World-Making with Elizabeth Knox


We were a privileged few who took part in Elizabeth Knox’s World-Making workshop as part of the Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts.

Elizabeth Knox’s fantasy works for young adults are some of the most groundbreakingly original, fully-imagined and beautifully written books I have ever read. Constantly, while reading her work, one’s breath is taken away by the complex and delightful audacity of her world-making.


I have marvelled at Dreamhunter (The Rainbow Opera in the UK) and Dreamquake, winner of a Printz Honor as well as Mortal Fire, probably my favourite of the three.

Here is Kelly Link on the book:

I love this book with all of my heart, which is not that surprising, since Elizabeth Knox wrote it. I love all of Elizabeth Knox’s books. Mortal Fire and its heroine, Canny, are that rare thing: real magic.’

Kelly Link, author of Pretty Monsters

The Printz Committee said of Dreamquake:

Dreamquake: Book Two of the Dreamhunter Duet, by Elizabeth Knox, shows off the author’s formidable world-building skills with a variety of striking physical landscapes, a vividly evoked Edwardian society, and the startlingly original concept of dreamhunting.

Elizabeth began by telling us a little bit about how she came to be such a prolific and marvellous storyteller. To quote from her own website:

Elizabeth is the middle child of three sisters. The Knox family shifted a number of times during Elizabeth’s childhood. They lived in Pomare, Wadestown, Waikanae and Paremata. The sisters were close, and always playing imaginary games. By the time Elizabeth was eleven the games had become one game, an on-going saga set in another world, a game she shared with her sisters and several friends. One day, when Elizabeth was sixteen, her father interrupted a discussion the girls were having about the possible results of a secret treaty, by saying, “I hope you’re writing some of this down.” The idea hadn’t occurred to Elizabeth before, and she thought it a very good one. She, her sisters and friend began writing letters between their characters, and stories about them. Elizabeth enjoyed writing and decided that this – writing fiction – was what she wanted to do with her life.

Elizabeth and her younger sister still collaborate on a world building game. She read us an email transcript between herself and Sara ( also a writer.) It was fascinating to see how two minds  come up with a story scenario, encompassing character, motivation, rules of the world and inciting incident.

Then it was our turn
We were asked to make a list of all the things we were obsessed with right now, whether they be types of story, setting or character traits. Then we read our pretty random lists out. We had to divide them loosely into character, setting and situation.

The fun part came when Elizabeth asked us to pick 3 of our list and wrote them on the whiteboard.

Then it was up to us! Our workshop was only two hours so we bounced ideas off each other verbally and came up with a collaborative story scenario involving the runaway heiress to a kingdom, a wannabe home maker gypsy boy and living goddesses who control weather magic!
In the full 2 day workshop Elizabeth runs at home, the participants actually go off and write their stories.Sadly we didn’t have time for this! But it did open us up to the imaginative possibilities of taking disparate elements and fashioning  a story world from them, as well as give us an insight into the process of one of the most original fantasy writers working today.

At the end of the workshop, we got to share the problems we were having with the work in progress and receive the wonderful wisdom of Elizabeth with her Story Doctor hat on. As Elizabeth says, she has written eleven novels and three novellas so has solved most problems! Her advice was hugely helpful to me and I’m sure to the other participants.

I’m so looking forward to reading Elizabeth’s latest book Wake, included in the Guardian’s best SFF round-up here


About g.r.del

reading, writing and the rest. @storyvilled on twitter.
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One Response to World-Making with Elizabeth Knox

  1. Pingback: Good Girls, Broken Glass Slippers | isalikeswords

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