On Maps and Authorial Authority in Fantasy (guest post)

Should fantasy novels have a map?

No, for three reasons. First, almost every fantasy author lacks the necessary geographic skills. Not only do you need to understand the interaction of tectonics and geology with climate, vegetation and the distribution of fauna, you also need to grasp historical and contemporary migration, settlement, trade and cultural patterns. You even have to know something about toponymy and the way this varies within and between cultures. Unless you’re an expert (and even with a Ph.D. in geography, specialising in cartography. and a lifetime of academic teaching and research behind me, I often feel out of my depth) you’re going to look silly in the eyes of an expert, as evidenced by these recent discussions.

Second, your story should be self-contained. If it needs to refer to a map, surely that’s evidence of poor writing. And if it doesn’t refer to it, what use is the map? In fact, shouldn’t we be moving away from those tired old epic fantasies where you need a map to work out where the hell you are?

Third, and most important, due to western hegemony, maps have become instruments of colonial and capitalist oppression. While their makers have convinced us they’re neutral, objective and value-free scientific documents, maps have been used to dominate, divide and deceive. Maps are gendered, constructed using masculinist language. They are coded in the language of the military, as all ‘base’ mapping is funded initially for military use. Why else is the British mapping agency called the ‘Ordnance Survey’, and their chief cartographer the ‘Surveyor-General’? Their subject matter is what makes money or controls people, and they have been imposed by the West on other cultures as a grid to straighten them out – in many cases literally, as with the north/south and east/west road grids slapped on to indigenous lands around the world, obliterating indigenous places and names. Go read up on the Radcliffe Line and come back to this discussion after you’ve dried your eyes.

So, as I was saying, every author needs to draw a map. Was I saying that? I was, really. Even if your map doesn’t end up in the book, if you’re creating a secondary world or a modified earth, you need to keep your story spatially straight. Even though you’re unlikely to ever become an expert, if you’re creating a secondary world you should understand enough geography to convince a reader they can trust you. Forget about the experts: they’ll always find a flaw in your work because they refuse to suspend their disbelief. You’re aiming at enough verisimilitude to get readers to trust you.

And here’s where a good map can work wonders. There’s a gazillion books out there. Who’s a reader to trust? You can signal to your reader by means of a well-conceived, thoughtful and comprehensive map that you’re one they can commit their time to; or you can put in a cursory map and convince them to go somewhere else. If your map’s not above average, please don’t include it. Or consider getting a professional to assist you.

Frontispiece map from the author’s current work in progress.
This is a thematic map of a secondary world showing earthquake frequency. It forgoes all the pointy-witches-hats and faux-medieval dressing, serving as an artifact for the story, having been drawn by one of the characters.

Sounds like a lot of work? If you’re writing in a secondary world you’re already doing the work required, or you should be. You’ve had to think about all the pesky geography I listed above. You’re on top of the all-important minutiae lending your story moment by moment believability. You’re striving for consistency and verisimilitude. A map is a visible expression of this.

But shouldn’t your story be self-contained? Sure it should. So let’s not put a cover on a book either, or a blurb on the back. These are devices for short-cutting the reading process, after all; to give the reader some idea of what’s coming, of the flavour of the experience in store for them. As is a map. In fact, your map plays an important role in keeping your story self-contained. Imagine a Lonely Planet guide without maps. You want to explore a new country, but you have to go somewhere else to get that necessary spatial overview. Defeats the purpose of the book, right? In the same way, if you don’t give readers the opportunity to pop their heads above the canopy of your story and get a look at the terrain – to see how far they’ve come in both a literal and metaphorical sense – the may well get lost in the forest of your words.

But my fantasy story doesn’t involve travelling! It takes place entirely inside a person’s clutch-purse! Do I need a map? Well, does the purse have geography? Do you have competing social organisations? Are there territories? Do they have conflict? Are the boundaries and liminal zones important? Would it benefit the reader to see these? Would it help establish the ‘otherness’ of your story in their minds? I bet it would.

And what of the notion that maps are devices to dominate, divide and deceive? Ah, here we have a chance to do what we authors do best: to subvert the hegemonic discourse. By all means, use the language of oppression, but remake it. Co-opt it! You don’t have to draw a pointy-witch’s-hat faux-medieval map. You can draw an oblique perspective. You can fill your map with misdirection. You can scrawl annotations over it and make it an actual artifact of your story. You can make geological maps, three-dimensional cutaways, cartoons, whatever suits your story. In fact, I await the day when authors realise they can be as creative – and subversive – with their maps as they are with their text.

I wish I’d thought this through when I began writing my fantasy trilogies in the 1980s. But now I have, and I’m hard at work on something I hope will subvert fantasy cartographic tropes. If enough of us do this, remaking the language of maps, perhaps maps will become relevant again. They still have plenty to offer us.

Dr. Russell Kirkpatrick is a New Zealander currently living in Canberra. His two fantasy trilogies are published by HarperCollins and Orbit (UK and US). Until 2014 he lectured in Geography at the University of Waikato, specialising in cartography. His atlases have won prestigious awards, including from the British Cartographic Society.

NAFF Voting by Paypal

If you would like to vote for NAFF (see post here for details), please select your preferred candidate from the dropdown.


Choose your preferred candidate!
Jason Fischer $5.00 AUD
Talitha Kalago $5.00 AUD
Fe Waters $5.00 AUD
Jay Watson $5.00 AUD

FableCroft Eligibility Post

Now that awards season is starting again, I thought I’d best put up our eligible 2016-published work for easy reference, should anyone like to nominate things 🙂

The Ditmar Awards are open for nominations right now – all fans may nominate! There is a pretty good list of eligible work here and the nomination form is here.


In Your Face edited by Tehani Wessely

Related Work / William Atheling Jr

The Rebirth of Rapunzel: a mythic biography of the maiden in the tower by Kate Forsyth

Tehani Croft & Marisol Dunham, for “Revisiting Pern: the great McCaffrey reread” review series.

Fan Publication (Related Work)

2016 Australian SF Snapshot project


Kathleen Jennnings for the cover art of The Rebirth of Rapunzel

Tania Walker for the cover art of Bounty: a Mocklore collection

Novella / Novelette

  • “Delta Void’s Day Off”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Bounty: A Mocklore Collection, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “Queen of Courtesans”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Bounty: A Mocklore Collection, FableCroft Publishing.

Short Stories

  • “A House in the Blue”, Jason Nahrung, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “A pain that must be suffered”, Jo Anderton, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “Accidents Happen”, Kirstyn McDermott, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “All Roll Over”, Kaaron Warren, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • And Now Thou Art Cursed From the Eath”, David McDonald, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “Bodies of Evidence”, Alan Baxter, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “Cherries in Winter, Rivers in Spring”, Stephanie Lai, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • Fert”, Marlee Jane Ward, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “Letters to Cleopatra”, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “Lust, Entrapment, and the Matter Transmitter: a Case Study”, Sean Williams, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “No Fat Chicks”, Cat Sparks, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “No one Here is Going to Save You”, Shauna O’Meara, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “The Autumn Dog Cannot Live to Spring”, Claire McKenna, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “The Lost Boys”, Craig Cormick, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “Tolerance”, Ian McHugh, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “Waters of Kati Thanda”, Dirk Flinthart, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest”, Thoraiya Dyer, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.
  • “Zero Sum Game”, Darren Goosens, in In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing.

Remember, the more people who nominate amazing Australian work for the awards, the better the awards process works! Go! Read (the list is vast)! Nominate!

bounty_cover In Your Face cover Rapunzel Cover

A FableCroft Announcement

The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things…

Next Sunday, at Conflux, we will be launching Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Mocklore collection, Bounty. This launch will take place 5.30pm at the Novotel Canberra on Northbourne Ave. And it will be the final book we produce for the foreseeable future.

FableCroft will be in indefinite hiatus following Conflux. Due to my family circumstances, and with an interstate move (and the new job that will hopefully come with that) at the end of the year, I no longer have the time or financial resources to devote to the press. I have been thinking about this for several months, and come to this decision (as with many others this year) with much regret and sadness.

I am extraordinarily grateful to my wonderful authors, artists, designers and proofreaders for their willingness to work with me over the past six years, and feel very privileged to have been able to publish your wonderful work. And thank YOU to every person who has supported FableCroft during this time, as a reader, reviewer, retweeter etc – you’re all awesome!

I will not say this is a final farewell, because perhaps, hopefully, I will one day be in a position to revitalise the press once more. I’d certainly like to, as I love this gig enormously. But life is life, and sometimes you have to put stuff aside – for a little while or a long one – and focus on other things.

At this stage, FableCroft anthologies will still be available in print and ebook from your preferred e-tailer (and on this site while print stocks last), but I am negotiating with writers regarding single author collections and novels and some of these will revert to their author.

Again, my thanks. I look forward to seeing the many creators we have published since 2010 flourish!fare-thee-well

Exciting news! Congrats to Stephanie Burgis!

ITH CoverWe are super excited today to see that Stephanie Burgis’s wonderful novelette “The Art of Deception” from Insert Title Here has been shortlisted in amazing company for the WSFA Small Press Award! Huge congratulations, Steph! Full press release below.

The WSFA Small Press Award Committee Announces Finalists for 2016 Award  for stories published in 2015.
The Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA) is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2016 WSFA Small Press Award for Short Fiction:
“The Art of Deception,” by Stephanie Burgis in Insert Title Here, ed. by Tehani Wessely, published by Fablecroft Publishing, (April 2015);
“Burn Her,” by Tanith Lee in Dancing Through The Fire, ed. by Ian Randal Strock, published by Fantastic Books (September 2015);
“Cat Pictures Please,” by Naomi Kritzer, published in Clarkesworld Magazine, ed. by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace, (January 2015);
“The Empress in Her Glory,” by Robert Reed, published in Clarkesworld Magazine, ed. by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace, (April 2015);
“The Haunting of Apollo A7LB,” by Hannu Rajaniemi in Hannu Rajaniemi: Collected Fiction published by Tachyon Publications, (May 2015);
“Headspace,” by Beth Cato in Cats In Space, ed. by Lawrence M. Schoen, published by Paper Golem LLC, (December 2015);
“Leashing the Muse,” by Larry Hodges, published in Space and Time Magazine, ed. by Hildy Silverman, (May 2015);
“Leftovers,” by Leona Wisoker in Cats In Space, ed. by Lawrence M. Schoen, published by Paper Golem LLC, (December 2015);
“Today I Am Paul,” by Martin L. Shoemaker, published in Clarkesworld Magazine, ed. by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace, (August 2015).
The award honors the efforts of small press publishers in providing a critical venue for short fiction in the area of speculative fiction.  The award showcases the best original short fiction published by small  presses in the previous year (2015). An unusual feature of the selection  process is that all voting is done with the identity of the author (and publisher) hidden so that the final choice is based solely on the quality of the story.
The winner is chosen by the members of the Washington Science Fiction Association (www.wsfa.org) and will be presented at their annual convention, Capclave (www.capclave.org), held this year on October 7-9, 2016 in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The South Australian Writers Centre Spec Fic and Fantasy Festival

Tehani is very chuffed to have been invited as a guest to the SA Writers Centre Spec Fic and Fantasy Festival taking place on Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 May, 2016. The guest line up is amazing, with Gillian Rubenstein (Lian Hearn), Sean Williams, DM Cornish, Lisa Hannett, Jason Fischer, Ben Chandler, Tony Shillitoe and Jo Spurrier all taking part. It’s going to be a fabulous weekend – hope to see some of you there!

SA Writers

Tehani’s panels next weekend at the Festival:

Panel three: WRITING SHORTS VS WRITING WORLDS (Tehani Wessely, Ben Chandler and Jason Fischer)

Panel five: BUILDING AUSTRALIAN WORLDS (Tehani Wessely, Sean Williams and Gillian Rubinstein)

Panel six: PATHWAYS TO PUBLICATION (Tehani Wessely and Ben Chandler)

(SUNDAY 2-5pm) Workshop Four: GET PITCH READY
Understanding the inner workings of small presses and publications, how they run and what they are looking for can give you “the edge” when it comes to submitting your work for publication. In this workshop, publisher and experienced writing awards judge, Tehani Wessely will share with you ways to prepare your work for submission and how you can vastly improve your chances of success.

The 2016 Peter McNamara Achievement Award: Rowena Cory Daniells

Awarded to: Rowena Cory Daniells, March 2016 at the Brisbane Natcon Contact

Judge Tehani Wessely would like to note that it has been her privilege to know Rowena for well over a decade, not just as a professional, but as one of the nicest and most hardworking people in the field. Rowena has been a mentor and friend to Tehani since she came on the scene in 2001/2002, and is a very welcoming figure in the community. Rowena continues to support writers throughout Australia with her generous advice and insights, as she has done for many years, through raising a large family and (more recently) despite personal tragedy. We are wiser for her presence, and happier for her company. She is a well-deserved recipient of this prestigious award.

FullSizeRender (6)
Rowena Cory Daniells & Tehani Wessely (March 2016)

Rowena Cory Daniells

Known variously as RC Daniells, Cory Daniels, Rowena Cory, Rowena Lindquist and Rowena Cory Daniells, Rowena is perhaps best know within the science fiction community as a writer. However, many don’t realise how much she has done to support not only other writers within the community, but organisations and events as well.

Rowena been involved in speculative fiction since 1976 when she and Paul Collins set up the small press publishing house Cory and Collins in Melbourne, and Rowena’s first publications included cover art for several Void publications titles.

Rowena’s speculative fiction stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies both in Australia and internationally since 1997. Her first novel, The Last T’En, was published in 1999. She has subsequently published further T’En books, and several books in the King Rolen’s Kin and Outcast Chronicles series, as well as the children’s novel The Evil Overlord, teen mystery Mystery at Devon House and the crime paranormal The Price of Fame.

The 2016 trophy
She has supported the writing community by serving on the management committees of two national genre awards, as well as the Romance Writers of Australia, Queensland Writers Centre, the Brisbane Writers Festival and Fantastic Queensland. Rowena has worked in independent press, run a bookshop, served as a volunteer on state and national Arts Bodies, and organised national awards. She was instrumental in the establishment of the wRiters on the Rise (ROR) workshop group (with Marianne de Pierres), which has helped support the careers of authors such as Margo Lanagan Trent Jamieson, Richard Harland, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Maxine McArthur and Dirk Flinthart. Again with Marianne, Rowena was a founding member of the VISION writing group in 1996, the group that went on to form Fantastic Queensland, which subsequently ran Clarion South, and she served as a judge for the Aurealis Awards for five years, as well as judging short story competitions for different organisations. Rowena has set up national workshops and pitching opportunities and run workshops on writing at national SF conventions, schools and libraries and World Con 1999.

Rowena has consistently supported new writers and editors in the field, offering advice and stories without hesitation. Her professional writing work has been shortlisted for many awards over the years, such as the Norma K Hemming Award, the Romance Writers of Australia Book of the Year, and the Ned Kelly Awards, most recently including Aurealis Awards nominations for both her short story “The Giant’s Lady” and her Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin series for the inaugural Sara Douglass Book Series Award.


Thank you, Rowena, for your (continuing) contribution to the field.

Pat McNamara, Rowena Cory Daniells and Sean Williams (who presented the award on Tehani's behalf)
Pat McNamara, Rowena Cory Daniells and Sean Williams (who presented the award on Tehani’s behalf)

Ditmar Voters, get your free fiction here!

ITH CoverTo help Ditmar voters make a choice between all the amazing finalists on the ballot, we’re offering a free download of “2B” by Joanne Anderton (from Insert Title Here) and “Look How Cold My Hands Are” by Deborah Biancotti (from Cranky Ladies of History), both shortlisted for the Best Short Story category.

To download your copy, click here.

This link will be live until Ditmar voting closes – ENJOY! And if you love the stories, keep in mind that the books they come from are just as awesome, and you can grab them in print or ebook from your favourite retailer, or at the FableCroft shop page!


Huge congratulations to all the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards finalists!

AA logoWe’re ecstatic to see several FableCroft mentions on the 2015 Aurealis Awards and 2016 Ditmar Awards (covering the same year of work…) shortlists.

In the Aurealis Awards, special mention to Dirk Flinthart, finalist for Best Collection for Striking Fire AND for Best Horror Novella with “Night Shift” from the collection,  Joanne Anderton, shortlisted for Best Science Fiction Short Story with “2B”, and DK Mok, shortlisted for Best Fantasy Short Story with “Almost Days” (both stories being from Insert Title Here). It’s also super exciting to see Focus 2014: highlights of Australian short fiction on the Best Anthology list.

The complete shortlists are available on the Aurealis Awards website, and showcase some of the absolute best of Australian writing produced in 2015 – such an honour to be part of it!

For the Ditmars, it’s fantastic to see Joanne Anderton double up with “2B” on the Best Short Story ballot, alongside Deborah Biancotti’s creepy Cranky Ladies of History story “Look How Cold My Hands Are”. The Cranky Ladies anthology also made the Best Collected Work ballot, and Kathleen Jennings’ gorgeous cover and internals for the book are shortlisted for Best Artwork. Editor Tehani Wessely is also on the ballot for the William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review for both the team efforts of “Squeeing Over Supergirl” (with David McDonald) and “Reviewing New Who” (with David McDonald and Tansy Rayner Roberts). If you were a member of Swancon last year, or of Contact 2016 this year, you are eligible to vote, so please do (for ANY of the fabulous work shortlisted!).

Congratulations to everyone appearing on these shortlists – it really shows the strength of Australian speculative fiction.

Tehani on Galactic Suburbia – another life goal achieved!

GS1400IconI was absolutely over the moon to be invited to take part in the 2015 Galactic Suburbia’s New Year Special episode, which went live on December 31. Along with a bunch of other fabulous women, I got to chat about the year that was, have my own little Culture Consumed session AND share cool stuff we’re doing at FableCroft in 2016. I’ve always been such a huge Galactic Suburbia fangirl (and of course, consider Alex, Alisa and Tansy as good friends!), so this was definitely a highlight for me. Thanks for having me, Galactic Suburbians, and for your great show.

You can listen to the podcast (there are lots of other cool people talking too, not just me 🙂 ) on iTunes or via the Galactic Suburbia Podbean.