© John Berlyne
Miller Lau is a pseudonym. The author is of Scottish descent, and lives in East Anglia.
Talisker - Book One of The Last Clansman is her debut novel.
SF Site Review: Talisker
Can you tell us a little about your background? Your Scots heritage forms a central pillar of your
new novel Talisker -- is there is Scots element to all your work?
Well, I grew up in Edinburgh -- it's my home town. In fact, you could say I am a survivor of Irvine
Welsh's Trainspotting generation. I grew up at the same time, in the same housing estates he talks
about in his novels. What I feel Welsh chooses to ignore is the strength and warmth of the Scots
character -- qualities which I hope are evident in my own writing -- and that's sad. He chooses not to
focus on our dignity and humour but rather on the grimness of growing up in that environment.
That's not to say it wasn't grim at times! It was. But the truth of it is, when you're young it's all you
know. Perhaps that is when I made my escape into fantasy. I was always an avid reader.
But, while being a Scot certainly informs my work, I don't intend to always write purely 'Scottish'
Your favourite authors (genre & non-genre), books (ditto), influences? Who are your favourite
contemporary genre writers?
Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard (the Hyperborean age was a seminal creation and much
undervalued now by writers who are embarrassed by its less than PC aspects -- I think it's time R.E.
Howard was given his kudos!), Roger Zelazny -- Lord of Light is the most bizarre, funniest thing I
remember reading in my late teens. Marion Zimmer Bradley for The Mists of Avalon.
Non-genre: Hermann Hesse, Oscar Wilde, factual history books.
Contemporary writers: Iain Banks of course -- Espadair Street is on my all time favourites list --
David Gemmell, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, Jon Courtney Grimwood . Oh dear, I haven't
mentioned many women have I? I'll be lynched!
Oh, one more influence I should mention and am thoroughly unashamed of -- Make Mine Marvel!
Can you tell us a little about your publishing history prior to Talisker? Why did you publish under
a pseudonym? Has it taken a while from having written this novel to seeing it published?
I have no publishing history -- Talisker was the first novel I finished writing. I was short-listed for
the Ian St James Award in 1993 for a short story, but other than that, nothing. I sold Talisker to
Earthlight about a year or so after I finished it and they have just released it -- an agonising eighteen
months later! That's not an unusual wait in publishing, apparently. My pseudonym mainly came
about because my actual name is rather uninspiring.
Are you more comfortable writing novels or short stories? Have you written in other genres? Which
genre are you most comfortable with and why?
I used to write short stories constantly. But now, the comfort of the long novel form would be hard
Fantasy is my first love -- I never thought deeply about what genre to write; it just seemed natural to
me. Although I do read science fiction, I couldn't consider writing it because I'm such a klutz at
remembering facts and any vaguely scientific explanation I attempted would read like Nanny Ogg's
cookbook! The only other genre I'd consider is horror, because I enjoy it and think I can do it
Where do the ideas behind Talisker come from? The world of Sutra is filled with Celtic
mythology -- what, other than stories that you must have known since you were small, were you
using as your source material? How did you go about this type of world creation, weaving myth and
legend of one world into a secondary one?
I hope it doesn't sound like too much of a cop-out but I feel it's a mistake to examine this kind of
thing too closely. Hmm, it does sound like a cop out doesn't it?
Well, yes, I grew up with many of the ideas, especially those in the Edinburgh sections of
course. I mention the Heart of Midlothian early on in the story; it always fascinated me as a child to
see people spit in the middle of the Heart as they walked by -- my mother would kill me for spitting!
-- in fact, to this day, I've never heard a totally convincing explanation as to why this rather horrible
tradition came about. I know the Heart marks the site where people were hanged so there must be
some connection with the executions. Edinburgh is full of such quirky folklore. Mary King's Close,
which I use in the book, is another example of how the modern world taps into folklore: the popular
myth is that people were inured there, but in fact, that is an embroidery of the true facts -- however,
I wouldn't want to spoil it for people!
For a while, writing fantasy that could be described as Celtic was deemed passé. It's a bit like doing
vampires or dragons -- such areas have been covered so often (and rather well) that if you want to
do those things, you'd better have something new to bring to them. I hope I've done that by putting
real Scots characters into a world perceived to be Scots/Celtic, people who don't necessarily
behave in a 'noble clansman' way. Although, as I'm sure someone will point out, the Scots clans
were not actually Celts per se. It's an accepted misnomer.
How many Talisker books will there be? Can you tell us a little about where the story will go?
There should be three. I finished the second one -- Jahl -- last month and I should begin the third in
July. I can't say too much without spoiling Talisker for people.
Describe your writing routine.
'Routine?' Wait till my husband stops laughing! Seriously, I'm the most chaotic person in the
world. I'm working hard to change that though, because I really do care about my work and I
wouldn't want it to suffer.
How do you rate the current state of British fantasy talent? Do you see the genre changing over, say,
the next ten years?
British fantasy is brilliant -- something we should be extremely proud of: Holdstock, Pratchett,
Gemmell, Gaiman, Warrington, Miéville... the list goes on. (And yes, I would like to see more
women too!) Look out for fresh new talent over the next year -- Jessica Rydill (Orbit: Children of
the Shaman) and Michael Cobley (Earthlight: Shadowkings) are both extremely unique new talents.
I'm currently reading China Miéville's Perdido Street Station -- he's frighteningly good!
I suppose if there's anything that gives me vague concern for the genre, it's the current movement
towards intellectualising the work. My personal opinion is that this is a mistake. We work with
smoke and mirrors and we (hopefully) make magic; the moment we arm ourselves with Freudian
understanding or political sub-text, the magic is ruined, the writer and the reader can both see the
wires. If the simple truths of stories reach out to people in an un-cynical way, then the writer has
achieved something with great integrity. (Gets down off soapbox!) Still, ask me the same question
if I'm still around in ten years time and perhaps my opinion will have changed.
And finally the old chestnut!! -- what advice do you have for the budding writer?
Don't let the mundane aspects of living get in the way of your writing. Keep reading. Keep
observing. Get it down on the page -- there's no point in being a potentially great writer.
Copyright © 2001 John Berlyne
John Berlyne is a book junkie with a serious habit. He is the long time UK editor
of Sfrevu.com and is widely acknowledged to be the leading expert
on the works of Tim Powers. John's extensive Powers Bibliography "Secret Histories" will
be published in April 2009 by PS Publishing. When not consuming genre fiction, John owns
and runs North Star Delicatessen, a gourmet food outlet in Chorlton, Manchester.