8 May 2018

Fiction and FantasyTuesday Talk with Helen Hollick

Stories, books, novels, fiction - the gateway to other worlds, times and places...


Back in 2006 when I made the decision to 'go indie' after my (ex) agent dropped me, one of the decisions I had to make was "do I really want this book to be part fantasy?"

The novel in question was Sea Witch. I had put my heart and soul into writing it, but my agent hated it (as it turned out, what did she know... but that tale is for my next article scheduled for the 22nd May.) I had set out to write Sea Witch as a nautical adventure with a touch of fantasy because the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was:

a) very very popular
b) great fun
c) entertaining

all of which were because of:

a) Johnny Depp
b) pirates are popular
c) fantasy is entertaining.

What stories do you remember from childhood? Fairy tales - bet' ya! Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast... Of course a princess could prick her finger and sleep for one-hundred years or wear glass slippers and ride around in a coach that had been a pumpkin... How many of us believed that our Teddy was real? We believed in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. We believed the stories because they were magical and magic is an important part of being young, of growing up and well, living life. And some magic is real: blossom appearing on the trees in spring is magical, moonlight glistening on snow is magical, the sun sparkling on a blue ocean is magical... the birth of a baby or young animal is magical... 


Who was not enthralled by the Greek Myths? By giant gods, strange monsters or by Pegasus and Unicorns? By mermaids, fairies, angels...


As we grew up so the fantasy expanded: Lord of the Rings, Anne MacAffrey's Dragons of Pern,  or the intrigue of Game of Thrones...

Fantasy is important in the realms of fiction because it is safe adventuring. Danger is met head-on, but it is in a book. It is not real - we become immersed in whatever world we have entered via those bound pages or the Kindle screen. The imagination is a powerful tool, fantasy feeds that imagination, without it the world of story fails and stories would fade away into nothingness. With it, be it tales told round a fire back in the days of the Stone Age, or the modern medium of cinema and TV, tales well-told become real. The characters become real, the adventure becomes real.


Cinema has, perhaps, overtaken novels where fantasy or science fiction is concerned. It is hard to believe that the original release of Star Wars was all those many years ago. We sat there in the cinema, the lights went down - we were wondering what this Star Wars thing was all about - the music started with that triumphal blare, the words 'In a galaxy far far away...' scrolled before us and suddenly... suddenly... that movie theatre shook! Yes my seat actually shook as something very, very, large rumbled over our heads and appeared on screen. 

That Imperial Cruiser had never, ever, been seen before and it really felt that it had, indeed, trundled in over our heads. That is the magic of fantasy. The fuelling of the imagination, the wonder of bringing what isn't real into what appears to be complete reality.

Without fantasy, without stories, without books, novels and wonderful fiction what a dreadful, dull world it would be.

What are your thoughts on fantasy? Do you love the magic and mystery of a fantasy adventure? Or do you think fantasy should stay with children's fairy stories? 

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10 comments:

  1. I do enjoy Fantasy fiction very much - most especially David Gemmell and Joe Abercrombie (I've got rather lost in GoT - but the concept and writing is Epic. But can you mix fantasy fiction and Historical fiction? I thought my answer to my own question was going to be 'No!', but I thought again. In your Sea Witch voyages, people then believed in witches and so the abilities of Tiola are valid - as are the 'spirits ' of the elements. Matthew Harffy in Kin of Cain brilliantly adapts the tale of Beowolf into a world that believed in 'monsters'. Having said that, Gemmell (for my liking) took it a little too far in his books about the Spartan general Parmenion, when he introduced Aristotle as a sort of Dr Who character. Nevertheless, I feel a little magic is acceptable in a Historical novel, just as history is accepted in a fantasy tale.
    But no: fantasy should not be restricted to 'fairy stories' aimed at children, but should be expanded to epics such as LotR, Narnia and GoT.

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    1. GoT is hard to follow as there are so many characters - most of whom get bumped off just when you don't expect it - but that's one reason why I like it, because the unexpected happens. Fantasy can work very well within a historical novel context... I'd nominate Anna Belfrage as a good example with her Graham Saga, which is a timeslip series. The trick is to write the 'real' bits as accurately as possible - get the research wrong and the whole thing goes to pot.

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  2. My very first exposure to the true fantasy novel was in 5th grade when my teacher read us The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Little did I know at the time, it would be the beginning of a life-long love affair with the fantasy genre! Though, I must admit, as I get older, I find myself gravitating from high fantasy to more historical fiction/fantasy novels. I still hold Bring it Close as one of my top five novels of all time. How could I not? Pirates, a witch and Blackbeard! Three of my favorite things. The other I have read more than once is Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy - Witches, Vampires, Daemons and time travel to Elizabethan England. This particular series of novels is written in such an intelligent manner aimed at adults, that from the very first word, you are able to easily suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in an amazingly crafted story. To me, that is the key to any story in the fantasy genre - make me believe.

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    1. Thank you Kelly (BiC is my favourite too - with On the Account a close second) Lion Witch & Wardrobe was 100% believable, as was The Silver Chair, Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader but oddly enough I didn't get on very well with the others - didn't like The Magician's Nephew or Last Battle at all.

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  3. Of course fantasy is for adults! I'm actually wary of any adult I meet who cannot suspend their disbelief enough to enjoy some fantasy or sci-fi every once in a while. At the very least it is, I think, the best form of escapism; who wants to take a break from life to read a book about someone else's real life problems? But at its best I think that fantasy, sci-fi, and all their subgenres are able to act as cultural and social translators in a way that makes difficult and complex issues easier to understand. Liking them, and believing them, are two different things and I don't trust any adult who claims that enjoying fantasy is only for children.

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  4. Carolyn Hughes has asked me to post on her behalf (Blogger being its usual fickle self) "Very interesting article, Helen. Thank you. I have to confess (red face) that I’ve not yet read any of your pirate novels, but Captain Jesamiah is on my TBR list! I’m looking forward to meeting him, however, I do have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards fantasy in general. But Richard is of course quite right when he says that “fantasy” and magic were part of everyday belief in past times. In my own case, writing about the 14th century, I quite consciously choose to avoid, for the most part, much in the way of magic and superstition, and certainly the supernatural and fantastical, on the grounds that I want my books to appear entirely “naturalistic”. Yet you might justifiably say that including superstition and magic at least WOULD BE naturalistic, because of the nature of the mediaeval mindset, and I do try not to eschew those altogether. Your readers might be interested in a blog post I wrote a few months ago about the topic of fantasy and its relation to the mediaeval world. In the meantime, I really think I must make the acquaintance of Captain Jesamiah, and enjoy his touch of fantasy! Roll on summer hols!

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  5. Blogger seems to be having a War of the Blogs at the moment - refusing to post comments by anyone who uses Wordpress (*heavy sigh* - I get the same when I try to comment on a Wordpress post...)

    ALISON MORTON author of the Roma Nova series has asked me to post on her behalf:
    “Brava, Helen. We all have our ‘second life’ where we are princesses or warlords, unicorns, mages or adventurers, or perhaps we travel in history or save the universe. But we have that unique privilege as authors of opening our imagination to others, yet keeping it realistic -something you do very well indeed.”

    Honest pirate I didn't add the last bit myself! Thank you Alison

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  6. Fairy stories and fantasy novels were an intrinsic part of my childhood. Yes, Lord of the Rings, Anne MacAffrey's Dragons of Pern unleashed a whole new world or rather multitudes of them. I may be a mystery writer, but I read as much fantasy today as I did in my teens. I'm retired and I'm still finding great wealth in fantasy.

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    1. Someone once told me that it was wrong to talk of Father Christmas to young cildren becaue it was telling lies - totally, in my opinion, missing the entire point about the use of wonder and imagination!

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Thank you for leaving a comment - it should appear soon, but Blogger sometimes chucks its teddies out of the cot and has a tantrum. My apologies if you leave a comment and I do not respond - blame it on Blogger Bloopers. If you are having problems, contact me on author AT helenhollick DOT net and I will post it for you. Sometimes a post will appear as anonymous instead of your name or avatar - I draw attention to this being another Blogger Blooper and NOT of MY doing... That said ...SPAMMERS or distasteful rudeness will be stamped on, squashed, composted and very possibly cursed - if you spam my blog, next time something nasty happens to you just remember that I DID warn you...

Helen