bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Sean McMullen about his new fantasy series written in collaboration with Paul Collins.

 

collins_Books 1-6 - Warlock'sChild - all coversSean, you’ve recently collaborated with Paul Collins on a new 6-part fantasy series, The Warlock’s Child. The first two books (The Burning Sea and Dragonfall Mountain) have now been released and are enjoying a very positive reception. (Book 1 has, in fact, already gone into its second reprint). What was it like co-writing with Paul and what can you tell us about this tale of dragons, magic, and deception?

Paul and I have worked together before, so we have our collaborative roles, strengths and weaknesses pretty well sorted out. I helped Paul with the tech for a young adult story called Deathlight a while back, and after this was published, he started to expand it into a series. Because his publishing company is going really well, he ran out of writing time about a third of the way through. That’s why I was brought in. The language had to be easily accessible to an older child/young adult readership, but I have written for this age group before.

I decided that we needed to plan out a stronger series arc. Dragons are always popular, and Paul had Marc McBride lined up to do the covers. Marc does wonderful dragons, and I had some dragon themes that I’ve wanted to work on, so dragons became the driving force behind the plot.

Dantar, the fourteen year old cabin boy at the centre of things, presented a problem. He was just a cabin boy, and we needed the view from the top as well as the riff-raff’s PoV. I expanded the role of Dantar’s older sister, Velza, rather massively. Velza is an officer on his ship, and she gets to mingle with the leaders, so we see the big picture through her. I rather like Velza, because while she is brave and accomplished, she is also very insecure and highly approval-conscious. Heroes with weaknesses are way better heroes.

The story’s basis is that humans can only ever use one type of the four magics – earth, air, fire or water. Dragons can use all four, and they don’t want humans to become as powerful as themselves. While the dragons are immortal, they have become sterile, which is a big concern for any dragon. Now a human warlock has discovered the cure for dragon infertility, and he wants to trade this secret for power over all four magics. He is even willing to kill his son Dantar (the warlock’s child of the title), to get this power.  Dantar is less than enthusiastic about being the raw materials for dad’s experiments, so he goes on the run in Book 2.

Sean McMullenTwo editions of your ebook collections, Ghosts of Engines Past (featuring steampunk stories), and Colours of the Soul (your recent science fiction and fantasy work) have been released through ReAnimus Press and Amazon.com. What do you enjoy about short fiction, and which is your favourite genre to write in: steampunk, science fiction, or straight fantasy?

Short stories are the motorcycles of literature, they allow me to dash in quickly and do some really exciting things, while the reader hangs on and hopes I don’t crash. They have intensity rather than complexity, but they are a definite challenge when fitting in character development characters and creating a plausible background. Novels are more like container ships, not as exciting but able to carry way more. I am currently about two months off finishing a steampunk novel, which may turn out to be a container ship that handles like a motorcycle.

Steampunk is my favourite genre, although I consider it to be a mixture fantasy and science fiction. The Victorian era backdrop that steampunk uses is easily as romantic as medieval fantasy, but you can also use electricity, steam engines, computers and telegraphs. Even better, a lot of people tried to establish a scientific basis for the occult and magic during the Nineteenth Century, so steampunk can have magic as well.

When writing steampunk, I enjoy the challenge of keeping the technology feasible for the period. In Ninety Thousand Horses I had a rocket powered train that can travel faster than sound, so the setting had to be 1899 – when liquid oxygen was commercially available. That said, Ninety Thousand Horses also needed a strong romantic theme. I based that part on Verdi’s La Traviata story of love, tragedy, revenge and assorted highly charged emotions. It won the Analog readers’ poll, so I seem to have got the balance right.

collins_Book 1 - BURNING SEA - front coverOn your website, your fans can listen to a series of audio tales which you personally read. Hearing our favourite authors read their own stories is always a real treat. Do you enjoy reading your work? Which of your own favourite writers would you like to hear reading their works and why?

I love reading my work, it’s like being able to write more detail into the text without adding more words. I have a professional background in acting and singing, and have had training as an actor. That’s very important when doing audio recordings because readings are as hard to get right as songs – if not harder.  It’s not uncommon to hear an author admit to buying a nice piece of audio kit to do readings of their own work, being horrified when they hear themselves reading, then putting the recording unit straight onto eBay. It’s a skill that needs a lot of work and practise, there is no doubt about that.

Neil Gaiman is easily the best reader among the authors I know. He has it all – breath control, characterisation, intonation and great material to read. I am particularly fond of Owls, his take on the Seventeenth Century antiquarian John Aubry. At his best, Douglas Adams was just as good. His reading at Melbourne University was magical, nobody did Marvin the Paranoid Android as well as Adams himself. Unfortunately, his commercial readings don’t come across as well; they sound as if they were recorded one sentence at a time.

In general, actors do a far better job with readings than authors; so, I prefer readings by actors. Tony Robinson, Peter O’Toole, Boris Karloff, Nigel Planer and Sean Connery and among my favourites. You may have noticed that there are no women among all those actors and authors named, and that they are all British. That is because I am probably (subconsciously) looking for examples of readings that I can learn from to improve my own reading technique. After all, I have a deep voice and I do a reasonably convincing British accent. I used to think I sounded Australian, but people kept asking me how long I’ve been out here, and whether I went to Oxford or Cambridge.

collins_Book 2 - Dragonfall Mountain - front coverWhich of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

“Burns Brightest” could have various meanings, so I’ll make two attempts. The bad-boy wastrel John Glasken is certainly a favourite with many readers, and he does loom exceedingly large in the Greatwinter novels. He is a mixture of all sorts of people I knew from my university/rock band/folk music/party-all-night-and-try-to-sleep-at-work years. My attitude to him is similar to the way Rowan Atkinson feels about Mr Bean: a wonderful piece of character creation, but if he arrived to take your daughter on a date you would slam the door in his face.

My personal favourite is Zarvora, the dragon black chief librarian who invents the human powered computer, the Calculor, in Souls in the Great Machine. She is a bit like Terry Pratchett’s Lord Vetinari, a strong, ruthless leader who gets results and does not suffer fools gladly – yet she does get it wrong occasionally.

I have a great fondness for characters who are flawed but brilliant. If asked which character I wish I had created, it would definitely be the Sherlock Holmes from the Sherlock TV series. I shall be doing some more work on the fourth Greatwinter book later this year. It is set two hundred years after Eyes of the Calculor, so Zarvora is no more, but there is another chief librarian continuing the tradition of being brilliant, dedicated, flawed, focused, and just a little short of temper.

 



bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Jo Knowles, author of the award winning YA novel, Living with Jackie Chan.

 

knowles-seeyouatharrysI’ve read that, in planning your novels, you’re immediately aware of your characters’ emotional story arcs and note which will be the strongest emotions in each scene. Fans and critics alike have said that your books, including See You at Harry’s, are incredibly moving. Why do you think you’re so attuned to your readership’s emotional responses and able to create such emotionally complex characters and situations? How emotionally involved do you become with your characters when you’re writing?

Oh, that’s a really hard question! I guess the stories I want to tell have always come from a very emotional place to begin with. Usually it’s a troubling feeling that first stirs the story up in my heart. I live with the idea for a long time. It’s like finding the piece to a huge jigsaw puzzle.  You have no idea what the rest of the picture looks like, but there’s something about the piece you have that calls to you to find the other pieces to discover the bigger picture and it becomes almost an obsession until you do. I become extremely attached to the people I’m writing about and feel a huge responsibility to help them find their way, so I guess in that sense I am very emotionally involved.

Your award-winning novel, Living with Jackie Chan, tells the story of Josh (who we first met in Jumping off Swings) a high-school senior who is coming to terms with the fact that he has fathered a child. Can you tell us about the process of writing this story and what challenges you faced dealing with this confronting subject?

After Jumping Off Swings was published, I began to hear from readers who would write to me and ask, “Is Josh going to be OK?” and I always struggled with how to answer because I really didn’t know. I think the question rooted itself in my heart and I began to think deeply about what might have happened to Josh. We leave him so lost and alone at the end of Swings; I suppose that wasn’t really fair of me. Slowly, I began to imagine a life for Josh beyond those pages. We leave him when he’s about to go off to live with his uncle. Who would his uncle be? I was trying to imagine that when one night I went to watch my husband and son test for a belt in Karate. I hadn’t met their instructor yet but when he came bounding in the room, full of life and encouragement (especially toward my son), I thought, HE’S THE ONE! This is the uncle Josh needs. As soon as I knew who Larry was, the story just flowed out of me. I really didn’t feel like there were challenges in confronting the subject. If anything, I was eager to explore it, as so often the boy’s point of view is lacking in literature about teen pregnancy.

Jo_KnowlesJo, I’ve read that you try to read a novel a week, and that you’d recommend this activity for aspiring writers. Do you keep a list of the books you’ve read? What have been some of your all-time favourites, and why? What are you reading right now, and what’s next on your to-read list?

I do try to keep this up though sometimes it’s very hard, especially when I’m teaching. I used to keep track of the books I read on GoodReads and LibraryThing, but I admit I’ve really fallen behind. I recently read a book that will be coming out in March called Lighting The World, by Merle Drown, which is a very raw and gritty exploration of a boy on the edge and also Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, which is a graphic novel memoir. Both are just really honest about the ugly spaces, and people I suppose, that occupy our lives. I really appreciated the bravery in that, but also the kindness and understanding given to even the less likable people. Everyone has a story and a reason for why they are the way they are, and I always appreciate when authors acknowledge that and give us a glimpse of those lives, too.

Which of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

Oh gosh, I can’t choose. They all burn in different ways! I think my big goal in writing is to shine light on dark places. The dark truths that are part of all of our lives. If we could only admit that they are there, confront them, we’d come a long way to preventing them in the first place. I think the more we do this, the less alone so many readers will feel.

 

 

Jo Knowles is the author of Jumping Off Swings and its sequel, Living with Jackie Chan, as well as See You at Harry’s. She lives in Vermont with her family.



bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Kate Gordon on the release of her new book.

 

 

 

SONY DSCClementine Darcy, the central character of your new book, Writing Clementine, is experiencing a range of problems that teens tend to face: winning the acceptance of peers, a tricky home life, needing someone to talk to in the midst of people who seem too busy to listen. Where did the inspiration for Clem come from initially, and what was being a teenager like for you?

Being a teenager was a world of extremes, as it is for most people, as it is for Clementine! I had beautiful friends – friends who are still my best mates today. We had sleepovers, watched trashy rom coms, ate Top Deck chocolate, danced to bad nineties pop and laughed until we cried. I’ll always look back on those times with extreme fondness. On the other hand, I suffered from shocking body image, had rotten health at times, went through some pretty bad bullying experiences and some nasty experiences with boys, like the ones Clementine experiences. I also never felt like I fit in anywhere. I always felt awkward and uncomfortable and shy and wrong. All. The. Time. All of this was my inspiration for Clem. She is more me than any other character in any of my books. So it’s a bit terrifying releasing her into the world and hoping people like her!

2. In the book, Clem’s philosophy teacher, Ms Hiller, sets the class an intriguing writing task that seems uninteresting at first, but which Clem really begins to embrace. Through Clem’s entries, she is able to explore her own identity; and, at the same time, your readers gain insight into her motivations and concerns. What are some of your favourite epistolary novels, and has writing always been in your blood?

Oh gosh, too many! I love The Perks of Being a Wallflower so much it hurts. I also love Jaclyn Moriarty’s novels in The Ashbury/Brookfield series. JD Salinger had some great epistolary stories too, which I loved growing up, and I’m an enormous fan of Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow’s Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight. And Bridget Jones. Always and forever Bridget Jones. Writing is as much a part of me as reading is. I’m ninety percent human, ten percent book, I think. And I’ve always thought of writing as penning letters to myself, so it’s interesting you put these two questions together!

gordon_writing clementine3. Kate, since we caught up, you’ve welcomed a little bundle of joy into the world, in the form of your lovely little daughter. (Congrats!) How has being a mum changed your writing activity, if at all, and which books and stories from your own childhood are you looking forward to sharing with your little girl?

I’ve always had to write around other commitments. I worked full-time writing my first novels and had to squeeze in bursts of creativity between hours behind the counter. It’s no different now, other than, while I could shut my mind off from work, I’m never not thinking about Tiger. It also means I take it all a bit less seriously, because she is my focus. That said, I am desperate to keep doing it because I want to show Tiges that you can do anything you dream of, if you work hard enough. I can’t wait to read Roald Dahl with her, and Tamora Pierce, and Thomas Hardy, when she’s older. There is not one book I don’t want to share with her.

4. Which of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

They’re all my favourites. I’ve heard writers say that their characters are their babies or their friends. Mine are all pieces of me – like the Horcruxes in Harry Potter! They’re all fragments of my soul. But I always love the most recent one the best. And Clementine does hold a special place in my heart, for her bravery, her fragility, her wisdom, and her humour. She is the best parts of me!

 



bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Tricia Sullivan about her upcoming young adult novel, Shadowboxer.

 

 

 

sullivan_ShadowboxerShadowboxer incorporates fantasy, martial arts, and crime. Could you tell us a bit about your inspiration for writing this novel and how you became interested in martial arts more generally?

I started with martial arts at 13 because I wanted to be allowed out of the house by my overprotective father!  Initially, I studied Okinawan Goju-ryu karate, but they kicked me out for insubordination! I then bounced around trying different things until many years later I met Steve Morris, who eventually became my partner. He had been experimenting with anything-goes fighting since he ran a big London club in the 1970s, and it was in his small private class that I got my ass handed to me and found out karate is a pretty useless training method for fighting. I threw away everything I knew and started over. Never looked back.

Because I was running Steve’s website for years, I got exposed to the MMA culture and I saw the obstacles women face in training and fighting—it’s a tough, tough sport and women have been discouraged from fighting. In the early years most of the women in MMA who got media attention were ring girls. In the martial arts, women are encouraged to do traditional forms or no-contact sparring, or we’re fobbed off with ‘self-defence’ which is usually really ill-conceived stuff. I got more and more interested in women not as students or disciples (or victims) but as fighters. That’s what switches me on.

I probably channelled a lot of my wishful thinking into Jade. When I started Shadowboxer, I was having babies and breastfeeding. I was full of oxytocin and doing all the nurturing stuff you do with small children, but some part of me wanted to write about an angry young woman who fought. Realistically. Not Buffy, not superpowers, not kung-fu gymnastics or mystical trickery—but real fighting. That’s where Jade comes from.

trish pic wallI’ve read that you’re passionate about the status of women in the SF world, Tricia. What are 3 pieces of advice you’d give an upcoming female SF writer?

1) Be you. Seriously. Don’t try to imitate or live up to anyone’s expectation of what your work is supposed to look like.

2.) Keep your writing and editing processes separate. Don’t judge when you’re writing. Write when you’re writing. Judge when you’re editing. When you’re writing, let it out freely.

3)  Do the work. Do it with passion and commitment. You might be tempted to over-listen to online talk about industry politics or marketing/sales; there are some fascinating conversations. New opportunities are beginning to appear for women. But if you want to take advantage, you have got to have the chops. So no matter what happens, good or bad, keep working. Because in the end, your work is all you have, both as an artefact and as a process. The more you work, the more capable you will become, and this brings an internal power that the world can’t give you and the world can’t take away.

As well as being an acclaimed SF writer, you write fantasy under the pseudonym Valery Leith and are mum to 3 children. What’s it like juggling your many roles, and have your work habits changed much over the years?

I wrote the fantasy novels before I had children, so time wasn’t a problem back then. Right now I’m on a degree program in physics, and I write in the spaces around that.

I think what happens is that you learn to adapt. I wrote my first novel in five months of weekends while working full-time teaching middle school in New York City. I thought that was hard, until I found myself writing in one-hour-a-day slots around a very difficult baby, and then two more babies, with sleep deprivation, and isolation, and lack of money. That went on for years.

I won’t lie: it was tough, and I know that my writing suffered because there was so little of me to go round. That said, I now know how hard I can work, and it’s harder than I thought possible! Writing is really a psychological game you play with yourself. It took me a long time to develop confidence and to understand how to get the best out of myself. After twenty years, I’m finally starting to feel like I might know what I’m doing.  A little.

Which of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

Jade is my favourite character that I’ve ever  written. Inside she’s hurting, and she’s unsure, and she feels things acutely, but she keeps up this hard exterior because that’s the only way she knows how to survive. She has this wordless fire burning in her all the time, driving her on even when the situation she’s in seems impossible. I love that about her.

 

 



bec2012_TNCharlotte is interviewed by Bec Stafford. Bec is currently completing her MA at the University of Queensland.

 

 

 

Celebrity_photographers_sydney_glamour_nudes_art_photography_SeductiveIn Fury, the population loses their ability to feel anger, thanks to a vaccine developed by their government. How did this concept take shape initially? If you could create a vaccine for anything at all, what would it be?

The concept for this book took a very long time to come to me. Initially, I wrote a story about a girl whose childhood trauma had caused her to believe that she was transforming into a monster. This idea was inspired by a true story I read of a poor man who had been through something so horrific that he actually believed he was a werewolf. It was such an interesting idea to me: that your mind could make you believe your body was physically morphing. But the character on her own didn’t feel big enough—it wasn’t engaging me on a large enough scale, the stakes weren’t high enough, and the story basically just felt too small. So I challenged myself to think about the world, and about Josephine, and it occurred to me that she was the type of person who lived completely in her emotions. She allowed them, good or bad, to fill her up and guide her. Which then made me question the world, and how it is now, and how frightened we are of extreme emotion. This led me to question: what if we continue this way? What if we get to a point where it’s easier for everyone if we just don’t feel so much? That seemed like a tragedy to me, but it gave birth to the world of Fury.

If I could create a vaccine for anything, it would be… Oh gosh, I don’t know! I can’t choose an emotion, or any element of a person’s behaviour, because that’s the entire point of my book! But maybe—disease? That’s a bit of a cop out. Everyone wants to vaccinate against disease. But that’s got to be it.

I read that the idea for your first adult novel, Avery, came to you in a dream. How important are dreams to you and your work? Do you keep a journal by the bed so you can jot down flashes of inspiration that strike you as you wake?

I actually don’t keep a dream journal. I dream very weird and strange things—I often have really epic adventure dreams (the other night I dreamt I was surviving in a zombie apocalypse and it was awesome)—but I don’t write them down, which is a bit stupid, I suppose. I guess I let them inspire me, and keep my mind working on a big, exciting level. They’re exercise for me, practice for storytelling. It’s unusual that I will want to use anything from my dreams—I mostly find them either too disturbing or too garbled or too boring. But the morning I woke up to the idea of Avery (I had dreamt, in incredible detail, the scene that is now the prologue of the book) I knew I had to turn it into a novel and immediately sat down to start writing it.

 mcconaghy_Fury_coverAs its title suggests, Fury deals with anger. Josephine, your central character, is consumed by her fury. What did you do to get yourself in the mood to write from that perspective? Did you listen to certain music, or surround yourself with particular imagery, for example?

I did both of those things! Music is extremely important to me when writing. It really controls my mood. If I’m writing a happy scene I’ll have to have something lively on, but if it accidentally switches to something moody and melancholy, there’s goes the tone of the scene—my characters will be struck by an overwhelming shift in their moods. I let this happen though, because I feel like that’s the natural state of human emotions. They’re ever-changing, morphing and completely unpredictable. We feel a million things at once, more often than not. And we never have any idea what’s going to shift our mood from one minute to the next. Happiness is the lick of an ice-cream or the glimpse of a beautiful bird flying overhead. It’s not a permanent state, just as no emotion is—particularly not fury.

So Josephine’s anger was a complicated thing to try and shape. I definitely listened to moody music when writing her scenes. And I tried an exercise I learnt in my screenwriting degree, which was to gather images and put them into a slide show to a piece of music—this was called a character overture. It allows you to sink into your character in a really tactile way. You start finding peculiar and abstract ideas that shed light on the pieces you never glimpsed. When I started to gather these images that represented Josi’s state of mind, or her inner turmoil, I discovered that her anger was sustainable because it was coming from a very simple place: she was lonely. And that’s what this book is really about. Despite appearances, it’s not about fury. It’s about loneliness. 

Which of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

Well, it may just be because I’ve recently edited and released Fury, or because I’m currently writing its sequel, but I have to say that both Josephine and Luke from The Cure series are extremely forefront in my mind right now. They’re both flawed in very different ways, struggle to keep their heads above water a lot of the time, but are both really determined to see the beauty and the humour in their bleak world. I like that Josephine has a photographic memory, as this is something that has always intrigued me. Luke, as I am, is synaesthetic, so that was a fun thing to write into his head. I like the dynamic they have together—for me that’s the most important thing in the series, as I’m all about writing relationships.

I have another character from an unpublished novel whose name is Henry. He’s a very damaged abalone diver responsible for his little brother’s death at sea, and he often pops into my head as a really important character for me. Perhaps it’s the burden he carries every day. The way his guilt has shifted into cruelty. His rabid need to be the biggest, the strongest, the bravest—when in fact he’s still a scared little boy inside.

It sounds odd, but I never feel like I’ve made any of them up. They really, truly feel like real people who have passed through my life and I’ve been able to spy on them in their lives. That sounds a bit creepy when I say it out loud! Maybe that’s what writers are—voyeurs. 

Fury is available now from Momentum Books

Charlotte’s Bio:

Charlotte grew up with her nose in a book and her head in the clouds. At fourteen, her English teacher told her that the short story she’d submitted was wildly romantic, so she decided to write a novel. Thus began her foray into epic fantasy and dystopian sci-fi, with sweeping romances, heroic adventures, and as much juicy drama as she could possibly squeeze in.

 Her first novel, Arrival, was published at age seventeen, and was followed by Descent, which launched The Strangers of Paragor series, an adventure fantasy for teenagers.

 She then wrote her first adult fantasy novel, Avery, the prologue of which came to her in a very vivid dream. Her second adult novel, Fury, is the first in a romantic science-fiction series called The Cure, set in a dystopian future.

 Charlotte currently lives in Sydney, having just finished a Masters in Screenwriting from the Australian Film, Television & Radio School. With her television pilot script, she won the Australian Writer’s Guild Award for Best Unproduced Screenplay of 2013. She will, however, always be a novelist at heart, still unable to get her nose out of the books.



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