An Interview with Laraine Anne Barker

The Obsidian Quest
Laraine Anne Barker

1. First of all, could you give us a biography of yourself?
I’ve wanted to be a novelist since the age of 11. While still at school, I wrote several full-length books, none intended for publication. I regarded them as “practice”. Unfortunately, I must have been a very secretive teenager because my mother insists that, in spite of the incessantly clattering typewriter, she didn’t know I wanted to be a writer. I know my teachers had no idea.

At the age of 18 I started an adult book with the pretentious title The Verge Of Heaven, which I finished and submitted to Hodder & Stoughton when I was about 21. The rejection letter–which I remember, with wry amusement, complained that my 18-year-old heroine was “atypical”–was very kind and contained both praise and good advice, including that the story could be rewritten as a children’s book. Today I would immediately act on this advice, but in those days I wouldn’t have known where to start first. I recall finding the advice puzzling and perhaps (I have to admit with shame) a little demeaning. I destroyed both the manuscript and the rejection letter and to this day regret it. I carried on spasmodically writing adult novels, none of which was ever finished and all of which I now see as unbelievably bad.

In the mid 1980s I had no success finding enough fantasy novels for young people as presents for a fantasy-mad 11-year-old boy. And yet the shelves for adults were full of it! I enjoyed the few I found so much that it inspired me to sit down and start writing my own. To quote the cliche, I’ve never looked back. The fantasy-mad boy, alas, turned to adult fantasy and also never looked back.

For the rest, I live with my husband and three long-haired miniature Dachshunds on a five-acre “life-style” block in a dairy-farming community just south of Rotorua, aka Sulphur City. I think I’m lucky to live so close to New Zealand’s main tourism centre, surrounded by numerous beautiful lakes in a landscape that’s partly rugged green hills and partly areas that could be on another planet, with volcanoes, geysers, boiling mud pools and features so fantastic they’ve been given fanciful names, e.g., the Devil’s Bath, the Champagne Pool, the Bridal Veil Falls.

I consider the electronic publishing industry to be a very exciting development and I’m proud to be a part of it, especially while it’s still relatively young.

2. What written work are you most famous or best known for?

Now I should be so lucky! But if anyone knows my name they will most likely associate it with the first book of my Quest for Earthlight trilogy, The Obsidian Quest, published in November 2000 and available The first chapter can be read at

3. What is your goal in writing?

I would love to be spoken of as the world’s best writer of fantasy for young people *G*. With the likes of Diana Wynne Jones around, however, that’s very unlikely to happen. Of course, I’d settle for being the world’s best-selling writer of fantasy for young people, but that slot’s already taken too, alas!

But seriously… I WOULD like to become known as at least a REALLY GOOD writer of fantasy for young people. I’d also like some acknowledgement in my own country–for instance, be invited to read at festivals, get paid for reading and talking about writing in schools. However, in this respect I’m in the same situation as DWJ at the early part of her career: I don’t write what the publishers want. In New Zealand publishers want “social realism”, preferably with a dysfunctional family setting, which I find extremely boring. It seems to me that if you don’t write what New Zealand publishers want, the local literary scene doesn’t want to know you. But I may be wrong.

4. Who are your influences as a writer?

All the best fantasy writers for young people, along with some who aren’t strictly fantasy writers (such as the incomparable Joan Aiken). To name a handful at random: Sherryl Jordan (my favourite New Zealand writer), Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Susan Price, William Nicholson (whose The Wind Singer I have just finished). And of course DWJ herself.

5. Do you attend conventions, workshops, and the like?

No. They cost money and I live in a jobless household. I’ve learned all I know about writing from books on writing, which can be borrowed from the library. I’ve managed to buy a few as well, and of course I’ve swapped with friends. It’s best to own them, of course; your learn more with each reading.

6. What are you working on now?

Having finished the story of my female unicorn, Silvranja, which was shortlisted for the Tom Fitzgibbon Memorial Award 1998, a year in which a comedy won (see for details), I’m now working on the story of the male unicorn, Albishadewe. Unfortunately, it needs two books. I’ve completed the first draft of book 1 and have just started book 2. Because Albishadewe’s story is tied in with several other novels, whereas Silvranja’s was mostly a rewrite of one other novel (with huge chunks of new material, of course) it’s a lot more difficult than Silvranja’s story. I’ve applied for a Creative New Zealand literature grant (my third such application) but don’t expect to get one because these grants usually go to writers producing the type of book New Zealand publishers are seeking.

Read an extract from Small Sorcerer:

They’d be keeping a special guard on the Tower of Kaleidoscopic Light now, though. So how could Iggie return without being detected? And he had to be quick. Rahti–although completely helpless while imprisoned in that ghastly place called Limbo–wasn’t without power. No god ever was, even a dispossessed one. The tiny rent in the fabric of separation between Limbo and Lazaronia could be enough to enable Rahti to use his powers. But the fabric itself might not be strong enough to withstand the fallen god’s fury and frustration at being abandoned and forced to hold a tiring posture. A huge hole would be difficult to repair. From where he lay could Iggie do what needed to be done to prevent this? He’d often used his mind to send his spirit outside his immediate environment, but never managed to try doing anything while in this form because the mere sending out was so exhausting.

He started the slow, regular breathing necessary to bring him to the brink of sleep, willing his body to ignore its sudden weariness. It certainly wouldn’t do if Iggie succumbed to the draining effects of the day’s emotional upheaval and couldn’t recognise the crucial moment when it came!

However, he’d practised the trick so often before settling down for the night that he had no more trouble than usual detaching his astral essence from his body. The window catch gave so easily to his command that once on the other side, as a precaution, he ordered it to lock again. His spirits soared when it obeyed. Then, too quickly for anyone in the castle grounds to see anything but what they would assume was the result of a cloud passing over the sun, he made for the castle battlements. Within moments he stood on top of the Tower of Kaleidoscopic Light.

He craned his neck this way and that, his eyes seeking the small opening he had made near the edge of the marble platform. At first he saw nothing because rifts such as this were never visible unless the light caught them in a certain way. Then it became visible. Only it was no longer a tiny, subtle shadow on the air.

“Oh no! Oh no!”

Iggie put both hands up to his mouth. But he couldn’t suppress his anguished whisper. The small tear was a huge slash a good two metres tall, and far wider than it needed to be to allow Rahti out. Worse still, its edges were so tattered Iggie doubted he could repair it. There was no sign of the fallen god.

“Rahti! Rahti, where are you?”

Iggie received no answer to his silent, panic-stricken cry.

To read the chapter that follows this scene, go to


Laraine A Barker:
Author of The Obsidian Quest, available now at CrossroadsPub,
Web Site:
Fantasy for Children and Teens
Excerpts from all my novels, web design advice, incl. a link to an HTML tutorial, and much more. Visit me at Authors

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