1. What inspired you to become an author and why fantasy novels?
I honestly don't remember a time when I didn't want to be a storyteller. I've been a mad story consumer my whole life - I used to walk to school reading a book!- and all through school my favourite subject was English/composition. Then I fell in love with history -- ancient and medieval, not modern - which probably explains my drift towards fantasy. I mean, I've always loved reading speculative fiction - both sf and fantasy - and it's always been my favourite fare in tv/film. So I guess in that sense it was inevitable that I'd end up writing speculative fiction!
2. Your first novel was The Innocent Mage which is the first book in a series of novels in the Kingbreaker Universe, can you describe what the novels are about and what to expect for those who have not read them?
There are 5 books in the Mage series. Four are immediately linked as two duologies: Kingmaker, Kingbreaker (The Innocent Mage & The Awakened Mage) and then Fisherman's Children (The Prodigal Mage & The Reluctant Mage). Standing a bit to one side is the standalone prequel novel A Blight of Mages, which was written last but can be read either first or last. For what it's worth, I think leaving Blight till last works really well ... but that's up to readers to decide.
Kingmaker, Kingbreaker is the story of Asher, a young fisherman who breaks from his family and strikes out alone to make his own way in the world. That puts him on a collision course with a future that some people believe he was born to bring about. He ends up crossing paths with Gar, heir to their small kingdom's throne, and also with some of those people who believe he was born to save the kingdom from destruction. To say that he's not enthusiastic about being hailed as a hero-in-waiting is an understatement. His journey towards that future forms the spine of the story. There's magic, treachery, love, friendship, betrayal, and many many surprises.
Fisherman's Children picks up several years after the conclusion to Kingmaker, Kingbreaker. I don't like to give too much away. Let's just say that just because you think you've won doesn't necessarily mean that you did.
And A Blight of Mages is the story of the two people who set in motion the cataclysmic events of the first 4 Mage books.
3. You wrote several Star Wars: The Clone Wars novels; The Clone Wars: Wild Space (2008) Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth (2010) Clone Wars Gambit: Siege who and how were you approached to write these novels?
I'm ageing myself here, but what the hell. *g* I was in high school when Star Wars was originally released. On the urging of friends who'd come home after seeing it on their trip to the US, I went -- and fell in love. In some ways my life changed because of that film. So many years later my first fantasy novel came out, and I contacted the Star Wars editor at Del Rey publishing to say, I really love Star Wars and if you're ever looking for new authors I'd love to be considered. Subsequent to that, the wonderful author Karen Traviss (who'd become a friend in the meantime) told Del Rey that she was happy to write a new Star Wars novel series provided I co-wrote it with her. So I owe Karen a huge debt. She's a marvellous writer, and was a wonderful guide through the happy madness of Star Wars fandom.
4. Your novels are character driven; how did you approach the characters in Star Wars: The Clone Wars?
The same way I approach every novel -- by asking myself Who are these people? What makes them tick? What do they love, who do they love, who do they hate, who hates them, what do they want, how far would they go to get it and what do they believe they'd never do? And then what happens when they do it? For me, it's always and only about the characters. Space battles and speeder chases and all that action stuff means nothing to me if I don't care about the people taking part. Books aren't a video game. For me, books are all about the heart and souls and minds of the characters. It's my chance to get inside these people, turn them upside down and shake out their psychological pockets.
5. Did you become an avid fan of the animated series on TV?
I have to say, not so much. Animated stuff isn't my thing. I really appreciated the amazing work that went into producing it, but for me Star Wars will always be about the real people.
6. What are your thoughts of the cancellation of the animated series?
That all good things must come to an end.
7. Would you consider writing any novels based on the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels animated series?
Right now, because of my mainstream work, I can't even let myself dream about writing more Star Wars of any kind. But after this new series is done, who knows? I never say never!
8. You have written so many amazing novels, how do you defeat writer’s block?
You're assuming I can defeat it. *g* I always think that the term is in fact a catch-all cover phrase for a variety of self-inflicted road blocks with which all writers must contend. Sometimes it's actually a good thing -- your subconscious is waving a red flag at you, letting you know you've taken a wrong turn in the narrative. Or, when you have trouble getting started, it's letting you know that the story isn't quite cooked yet. Sometimes it's fear that gets in your way. Writing can be intensely confronting, stirring up feelings of inadequacy, or painful memories. Sometimes writers let the enormity of the task overwhelm them. Deadlines help. So does the fear of letting people down -- my editor, the fabulous readers who support my work. And not writing, at the end of the day, is more painful than writing, even at its most demanding and challenging.
9. You have traveled and lived in so many different places including Canada, England, and Australia. How did you end up in so many different places?
Well, I was born in Canada. But I didn't stay there long, my parents first relocated to England, where my mother's from, then eventually came here to Australia, where my father's from. But I always wanted to travel and see other places, so after uni I relocated to the UK for 3 years, where I learned a great deal about life, the universe and everything. Since I returned to Australia I've travelled every chance I can, and of course now with all the research that I'm doing for my new fantasy series I'm getting to see even more amazing places in Europe and elsewhere. I love it!
10. Any place that you would love to see but have never been to?
Oh, so many. I'm aiming to get to Prague next year. I want to see Malta, and Cyprus, and the Mediterranean. I want to visit Scandinavia and the Loire Valley in France. I could spend the rest of my life doing nothing but travel. I want to see more of the US, Boston and the South. The great national parks. Ireland. So many places!
11. A few episodes ago on Naboo Brew we discussed the lack of main women characters in the Star Wars universe, what’s your take on that?
Oh, it's a vexing and contentious and frustrating and explosive subject. The entire field of speculative fiction is skewed towards the male demographic by so many of its producers, because they believe (ignorantly, I think) that spec fic is a genre created by men and for men, in which women function almost exclusively as victims or objects of sexual conquest/desire. And there is no getting away from the unpalatable fact that in many areas of the spec fic genre women are treated with hostility and resentment - both as characters and in person. It's also sadly true that a fair proportion of men out there won't engage with stories told by women, or which feature women characters as anything but passive sexual objects, or who die to provide the male hero a reason to go off and have an adventure. But that's not universally true. Far from it. I get a lot of mail from guys who enjoy my books, both Star Wars and mainstream fantasy. So it's a case of chipping away at the sexism - both conscious and subconscious - and the adolescent resentment of girl cooties that sadly does permeate all facets of the spec fic genre, not just Star Wars. But until society at large drags itself out of the stone age, then spec fic will always struggle, since it's only a microcosm of the greater world around it.
12. Any particular favorite female Star Wars characters?
Well, Leia, of course! And Ahsoka. At first I didn't like the idea of her at all, since she was just sprung on us out of the blue. But Karen Traviss did a great job with her in her first Clone Wars book, and then the more I thought about her and wrote about her, the more I came to really appreciate her. I also love the Padme of the first 2 prequel films. Unfortunately I have serious issues with how the character was written in the 3rd prequel film, Revenge of the Sith. I thought that was pretty disgraceful, and did not reflect well on the franchise as a whole.
13. You also wrote a few Stargate SG-1 novels; Alliances and Do No Harm why do you think there are so few women authors tackling the Science Fiction Universe?
Well, as I said, there is serious resistance to the idea of women writing 'science fiction' because apparently, if you have ovaries, then your brain malfunctions if you step three feet out of the kitchen or the bedroom. It's utter rubbish, of course, but it can't change until the male reading audience actively supports women writers by buying and reading their work, and talking about it positively in the places where readers hang out. It also requires that male film producers and tv showrunners recruit women to write for them, since the visual mediums exert such a strong influence. It ends up becoming a very very frustrating self-fulfilling prophecy. The power brokers and gatekeepers are men, they hire men, tell male-centric stories, then use that as an excuse for excluding women from the process because women don't have the experience. Not all do it, but most. And that's a very hard battle to wage, as women, because we are routinely and systematically silenced and denied any access to the process. And then when women point out egregious examples of discrimination or sexism, they are bombarded with hate mail and rape threats and death threats and so forth, to silence them and make them go away. Which means it's up to the men who aren't so backward-thinking to step up and demand that their brothers act like grown ups and not spoilt, nasty brats. And that's not happening enough yet. The key, I think, is to remove the societal stigma against women. If the worst, most insulting and humiliating thing you can say to a man is that he's like a girl, what hope do any of us have? Don't get me wrong, some men do stand up and step up. But we need more. We need to create a world where someone being a sexist is as damning and unacceptable and shameful as being a racist -- and that's going to take men and women working together.
14. Any advice for aspiring authors?
Writing novels is a marathon, not a sprint. Having a great idea is barely the beginning. You must love stories and study them, think about them, think about the structures and purposes of narrative in all its forms. You must write. You must rewrite. You must rewrite again. You must be ruthlessly critical of your own work, and seek out beta readers who will tell you truthfully how you can improve. You must never be satisfied, always think of ways to improve. You must remember above all else that publishers don't exist to make your dreams come true. They're in the business of keeping their doors open by consistently publishing well told and entertaining stories. Your business is delivering a story that ticks all the boxes. Writing is a solo effort. Publishing is a team sport. And readers are the final judges of your work. If they like it, they're right. If they hate it, they're right. All reading is subjective. If it's okay for you as a reader to complain about a book or a film or a tv show you didn't like, then as a writer you must accept that some folk won't like your stuff and they might well say so where others can hear them. They get to do that. They forked out their money and with it they bought your book and the right to say whatever they like about it ( short of deliberate and/or malicious misrepresentation, that is.) Finally, love the process. If you don't, you'll never survive the journey.
15. When you’re not writing; what are your favorite hobbies or activities you like to do?
I'm involved with my local theatre group, where I act and direct and do publicity. And soon I'll be getting back to my sword fighting classes. I love research!
16. Any upcoming projects that we can look forward to from you?
Right now I'm in the throes of completing the first book in my new epic fantasy series, The Tarnished Crown. The Path to Power releases next year, and it's the biggest, most challenging and sometimes overwhelming story I've ever started. The series will span 5 volumes, cover multiple locations, many years and lots and lots of characters. I love it, but it scares the crap out of me!