So people may have noticed a bit of a lull in the SPFBO interviews this week. And you’d be right! I’ve been suffering from a bit of burnout. It’s also been a difficult week for me on other fronts, mainly personal. I won’t go into it yet but I am getting better. Trust I will return very soon with more SPFBO interviews, but it will probably wait until the beginning of November.
In the first bit of writing news, I hired my editor for The Aegis Mora this week! Talented sci-fi and fantasy author Tim Marquitz will be joining the Counterbalance prep, and I have high hopes that the second in the series will be even better then the first.
Now we have a second piece of news, and this one unfortunately is quite sad.
A friend and fellow SFF author Brandon Barr is in the final stages of terminal leukaemia, and sadly does not have much time left.
Those of us in the community are trying to ensure that his family is well taken care of following his passing, and we have set up a GoFundMe campaign for him. Please donate what you can by clicking on the image below. I will be pledging everything I get next month from my Patreon to this crowdfund. We’ve made incredible progress in just 4 days, but we have a long way to go before we hit our goal.
Now for the main event! I bring you a very special author interview today, with rising star in the author community Alicia Wanstall-Burke! Her debut Blood of Heirs comes out today, and I recently had the privilege of interviewing her. I must say this: I haven’t been this excited for a book in quite some time.
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
Oh, this feels like one of those awkward ‘introduce yourself to the room’ moments!
Ok, I live in Queensland, Australia, in a little mining town. I have a six-year-old son who keeps me on my toes, a husband who thinks I am completely mad, and too many pets, but they keep me company while I write, so that’s all right.
I have always written fantasy that leans towards the epic and the dark.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
The first book (and a half) that I wrote took ten years. I started it in high school and pretty much re-wrote it once a year. I didn’t have a plan for that story, and it showed.
I had a much more concrete plan for Blood of Heirs, and I did a lot of research upfront about the technology of the South Lands, the climates, the geology, the politics and the magic system of the continent as a whole. A friend said that I know how the tectonic plates of my world move, and I would say that’s true!
The characters came to me pretty organically—sort of out of the blue while I was driving hours and hours to some town or another. Some came fully formed, like Ranoth, whereas with Lidan I only had her name. I had to go exploring to find out who she was and what she wanted.
Tell us about your current project.
I’m about to publish my debut, Blood of Heirs, which is the first book in The Coraidic Sagas.
It follows the parallel tales of Lidan Tolak and Ranoth Olseta, two young people with their whole lives ahead of them when everything goes to shit.
Lidan is the eldest of her father’s ten daughters, but in their patriarchal society, a female heir is not ideal. Her father is desperate for a son, and Lidan’s mother is willing to do whatever she has to in order to preserve her daughter’s position. She’s a bit of a maniac. 10/10 would not win mother of the year.
Ran wants to prove himself to his father, the duke, and takes on a military command that ends in disaster. His latent magical abilities are triggered, and dear old dad doesn’t think too highly of magic. Ran barely escapes his home alive, pursued by his father’s soldiers.
Along the way, Lidan and Ran are forced to confront the truth of their situations and face the reality that what waits for them in the future, and the shadows of the bush, is so much darker than they ever imagined.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
Lidan and Ran are the two point of view characters, and they have a cast of hundreds around them!
Lidan has her thirteenth birthday during the course of the book, and is the First Daughter of the Tolak clan. Her father is the daari of the clan, and her mother is his first wife; a northern woman with pale skin and a murky past. Lidan is outwardly confident but struggles with anxiety and self-doubt under the yoke of her parents’ conflicting restrictions and expectations. When she isn’t fussing over her wild-born horse, Theus, she enjoys the odd cup of tea on the rampart of the village wall and hanging out with her friend, Behn, in the village forge.
Ran is a somewhat naïve fifteen-year-old who grows into a young man, hardened by the battles he’s fought. Or at least, he’d describe himself that way, but really, he’s shit-scared and doing his best not to die. He is the son of the duke of Orthia, in the far north-east, and while he’s had plenty of lessons and training about life, he really hasn’t lived much beyond a sheltered existence in the palace in Usmein. He craves adventure and a chance to prove he can be a worthy successor to his father, but ends up with a lot more death and danger than he bargained for.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
I think if you have a story to tell, your brain won’t give you much choice other than to tell it! And if writing feels like the path you need to follow, then go for it.
Tell the story that’s in you, don’t try and follow trends or fashions, and take every opportunity to learn your craft. Take workshops and master classes, read other authors and study their work as well as enjoying it. Gather friends, colleagues and mentors that you trust and who also know what they’re talking about and listen to them.
Above all, be kind to yourself, play nice with others, and be the best human you can be.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
My world, the continent of Coraidin and the Syod Archipelago, draws very heavily on the part of Queensland where I live in, and places I have visited over the years.
The South Lands is a composite of Central Queensland, minus the whopping great coal mines we have all over the place. In the South you’ll find bouncers (kangaroos), wet seasons and dry seasons, soaring gum trees and shadowy tablelands. In the north, I’ve taken inspiration from the Australian alpine region and the Southern Alps of New Zealand, while the Archipelago is inspired by the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. Then I added some dragons to make it cooler.
What inspires you to write?
I’ve never known a time when I didn’t have a story brewing in my head, and I think other stories are what inspire me. As a kid I would watch a movie or a show and go to bed imagining alternate endings and sequels. Writing began as a way to manage the overload of stories clogging up my thoughts, and managing my mental health. I am not a pleasant person when I can’t write!
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Halfway through the draft of Blood of Heirs in 2015, a joint in my right hand failed. It had been a problem for me since I was a kid, and I’d been told it was fine for as long as I could remember. I finally got to see a hand specialist and found out that the joint had grown wrong and needed to be fused. A bone graft was taken from the top of my hip and a plate and four screws held the joint together while it fused.
Or at least, that was the plan.
Last year, we discovered the fusion hadn’t taken and needed to be repeated. So much fun! #sarcasm
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
I really love the final chapters for both Ran and Lidan. Everything is coming to a head, the pace is relentless, and shit is going sideways faster than either of them can comprehend. They were extremely fun to write, and I still love reading them, even though one scene still gets me in the feels every time.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
I learned that I need to understand where my characters are at and where they think they want to go before I kick off and get too far into the story. I learned to plot and plan, and I realized that was my process.
I also learned that some of the best and worst parts of me have ended up in my characters, and that is all at once terrifying and exhilarating.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
My draft The Smuggler’s Daughter used a much more structured process of understanding the character’s core drive, or their core code, their goals and the things they do to achieve their goals and protect/adhere to their core drive. It helped me be able to focus more on the actual story rather than muddling through as I’m writing. If I understand their core drives, I can work through how they are coming into conflict with each other, or how they can work together to achieve a mutual goal. Sometimes it feels like playing at divinity, and that’s very fun!
What are your future project(s)?
Coming up I have Legacy of Ghosts and Empire of Shadows; book two and three of the Sagas. Legacy is only 30,000 words or so shy of completion and should drop around April 2019. Empire of Shadows will be my big challenge of 2019, and I hope to launch it in August at WorldCon in Dublin.
After that we have The Smuggler’s Daughter (Pirates! Smugglers! More dragons! Ships and shit!) and its sequel, The Queen of Thieves.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Anything that allowed me to live in a beachside shack in the Outer Hebrides with a shaggy dog that chased seagulls up the beach every day.
What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?