Fi Phillips is a fantasy author living in North Wales with her family and a pooch called Bailey. Writing about magical possibilities is her passion.
Her debut novel, Haven Wakes, was released in 2019 by Burning Chair Publishing and the second instalment in The Haven Chronicles is due to be released later this year.
When she isn’t ‘authoring’, Fi works as a freelance copywriter. Fi tells me how inspiring she fins the potential in that space where imagination meets science.
Fi Phillips: Fantasy with a touch of Science
I’m a fantasy author. I love all things magical – from people with spell-casting powers, to mythical creatures, to artefacts that can do the most marvellous things. If there’s magic involved, let me at it.
But here’s the thing. I also love reading about scientific developments. I’ll give you an example – robots. There’s a whole world of robots out there, right now. Some are the kind of robots I remember from childhood viewing, like Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet, clumsy and cumbersome and unlikely to outrun or even outwalk you in a chase. Others are altogether more advanced and scarily relevant to the world we live in. You just have to look at the progress that Boston Dynamics has made to realise that. And then, there are the robots which are currently floating around and being useful, like the Astrobees (no, that isn’t a kids TV programme – they really exist) on the International Space Station.
My favourite fantasy novels and films are those that have a mixture of fantasy and science, stories like Sheri S Tepper’s The True Game series or the Nicholas Cage film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. That’s why my debut novel, Haven Wakes, includes all of that – magic and robots and plenty of future-tech that is being developed as we speak (read?).
Inspiration for me is the place where imagination and science meet.
“Mind yourself.” Steve pulled Hartley aside as a small robot struggled down the centre of the pavement, pulled equally ahead and back by the four dogs it held the leads to.
“Is that normal?” said Hartley.
“Of course. That’s the kind of job robots do. Walk the dog. Serve in a shop. Clean up.”
“So what do people do?”
“Everything else, I suppose,” said Steve. “Or nothing.”
“Sounds peculiar to me,” said Hartley, still watching the robot as it untangled one of its limbs from the dogs’ leads. “Where’s the fun in having a dog and not walking it?”
The retail and eateries district that the department store sat in was a grid of mismatched shop fronts. The stores were split into three main types.
There were the older stores, like Sebastian Green and Sons with their faux-old pillars and marble-floored entrances, that attempted to mimic old world prestige. They sold the type of item that needed to be seen before purchase. It was also the kind of item that only the richest could afford, from rhodium jewellery to the latest solar sports car and the rarest of plants.
Dotted in between the shop fronts were the pick-up pods that varied in size depending on exactly what you were collecting. The largest pick-up pod that Steve had ever seen was one that supplied cars. Scan your identity from your wrap-phone, the door opens, and away you go.
“Surely that isn’t edible?” Hartley pressed his face against the window of an eatery, the third type of store in the district.
A conveyor belt of food-filled glass plates travelled around the eatery counter. At one end of the belt, waiter robots recovered the plates to serve to the waiting customers. At the other, the nozzles of the 3D food printer moved speedily around each plate, forming the pre-ordered food.
“That’s the advantage of synthetic food,” said Steve. “You can form it into any shape you want, and it’s fast.”
“Ludicrous,” said Hartley, shaking his head as he stepped back from the window. “There’s not enough on one of those plates to touch the sides.”
Oh, I love that! Especially the part about why you would have dogs but let the robot walk them! And 3D printed food. Wow. More please.
My author friend Judith Michael is a New Zealand-born writer now living in Melbourne.
Judith is fascinated with other dimensions, time travel and unexpected, remarkable talents. She writes as J Victoria Michael.
Judith has a passion for epic stories that stir the imagination, so we have a lot in common! Judith’s imagination takes her into shadow worlds where strange things happen, and words make music. She’s very musical and loves dance as well. The GriffinSong Trilogy is her debut as a novel writer. Judith’s short stories have been awarded and published in hard copy and e-zines.
You can read my review of the first novel in the series, Songbird, here. I loved it!
I asked Judith to tell me about what inspires her. She responded by explaining all about the main protagonist of the GriffinBird world, Irenya O’Neil. Here’s what Judith told me.
Who is she, and how did a thirty-one year old Melbourne mother, teacher and musician finish up in a story with fantasy elements?
Irenya and I agreed to meet up early in the writing of GriffinSong Trilogy. She arrived, carrying her own chair, which was one of those wickerwork things with thin cushions. It didn’t take much to get her talking. Here’s some of what she told me…
“David and I were planning to marry soon, but I’ve had problems. The panic attacks were getting worse. I was shit-scared of dying – still am – and the anti-depressants were doing piss-all to help me. Supermarkets are the worst. It’s that Musak. Does my head in. Same as my grandmother. What if our little boy has inherited this too? It worries me sick. Then, just before Christmas, and with no warning,I finish up in this place called Dar Orien. Trying to find my way home is exhausting. If I was one of those show-off, kick-ass teenagers, I might find life in another world interesting. But I have a 15-month-old son, for Pete’s sake, and I miss him so much. All I want is to go back home.Now you’re telling me there are two more volumes to my journey here…”
Irenya doesn’t realise it but she is on a liminal threshold. As the year 2020 has shown us, the shift from one reality to another can be long-term and devastating. You may no longer be sure of where you are, or even who you are, as Irenya discovers in Songbird the first volume of my trilogy.
Liminal exactly describes Irenya’s journey. Arriving in the alternate world of Dar Orien means she has crossed a physical threshold, but has yet to complete the transition across mental, spiritual and sensory boundaries. She is standing on the threshold between two worlds, on the verge of something new, and praying for the chance to return home, unaware that what she is waiting for is transformation. For her, it is a state of being that is painful, distressing and exhausting. It’s a state that threatens to tear a vulnerable woman to pieces.
Liminal also describes the realm of Dar Orien and its inhabitants. They too, are on a threshold, waiting for transformation, yet hamstrung by their inability to see beyond the tenets they have accepted for millennia.
The liminal state does not allow a return to where you were.
That particular place and moment is gone, as Irenya comes to realise. There is only one direction she can go, and that’s forward. As for her being in a story with fantasy elements, I am an author who loves stretching my imagination. Apart from that, it was luck of the draw.
In my latest release GriffinSinger (GriffinBird #2), Irenya finds a new state of grace, which, in the year 2021, is something we’re all hoping to find.
Fleetwalker (GriffinBird #3) is due for release this year.
Thanks Judith, that’s so interesting. And now for a gift extract!
From Songbird (GriffinSong Trilogy #1)
Elaaron clasped his hands together, his expression changing from courteous to grim. His cool gaze was unsettling. ‘Tell me about Tire. When were you last there?’
It was several seconds before Irenya could reply. ‘Wh… Where’s that? In this valley?’
‘Tire is a town more than one hundred leagues from here.’
She tried to work out the difference between leagues and kilometres. ‘I’ve been here all the time. The physicians will confirm that.’ She waved a hand at the snow-capped mountains outside the windows. ‘Why do you think I’ve been anywhere else?’
‘I have come from Tire. You were seen there four summers ago.’
She wanted to laugh, but his manner did not invite that response. ‘And…?’ she prompted.
‘I spoke with several of the townspeople who remember a woman who fits your description. Your face. Your voice. Your name. They were describing you.’
‘I… I’m sorry. I just have to laugh because that’s impossible. A long way from here and four years – I mean four summers ago? I haven’t been here anywhere near that long. It can’t have been me. It…isn’t…it just can’t…’ She subsided. Her face was beginning to overheat. In the prickly silence she felt a bead of perspiration run down the nape of her neck.
He unclasped his fingers and placed his hands palm down on the table, precisely shoulder-width apart. ‘Do you deny that you and your brother, Mikey, were in Tire four summers ago?’
‘What! My brother died when we were children. And my son, Mikey, is still an infant. Yes, I do deny it, because it’s impossible.’
To distance herself from his outrageous claims, she pushed her chair back from the table, folded her arms tightly across her chest and squeezed her eyes closed. She heard the chime of glass and the gurgle of poured liquid. A cup of water appeared before her. He clasped his hands again.
‘So.’ She met his gaze. ‘According to the good people of Tire, I was there four years ago – summers, years or whatever – with a child I would not conceive for some time.’ She raised the cup and drained it. It was his word against hers, and in this place, he was the authority.
‘Did you bring me here?’ The question had hung in her mind for days.
‘No.’ He shook his head once, the movement glancing light off the single gold earring he wore. ‘Meia willing, I hope I am never called upon to keep a mother from her child. Why did you choose to come here?’
‘You think I just came to Dar Orien? As if this is a holiday!’
He had shaken her with the Tire story. His constant scrutiny and his claims were exhausting. She looked at him, wanting him to give her the faintest ray of hope, anything that might tell her how she could go home.
He made a study of her face before replying. ‘You came here for a purpose,’ he said. ‘Though being here appears to constantly surprise you.’
Irenya was silent. The only surprise she wanted was to find herself back in Melbourne, one second after she’d left. How that might work, and what their problems might be here, was not her concern; she wanted to go home to David and Mikey.
‘Now, he said. ‘The seer, Fis… If the accounts I have are correct, she may still be living in northern Ishter, possibly over the border into Midrash. Given the slowness of our communications I can give you no assurances. I plan to journey north with a small company in spring. You should travel with us.’
‘Spring!’ She reeled in shock. ‘I don’t even want to be here then, let alone searching for a seer who may or may not be able to help me. Can’t we go now?’
‘We do not have a choice in this. The mountain pass is already dangerous, even for an experienced rider. We cannot leave until the spring thaw has melted most of the snow. I will not risk lives. Talk to Leachim. Ask him to tell you everything he knows about the Gifteds, and the fleetwalkers. After all, he was one.’
This was not the first time she’d heard words that filled her with dread, words that opened chasms beneath her feet. Living in this world was like walking on ice with no idea how thin it might be. Each step she took could land her in danger. She had already experienced that.
As if he had read her thoughts, he said, ‘If the MageGate had survived the invasion it would not have been necessary to test you with primitive fire. Though I apologise for the ill treatment, I would not wish to mislead you. Had I judged you harmful to this realm, I would have let the flames take you.’
Her skin prickled hot then cold and her throat tightened.
‘Lady,’ he continued. ‘I will overlook your tendency to appear disrespectful, on the grounds that you are unfamiliar with our customs. Be mindful, and do not give others cause to complain. We are living in hard and testing times.
‘With regard to the mirror, it has been fixed to that wall for a very long time. It is no more than an ornate, oversized looking-glass. I believe it is a portal that you alone may open. If someone did not send you through the mirror, then you must surely have journeyed here yourself. That leaves two questions. Why did you come here? And why do you deny yourself a passage home? Open your mind to what makes Dar Orien different from your world.’ He sat back in his chair and she sensed a dismissal.
She rose to leave, thanked him for his time and his advice. The squire reappeared and Irenya stepped into the passage, acutely conscious of the intense blue stare at her back. He can’t help me, yet my life is in his hands…
Thank you so much for sharing! Here are some links to Judith’s books.
Patricia Leslie blends history, magic, and fantasy in novels that explore hidden and untold stories. Today she gives us some insight into her sources of inspiration.
THEN enjoy an extract from Patricia’s Novel Keeper of the Way, Book #1 of the Crossing the Line series.
Tell us what you find inspiring!
Patricia:Art and poetry are the touchstones of my general inspiration especially the creators of those artworks and poems that resonate deep within. They inspire me to learn and understand more about the wellspring of creativity in a person’s soul.
The outpourings from these springs often seem at odds with the nature or the behaviour of the people that contain them. For instance, Vincent Van Gogh, a man seen as misunderstood, is often quoted as a source of personal wisdom. He was a deeply troubled man with mental and physical health issues that coloured his interaction with the world, and the people, around him.
How do we reconcile Van Gogh’s work with his illnesses and his consequent behaviour? He was not a particularly nice person to be around and his health probably exacerbated that. But would we now have the art he gave us, if not for the troubles that plagued him?
The interplay between the within and without of personality is a bottomless pool of eddies and currents that play beneath the surface. Whether the surface is pleasant or unpleasant, what lurks beneath is the inspiration of many a story.
I use this sort of inspiration for the character of Clement Benedict in my series Crossing the Line and have been delving into the paradox of evil and good, and how we recognise and respond to ever-changing shifts in the people that influence our journey through life.
Interpretation of history is also a constant source of inspiration and one I use as the base theme in Crossing the Line in regard to those early cultures and practices often labelled as witchcraft by opposing forces through ignorance or deliberate manipulation and oppression. It seems that any practice (in any culture) not within the realm of their understanding and belief is labelled observed by outsiders as “witchcraft”. Is there actually any such thing as “witches” – especially those women vilified and murdered as such?
The magic, spells and symbols throughout the Crossing the Line series is influenced by early Scottish and Irish traditions. While set in Australia, it’s during a time when emigration from Scotland and Ireland was high and the ties to home countries and family were strong. I’ve explored the strength of those ties and the tradition of wise women and healers that came out of centuries old belief systems, and looked at them through a more female-centric lens.
Keeper of the Way
I’ve chosen this extract as an early indication of the quixotic nature of Clement Benedict’s. Externally, he appears urbane and something of a dandy (when not in disguise) while internally he is a ball of conflicting thoughts and feelings. His relationship with his father is at the centre of his changing emotions and always carefully hidden behind the mask he presents to the world.
Lord Algernon Benedict’s word was both law and compulsion, the binding that kept his son close and, for the most part, biddable. Clement wasn’t sure whether he hated the old man or loved him. He knew though that he, and only he, had the man’s trust and that behind the stiff collars and trimmed moustache, the permanently frowned forehead and florid cheeks, his father was proud of him.
And so, Clement perched in a low branch of a tree. With his coarse woollen trousers and heavy cotton shirt and vest, worn boots and ex-navy cap, he had the appearance of one of the street cleaners, and should any curious soul wonder at his lurking presence in the garden, they would assume he was shirking his duties. A crew of cleaners were hard at work not far off, scrubbing shit and mud and dust from the wooden road. What was one more, albeit not quite as hardworking as the others?
Music stuttered out from the exhibition building behind him. He thought he might attend the evening concert if all went well. He’d miss the first half, of course, but the program was to be repeated and he was sure to fit it in before more nocturnal chores later in the week. The colonial band of musicians warming up for the night’s festivities struck a nice balance between the higher style he was used to and the working class jigs he’d taken a liking to on board the ship out here. A carriage rolled past, a couple of soused men fell out of the hotel across the road, and a straggle of people walked down the path. He ignored the distraction of the music and concentrated on the hotel and the people. He’d sipped a rather fine whisky in the main bar earlier in the evening; his father’s interest in the hotel proprietor had necessitated a reconnoitre of the premises. The woman in charge watched over her customers something like a mother hen, or hawk, he hadn’t decided which. She didn’t appear to be much of an adversary, but the effect she had on the crowd of drinkers couldn’t be mistaken. Raised voices softened when her gaze raked that section of the room; rough bantering edged toward gentlemanly conversation as she walked by. No, she didn’t look much of an adversary at all. They were the most dangerous kind.
Clement’s task tonight, simply to watch and remember, was already growing tedious, but it was one he was particularly good at. He had never forgotten a face, a voice, or a name.
He pulled his pipe and tobacco from his vest pocket, tucked the bit on the end of the aged wooden shank between his lips, and held it in place with his teeth so he had two hands free to pull out a small wad of leaf from the pouch and drop it in to the bowl. He pulled the strings of the pouch tight to close it and replaced it in his pocket. Hands free again he took the pipe, tapped down the tobacco with the tip of his finger, retrieved a packet of safety matches from another pocket, and prepared to light up. The process helped his concentration, and as the match flamed he paused before waving it gently in a circular motion over the tobacco. He breathed in the acrid smoke and let his focus go to the people walking down the incline toward him. They would pass by within feet of his position in the tree, but they were too full of themselves and the night ahead to notice him. Their chatter drowned out the soft draw and gurgle of the pipe as he coaxed it into warmth. He judged time by the life of the pipe. Each life took approximately twenty minutes. He allowed a similar length of time between lightings. By the end of the night, his mouth would be dry and bitter, and his lungs would ache. The next morning his chest would be thick with the need to cough out the poisoned air of the night before. But right here, at the start of the first pipe, he relaxed and enjoyed the taste and smell of the tobacco.
The chattering group passed by. Dusk was fast becoming true night. Lights in the hotel blazed like beacons as men going in to drink and out to wobble home ebbed and flowed like the tide. Clement narrowed his eyes and avoided the bright light to direct his gaze on the dull streetlights dotting the footpath. A lanky teen and young woman had rounded the corner on the opposite side of the street. They were ordinary in the extreme, nearly as chatty as everyone else out and about, until they drew level to the tree where Clement hid, and then silence fell over them. They darted fearful glances into the gardens; the woman appeared to look straight at him, and quickened their step as if they sensed danger.
The woman couldn’t have been much older than the teen and it was clear that she must be his sister, though her hair was a dark frame around her pale face while the boy’s hair was a sandy untidy mess beneath his cloth cap. The light was too dim to see the colour of their eyes, but the intensity with which they searched the trees was unmistakable. Clement held his breath and cupped one hand over the bowl of his pipe to hide the tell-tale glow of the burning tobacco. The smell would hardly be discernible over the stinging aroma that trailed behind the street cleaners. The boy put an arm around his sister and they hurried past the hotel, ignoring the drinkers and the noise, and sending furtive looks in his direction until they reached the corner of a dark lane. They turned in and disappeared between the buildings.
The buzz of excitement washed over Clement as he drew a deep breath and felt the warmth of the burning tobacco on his face. He’d seen who he needed to see.
Wow! Now that’s wonderful. Need to read the rest now?
This is astonishing, magical, and totally unexpected.
A book to keep and to savour forever. Congratulations to all for the brilliant combination of story and illustrations.
The story follows an orphaned, ill girl who is sent to a country hospital (a former manor house) during WWII to be treated for tuberculosis, but although that is the story line, that is not really what this book is about.
Life, death, imagination, magic, the veil between the worlds, the realms of possibility, the lasting impressions of love. If this book was a poem, I would call it a meditation, reflective but not mournful, though it deals with the hard, inescapable facts of our mortality.
Viewed through the eyes of children, this novel is an absolute treat.
Memorable and somehow inevitable: reading about the secret winged horses of Briar Hill immediately makes me believe in them – as if I had always known that they existed.
Read it; I hope you will be just as pleased to add these divine creatures to your inner landscape.