Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Calamitous Queen with Special Guest Ian Irvine

I am so pleased to have Ian Irvine, writer of fantasy series for adults and children, visiting the blog today.

We're celebrating with Ian the release of 'The Calamitous Queen', the final instalment in his four part humorous fantasy series for 10- 14 yo children, 'Grim and Grimmer'.

Welcome, Ian. Thanks for stopping by as the last port of call on your 'The Calamitous Queen' blog tour. I've been enjoying reading all the blogs leading up to this one and it got me wondering where the ideas for the series 'Grim and Grimmer' came from.

Good question. It’s hard to remember, because I’m not the kind of writer who suddenly has a flash of inspiration in the shower, or while walking in the garden, and thinks, ‘Wow, that’d make a great idea for a story.’ Nor do I often go through the newspaper clippings, random scribbles on coffee napkins and hieroglyphs on pieces of paperbark that pass for my system of notes around here, in search of a brilliant idea I had last week, month or year. When I do delve into such uncertain troves, I end up scratching my head, wondering, ‘What the Dickens does that mean?’

But I did have a framework in mind. I wanted to write a fantasy adventure series for readers roughly 9 - 14 years. I hadn’t written for this precise age group before. My Runcible Jones books,, are much larger and more complex books for older readers, while the Sorcerer’s Tower,, comprises small books with simple storylines, aimed at reluctant readers in the 7-10 range. I had a lot of great feedback from librarians about the latter books and wanted to write more, but this time I wanted to do larger books (45,000 words versus 10,000) for slightly older readers.

And I also wanted to write funny stories, because I felt this would make them more accessible to readers, particularly reluctant readers. Reading is incredibly important and I want to encourage it any way I can. Writing humour was a new adventure for me, and one I wasn’t sure I could pull off, since I’d never attempted it before. However there aren’t a lot of funny fantasy novels around for this age, at least not ones with strong, compelling plots, and since strong plots are my forte I thought I’d have a go.

So to characters. My huge fantasy epics, which are by far my most widely read books,, have often used strong female characters as the main protagonists, however in the Grim and Grimmers I wanted the hero to be a boy, and a hopeless boy at that, a tall, gawky kid who’s no good at sport and bottom of the class (in fact he’s just been expelled for a dreadful misunderstanding). Useless Ike. I’d not written about such a character before. I thought it would be a nice writing challenge to take this kid who’s totally cowed by life and his many failures, and no good at anything except drawing, and over the course of 4 books and 180,000 words, turn him into a hero.

A duffer of a hero needs a strong sidekick, hence I paired Ike with Melliflua di Sorrowgrove (Mellie), an apprentice thief who’s everything he’s not. She’s small, pixie-pretty, clever, hot-tempered and reckless, and has such a high regard for her own brilliance that she’s constantly getting them both into dire trouble – as when her failed spell blows Ike’s backside up to the size of an airship and he spends the next day bobbing around the ceilings of the dwarf city of Delf, being mocked by angry dwarves while Mellie laughs hysterically.

And of course, the book needs a cast of zany and bizarre characters, such as the malicious demon Spleen whose speciality is looking inside her victim’s heads (literally) to find out their deepest fears so she can take advantage of them. And the sweet but bloodthirsty old granny, Fluffia Tralalee, who lives in a cave carpeted in pink shag pile, with fluffy bunny wallpaper, yet is hiding an arsenal of weaponry large enough to start the next war. And the smirking conman dwarf, Con Glomryt, who could pass for the sleazy host on an afternoon TV game show.

There are four books in the Grim and Grimmer series. How did you know the story arc would unfold to four books?

Well, being a long-winded kind of guy who writes gigantic fantasy epics (The Three Worlds saga is 2.3 million words to date) I’d actually planned the Grim and Grimmers to be six books. But because of the GFC, my publisher was reluctant to commit to more than four, so four it became.

As it turned out, the story needed four books, because poor Ike suffers so many trials and failures that his first real success only occurs at the end of book 1, The Headless Highwayman, when he makes the firewyrm-dung fuelled balloon that carries him and Mellie to rescue the princess. And after all, if you start out with a hopeless protagonist, it takes lot of story to turn him into a believable hero.

Thanks so much for stopping by on your blog tour to answer a few questions, Ian. 

As a writer I've gained some valuable insight into the choices you make when determining character traits for your novels (27 to date). Ike is the sort of hero whose vulnerability kids will truly identify with.

You can find covers, blurbs, reviews and first chapters for the Grim and Grimmer series at

And if you'd like to read other guest posts by Ian Irvine on The Calamitous Queen Blog Tour, here are the links:



May 27, 2011 Gabrielle Wang’s Blog

May 30, 2011 Onyabus, Omnibus Books Interview

June 6, 2011 Ian Irvine

Introducing the Calamitous Queen blog tour

June 7, 2011 Nords Wharf Public School

Questions from students

June 8, 2011 Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook

Literacy and writing

June 9, 2011 Catriona Hoy

Humour and writing

June 10, 2011 Kid’s Book Capers – Dee White

Review of book and interview

June 11, 2011 Sally Murphy

The exciting (or otherwise) life of a writer

June 12, 2001 Claire Saxby

FFF(fun, fantasy, fiction): mix and stire (or how it all comes together)

June 13, 2011 Alison Reynolds

Why Ian wrote this book

June 14, 2011 Dee White (deescribewriting blog)Tuesday Writing Tips

Tips on how to finish a series

15 June 2011 St Joseph’s Primary School

Questions from students

16 June 2011 Sheryl Gwyther

The 10 Best Things about writing 'Grim and Grimmer' + Things that Almost Drove You Nuts!

17 June 2011 Braemar College,

Christine Wilson

Questions from students

18 June, 2011 Writing Children's Books with Robyn Opie

The How-to's of Writing a Series

19 June 2011 Angela Sunde

Where Ian's ideas for the series came from and how he knew there would be four books in it


Ian Irvine said...

Thanks very much for putting this together, Angela. It's been quite a demanding tour, 20,000 words of blogs in a couple of weeks, but it's also been terrific, meeting new people and answering questions that have made me think about my own work and how I do it. Some questions that have never occurred to me before.

All the very best for your own writing. Cheers


Karen Tyrrell said...

Hi Angela and Ian, Great interview. Loved reading about Ian's writing processes and the decisions he made BEFORE he started writing.
Fabulous series. :))

Angela Sunde. said...

It was a pleasure, Ian. I know what you mean about demanding. That is a huge word count and it's always difficult to come up with a fresh angle when blog touring. I certainly enjoyed every post of the tour and will be revisiting them again in the future.
It was wonderful to 'meet' you.
All the best

Angela Sunde. said...

Hi Karen, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I have taken note of Ian's methods when planning too.