Fiona McIntosh: "Why Paris? I Say Why Not!"

Fiona McIntosh: "Why Paris? I Say Why Not!"

The Scrivener’s Tale book cover

Fiona McIntosh’s fantasy novel The Scrivener’s Tale splits time between the City of Light and fictional Morgravia. Here, she discusses the challenges and rewards of integrating the two worlds.


Zola: The Scrivener’s Tale partially takes place in Morgravia, a setting your readers know well from The Quickening Trilogy. What inspired you to return to this universe?

fiona McIntosh: It was the first time that I was tackling a stand-alone fantasy novel. And as my readers may appreciate, my stories tend to have a large cast and it can turn a fraction epic.  I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of space to start building a world from scratch for the audience, so I took the cunning decision to return to a landscape, magic, and realm that the majority would be familiar with.

The tale itself is new—there is only one returning character from The Quickening—and I’ve given the feel of the story a fresh twist by allowing the magic to have morphed into something even more sinister. I start in contemporary Paris before allowing the story to move to the Pearlis, where most of the action takes place—whereas the original had no real world in it. I’ve also deliberately set it in a different century to the era that readers of The Quickening would know to ensure it feels as removed as possible from the original story while still retaining a comforting sense of familiarity in the surrounds.

In essence it was purely about being able to speedily drop my reader into the world of my characters and get on with the big story that needed to unfold.

Zola: Why Paris? And what was it like integrating these two very different worlds?

FM: Why Paris? I say why not! Paris is my favorite European city… and if I’m honest, probably my favorite city in the world. I am steadily turning into a Francophile and have a yearning to live in Paris if I can sometime—even for six months would be wonderful. So I find myself always routing myself via Paris instead of the more traditional London whenever I’m headed into Europe and I now realize I’ve got four novels that use Paris as a location so it’s creeping in across all my writing.

It’s a beautiful city, a romantic city and I love its neighborhoods that makes setting a story in Paris so easy. I chose a favorite neighbourhood but because I know the streets well that Gabriel walks around, I was able to make that section of the story feel real and everyday for him. I wanted a contemporary start to this fantasy to make the trauma of Gabriel’s shocking arrival in Pearlis all the more dramatic for him and also for the reader. And because I was in Paris researching for another novel, it made sense to do the research for Scrivener then, in the neighborhood of the 6th where I was staying.

Integrating the two worlds felt effortless for me firstly because they are both favorites for me. I loved the land of The Quickening when I wrote that trilogy and always hoped one day I’d find an excuse to return and Scrivener gave that to me. But it also felt easy because I allow the reader to get comfortable in contemporary Paris first and only then do I throw them into Morgravia—so while it’s alarming, the change is brutally swift and we don’t return to France and the reader, I believe, realizes that Gabrielle is now trapped in this new world and so accepts and gets on with the story. Plus, because the world the reader has arrived in is familiar to many fantasy enthusiasts, the slip is not hard and for most I hope it’s a welcome arrival back to the land they know.

Zola: Is there more or less pressure when writing about a universe that already has a fan base?

FM: I felt there was less pressure in this instance because there had been a 10 year break from that region of my world in my storytelling. I knew the fans would gladly go there with me, as eager to revisit as I was. However, to prevent any disappointment I made sure that Morgravia had moved on a century so while it was familiar, it wasn’t the same and we visited different aspects of the regions to those that readers had in the previous story. For instance, the Great Forest was a far more important character in this book than in The Quickening, the cathedral had a much greater role to play in Scrivener, and we glimpsed different aspects of the palace than we did in the first story. Even the familiar named towns we visited—I made sure we went to new locations within them to keep it fresh for the reader.

Zola: Many of your novels are historically based or set in a medieval world. Were you always interested in history?

FM: Yes, always. Apart from English Literature and Language—two compulsory subjects we had to take in English schools in the 60s and 70s and that I enjoyed—the one other class I relished with the same amount of fervor that I loathed maths and science was history. History in our day was “wet”—I seem to remember learning lots about war campaigns, beheadings, great battles. I worry that today the history being taught makes me cough it’s so dry. But that’s another discussion.

I loved history throughout my schooling and ended up taking it as one of my major subjects in my final exams and I was deeply involved in middle ages history by then, particularly Henry VIII, which made for colorful study. I also studied the History of Art for that senior couple of years, so the whole notion of looking back and learning from the past has obviously intrigued me since childhood.

Even today I get a great deal of pleasure from talking to the elderly. I find their histories fascinating. I enjoy watching historical documentaries and increasingly I am reading history books.

Zola: Are you considering a sequel to The Scrivener’s Tale or is this the last we’ll see of Morgravia?

FM: I’m a novelist who never says never. But it took me a decade to even consider revisiting Morgravia and the land of The Quickening so I suspect it will be a long time coming before I head back. I do believe The Scrivener’s Tale ended where it should and although it was on that bittersweet note, it is often best left to the reader to make up their minds what might happen next. Loads of readers want me to tell the ongoing story from Trinity and while that has not bubbled up to full consciousness, if I was to look back again for a setting, I may look there next.

This article originally appeared on Zola Books.