are also published as EON and EONA in some parts of the world). Did you experience, on a personal level, any of the martial arts described in your books?
Alison: I took some sword lessons to experience what it was like to hit a person with a blade. I hasten to add that my sparring partner was completely padded-up, and the sword was a wooden practice sword, so no harm was done to anyone during the making of these books. Nevertheless, it was a valuable learning experience and helped me add another dimension to my combat descriptions. I also took Tai Chi lessons to learn about energy movement in the body, which was also valuable for the power sequences in the novels.
Vicky: Most people who do Tai Chi also do the healing side called Qi Gong - did you experience any of this side first before writing about it?
Alison: Not really. I am only a beginner in the art so I've mostly experienced the stress-relief and meditation sides of Tai Chi.
Vicky: I enjoyed reading about the energy/Hua Eona, Ido and Lord Sethon used. Did you get to experience any of this kind of energy which some martial arts masters use? (I personally have seen this kind of energy in use (for good though) and the air fairly crackles!)
Alison: As a demonstration, one master helped me build up energy through my body using breathing techniques and meditation. It felt amazing. I also saw some very impressive demonstrations from masters, and interviewed them about their experiences with that kind of energy.
Vicky: Your battle scenes are incredible - how did you go about writing this part in The Necklace of the Gods and did you have to do a lot of research into Chinese battle strategies?
Alison: Thank you - I worked very hard to make the battles vivid for the reader. I researched battle strategies from various eras in history including the Roman Empire and the American Civil War. I also studied Sun Tzu's ancient text, The Art of War, and applied his principles to the battles in my book. As there are two opposing sides in the war in my book, I had to create strategies for both sides that reflected the experience and philosophies of each leader. It was quite tricky to think like a megalomaniac General on one hand (Lord Sethon) and an inexperienced young Emperor (Kygo) on the other.
Vicky: Did you base Eon/Eona on any Chinese mythology?
Alison: I drew on a lot of different mythologies and ancient lores for Eon and Eona, but my main source of inspiration was the Chinese Zodiac and the art of Feng Shui.
Vicky: I notice that you have both Chinese names and some very European ones e.g. Dillon - why?
Alison: Originally, I chose the name Eon because I wanted a name that sounded like Ian that could also be feminised (Eona). It is not a very Asian sounding name and so I never felt the need to make all my names sound Asian. Then as I went along, I applied a loose rule (that I break as much as I keep) - boy's names end in "on" or "or" or "o". Girls names end in "a". I do have one name in the second book that my US editor felt was too European - Viktor. She wanted me to change it until I explained that it is actually a gesture of thanks to my French publicist, Victor Dillinger, who went way beyond the call of duty when my handbag (with all my credit cards, passport, and money) was stolen in Paris. In gratitude for his generous help, I promised I would use his name as a character in The Necklace of the Gods (EONA), and so Viktor, leader of the Mountain Resistance, was born.
Vicky: The relationship between all your characters was excellent and intricate - was this the easiest part of writing the story?
Alison: Quite the opposite! When writing a novel, it is one of the biggest challenges to create psychologically true and consistent motivations for your characters so that you can develop complex relationships between them that feel "real". I always strive to write characters that are believable, have emotionally logical reactions to each other and to the events around them, and be travelling on a character arc that takes them through profound and irreversible change. All with a strong, thematic underpinning that explores at least one universal question. It is quite a bit to juggle!
Vicky: When writing, especially when there is so much action - do you let the story flow naturally or do you plan the story arc plotting where certain scenarios will take place?
Alison: I'm definitely a planner, not a pantser (a writer who flies by the seat of their pants). I plan the novel up-front in terms of plot points (events that have to happen if the plot is going to work), character arcs, major Act structures, and sequences. However, I don't plan everything else meticulously - there is a lot of room for the writing to organically inform the story as it goes along. Plot and character are so intrinsically bound together that adjustments and changes to the basic structures and ideas always occur as my characters develop.
Vicky: Do you see your story unfold like a film in front of you or text on a page?
Alison: A little bit of both. For me, it flips between a multi-layered puzzle made up of words and meaning, and sharp visuals that sit within my minds-eye.
Vicky: Although The Two Pearls of Wisdom and The Necklace of the Gods is a duology, will you write a third book to see how Eona and Kygo lives have carried on? I would especially like to see what happens to Dela and Tozay in the future. Does Dela find lasting happiness?
Alison: Although I have no immediate plans to write a third book, I would never say never! I'm currently writing a new series set in contemporary times and I'm really enjoying the change in voice and style. However, when I've finished that, maybe I will return to Eona and her friends. I will say, however, that Lady Dela is very resilient and I have no doubt that she will find happiness.
Vicky: Will the books now be made into either live action or anime films?
Alison: I've had a few movie nibbles, but no serious bites yet.
Vicky: As a teacher of creative writing - who inspires you?
Alison: Robert McKee. I admire his ideas about story and story telling.
Vicky: Who has been your biggest influence in writing?
Alison: I have been very lucky and studied with some fabulous writers: Gerald Murnane, Janet Turner Hospital, Antoni Jach, and Judy Duffy. All of these teachers helped me develop different aspects of my writing. Gerald is a great technician (amongst other talents) and taught me the value of scrutinizing every word and sentence. Janet helped me to fine-tune the emotional impact of my writing. Antoni has a deeply philosophical approach that gave me ways to develop themes and psychological truth. And Judy, who has since passed away, was an inspiration and a consummate craftswoman. She saw my early efforts and recognized something in them, urging me to keep going. One of my precious possessions is a copy of her short story collection Bad Mothers. Inside she has written: "To Alison, Keep writing - you've got it".
Vicky: Having won the Australian Aurealis 2008 award for the Best Fantasy Novel - has this affected how you write in any way?
Alison: That's hard to judge because my new project is very different to The Two Pearls of Wisdom (EON) and Necklace of the Gods (EONA), and so the way I am writing it is different too. Every book demands a new way of writing it.
Vicky: Are you now finding that it is you who is the role model and inspiration for young authors coming up behind you?
Alison: I do get quite a lot of emails from aspiring authors asking for advice. In fact, there have been so many that I have decided to write and post some free articles about writing on my website. The first - about writing a great beginning - will be going up in August.
Vicky: What are your favourite books/authors to read to relax with?
Alison: I really enjoy Diana Gabaldon's books. I also like to read paranormal thrillers and crime books.
Vicky: What are you writing now and when will we see it over here in Britain? Are you staying in the Fantasy genre?
Alison: In a way I am staying in the fantasy genre - my new series is set in contemporary cityscape with supernatural elements so it is urban fantasy (no vampires, though!). I'm very excited about it all, but it has a way to go before I sell it into any markets. Readers can keep up-to-date on my progress and publication dates via my website at www.alisongoodman.com.au