Friday, 8 April 2016

What makes a book magical realism?

Author Tahlia Newland talks about her latest book and answers the question, "what is magical realism?"  
Tahlia Newland has written and published nine books, three of which have won a BRAG Medallion and an Awesome Indies Seal of Excellence. She writes inspirational magical realism and fantasy, and also makes masquerade masks and steampunk hats and accessories. Her wardrobe is full of steampunk clothing which she wears every day because beautiful clothes deserve to be worn.
She works as an editor for AIA Editing and AIA Publishing, a selective, author-funded publishing company. She also co-ordinates Awesome Indies Books’ accreditation service for independently published books. She lives in an Australian rainforest with a lovely husband and two cheeky Burmese kittens. 
 Hi, I’m Tahlia Newland and I’ve just published my ninth book, The Locksmith’s Secret. I call it magical realism, but I could also call it a metaphysical romance or a cosy mystery or a steampunk murder mystery, so why call it magical realism? And what makes a book magical realism?
The answer to the first question is partially that if I choose any of the other options as the one term to describe the book’s genre, none of them quite gives the full feel of the style of the book. You could call it metaphysical because the book has a contemplative nature, and the central character, Prunella, is a Buddhist who struggles to apply her Buddhist principles to her life’s challenges. She also has ‘visions’ of past lives—or perhaps it’s an overactive imagination, she isn’t too sure. You could call it a romance because the mystery involves Prunella’s (Ella for short) boyfriend and the future of their relationship is in jeopardy. You can’t call the whole book steampunk, because the steampunk is only one narrative thread—it’s the book Ella is writing while the contemporary story is taking place.
Because of the mix of genres, I could call it literary fiction, and that would suffice to a degree, but it doesn’t give as good a feel for the book as the term magical realism does.
So what is magical realism exactly? Here’s what Wikapedia says about it.
“Magical realism is an aesthetic style or genre of fiction [1] in which magical elements blend with the real world. The story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought. It is a film, literary and visual art genre.”
In magical realism the magical elements are there to emphasize something, usually a characters perception or inner experience. They illuminate reality, help us look at our reality in a different way. The magical elements usually have their basis in metaphors which are extended until they become a tangible part of the characters experience.
For example, the main magical element in The Locksmith’s Secret is an ethereal city. Here’s a description of it:
“I’m in outer space, walking down in the middle of a road in an unlit transparent city. The outlines of the buildings glow white against the dark sky, like a line drawing, and I can see through all the walls and floors. Skyscrapers tower over me on both sides of the road, but the city is empty, not a soul in sight. No furniture fills the rooms and no lights shine inside. Deep space surrounds this city which stretches on and on around me, perhaps to infinity. Like an artist’s drawing with perfect perspective, lines converge into vanishing points everywhere I look.”
Ella’s experience of searching for the locksmith who is the only living soul in this ephemeral city illuminates the psychological aspects of her search in reality for the answer to the mystery of what her locksmith boyfriend is hiding. This thread, incorporated as dreams, gives a surreal feel to the overall book, something I want to hint at in my description. That and the fact that the story also includes narrative threads from memories and past lives that parallel and add a deeper dimension to the present events is why I call it magical realism.

Description of The Locksmith’s Secret by Tahlia Newland.
Ella’s locksmith boyfriend Jamie seems to be her perfect match—at least until a death in the family calls him back to England. While he’s gone, Ella discovers he’s hiding something so astounding that it completely changes her perception of him and his place in her world.

While Jamie struggles with family responsibilities, Ella’s steampunk murder mystery is developing a life of its own, raising disturbing memories of her time as a striptease artist and a past life as a sexually abused Italian nun. She also dreams of an ephemeral city, where she seeks to unravel the locksmith’s secret and find the key that opens a door to other realities.

All these, together with a lost brother, a desperate mother, a demanding cat, and a struggle to live up to Buddhist ideals, weave together in a rich tapestry that creates an extraordinary work of magical realism.

Does this sound like the kind of book you might be interested in?

You can find out more about me and my other books—a fantasy series, a book of short stories, two other magical realism books and a book of writing tips—on my website at

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