Suz’s Space Blog: Celebrating Ten Years of Crusader This Month

sara-douglass-1990s-short-hairThis month celebrates the tenth anniversary release of Book 3 of the Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass.

Sara Douglass is an Australian author whose books were first published in 1995 with her first published book Axis, book one of the trilogy by the same name. Ever since then she has been churning out books at a rather prolific rate.

Her writing has won her three Aurealis Awards and had several books make the Aurealis Awards finalists list. She is also an internationally recognised author, although some of her works go by different names overseas. At this point for those of you not from Australia I will point out that what I have referred to and will continue to refer to as the Axis trilogy is known internationally as the first three books of the Wayfarer Redemption.

Before becoming a published author she worked for many years as a nurse in Adelaide she then worked towards her BA whilst still working as a nurse. She studied Modern English History and then later began to teach Medieval History at Bendigo’s Latrobe University.

Why is she one of my favourite author’s to date? For that you’ll have to read on and endure my unwieldy word smithing.

Every birthday and Christmas my mother has a little ritual of making sure that my brother and I get at least one book, this is something she still does to this day even though my brother and I have both long since finished school and left home.

On the Christmas Day of 1996 my mother gave me the Axis trilogy, I felt I was really lucky this year as I got not one or two books but a trilogy! That night full of way too much food and thoroughly sick of family visitors I cracked open the first book of the trilogy. It was one of those experiences that most avid readers have every now and again where you find a sparkling gem of literary genius that helps you to step out of this world and into another realm, in this case I stepped into the mystical realm of Tecendor.

Ever since then Sara Douglass’ books have graced my favourites shelves. Yes that’s correct I have a set of shelves dedicated to my favourite books, or in some special cases favourite author’s whose entire works grace these shelves. After all why not? Some people collect models or stamps. Me? I collect books, lots and lots of books.

Nine years later and many books later (praise be brilliant yet prolific authors!) Sara Douglass’ works was now occupying an entire shelf and I had started studying history at university. It was then that I began to realise quite how great her works were. She was taking all these elements of history and weaving them seamlessly into her works creating a flowing world of magic and adventure with elements of our own world entwined within.

This seemingly effortless grace of utilising pieces of our own history and working them into her own works made sense once I’d done a little bit of Googling and found out some information about her. I was not at all surprised when I found out that she was a historian herself. Being a historian she has quite an impressive arsenal at her disposal and makes very good use of it.

One of my favourite things about her books is the way it feels like someone is telling you a tale. The comfy feeling you get as if you are snuggled deep in your favourite armchair in front of the fire with a cup of Earl Grey listening to this tale of wonder unfold. I know this sounds silly but it wasn’t until I discovered her Nonsuch Gardening Blog and started reading her gardening adventures in windy Tasmania that I realised it wasn’t Azhure or Grace or any of my favourite characters from her books narrating the story to me but Sara herself. It was her voice telling the tale, the same one telling of her own gardening adventures.

Cut to present day and now here I am thirteen years after I started reading her books trying to put some semblance of direction into my words on why she is one my favourite authors and to give her an appropriately biased tribute.

So if you are looking for well written books with decently flowing story lines and interesting twists I would recommend Sara Douglass to you. She has been a prolific author ever since Axis hit the shelves so there are a good number of books available to read and in my biased opinion are worth reading. The future direction of her literary career is uncertain since her diagnosis with cancer last year. Although she has finished The Infinity Gate book three of her latest trilogy Dark Glass Mountain her life understandably is taking her in a new direction and it is yet to be determined whether her readers will see more books from her.

For me she joins the list of Australian Authors that have helped put Australia on the literary map. She joins the ranks of authors such as S.A Wakefield and Juliet Marillier. More than that in fact, I would say that she easily creates a new world of fantasy as real and great as that of J.R.R Tolkien.

However don’t just take my word for it, take a trip to your local library or bookstore and pick up one of her books and see for yourself.


©2009 Mark/Suz’s Space Blog. The original post was by Mark, a guest blogger on Suz’s Space Blog.

SMH: There Be Dragons

threshold-1steditionMythical quests, moral certainties, happy endings … they’re the ingredients that keep the fans of fantasy fiction queuing for more. The genre answers Life’s Big Questions, its authors say. And Sales? They’re just fantastic, writes Nikki Barrowclough.

A shadow is looming over the great, hot southern land of Ashdod. It is the shadow of Threshold, the pyramid which the Magi of Ashdod are building to propel them into Infinity … Thousands of slaves have been drafted into the construction of Threshold. Among them is Tirzah, a young glass worker. Tirzah has a secret gift – and one that may kill her. She can communicate with glass, and what the glass of Threshold screams at Tirzah every time she touches it, drives her to despair.

(from Threshold, by Sara Douglass)

One weekend in 1992, Sara Douglas sat down in a mood of despair and plunged into the literary equivalent of ploughing up and down a swimming pool. For the next two years she wrote feverishly, hidden away in a room with a marble fireplace and ruby-coloured stained-glass windows, in her 115-year-old house in Bendigo.

Romance, thrillers, adventure, fantasy. Not for publication, purely for practice. Each work was about 60,000 words long and was completed sometimes in little more than a fortnight. “I’d finish one book and the next day I’d start another,” she recalls. “Most of them were absolutely awful. One was about the kidnapping of the premier of South Australia. I must have been pushed for a plot that week.”

Douglass, 42, is now Australia’s leading author of fantasy fiction (or “speculative” fiction, as the genre has been dubbed), earning more than $100,000 a year in the process. But, back in 1992, she was finding her new job as senior lecturer in medieval history at Melbourne’s La Trobe University increasingly unpleasant because of political tensions within her department. Losing herself in fiction was her way of blocking out the stress – although, ever since she was a girl growing up, first on a farm in South Australia and then in Adelaide, her dream had been to write.

Towards the end of that fevered period of literary laps, Douglass sent two of her attempts at romantic fiction to Mills and Boon. “They told me to go away and said they didn’t want to hear from me again,” she recalls.

It didn’t matter. She had noticed that her plots had begun concentrating solely on fantasy anyway. “I was having trouble with the rules, writing in the ‘real world’,” she says. “If a character had to travel a thousand miles overnight and there were no trains or plains around, how was he to do it? With fantasy, I could make up my own rules – make up my own world.”

As a child, Douglass had enjoying reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, and had continued reading fantasy in her twenties and thirties. But it no longer enthralled her as she felt it should. “So I decided to write the kind of book I couldn’t find,” she says.

battleaxe-1steditioncover-ShaunTanJust before moving in 1992 to Bendigo from Adelaide, where she had worked as a nurse while studying for her doctorate in early modem English history at Adelaide University, Douglass called into a travel agency to book her fare. As she got up to leave, she glanced down at her chair and noticed she had been sitting on a tiny steel axe. Too real to be a child’s toy, the axe seemed to have come from nowhere. Mystified, she put it in her purse – where it stayed for the next two years until one wet Saturday afternoon when she prepared to start work on the book that would eventually free her from academia, Douglass cleaned out her purse. Finding the axe again, she placed it on the table by her desk. Then, as the rain drummed against the stained-glass windows, she drew a map of Tencedor – the ancient name for the continent of Achar before the Wars of the Axe and the land where Prince Axis, son of Princess Rivkah and the Icarii Enchanter, lost all his powers after the invasion of the Timekeeper Demons. She sketched in the Murkle Mountains, the Lake of Life and the Island of Mist and Memory in the Sea of Tyrre, and borrowed the name Tailem Bend – it’s about two hours’ drive from Adelaide from her father’s memory of places of his youth.

From this mapping of Tencendor sprang BattleAxe, the extraordinary work of heroic fantasy that took the publishing world by surprise after Harper Collins published it in 1995. Its sequels, Enchanter and Starman, complete The Axis Trilogy, which has now sold more than 150,000 copies in Australia alone, and has just been published in the United Kingdom.

Today, the tiny axe is stuck to Douglass’s computer with a dab of Blu-Tack. It’s a talisman that no writer of mainstream literature would dare jeer at. As Sydney literary agent Rose Creswell points out, “If a literary novel sells more than 20,000 copies, we regard that as a huge bestseller.”

An oddity of fantasy fiction is that trilogies sell better than one-off novels. Douglass has written only one stand-alone novel, Threshold, which came out in 1997. It’s her favourite work and, to date, it has sold 40,000 copies.

crusader-1stedition-ausHer second trilogy, The Wayfarer Redemption, a sequel to The Axis Trilogy, is selling as well as its predecessor. The third book, Crusader, published earlier this year, sold out in its first week. She is now working on a third trilogy, The Crucible, assisted by a six-figure publisher’s advance. Her first non-fiction book, The Betrayal of Arthur, which explores the Arthurian legends and shows the trio of King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot in a whole new light, comes out next month.

“I don’t think fantasy fiction is taking off so much as coming out of the closet,” comments Douglass, who lives alone and has spent some of her book profits on 6,000 bulbs for her garden. “Most countries have a tradition of grand old heroic myths, with dragons and witches and strange and terrible creatures, and which always involved mystery and enchantment, and a quest of some kind. But white Australia, which is part of a European tradition, never had these stories.

“Before the 16th century, people believed in all these things. Then science arrived and said they didn’t exist. Science explains our world in the same way as a religious faith does, but it doesn’t provide any mystery, and people want their world to be a little mysterious. People are so tired of this material world and I think they feel as well that they’re leading bland, unspiritual lives.

“In fantasy, there’s lots of enchantment, lots of gods, and there’s always a hero of some kind who starts off as a fairly ordinary person. Those grand heroic myths are now treated as children’s stories, but I think the truth is that our souls still need them. I’ve lost count of the number of boys aged between 12 and 18 who have come up to me [at book signings] and said, ‘I was going to kill myself before I read your books.”‘

Originally written by Nikki Barrowclough and published on 21st August 1999 in the Good Weekend magazine of the Sydney Morning Herald.