sara douglass

Behind the Medieval Historian a Speculative Fiction Novelist by Ian Irvine

This is the third part of Dr Ian Irvine’s wonderful introduction to Sara’s lectures. Hope you enjoy reading it as much I have. Karen

It was during the pre-tutorial meetings in the first half of 1994 that I first learnt Sara was also busy writing and submitting for publication numerous novels. Dr Sara Warneke, Historian was already on the way to becoming Sara Douglass, Novelist – specifically: Fantasy Novelist, though she preferred other terms, e.g. ‘Modern Romance’ i.e. story-telling derived from the Romance tradition of the Medieval era. I loved Medieval history and I was also a secret fiction writer, among other things, so we had lots to talk about.

I remember having a kind of epiphany one day in her office – it was soon after she’d told me she was also a novelist. Sipping coffee and laughing at one of her wry asides I looked around at her vast collection of books and realised for the first time that the Fantasy genre was bloody hard work. Although the common perception is that such fiction comes ‘straight out of the writer’s imagination’ in truth a quality Fantasy writer, and Sara was world class, needs to read and absorb much more material than just about any other kind of fiction writer. To illustrate the point I’d like to quote a section of narrative from The Nameless Day, one of my favourite novels by Sara:

 

And so Thomas rode on.the-nameless-day-us-1sted

This time of the year the road that wound north was busy with carts piled high with hay, or fruits, or broodily grumbling calves or pigs, heading for the markets and stomachs of Nuremberg. Pedlars jangled by, their carts packed with bright pots, cooking utensils, and ribbons and fripperies for goodwives to waste their hard-earned coin on. There were innumerable pilgrims, travelling in bands that were sometimes small, sometimes huge. Thomas counted four-score in one gaily chatting band that passed him late in the evening. And there were soldiers. Stragglers, rather than coherent units, and probably mercenaries moving to look for work. (…)

Among the carts of merchandise, pedlars, pilgrims and soldiers straggled the occasional peasant, perhaps wandering down to Nuremberg in the hope of picking up work somewhere. Since the pestilence, there were few people who could find no work, but there were always some: the sick or crippled, those lingering on the borderlands of insanity, and the sheer malingerers who preferred a life drifting from employment to employment …

Of all the travellers, Thomas hated the beggars the most. They were society’s pests – skulkers who had lost even the art of malingering – who no longer even wished to pretend an interest in work. Most had a missing limb, generally a foot, and they hobbled past on crutches, or rumbled by on ill-made, hand-propelled carts.’

 

I’ve quoted the passage almost in full because I want to emphasise the enormous amount of research behind such an apparently simple compressed time passage – working, ostensibly, to establish setting. Throughout Sara’s lectures on Medieval history and society we repeatedly come across lines that have been transferred, almost word for word, into passages like the one above. In perusing the various folders of overhead images she gave me I also note how key scenes and details from the overheads (often of original woodcuts by Medieval artists) ended up in her novels, e.g. scenes from bath houses, peasant banquets, torture dungeons, peasant revolts, knightly activities, hangings, weddings, relations between the sexes, work activities, etc. Many of the images are wonderfully domestic (ploughing, food preparation, sewing, etc.), others are deeply confronting (criminals in cages, beheaded war captives, realistic and fantastic images of the plague, etc.).[1] She tried to bring every lecture to life with images that illustrated the content.

In The Nameless Day, and the Crucible series generally, the ‘transfusion’ between her academic activities and her fiction is direct and obvious – given the book is set in the tumultuous 14th century. images-2However, the setting descriptions and authenticity of the fantastic worlds Sara constructed elsewhere also owed much to her ability to ‘inhabit’ European landscapes imaginatively at any point in time from the Dark Ages to the Ancient Regime of the 18th century.

As an historian Sara believed in the value of researching and teaching the history of the common people, this included the history of changes to their ways of raising children, their marriage and sexual customs, their work life, their popular superstitions, etc. – the subject matter of her Medieval World unit in particular. There was more to the past than the achievements, beliefs etc of the ‘rich and powerful’ and Sara was well-versed on key academic debates related to medieval social history. Some of the lectures reproduced here detail her interests in this area – lectures on Medieval understandings of time, childhood, sexuality, popular culture, popular magic, etc. to name but a few. Incidentally, this love of and belief in social history also fed inspirational historic ‘coal’ directly into the engine/furnace of her creative imagination

 

Magic is Most Evocative When Grounded in Reality

 

After 1999 Sara became a different kind of mentor/inspiration to me. Like her I’d felt the pull of other forms of writing outside of academic non-fiction. In my case I began publishing poetry in the late 1990s and in 1998 became a literary ezine editor. It was as co-editor of The Animist, that I interviewed her in 1999. During the interview it became clear that she had become preoccupied with the challenges of fiction writing – she was thinking a lot about the genre that had brought her so much success and understood what she wanted her own unique contribution to the genre to be. Interestingly, the historic realities of life in Medieval times provided the foundation for her efforts in this area.

One facet of Sara’s ‘realism’ was her knowledge of the lives of women, children, peasants and marginalised people in pre-industrial societies. Paradoxically then, one of her great strengths as a speculative fiction writer – evident from the first pages of Battleaxe – was her commitment to merging historical realities with traditional fantasy tropes

When I began teaching in the writing program at Bendigo TAFE in 1999, Sara often visited as a guest speaker for our Myths and Symbols, Novel and Writing Industry Overview classes. In these talks she shared her vast knowledge of fiction writing and the Australian and international publishing industries. Yet again I was learning from her. One day, in response to a question by a student about plotting she answered, ‘I write with cards – 20-30 cards. I know I have a novel when I’ve found 20-30 key scenes that I can see vividly in my mind. Usually I write straight through the first draft once I’ve settled on those key ‘dramatic’ scenes … Sometimes I’ll shuffle the card/scenes around a bit – changing the order as I write. Usually each key scene forms the essence of a single chapter. After that it’s just filling in the dots – i.e. linking those key scenes together into a narrative.’

I’ve never forgotten this wonderful advice to writers.

 

 

 

Historian

Introduction to Sara The Historian and Academic 

Hello everyone. I have something new and wonderful to share with you. But before I do, let me provide you with a bit of background.

Apart from re-releases of Sara’s existing books or new reviews, I often wondered what I might be able to share with you that Sara would also have been willing to do so and which would add a fresh dimension to the Sara Douglass we all knew and loved. Many of you will be aware that Sara was a person with so many different talents and aspects to her personality and self – from academic, popular historian, writer, blogger, devoted cat lover, gardener and sustainable living advocate as well as a keen collector of many things from old maps to books and more – some of which she allowed various people access to while others she kept very, very private. IMG_0310

The one part of her life that’s probably least explored online and yet was integral to the person and writer she was, is her role as an academic and excellent historian. Beloved as a writer, before that she was also a much loved and respected lecturer at La Trobe University, Bendigo. It was in this role that I first met Sara. New to the university, she was one of my lecturers (medieval history) during my Honours year in 1992. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s because of Sara I became an academic – she encouraged and inspired me into what has been my career for over twenty years. I was among the first students she taught there, but of course she went on to teach for many years, introducing  students to the wonder and horrors of the past, igniting a passion for history within them, and influencing men and women in numerous ways in the process. One such person is Dr Ian Irvine.

Ian was one of Sara’s students as well, one who went on to teach beside her and, after she left La Trobe to pursue writing full-time, in her stead. I’ve known Ian for many years and recall him as a wide-eyed student, much like I was, yet to embark on the hell-year that was Honours. Imagine my utter delight then when, out of the blue late last year, Ian contacted me with an amazing story and offer. Turns out, when cleaning his shed, he found the boxes containing all the notes Sara had bestowed upon him when she left the university – all the lectures and jottings from her years of teaching history at tertiary level. Ian asked if I would like them. Yes, he really did. To say I jumped at his offer is an understatement. Generously, and with such goodwill, Ian sent me electronic and hard copy of all Sara’s notes. They are now in my desktop and safely stowed in a cupboard in my study – but only after they were pored over.

What a treasure trove they are! But it seemed such a pity to keep them under metaphorical lock and key when they not only reveal so much about history, but give us an insight into Sara Warneke, the brilliant historian and teacher.

Then I had the idea to share them with you.

Talking to Gina (my website guru) and Ian, cemented this notion – they were both so enthusiastic about it. Gina began uploading them for me to edit (I have just moved around some of the material – no words are changed) and I asked Ian if he could write an introduction.

Picture of fourteenth-century nobles from Paul Lacroix, Manners, Customs and Dress During the Middle Ages (London, 1874).

Picture of fourteenth-century nobles from Paul Lacroix, Manners, Customs and Dress During the Middle Ages (London, 1874).

Being a writer himself – a lovely one – Ian has written a simply wonderful, lively and fascinating introduction that’s also quite long. I have broken it into three parts (to draw out the delight as well) The first three of her lectures are ready for you to peruse, enjoy and, hopefully, gain more insight into Sara the historian. The second and third parts of Ian’s introduction I will release over the following months along with further of Sara’s lectures.

Whether you are a history buff yourself, a fellow writer or teacher, or simply a fan of Sara and her works, I really believe these lectures give you an insight into the depth and breadth of not only her knowledge, but the ways in which she imparted it to others, making the discovery of history simultaneously entertaining and educational. Just like her books!

So, over the next few months, I will be releasing more of Sara’s lectures on medieval history, starting with her introduction to the medieval world. Before I do that, however, I will let Ian set the context.

I hope you enjoy exploring this world and aspect of Sara as much as I did both in the past and again in the present, and as much as you have through her fantasy novels and non-fiction.

Warmest wishes,

Karen


Background to Some of Sara’s Many Worlds by Dr Ian Irvine

Rusty Implements Buried in the Fields of Medieval History

saras-notes-1

It was a typical Bendigo winter’s day – cool but sunny – when our band of stressed BA Honours students trundled into class to attend a session on Medieval social history. We were about midway through the year (being 1993) and the relentless Honours reading schedule was starting to wear down many of us. For the Medieval unit alone we’d read, analysed and delivered or listened to seminars on works by Aquinas, Dante, Chaucer, More, Erasmus, and others. The full-time students had also been reading a dozen other literary, philosophical and historical texts for a subject on the Roman world. At the same time we were all struggling to find time to research and write the thesis component to the qualification – due in November.

‘Anyone like to guess what these were used for back in the Middle Ages?’ asked our guest lecturer, a recently employed Medieval historian. She proceeded to run through a dozen or so slides of rusty looking cutting, chopping and pulverising implements dug up from all over Western Europe.

‘Farming tools … used in the fields …’ said one brave student.

‘Good guess, but nope …’ said the lecturer, her name was Sara – Sara Warneke, as it as written up there on the board.

‘Torture instruments,’ said a wag, and everybody laughed – a little hysterically it must be said.

‘Nope …’STM3D00Z-1

‘Carpentry!’ said someone else.

‘Nope …’

‘Tools used by butchers …’ I ventured.

‘Close …’ said Sara, ‘… doctors and surgeons in those days were ranked only slightly above butchers … Not many people survived “hospital”’. She paused thoughtfully. ‘These tools were used by surgeons … This vice-like clamp gadget, for example, was used to extract babies from their dead or dying mothers – probably had rust on it back then too …’ she mused. ‘They had no concept of infection in those days.’

Gasps of horror from the ten or so students present – all of us traumatised, it must be said, by months of reified analysis of classic Medieval texts.

Next up were images of strange metal gadgets – sometimes with locks, sometimes chains. Many seemed oddly ornate. As with the medical implements they were all somewhat rusty. They turned out to be chastity belts imposed on ‘ladies’ whilst their ‘lords’ were away fighting in the crusades.

‘The lord would take the key with him,’ said Sara. With this detail the class erupted into ghoulish laughter for a good quarter of an hour. The dam of stress that had been filling relentlessly across the semester suddenly gave way and we had a kind of group catharsis. By the end of this outburst a number of students were in tears. Sara watched it all unfold for a while, then began to joke along with us. At one point each student began adding bizarre story developments to a ridiculous scenario about a ‘lady’ in a castle who wished to set her chastity belt aside whilst hubby was away crusading. For the first time all year we felt relaxed about our Honours studies.

Boxes of Lectures Buried in a Shed

I’ve been asked by Karen to write this introduction to an aspect of Sara’s life – that is, her academic work and how, from my perspective as a student and, later tutor, it impacted upon her fiction. The collection of lectures that will be uploaded over time were all written and delivered by her between 1992 and 1998. She gave them to me – along with other course materials – when she resignsaras-notes-2ed from her position at La Trobe University in May 1999. She had decided to pursue her writing career full time and had recommended to the Head of School that I take over her Medieval World unit for the 2nd semester. I was eventually employed to deliver the unit across three campuses. For me the resources were a life saver since I hadn’t previously tutored in that particular Medieval history unit. Sara’s gift was but one example of her amazing generosity of spirit. The material – print and digital – was handed to me in a couple of large boxes just before she left the university. At the time I thought the boxes only contained resources for the unit I was about to teach. I remember at the time asking her whether she had digital back-ups and print copies.

I must have looked concerned because she added, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll do great! … Besides, there’s other stuff in those boxes – notes for the first year Early European History and Early Modern units. Actually, most of what I’ve taught here is in those boxes – that’s why they’re a bit heavy!’

I thanked her and pretended confidence but in my head I was thinking, ‘The students are expecting a celebrity author – this will be a really tough gig!’

When I too left La Trobe for an ongoing teaching position elsewhere at the end of 1999 I put the boxes aside. Interestingly, I was never quite able to throw them out, despite never teaching Medieval history again. After a while I moved the boxes out to our shed where they were slowly buried under building materials, garden tools and webs populated by red-back spiders. In short, they were all but forgotten until through Gina, Karen contacted me about an interview I’d done with Sara for The Animist in 1999. With my memory jolted I did a bit of suburban archaeology and set about recovering the boxes.

A Note on the Lectures

The various lectures featured at this website should be viewed much as theatre goers might view the printed script of a play. They were primarily written to be ‘performed’ for students and fall into sets related to at least three subjects Sara taught at La Trobe University between 1992 and 1999. The subjects are as follows: a first year general Early European History unit (the Fall of Rome to the period preceding the Reformation); a general Early Modern History unit (Reformation to Revolution) and a 2nd and 3rd year Medieval World unit based around the book Montaillou (a first-hand investigation of the Cathar heresies but also a wonderful description of little known aspects of Medieval social life). I suspect there are also one off lectures/presentations for Honors level subjects that were primarily taught by others in this collection, as well as material concerning some of Sara’s favourite Medieval literary texts – she loved the Arthurian tradition, for example, and wrote a book on it in the late 1990s. The lectures are exactly as Sara left them prior to her departure in 1999.

To best imagine attending a series of her Medieval lectures readers should try to imagine the print/oral content of the lectures being augmented by: a) dozens of black and white images projected onto a white overhead screen; b) Sara’s numerous asides detailing humorous, gossipy or strange stories concerning historic personages or events – sometimes she would quote historic figures directly (sometimes in character); c) discussion of essays or chapters from set-texts related to the topic (which students had supposedly read prior to class); d) quotes from favourite Medieval literary or pop culture texts that illustrated historic issues; and e) sessions involving colour slides related to Medieval life, landscape, architecture or art. Occasionally, students were also treated to a relevant video – e.g. The Devils of Loudun. The last ten minutes of classes were usually reserved for student questions, since on the whole Sara preferred not to be interrupted whilst delivering the primary content of her classes.

On the whole, the lectures give us but a glimpse of the vast materials she researched and, eventually, taught between 1982 and 1999. The process of absorbing that immense body of material, then synthesising it with her marvellous imagination was complete by 1994. Thereafter, the Medieval World became the essential back-drop to her life as a fiction writer.


20th Anniversary of BattleAxe

battleaxeI am absolutely thrilled to announce that Sara’s publishers, Voyager, are releasing a special 20th anniversary edition of Sara’s very first novel, Battleaxe, in March this year. Featuring quotes from wonderful writers such as Juliet Marillier and Fiona McIntosh and a foreword by me, Karen Brooks, and with a gorgeous new cover, readers can once more (or the first time) relish this tale of love, brutality, mystery, treachery and magic.

Battleaxe was the book that brought Sara and her fantastic stories into the literary sphere and reader’s lives the world over. I hope you will all enjoy re-reading and/or discovering Axis, Rivkah, Faraday, Gorgreal and the entire cast of complex, amazing characters  and places as much as I did. My only wish is that Sara was here to see the way in which her work lives on and continues to not simply capture, but grab readers over and over.

The cover is both simple and yet elegant and reflects the major themes of the book. These are exemplified in the tree cross-section, done a blood-shed red, and the axes, so neatly crossed and positioned in its centre. Here, in symbolic form, we have religions clashing, nature and culture and those who stand on these (in the world of Tencendor) diametrically opposed sides intersecting, and the threat of combat and destruction looming.

The parchment background and bold, Stygian black of the title and curlicues signify both the historical research underpinning the book and the power of the written word. In the world of Battleaxe, this is neatly juxtaposed against oral culture and the songs and magic that complete it.

Finally, there is Sara’s name embossed in gold – gold for the richness her work has brought to so many lives and in honour of the memory of a wonderful women, friend, and writer. Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Battleaxe first burst its way onto the fantasy novel scene? I know I cannot. It really does seem only yesterday when Sara found a tiny plastic axe, picked it up and took it home and allowed a story to unfold before her mind’s eye.

The axe that started it all.

That little axe is now glued to my computer (see my very poor picture on the right – that is the edge of my mac you can see). It is my muse; a reminder of Sara every time I write (like I need one – I don’t really, but it does provide comfort). It gives me inspiration, hope and, most importantly, a kick up the bum when I’m lost for words or feeling flat – something Sara did for me (and I for her) often.

I hope that you are as excited as I am by this beautiful new edition of a most beloved book.

Warmest wishes,

Karen

Welcome to Sara Douglass Worlds

Welcome to SaraDouglassWorlds.com, the new cyber home of the extraordinary writer, Sara Douglass, originally located at SaraDouglass.com. Many of you will know (and I apologise in advance to those of you who are about to learn this) that on the 27 September 2011, Sara died of ovarian cancer after a long and extremely painful struggle. After her death, I was told that she had entrusted her literary estate and creative legacy to me.

sara-karen-in-nonsuch-gardensAllow me to introduce myself, my name is Karen Brooks and I was Sara’s friend for over twenty years – a writer and academic like Sara who was not only my beloved friend, but mentor and inspiration as well. Along with my husband, Stephen, I was Sara’s primary carer for the last nine months of her life. The best and worst thing I’ve ever done…

Humbled, privileged beyond words with Sara’s amazing gift, it has taken almost three years to resurrect her website after it became swallowed by red tape, ridiculous legalities and what appears to be a great deal of ineptitude on the part of various domain providers and hosts. Not even lawyers’ letters and emails, threats and promises could restore what was now rightfully mine – this precious legacy I’d been given. I despaired – I really did. But, just when all seemed lost, a woman named Gina (and new fan of Sara’s) swooped into my life and accomplished what I begun to think impossible. Due to her perseverance, incredible contacts, energy and knowledge (as well the generosity and support of my own website host and designer, Oliver from MediaBox), we now have saradouglassworlds.com and nonsuchkitchengardens.com to enjoy.

Thank you Gina. I cannot recommend this lady highly enough.

While I’ve made the decision to maintain nonsuchkitchengardens as a memorial site, this one is different in that not only does it contain some material you may not have seen before, I will be posting updates when relevant and invite you, Sara’s fans, to post your views and share your insights and pleasure in her work with each other. If you have anything you’d really like to know or see, please feel free to ask – though, be warned, asking doesn’t always guarantee the answer you might like 😉

I have also duplicated some material across both the Nonsuch site and this one as some things are too important not to – such as Sara’s Silence of the Dying blog post.

I hope you enjoy the SaraDouglassWorlds.com as much as Gina and I have enjoyed bringing it back. For those of you who knew Sara and her wonderful imagination, it’s a bitter-sweet experience revisiting your favourite places and characters, I know; for those of you who have only just stumbled upon her work, I envy your voyage of discovery.

Whoever you are, old fan or new, you are a friend and I warmly welcome you to the worlds of the wonderful Sara Douglass. May you soar with the stars.

Karen Brooks
8th April 2014
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

High Fantasy Addict: Hades Daughter

hades-daughter-aus-releaseGreeting’s Brave Adventurers.

I’m going to come right out and say it; I really enjoyed this book.

Douglass has been criticized for over-zealous depictions of sex and depravity in her novels, but I didn’t find this to be so. Douglass is a female-centric writer, and I think it is hard to imagine a female protagonist in a medieval setting who does not confront ‘sex-as-weapon’ – either used against her or wielded by her for advantage. I enjoyed the backdrop of the feminine world that this book so richly invokes; the roles of woman as mother and lover, and the concepts of fertility, birth and rebirth.

A great start to a series, and, in my opinion, Sara Douglass’s best.

9/10 labyrinthine dragons


©2014 High Fantasy Addict. To read the full review on the High Fantasy Addict website please click on this link.

Goodreads: The Betrayal of Arthur

betrayal-of-arthur-2013-cover“This is a wonderfully interesting book that examines history and characters of the Arthurian legend. Written in a very accessible style, Douglass carefully outlines the origins of the legend, especially examining where the various elements came from. The various character analysis are most interesting, concluding that Merlin and Arthur are actually, given what they are commonly understood to be able to do and their role in the legend, rather dismal failures. This fascinating book will interest those with knowledge of the Arthurian legend and an inquisitive mind.”

Review by Ernest on the Goodreads website.


On the 6th of February 1998 Sara wrote on her personal website “I’m working on my non-fiction Arthurian book at the moment. It is a book that investigates the betrayal theme within the legend. Fantastic. All to do with sex and incest and medieval penances. The arthurian tale is a very medieval tale in its images and in its strong moral overtones, and it is fascinating to read some of today’s novels and see how authors struggle to ‘modernize’ an epic that is so medieval it has almost lost relevance for today’s world.”


The Betrayal of Arthur was originally published in 1998. Pan McMillan re-released it on 1st October 2013 in electronic format, you can download it from Momentum here.

Anniki’s Bookcase: Enchanter

Enchanter-rereleaseAxis has fled to Talon Spike, the home of the Icarii, where he must learn to wield his Enchanter powers to fulfil the Prophecy. Somehow he must lead the Icarii and the Avar back into Achar, defeat his half-brother, Borneheld, and reunite the former kingdom of Tencendor under his rule.

Meanwhile, Gorgrael waits impatiently for winter, to continue his destructive drive into the heart of Achar.

Douglass skilfully moves her characters through this fantastic world where family ties can be deadly and love does not always conquer all.

As a middle book, there aren’t too many surprises in Enchanter. It wasn’t boring, but I wanted to hurry through it to get to the next book, and see how this story ended.


©2013 Anniki / Anniki’s Bookcase. To read the full review on the Anniki’s Bookcase website please click on this link.

The Axis Trilogy #2: Enchanter was published in the US and Europe as The Wayfarer Redemption #2: Enchanter.

Karen Brooks: One year on…

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since Sara died. It’s not that the reality of her death isn’t apparent; the ache of her absence is constant and painful. Rather, I think it’s because through her books, short stories and lingering cyber-presence she continues to touch, challenge and move us.

In some ways, it’s as if she’s still here.

Like many of her friends and fans, I’ve been reading her books again – it’s a way of bringing her closer, providing comfort in bleak and sad times. What re-reading her novels has also served, is to remind me of what an astonishing talent she possessed.

From her very first novel, BattleAxe (which changed the landscape of fantasy publishing in Australia) right through to her final books, The Devil’s Diadem and the posthumously published collection of short stories, The Hall of Lost Footsteps, the breadth and depth of her work, the way she used and transformed history, invented complex and rich societies; the liveliness and courage of her characters, their weaknesses and strengths, passions and foibles, are all there to enjoy whenever we want.

The problem with this, of course, is that the experience is bitter-sweet. On the one hand, you plunge into a novel (actually, you’re grabbed by the throat and dragged into the world between the pages whether you’re ready or not) and lose yourself in an astounding tale. On the other, once the final line is finished, there’s the cruel reminder that never again will there be the opportunity to dive into a new Sara Douglass invention.
Every day around the world, someone who has had the Douglass experience wakes to the knowledge that they won’t again – at least, not in the same, thrilling way that first encounters engender – and they too mourn what we’ve all lost.

For those who are Sara Douglass Worlds’ virgins, understand how much you’re envied. But how lucky are we that she’s left behind such a legacy for us to discover or revisit over and over and extract whatever pleasures, memories and wonder we can? That was Sara’s gift to all of us; one she willingly and lovingly gave.

Then, there’s also the powerful truths contained in her blogs, like the one reproduced here, The Silence of the Dying. Here, Sara discusses death, giving voice to those who cannot speak for themselves as well as bearing her heart and fears in such a raw and frank way. Reading it again isn’t easy, but it is a privilege; a difficult, demanding one, but a privilege nonetheless and I’m grateful to Harper Collins and Voyager for this.

Sara’s words, the lyrical, sensual, sorrowful and authoritative, however, are only one aspect of Sara’s life and thus death. For those who truly knew and loved her – those few whom she admitted into her extremely private world – her loss is both a yawning chasm and a constant whisper, a murmur in the heart and soul that reminds you of the joy her love bestowed and the anguish it’s no more. The song of her surcease should be sung – not as a dirge, but as a sweet refrain.

In commemorating Sara’s death, I think it’s more appropriate we remember her life. We should, on this day especially, celebrate her accomplishments. But let’s not forget the amazing, beautiful woman behind the words – her knowledge, compassion, honesty, empathy and her delight in a life cut brutally short.

We’re so fortunate Sara’s spirit lives on her words. Every time we read or recall these, it’s comforting to know that, like her characters, she is also brought to life again and again and again…

Karen Brooks


This memorial was posted on the VoyagerOnline blog, you can read the post here.

SMSA: Threshold

threshold-2008-rereleaseThreshold by Sara Douglass is a prequel to her popular Darkglass Mountain series. And unlike most prequels, in my opinion, it out rates the series as a whole.

A word of warning though: there are some disturbing scenes of infanticide and domestic violence in this book, although it could be argued that these create the necessary level of horror at the wrongness of the Magi’s work and as well as emotional poignancy.

Nevertheless, this is a strong ‘unputdownable’ book.


©2012 Melanie Ryan / SMSA. To read the full review on the SMSA website please click on this link.

Norma K Hemming Award 2012

2011-devilsdiadem-au-cover

The acceptance speech for the Norma K Hemming Award in 2012 was written by Karen Brooks, friend and literary guardian to Sara Douglass and given on her behalf by writer and dear friend Jason Nahrung.

It is difficult to accept an award on behalf of a beloved friend who has died, suffice to say, you try to imagine how they would feel and what they would say and that’s what I will try and do now.

Firstly, however, I want to thank Jason Nahrung, my dear friend and fellow writer for being so kind as to accept this award on my behalf for Sara.

Secondly, I know Sara would want me to extend warm congratulations to the joint winner, Anita Bell – it’s lovely to share this recognition with you, Anita.

As for winning the Norma K Hemming Award for Devil’s Diadem, Sara’s last novel, it’s a great tribute and Sara would have been humbled by it but also, I think, grateful that the judges and this community understood what she did with the tale and, in particular, the character of Maeb.

The citation says that Maeb, the main protagonist, was “…an ordinary woman (who) lives extraordinarily, questioning and evolving her place in history, in patriarchy, and in an unfurling horror.”

This could have been written about Sara. Those of you who knew her would agree with me that she was simultaneously an ordinary and extraordinary woman. She was a trailblazer for us speculative fiction writers, a great but quiet supporter of the national and international community of writers, readers and fans, and someone who, while writing this book, suffered the unfurling horror of cancer.

What many of you won’t know is the pain, blood, sweat, and tears that Sara poured into this novel – something her original dedication noted. I was privileged to share this dreadful yet wonderful time with Sara. She loved this book with a passion – it was her escape, her salve. Towards the end of writing and throughout the editing, when she knew unequivocally she was dying, Sara allowed her emotions, her fear, her dread, her confusion and grief to transfer into the story – into Maeb.

Yet, for all that, it’s not a bleak novel; on the contrary, it’s beautiful, otherworldly and haunting – like Sara really. Read Devil’s Diadem, and you will find Sara Warneke and Sara Douglass on every page, in every line and every word.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the honour you have bestowed upon her, thank you for remembering her. As she walks the falloway paths, I hope we’ll all continue to do so.

Karen Brooks

The Norma K. Hemming Award marks excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability. More information can be found by following this link.