hardcastle-breathing under water coverSophie is interviewed by Belinda Hamilton

You’ve been writing Breathing Under Water since you were in high school, bouncing ideas off friends for ages. Was there a moment when they told you to shut up and write the story already?

I wrote a version of Breathing Under Water in high school; it was called, Horizons. I started writing it and would write before and after school, and even during class! Once I had a few chapters, I started showing it to a three friends and they’d take turns reading the latest instalments. Sometimes, I’d bounce ideas off them but they never told me to shut up and write because I was writing everyday. Horizons was sidelined when I got sick and no one really questioned that. The focus was on me getting better.

When I suspended uni to start writing Running Like China, a few friends asked, ‘what about that book with the twins?’ I told them I would go back to it but that my memoir was something I needed to write now.

I had a break for about a month between finishing the structural edit for Running Like China and starting Breathing Under Water. Once I started, I was quite proactive and wrote the first quarter in two months. I had a depressive episode and took three months off. When I came back to it, I wrote the rest of the novel in just over three months. When I’m in the flow of writing, there isn’t much talk. In fact, I tend to talk more to my characters than I do to real people, ha!


What’s the difference between writing non-fiction, (Running Like China) and Fiction, (Breathing Under Water)?

 The difference was that Breathing Under Water wrote itself. Even though they were my fingers punching away on the keyboard, the plot twists were just as new and exciting for me as they were for anyone else reading it. My characters came to life in the second or third chapter and I had the privilege of watching them grow and breathe. I cried for Grace when her heart broke and I ached inside when Mia couldn’t sleep.

Writing non-fiction, I was able to make sense of pain felt in the real world. I was able to tell a story in my own voice. Writing fiction, I could step into someone else’s shoes, into someone else’s world and be surprised by what I found.

hardcastle_running like china picYou travel quite a bit; are we going to see future stories set in other parts of the world?

I love university and I love writing essays, but I know there are things I will never fully understand or appreciate in a classroom. Knowledge is learnt, but experience is felt in the body. I believe travel changes you at the core. You embody memories. I have been very fortunate in the last few years to travel to some incredible places where I drank tea in houses built differently to mine and walked on earth beneath different constellations. These places, languages, customs and FOODS will no doubt make it into future books.

I’ve just started writing my second YA novel and am going to embark on a few research trips. I can’t say much, but I will say this…

Grace learns to read the swells on the sea.

My new character will learn to read the wind on Open Ocean.

I’m so excited because research is going to take me to Far North Queensland and Antarctica!


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

It would have to be Jake. I love him because he makes out as if he doesn’t have a care in the world, but we all know cares an awful lot about his friends. He’ll never admit it, but he wears his heart on his sleeve.


bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Alison and Nicholas Lochel, authors of the Fyrelit Tragedy.




locehl_zakoraZarkora, Book 1 of your Fyrelit Tragedy, is a huge hit with readers (and you have books 2, 3, & 4 set for release from this November through to October of 2016). Can you tell us about the series and how you first developed your wonderful characters, Neleik, Ervine, and Skye?

Zarkora is the tale of two orphaned brothers on an epic quest to save their little sister after she is kidnapped by a mysterious stranger. The brothers swiftly gain the companionship of a half-giant, a runaway princess and a mysterious hermit, who help them in their quest.

But in the process of tracking down the kidnapper, the farm boys discover a huge secret their late parents had been keeping. It’s a fast paced, four-book fantasy series that would appeal to fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice and Deltora Quest.

We grew up very close with our two brothers, and our bond was really the inspiration behind the Zarkora books. The characters Neleik, Ervine, Skye were loosely based on us and Justin, our larrikin of a brother. Our older brother Chris inspired the character of T’shink. Over the years, we developed the characters further to better suit the story, but there’s certainly hints of us in them.

Lochel-profileHow fantastic to be able to write as a brother/sister team! When did you first develop your love for writing and when did you realise you’d make a good writing duo? What are the best and also the most challenging aspects of writing with a sibling?

Nicholas – While I was still in high school, I was studying Stage and Screen Acting. I learnt a lot about the structure of a story, character development and script writing. When I graduated, I moved to Sydney with the seed of an idea for Zarkora, and started writing it as a movie script.

But when I moved back to Brisbane in 2006, I found Alison a huge bookworm and writing short stories. We loved the same sorts of books, movies and games, so I pitched her the basic idea for Zarkora and we started developing it as a series of novels. It took us roughly 6 years to plot out the four books and finish the first book in the series, The Fyrelit Tragedy. We’ve always got along really well, but I think it’s really just our shared love of stories that makes us a good writing team.

Alison – The best aspect of writing with a sibling is you always have someone to discuss the story with. We find it’s easier to create and problem solve when you’re voicing ideas and issues out loud. The most challenging aspect would be when we disagree on something. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can be a little frustrating. But like any good working relationship, we talk it out and come to a mutual agreement. We’ve been writing together for 10 years now, and we certainly don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

locehl-zakora 2Who are your creative heroes and what are you both reading at the moment?

Nicholas – We have heaps of authors we look up to, but my creative heroes would have to be J.K. Rowling, Emily Rodda and Roderick Gordon. I am currently reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Helix & the Arrival by Damean Posner and illustrated by our mate, Jules Faber.

Alison – I absolutely love J.K. Rowling, Emily Rodda and Isobelle Carmody (I’m dying to read The Red Queen, the final book in the Obernewtyn series). I recently finished Jinx by Sage Blackwood and Star of Deltora by Emily Rodda, and am currently reading The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.

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

Nicholas – I love all of our characters, but it’s T’shink, the mysterious warrior-hermit in our story who burns brightest in my mind. He’s the strong, silent type, but he is also a very complex character.

Alison – I’d have to say Devyn, the main dragon in the story. I’ve always loved dragons, but I have a real soft spot for Devyn. He is a rebellious and savage character a lot of the time, but always comes through for the companions when it truly counts.



Nicholas Lochel grew up in Brisbane, Australia, along with his two brothers and sister, Alison, with whom he is co-writing the ZARKORA series. It was the close bond he shared with his siblings that first inspired the story. He has held a wide variety of jobs over the years, including work as an actor, a bartender and a postie, but his love for stories, and the pursuit of a career as an author, has remained constant throughout. He devotes most of his time to writing, and when he is not seen with a pen and paper or a good book, he can usually be found riding his Triumph motorcycle about town or on some grand adventure.

Alison Lochel, for as long as she can remember, aspired to be an author. At the age of fourteen, she began writing the first book in the ZARKORA series, THE FYRELIT TRAGEDY, along with her brother, Nicholas. Her passion for writing continues to this day as the four-book series nears its completion. She has a cupboard full of dragons, and has been known to read for long periods of time – so long, in fact, that she is often coated by a thin layer of dust. Achoo!


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!


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