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.





Absolutely the reason that I picked up the book in the first place. When I first saw this book online it was not available in the United States, and I waited for the long shipping from Australia. It was well worth the wait and time. It is still one of my favourite reads of all time. I was ecstatic to hear when Marianne was able to keep the cover art for the U.S. release, its gorgeous. I keep a poster of it on my wall.


The inhabitants of Ixion come from different places. As our MC, Retra has been raised in a place of little education, she knows nothing about the world that surrounds her island of Grave and the different characters bring in some history and world building to the story.


Retra, Lenoir, the Night Creatures. They all play different sides to the story as a whole and each hold great mysteries to how the plot plays out.

Least Favourite

Minor characters: The Warden, Brand, Cal. All those characters that cause trouble and upset to the way of life. The people that always seem to be in the way.


After her brother runs away, the Warden is assigned to Retra’s house to watch her. After her mother turns to silence, her father to lecturing and the Warden to never keep her out of his sight, torturing her with her obedience strip, she runs.


The guardians can see that Retra has come to Ixion for something different than partying and “burning bright” as they say. They keep an eye on her from the beginning, as she soon makes some friends and begins to find out the history of the island and if her brother is still here. She wants to find him and escape somewhere else they can live out their lives.


As expected, Ixion is not what it seems, most are too wasted and partying to notice what is happening. But Retra finds herself right in the middle of the disruptions of the Guardians and Counsels. The Night Creatures are acting out and the gangs are causing trouble for everybody. But will we find out what is the true reason that Ixion exists and where you go when you burn out?


I find this story to be so unique, and fun. A bit exotic and sensual. The idea of being able to just completely lose yourself to not worry for awhile is always appealing. My favourite thing about the book is world building. Not only how the islands are all made up of completely different cultures. How the world changes to hide the island in all darkness all the time. I love the idea of the Night Creatures and the scene that describes what they look like, alone and dark in the forest is the best, so creepy, so interesting. So imaginative.


“Why did you get involved? That’s not a Seal thing to do.’

‘I … what Brand was doing to Krista-belle … she was scared … like when the warden gave me the obedience strip.’

‘You had a pain strip? Fross! How did you leave the compound then?’

Retra gave him a small, anxious smile. ‘I practised. The pain.’

Rollo’s expression changed. His eyes widened in a kind of admiration and he enveloped her in a comforting hug. But Retra didn’t want comfort right now. She wanted to leave. As she tried to edge out his grip he held on.

‘There’s something I’m going to tell you. The real reason that I came here,’ he said.”

Burn Bright Baby Bats!




The buttery texture of the first edition cover is really special. The foiled title is extremely eye-catching, and that’s before we even get onto the artwork by Jarek Kubicki. All this beauty and it still represents the story inside wonderfully.


I love that each character is flawed and yet doing their best to thrive.


Retra is certainly my favourite. Girl has guts, a heart, a spine and a soul.

Least Favourite

I pick Lenoir but only because I have to pick someone.


Retra escapes the Seal Enclave on Grave to go find her brother on Ixion.


The publicity of a place with no rules and no consequences seems too good to be true, and since every action has a reaction, Retra figures out, sometimes, this is even more difficult to handle than  a life lived in the Enclave.


Leaves you ready to move straight onto book 2, Angel Arias.


When Burn Bright came out in 2011, the concept of a female protagonist choosing her tribe was fresh, new, and relatively unexplored. The fact that Retra was searching for a family member and not a love interest sets it apart from most other books, leading the way in the Aussie market for books like Divergent, and The Stars Never Rise.

It passes the Bechdel test and I’m glad to say, in my opinion, it passes the test of a reread 5 years down the line.


“Pain can be dismissed” ~ Joel


NC_Burn Bright Boxed Set_600Joelene:


A surrealist image of a woman whose mascara, clothing and background bleed into one another. Mostly black and greyscale with swathes of brightness. The hot pink title is a stark contrast.


The Ripers, their young wards, pirates, demons… There’s quite a few.


Ruzalia, I think. I don’t know much about her, but it’s hard not to love a pirate who is stealing people from those who would hurt them.

Least Favourite

Charlonge probably. She struck me as kind of weak, and, at her age, I don’t know why she wasn’t questioning how Ixion worked.


Since her brother, Joel, ran away to Ixion: island of ever-night, ever-youth and never-sleep, Retra has been training herself to withstand pain so that she can follow him.


The mysterious and dangerous island of Ixion holds a great many secrets. If Retra can’t figure out how to fit in, she may never live to learn them.


As with many of Marianne’s novels, it was not what I was expecting. It leaves the scene wide open for an explosive book two.


This is a unique kind of world; complex and nuanced and far too much for one book. I’m kind of wondering how it fits into three.

Grave, Ixion and the Sealed community work well as an alternative reality. They stand on their own without coming across as a slightly altered Earth.

I can’t wait to find out more about some of the characters that we’ve only met briefly. With those who have gone to Ixion, what it was they were running from initially. How those who joined Dark Eve started to think of the future rather than the ever-present raves of the present. And what the Ripers – or Ixion for that matter – are and how they came to be.


In Ixion music and party are our only beliefs. Darkness is our comfort. We have few rules but they are absolute.


Discussion Topics

Sealed compounds stipulate that their people suppress emotion, deny themselves company aside from close family, and live a life of abstinence. Ixion is the polar opposite, expecting its wards to party en masse, take capsules to accentuate emotions, and only pause for sleep. Which of the existences would you prefer?

puxty_broken dolls1Ella doesn’t remember what it’s like to be human; after all, she’s lived as a doll for thirty years. She forgets what it’s like to taste, to breathe…to love.

She watches the professor create other dolls, but they don’t seem to hang around for long. His most recent creation is Lisa, a sly goth. Ella doesn’t like Lisa. How could she, when Lisa keeps trying to destroy her?

Ella likes the professor’s granddaughter though, even if she is dying. It’s too bad the professor wants to turn Gabby into a doll, depriving her of an education…depriving her of life.

With time running out and mad dolls on the rampage, Ella questions her very existence as she unearths the secrets buried in her past; secrets that will decide whether Gabby will befall the same fate… 

Paperback, 1st, 175 pages

Published December 14th 2015 by Curiosity Quills ISBN13 9781620079300

The cover is what really drew me to this book. I found the artwork to be very beautiful; it says a thousand words all on its own. It also very much represents the story, which explores some hard topics in a very interesting way.

Ella has been perfectly happy living in the attic, she gets to watch whatever she wants and dance all day. She can not remember questioning why she cannot leave the attic, but understands whatever the professor tells her to do is in her best interest. But when the professor introduces another doll to their very private and closed attic, everything comes falling down.

Lisa begins to question her life; she remembers parts of her past, which is not supposed to happen, and she refuses to be locked up. She begins using the mouse holes to travel the house. Lisa only returns to torture Ella’s mind with huge ideas, dark and frightening ideas that scare her.

The story touches on different physical and mental ailments, and you’ll begin to question who is really the sanest person in this house and how it is that their lives have crossed in this way.

I really enjoyed this story and the variety of characters. The story gets into deep into the characters and the plot really got me thinking. I was interested to see how well we get to know each character and how their stories begin to entwine. I felt it was well written and had a message that will stick with you.

It is a short read under 200 pages and something I would love to read again and recommend to others.

hearn-emperor eightOrphaned and alone, Kazumaru must find a refuge when his uncle – greedy for his estate – tries to kill him in the midst of a hunt. Carrying with him the skull of the stag who died to save him, Kazumaru happens upon the hut of the powerful sorcerer, Shisoku. One who can bond the living with the dead, and man with beast.

With the help of the enigmatic Lady Tora of the Old People, Shisoku creates a ritual to bind Kazumaru with the dead stag. He is reborn as Shikanoko, the deer’s child. Though his old life is over, he has much to do.

The Eight Islands are in peril. The place of the rightful Emperor has been upset and forces are working to bring a different heir to power. The landed lords will have to choose their side, because a battle is coming.

Emperor of the Eight Islands is Lian Hearn’s latest novel exploring the multifaceted world of the Eight Islands. Told in multiple viewpoints, the novel chronicles the war that has divided the nation. Hearn’s inspiration for the novel comes from some of the historic warrior tales of Japan. She cites The Tale of the Heike and the Taiheiki as influences among others. These influences are clear in the structure of Emperor. It reads like an epic mythological tale set in feudal Japan.

There’s a lot going on in Emperor of the Eight Islands, but Hearn does a brilliant job of making the novel easy to follow. Quite a task considering that none of the names are familiar to most Westerners, and many of the names begin with the same letters as others.

The mythology and belief systems in Emperor are fresh and fascinating. With sorcerers, spirits – both evil and benign, ghosts and extraordinary beasts, the novel explores a world that is different to any fantasy I have read before. Hearn handles multiple storylines and perspectives masterfully.

While there are some fascinating characters with rich background stories and in depth development in Emperor, the female presence leaves much to be desired. Lady Tora is perhaps the most interesting of them, and her only objective is to reproduce.

Because Emperor reads like an ancient mythology the emotion is not high and not much emphasis is placed on description. The beauty of it lies in the fantastical elements; magic that is unleashed when the world falls out of balance, spirits that cannot rest until their duty is done and enchanted objects to aid the heroes on the quest.

Fans of Hearn’s Tales of the Otori will welcome this new series. It is a tightly woven, intricate tale that will stay with readers.




Emperor of the Eight Islands – Lian Hearn


Hachette (April 26, 2016)


ISBN: 9780733635137


Pieces of Sky_cvr.inddYA is so hot right now and let me just say that Aussie authors are certainly doing their bit to keep the genre at the top of its game.

When Pieces of Sky landed on my desk the arty brushstroke cover drew me in immediately. Also the endorsement from Vikki Wakefield, whose ‘All I Ever Wanted’ is one of the books that first got me hooked on YA fiction.

Pieces of Sky is written by debut author Trinity Doyle, a former music photographer, graphic designer, and girl band member. From the very first page this story has a distinctly Australian feel to it which I really loved. Too often, in my opinion, YA books lack a strong sense of setting.  For me this is a a critical element in making a story totally transportive. The small coastal town where this story is set is perfectly easy to conjure in your mind. The sunny, sleepy streets, surfboards strapped to car roof racks, shell wind chimes making music with the breeze and the zingy smell of salt water in the air.

Here lives Lucy. Lucy, who eight weeks ago had an ordered teenage life. She was the state backstroke champion, and swimming obsessed. She lived with her parents and her brother, Cam. She had friends, she had goals – she had a life. Then Cam died and her world imploded.

Lucy has stopped swimming. She’s struggling at school, side-stepping everyone at home and  questioning the circumstances around Cam’s death. Was it an accident or was it suicide? As she begins to hunts for answers Lucy discovers much more than she expects. About her brother, about her family, and about herself.

This book delves into some weighty themes (depression, grief, as well as teenage sex) but it does so without a heavy hand. There’s a lightness of touch that avoids any teacherly overtones and shows insight that upper adolescent readers will find accessible. As a central character Lucy is someone you want to invest in. You feel her struggles and understand every misstep.

Lucy’s first real love arrives in the form of new boy in town Evan, whose hard-won maturity is a refreshing take on a teen male character. More than just a ‘boy’ Evan is an important part of Lucy’s exploration of the world outside competitive swimming. So too is the renewal of her friendship with ex-best friend Steffi, the wild free spirit Lucy was pretty sure she no longer had anything in common with.

The depiction of Lucy’s broken family, meantime, is raw and real. The intensity of the sadness they face following Cam’s death breaks your heart. But Lucy’s story ultimately isn’t a bleak one. It’s uplifting and by the final page you know Lucy is going to be OK. You know she can hold her head above water again.

Pieces Of Sky by Trinity Doyle

Allen & Unwin June 2015

ISBN 9781760112486

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