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.

bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Karen Healey.



Picture 0741. While We Run is the follow-up to last year’s popular release, When We Wake. Can you tell us what readers can expect from this new instalment in the series and a bit about your experience writing the sequel?

When We Wake was a pre-dystopia edging into dystopia. While We Run chronicles the slide into true dystopia, as experienced by Abdi Taalib. Without too many spoilers, readers can expect to explore more of the secrets of the Ark Project as I put Abdi and Tegan into even more dangerous situations with bigger stakes. They can expect explosions, kissing, blood, politics, and fighting. And they can expect the creepiest antagonist I’ve ever written. Most of my villains do bad things for what they think are good reasons; Diane is my first true sociopath.

This is my first sequel, so I expected some difficulty. But really, this might have been the easiest manuscript I’ve ever put together. I’d established so much of the world-building and character backgrounds for Abdi, Tegan, Joph, and Bethari. The plot was a dream. It was just the ending that gave me real trouble; I didn’t want to let them go!

Healey_While we run2. While We Run is told from Abdi’s point of view. How did that expand what you knew about his character while writing When We Wake?

Tegan, who narrated When We Wake, is upfront, upright, and mouthy—a character who, when she sees something wrong, jumps in and starts punching. Abdi is much more controlled and contained, and someone who prefers manipulation to direct confrontation.

These fundamentals didn’t change. But the Abdi who starts talking in While We Run is six months from the end of When We Wake: six months of being in government custody, six months of being a government spokesperson for a programme he actually despises. He has undergone traumatic events and they have left very real marks on his body and his psyche. His mother’s advice, which he’s always respected and relied on, is no longer helping. Tegan’s own brand of upfront antagonism isn’t what the situation requires. Abdi has to feel his way to a new equilibrium and accept the consequences of his choices.

Healey_When We Wake cover3. Abdi and Tegan inhabit a dystopian Australia that has been shaped by, among other things, climate change and barbaric immigration policies—both hot topics in contemporary politics. How important is it to you to express your political ideas in your work, and is it something that you feel writers have a responsibility to address?

I don’t think that writers have a responsibility to address political ideas in their work. I think it’s something they always do. All writing is political writing, even if the political statement is “I am reflecting the status quo as I see it.”

That said, though I’m fairly didactic and unapologetic about it, I don’t have any issue with writers who don’t want to be explicit or didactic in their politics. I explicitly address social injustice and environmental degradation because those are topics that genuinely infuriate me. It’s not in the service of an ideal of what writers ought to do.

4. Which of your fictional characters from While We Run Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

Abdi, because I wrote in his voice from his understanding of the world; Tegan, who I got to explore from the outside; and Diane, because she’s so very unpleasant.


While We Run is published by Allen & Unwin and will be available in all good bookshops and online from this Wednesday, March 26.


bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Lynette Lounsbury.



Lynette Lounsbury


Bec: Dominic Mathers is your central character in Afterworld. Can you tell us a bit about him and the Trials he faces in the Necropolis? How long did it take you to write Afterworld?

LL: Dom is a guy who is really uncomfortable with his place in the world – he feels out of place in his skin, in his family and in his country. His family lives in India and he doesn’t know how to deal with the poverty he sees there. He is quite depressive and would be happy never to draw attention to himself. I thought it would be interesting to follow this sort of person into the afterlife – it takes death to make him realise that life is actually quite an amazing thing. The Trials are something I adapted from Roman history – the idea of taking pleasure from wielding a huge amount of power over others suited the Nephilim, particularly Satarial who was incredibly angry with the humans. In the beginning, it was a place to train and prepare, but as people became more listless and “stuck” he turned the Trials into a way to torture and “collect” humans.

It took me nearly two years to write Afterworld – I was writing around having a baby boy who demanded a lot of time – but it was also a complex story and there were periods of time where I just needed to think it through.

Lounsbury_AfterworldBec: Afterworld features a nasty Nephilim, Satarial, and I’ve read that you lecture in ancient history, as well as creative writing. Do you find that the former often informs the latter? Can you talk to us a bit about Satarial and how his character developed?

LL: My love of ancient history definitely influences my writing. I love mythology especially – the stories that people believe and which define their cultures.

The Nephilim are mentioned in quite a few ancient traditions. Sometimes they are called “The Watchers” and other times “Giants” – and in the Bible it mentions that they were the children of Angels and human women.

Satarial is the name of one who is recorded in a Jewish manuscript called The Book of Enoch. Since the first part of the name means “adversary” but the whole name means “on the side of God” I thought he must have been a very interesting and complicated being.

Most religions also have a flood myth – from the Mesopotamians to Indigenous Australians – and so I put the two together. I found Satarial’s motivation in the fact that humans (in this case Noah) allowed his people to die in the flood. It’s just a case of me reading these ancient stories and imagining the human face behind them.

Bec: You grew up in Papua New Guinea, are the editor of, and each year you volunteer in the South Pacific on behalf of an Australian aid organisation. How do your travel adventures influence your writing, and do you like to write while you’re in transit and abroad?

LL: Travel influences everything I do. Growing up in PNG meant we had very close contact with magic and witchcraft and people who both practised and completely believed in it. I remember some locals bringing a little owl to our house once when I was about 6 and they were talking about how it was evil and carried spirits in it. It as actually just a very cute little bird, but I can still remember that the locals really believed it was evil, and that was all that mattered. I was heavily influenced by this idea that our beliefs control us.

 Travel has made me very aware of the “serious” side of the world. Which sounds a little bleak – and I don’t mean I like that. I just know from experience that the world is fragile and that for a lot of people it is a difficult journey.

I write a lot when I am overseas. I just feel more open and inspired when I don’t have “everyday” life to worry about. And I like warm weather – hot even – I’ll write anywhere if its hot. 

Lynette Lounsbury


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

LL: Eduardo definitely burns brightest in my mind. This is a being who has been waiting for thousands of years for the love of his life and is committed to continue waiting. He’s not happy about it, he is not enjoying it – but he won’t give up. And at the same time, he is not so jaded that he doesn’t see something valuable in Dom. He invests time, energy and eventually love and loyalty into Dom and because he is willing to give like that, he  opens himself up to the possibility of letting go. When he lets go – he ends up finding what he was looking for.


Joelene_tnJoelene interviews new Australia author Jonathon K. Benton about his novel A Wicked Kind of Dark



Benton1. One of the most striking aspects of your novel is the rich inter-textuality. You allude to a diverse array of writers from Wordsworth to Lewis Carroll and Tolkien. Were these the writers who have influenced you? Or is it your way of introducing young readers to some of the literary greats?

The Lord of the Rings transported me to Middle-earth and kept me there for all of its 1000 + pages. Part of me remains there still. That’s what a great book should do. The literary giants I allude to in A Wicked Kind of Dark inspired and influenced me, both as a writer, and a person. However, if a young person picks up The Lord of the Rings because they’ve read my book, and embarks on the same magical journey that I once went on … that is special too.

 2. You have travelled extensively in Fiji, New Zealand, the UK and Australia. What is it that prompted you to set A Wicked Kind of Dark in the UK? Did something about its atmosphere speak to you?

When I was growing up in New Zealand, I used to dream about travelling to the UK to explore the old castles, and hopefully spot a ghost or two. I might not have met any ghosts when I finally made it there, but I remember lying on the grass about one hundred metres back from Stonehenge and watching the clouds rush across the tops of the ancient monoliths. The past merged with the present. I could almost see the druids performing their bloody rituals.

 3. When writing your debut novel, what did you find the most challenging and why?

A Wicked Kind of Dark began with a ‘what if’, which is the name I use for the powerful idea that inspires the major theme, and drives the plot. I wrote the first draft consumed by the ‘what if’. This led to massive structural issues that needed a lot of care and attention. A bit of planning can save loads of time. I got it right in the end though!

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

Luthien. Like the fiery autumn colours that I use to introduce her, Luthien burns brightest in my mind. There’s the old playground saying ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’. This is true of Luthien. She’s only small, but she oozes personality, and radiates strength.  I am looking forward to further developing her character in books 2 and 3.

 Read our review of Jonathon’s book here.

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