Monday, 28 March 2016

Interview - Lee Murray

Hey Everyone!

I'm delighted to bring you yet another instalment in our ongoing interview series with up and coming new authors. This week I had the amazing opportunity to chat with the incredibly cool Lee Murray. We chatted about a variety of topics, from her upcoming novel Into the Mist right through to moles on her back! I hope you enjoy the interview! 

Lee Murray, welcome to Smash Dragons!

First up, tell us a little bit about yourself and your upcoming novel Into the Mist?

Thanks, Matthew. 

Into the Mist, my monster thriller, is to be released by Cohesion Press this April. The book introduces Sergeant Taine McKenna, a veteran of the New Zealand Defence Force, whose team is sent on a babysitting mission escorting a mining expedition into New Zealand’s Te Urewera forest. Covering 2127km2 of unspoiled native bush, the mist-filled forest is the spiritual home of the proud Tūhoe tribe whose history is steeped in controversy. A local matakite (seer), and a solitary pig hunter warn the party off, but the team’s officious leader, Dr Christian de Haas, ignores them, insisting they push on into the forest. Naturally, that’s a bad idea. 

Something about me…? Born and raised in New Zealand, I live in the capital where I write mostly dark speculative fiction in my office on the porch. I’m married to David, who only reads science articles and software manuals, and we have two almost-grown kids: one Hufflepuff, one Slytherin, both Browncoats. When I’m not injured, I like to run, and forest trails are a favourite.

What sparked this particular story? Did it ferment in your head for a long time or was it a ‘light bulb’ moment? 

My first book was Battle of the Birds, a children’s time travel fantasy adventure set in the New Zealand bush. Published by Taramea, a small New Zealand press, the book was well received locally and went on to gain the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Youth novel. The success of Battle of the Birds proved to me that the New Zealand bush was the perfect setting for dark adventure novel, but how could I engage a wider readership, an adult readership, bringing a New Zealand that wasn’t just MiddleEarth to the rest of the world? So I set out to write a New Zealand thriller, set in deep in the bush and embedded in our culture. The taniwha thundered into my head as the perfect antagonist. I remember when it came to me; I was running through Tauranga’s McCardle’s Bush track with my best friend Ross Steele and our local MP, Simon Bridges (now Minister for Energy and Resources) and I mentioned the idea to them. Ross said the idea was ‘cool’ and Simon, who’d been reading Dame Judith Binney’s book, Encircled Lands agreed that the Ureweras, with its mists and mythology, was a great setting for a story. Plenty of political controversy, too. I went home and opened a file which I flippantly gave the name, Global Blockbuster, and the story grew from there. 

What was it about writing a military horror story that appealed to you?

It wasn’t so much about writing military horror, but more about writing an authentic New Zealand thriller incorporating the dark aspects I love, and with all the atmosphere of the bush and people who live there. 

What challenges did you face whilst writing Into the Mist

Writing it. I’m a horribly slow writer, so it’s taken me ages to complete. Plus, I knew nothing about the military and even less about guns. However, I was lucky enough to be given a personal tour of the weapons store at Trentham Army Base by the then NZDF Senior Weapons Officer. Being a civilian I had to be signed in twice, and then the two of us were locked in the armoury, sans rounds, while my guide explained how the various weapons operated. I got to look down scopes and assemble and disassemble parts, even pull the trigger on a few. I was shown antiques and new additions, from handguns right up to long range missile launchers. It was a sensitive time to be carrying out this research because there had been a spate of college killings in the United States, so my visit was both sobering and fascinating. 

Tell me more about the Taniwha (without, of course, spoiling your story). What are they? 

The focus of many local legends, taniwha are supernatural creatures of New Zealand. They take on many forms such as sharks, lizards, or amphibians, and can be either friendly or threatening. The term taniwha was also used by Maori as a metaphor for a great chief. Readers interested in learning more will find a good starting point at The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.  

You mentioned wanting to bring a New Zealand that wasn't Middle Earth to a wider readership with this book. Can you tell us about (apart from yourself) some other New Zealand authors working in the speculative fiction field we should maybe check out? 

Oooh you ask the hard questions, Matthew! I recently read and enjoyed Phillip Mann’s Arthur C Clark-nominated book, The Disestablishment of Paradise, for a sci-fi ‘Lord of the Flies’ try Darusha Wehm’s Children of Arkadia (Bundoran Press). If you’re a fan of short reads, then check out Darian Smith’s Shifting Worlds, or Grant Stone’s collection Everything is Fine. Of course, Juliet Marillier is one of ours. And Marty Young. And Helen Lowe. Look for anything by Dan Rabarts, Octavia Cade, and Andi Buchanan…. and I haven’t even started on the YA writers yet. I recommend heading to SpecFicNZ where New Zealand speculative fiction writers hang out. Or SFFANZ for the latest Sir Julius Vogel Awards finalists. 

How did it feel to get such a great blurb from best-selling author Greig Beck? 

I might have stopped breathing. There was some wild flailing of arms. Disbelief. Delirium. Phone calls to family members. It was an amazing thing to think Greig, one of my all-time favourite writers of pacy intelligent thrillers, had read my book and loved it. For a writer, this is equivalent to winning a Golden Globe. Naturally, I sent Greig a message with my thanks, and he replied, saying he’ll be looking out for what I write next. Cue more hyperventilating. So now I’m scrambling to write that next thing, and it’ll have to be good. Because, I mean, Greig Beck!


Tell me about the cover. Did you have much input in its design and composition?

The cover is gorgeous, isn’t it? I had very little to do with it other than providing the scenario. Geoff and I had talked briefly about how I envisaged the cover, including an idea around a carved bullroarer, but there were copyright issues associated with using a carver’s unique artwork so we abandoned that idea and left the overall concept to Dean Samed, which was exactly the right decision because the man is a genius. I love the way Dean has paid attention to the detail of the story: the mist, the soldiers in their bush hats and carrying Steyrs. He did a great job with the physiology of my monster stalking the Te Urewera forest, too. I couldn’t imagine a better jacket for Into the Mist. 

Did you always envisage yourself becoming a writer? 

I’ve always written, journaled, blogged (before there was such a thing as blogging), scribbling ideas in notebooks as far back as I can remember. But in primary school, I joined the St John Ambulance cadets, which opened up biology for me and, not realising it was the blood that fascinated me, I went on to become a research scientist instead. It wasn’t until much later, when my children were in school, that I considered making writing my career. 

You touched on some of the research you did (weapons inspection) whilst writing Into the Mist. I'm curious, what was your favourite tidbit of research that you stumbled across? 

Te Urewera is the name of our national park and the spiritual homeland of the Tūhoe tribe. It is also the Māori term for “burned penis” after the war chief Murakareke, who rolled over in his sleep one night, rolling into the fire where he singed his family jewels!

Tell me a random fact about yourself. 

I have a dark mole on my left shoulder. I’m not particularly superstitious, but my mother is Chinese so I’ve always been aware that these are a sign of great burden and responsibility, and the darker they are the heavier the burden, sometimes bringing bad luck to the entire family. Many Chinese recommend having these unfortunate moles removed, but it’s not on my agenda because it’s a great fall back: anything goes wrong, I can blame it on that little mole.  

Hypothetical question… if you were selected to be among the first colonists of Mars what three hardback books would you take? (You can only take 3 due to payload restrictions).  Why? 

As it happens, I applied but didn’t pass the selection criteria for that trip: I’ve had my children, my science degrees are decades old, and tight spaces make me nervous. I can’t cook either, which further limited my chances. Nor do I like the cold and they informed me there would be a few years of uncomfortable cryo-sleep involved. But if, hypothetically, they were to change their minds and a space came up for an archivist or a chronicler or someone to read to the kids when they wake up, then the books I would take are:

Contest – by Matthew Reilly. A timely reminder of what makes us human as we set out for other worlds.

Beneath the Dark Ice – by Greig Beck. For a pure heart-pounding survival adventure. 

New Zealand ‒ by Craig Potton. Photographs of home, because I’m told the landscape on Mars is lacking a little green. 

How did you link up with Cohesion Press?

Polish those pitches, peeps, because my involvement with Cohesion was through the normal query process. I was already in a few Facebook groups with Geoff Brown, and had seen some of the great work Cohesion was putting out, including stories by some of my favourite writers. At that time, Cohesion was closed to submissions for anything other than military monster thrillers, and since the fit was good, I sent them a query for Into the Mist with Military Monster Thriller in the subject line. It worked. Geoff replied warning it would take at least 6 weeks to get back to me, so I was surprised when he replied within the week requesting the full manuscript. Three days later he offered me a contract. There’s no mucking around with Cohesion. 

Best part of being a writer? Worst? 

The best part of being a writer is the community. Writers are amazing people. They’re all aware of how hard it is to make it in this industry, how even the very best writers get nowhere without discoverability, and that to get ahead we need to forget we’re individuals and work together. Most genre writers, I’ve found, are willing to share a post, write a blog, provide a review, or beta a story. Some will go even further. The Baby Teeth project, for example, was a group of writers who banded together to produce great work to promote children’s literacy. Likewise, Steve Dillon’s The Refuge Collection is a current dark fiction charity project involving some gifted writers and artists, all willing to give up their time and skills in support of refugees. 

Also, I like working from home, sometimes in my pyjamas.

The worst part about being a writer in New Zealand that our market is small which has meant all the big players have essentially pulled out, leaving only work by the literary old guard being published or funded. I’m absolutely thrilled that Cohesion has picked up Into the Mist, but at the same time I’m disappointed that I’ve had to cross the ditch to find a publisher for my story. 

Favourite beverage whilst reading?


Standard cliché question… best tip for people starting out with their writing? 

Grow a carapace. 

Lee Murray, thank you so much for stopping by! 

For more information about Lee and her work check out her website details below. And I implore you all to go now and pre-order Into the Mist here. It's going to be a cracking read by the sounds of it! 

Lee Murray writes fiction for adults and children. She is a five-time winner of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror, and holds an Australian Shadows Award (with Dan Rabarts) for Best Edited Collection for Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror (Paper Road Press). She is proud to have co-edited six anthologies, including four by New Zealand intermediate and secondary students, as well as At the Edge, a collection of antipodean speculative fiction to be released in June 2016. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Review - Blurring The Line

For awhile now I've been trying to push myself outside of my reading comfort zone. Whilst I generally love all things fantasy, lately I've found myself drawn to things that, in the past, I wouldn't have even taken a look at whilst browsing the bookstore. And that's a good thing... because it has opened up my eyes to a whole raft of new genres, authors, and experiences. So when Blurring the Line popped up on my radar I jumped at the chance to read it. An anthology that explores the grey areas between what is real and what isn't... hell yes! 

From its opening pages Blurring the Line blew me away. From Piccirilli's insightful and poignant Our Doom is Nigh through to the dark and horrific Nita Klune by Rena Mason, Blurring the Line is a wonderful and gripping exploration of the horror (both real and imagined) of our world. Each and every story enthralled me in different ways, from the insanely freaky How Father Bryant Saw the Light by Alan Baxter through to the fascinating and dark take on the riddle of Schrodinger's Cat by Steven Lloyd Wilson (Miskatonic Schrodinger). There are no weak stories in this book, which is a credit to both the editor (Marty Young) and the authors themselves. The non-fiction pieces scattered throughout the anthology are also interesting and creepy (and never detracted from the pacing of the book for me, unlike some others who have read it). I loved reading about the real life inspirations behind so many of our legends and monsters, and it served as a sobering reminder that the fiction we read, and the stories we tell to each other, had to come from somewhere. Those monsters that terrified us as kids (and as adults!) and the urban legends we told around a camp fire, spawned from that grey area between the real and imaginary that Blurring the Line lovingly basks in. This book is not for the faint of heart. It challenges you to think about the potential darkness within yourself and around the world, whilst also shining a light on that darkness where it has been fulfilled. 

Blurring the Line made me uncomfortable (in a good way), and it pushed me through a range of different emotions as I read it. To me that is the litmus test of all good storytelling, where a book can consume you to a point whereby it echoes in your thinking and emotions weeks and months later. Even today, as I write this review, I'm still pondering the questions posed by the book and sorting through the feelings it evoked. 

Blurring the Line is one of the best anthologies I've read in years. It is a fascinating and gritty melting pot of ghost stories, witchcraft, human oddities and monsters. It will challenge you to not only examine the world around you in a different light, but also to examine yourself. Even if you aren't a fan of horror you will still find something wonderful in this book. Blurring the Line is an incredible tome that works its tendrils into your soul.

4 stars out of 5.   

Monday, 21 March 2016

Review - The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

What can I say about The Bands of Mourning that will even come close to describing just how good it is? 

A must read? Another brilliant example of why the Sanderson phenomena continues to explode? Perfect speculative fiction?

All of the above are true. The Bands of Mourning simply continues Sanderson along that upward trend he has been on since the beginning of his career. 

So what did I love about the sixth instalment of Sanderson's Mistborn series? Everything. 

The Bands of Mourning tells the story of Wax, Wayne, and their associates. Following a foiled assassination attempt on Wax and Steris at their wedding, the group are drawn into a mystery and conspiracy involving a pair of mythical metalminds created by the Lord Ruler (the Bands of Mourning). From this frantic beginning all hell subsequently breaks lose. The shadowy organisation known as the Set reappears, and Wax and Wayne set off on a journey to the roughs where they are confronted by a mystery that will change the face of the world. 

The Bands of Mourning is a perfect example of great storytelling. It combines brilliant and fascinating protagonists and antagonists in a world filled with originality and wonder. The plot itself starts at a blistering (yet controlled) pace and never relents until the final page. Sanderson layers mysteries within mysteries in this latest book, yet also answers some of the key questions that fans have been debating since the Shadows of Self was released. 

Wax and Wayne are as loveable as they have always been in this instalment. I adored their continued development, with Sanderson going a long way to flesh out the emotional journey that Wax has undertaken since the Shadows of Self. The humorous wit and banter from these two characters has also improved (Sanderson in general has improved a lot in this regard), with both providing many laugh out loud moments for me. I also adored the growth of Steris in this book. She has gone from being an annoying side character to an integral part of the team, providing many amazing moments throughout the book. 

The world building is, as you'd expect, top notch. Most of the action takes place on the fringes of the Basin in a place called New Seran, which Sanderson brings to life almost easily. Filled with gushing waterfalls, rock formations, and panoramic views, New Seran provides a fascinating expansion to the world of the Mistborn books (there is more, but I won't go into it due to spoilers). The action is also brilliant, with magical battles, gun fights, explosions and... FLYING MACHINES. Throw in a train robbery, and a secret base infiltration, and you have barely scratched the surface of the action. Sanderson has always been a master of writing off the hook action scenes, but in the Bands of Mourning he has levelled up yet again! 

Finally, Sanderson delves further into the Cosmere mythos in this book. Hoid makes an appearance, and mysteries that been looming about the Shards and Odium are further explored. Sanderson continues to stun me with his ambition and scope in regards to the Cosmere, and sleuths looking for clues will find plenty throughout this tale. 

All in all The Bands of Mourning is a brilliant adventure fantasy told within an original and breathtaking world. I loved everything about it, and can't wait until the next book in the series comes out. 

Highly recommend for all speculative fiction fans. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Friday, 18 March 2016

Publisher Spotlight - Cohesion Press

I woke this morning to the some amazing news. Local publisher Cohesion Press announced that they had acquired the rights to the new collaborative monster novel Primordial from Alan Baxter and David Wood.

Monsters... Adventure... Nazis... 

Holy shit. 

*Initiate Kermit Flail*

After I pulled myself together and calmed down (just a little) it got me thinking. Cohesion Press are a local publisher that just keep going from strength to strength, but you still don't hear much about them from local media. So, in order to do my small part I decided to write this post, and shine a light on a local press that are arguably one of the best operating in this country right now. 

So who are Cohesion Press? 

Cohesion Press are a small publisher (but growing rapidly!) based on Beechworth, Victoria. They specialise in publishing military fiction and speculative fiction (horror, dark fantasy, military horror), and have successfully published some of the biggest names in the industry worldwide (Jonathan Maberry, Greig Beck, James A. Moore, Weston Ochse and Kaaron Warren). 

Who runs Cohesion Press? 

The owner and editor-in-chief is Geoff Brown. Geoff is an awesome bloke, and incredibly friendly and approachable. He is also surrounded by other amazing staff members, who can be found here. Together they have formed a dedicated and talented group.  

What makes them special? 

Cohesion constantly strive to not only give their authors the best possible deal in terms of pay, but also are one of the few publishers to give unknown authors a fair and decent crack at the industry. 

Cohesion are also incredibly fan friendly, and try to offer the best prices on their releases. And did I mention the work itself? Cohesion is dedicated to publishing the best writers from the industry, along with an assortment of amazing newcomers. They literally have published the best military horror I've ever read... period.

How can I support Cohesion Press? 

Basically... in a nutshell... buy their books. Not only are you helping them grow, you're giving the big name authors they have published a reason to come back. Buy their books... pre-order them... review them online... tell your friends... plead with your libraries to buy copies for their shelves... and again... BUY THEIR BOOKS. 

What's coming up for Cohesion Press?

Along with the amazing work they have published in the past (see their SNAFU books, American Nocturne, and Blurring the Line) they have some cracking titles coming up. Here are some examples (with links to Amazon if they are available)... 

Into the Mist by Lee Murray.
SNAFU: Future Warfare featuring Weston Ochse and other assorted authors.
Jade Gods by Patrick Freivald. 
SNAFU: Unnatural Selection featuring Michael McBride and other assorted authors. 
Man with the Iron Heart by Mat Nastos. 

And check out these amazing looking covers... damn they are rocking! 

Excited yet? I know I am! If you want to know more, head on over to Cohesion's website. You can find links to their social media accounts there as well... because stalking is ok when it's about books... right? Right?!? 

Geoff also runs a book editing service, and owns an asylum that runs ghost tours and horror movie screenings (how fucking cool is that!?!). I plan on visiting Beechworth once I've summoned up enough courage (don't look at me like that... ghosts are fucking scary!)... and you should too (all details and prices are on the website linked above). 

So yeah, in a nutshell, Cohesion Press are one to watch in the future. They are going places fast, and I implore you all to get on the bandwagon and keep Cohesion bringing us the finest quality speculative fiction and military horror.   

Until next time peeps, be nice to each other and keep on reading. 


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Interview - Angela Slatter

Hey Everyone! 

I'm delighted to bring you yet another instalment in our ongoing interview series here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to chat with award-winning author Angela Slatter. Angela kindly took time out of her very busy schedule to stop by, so for that we are incredibly grateful. I hope you all enjoy it! 

Be sure to check out all of her work as well... it's amazing!

Angela Slatter, welcome to Smash Dragons!

First up, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a Brisbane-based writer of dark fantasy and horror, most of my tales have their roots in fairy tales. I’ve been publishing since 2006. I’ve done a lot of jobs over the years in order to avoid being a writer − university admin officer, articled clerk, check-out chick, research assistant, membership coordinator − but ultimately I have failed to not be a writer. I have no cat.

Why did you start to write? Was it something you always envisaged yourself pursuing down the track?

I always scribbled, I always told myself stories or rewrote the scripts of tv shows, or books, if I didn’t like the ending. I didn’t think I’d end up being a writer because I didn’t think I could put all those words in order! So many words! Also it’s hard to make a living as a writer and you can’t pay your bills with artistic credit (“In return for this bacon and eggs, I shall read you the excellent review I received from Publishers Weekly!”). In the end I threw in the high-paying job and went for it.

What challenges have you faced over the years as a writer?

Attempting to pay for bacon and eggs with reviews from Publishers Weekly! It never goes well. 
Finding my own voice, and deciding what kinds of tales I wanted to tell.
The usual writer angst about someone working out that I’m an impostor and tapping me on the shoulder (“Excuse me, madam, we’ve become aware that you’re actually a Slitheen and the compression field on your human suit is malfunctioning.”).
Finding a balance between the need to pay bills and the need to tell stories.

What’s your take on the current state of speculative fiction across the world? What areas do we still need to work on to make our scene healthier and more vibrant?

Argh! That’s a bit like “How do we achieve world peace in five words or fewer.” 

Diversity! Diversity across race, gender, culture, age, ability/disability. Openness to new writers and new kinds of writing from different kinds of writers. Challenge yourself in your reading: read a new female author, read a new PoC author, check out Afrofuturism anthologies, read the Apex Book of World SF anthology edited by Mahvesh Murad, read Twelfth Planet’s Defying Doomsday for a new take on characters with disabilities, read the Queers Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed. Seek out something new, learn something new, give your brain and your preconceptions a shake-up. 

Be accepting. Don’t indulge in Auto-Outrage, a condition which occurs when someone reads a headline on social media or an entire article that’s a beat-up and gets up-in-arms without doing any further research for themselves. Don’t indulge in pile-ons when everyone else is picking on someone they perceive to be the Representative of Evil Du Jour. Don’t be spiteful. Don’t be insane. Recognise another’s right to have an opinion that differs to yours; do not assume that because they say “I don’t agree with that” that they are not attacking you, your family, and everyone you’ve ever cared about! Agree to disagree.

In short − and in five words or fewer − “Don’t be a douche.”

Tell me a random fact about yourself. 

Someone once almost sold me for seven camels in a Bedouin village in Israel. 

Your work covers an incredible breadth of scope and genres. Do you have a preference, or is it a case of loving them all?

Well, I kind of feel like I work primarily in dark fantasy/fairy tale with a good dash of horror ... all of those things can be put under the heading of ‘speculative fiction’. I do very little science fiction because I truly suck at it.

I suppose fairy tale-inflected horror is my bag. I like that so many of our fears are summed up by the fairy tales we’re told as children. I like unpacking that and re-working the themes and stories into other shapes, but still tapping into something that makes a reader shudder. 

Best tips for people aspiring to work within the writing and publishing industry?

Write, write, write. 
Learn how to write and remember that you never know it all, there’s always something new to learn or something old to remember. 
Learn to accept criticism, good or bad, because not every will like what you write: deal with it and grow a thick skin. 
Send your work internationally, because very few writers can make a living just by being published in Australia. 
Network − which means building mutually beneficial relationships with other writers, publishers, agents, editors, writers centres, etc.
Be polite to everyone.
Don’t answer reviews no matter how stupid said review might seem (or be in actuality: “This novel was too short”, “Actually it’s a novella. See, it says so on the cover.”).
Don’t indulge in public spats. Remember: the internet is forever.

You’re extremely busy at the moment. Can you give us a run down on all the projects you’re working on right now?

*cue maniacal laughter* At the moment I am in the short breathing space between finishing a new novel, Corpselight (the sequel to my debut novel Vigil) and then starting the editing process. In that breathing space I am finishing up two new novellas to go into my Prime Books collection A Feast of Sorrows, which is out in October this year. I also have to write four commissioned stories for a variety of anthologies. I’ve got to start doing research for a monograph, The Karnstein Trilogy: Mere Kissing Cousins or Is Blood Thicker than Water?, I’m writing for Electric Dreamhouse Press’ film criticism series. I’m mentoring a Brisbane novelist. I’m the Established Writer-in-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in Perth (25 June-10 July), and I’m going to the UK in August for the Nine Worlds con in London and (hopefully) the Dublin Ghost Story Festival in Ireland. I also have to finish a short story collection for PS Publishing (Winter Children and Other Chilling Tales) as well as finish off final edits on the final Sourdough World collection for Tartarus Press, The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales.

And then I have to start a third novel, Restoration, which is the last book in the series along with Vigil and Corpselight. Then I’ll have a little lie down.

I adored your recent novella Of Sorrow and Such. I’m curious, what motivated you to write that particular story? Where did you draw your ideas from?

Well, I had the character of Patience from two of the stories in my first collection Sourdough and Other Stories − she appears there once as a young girl (“Gallowberries”) and later as a much older woman (“Sister, Sister”), and I’d always wondered what happened in between. So when I was asked to write a novella, she was the character my mind went to first ... and somehow she’d become inextricably linked with an old folk tale that I’d read in a book my father gave me thirty-odd years ago about witches turning into cats. I wanted to work with and subvert ideas about witches and sisterhood, weave them into a fairy and folk tale mix ... and have the women come out safely at the end.

I also had the character of Selke from Sourdough (“A Porcelain Soul”), and I’d always wanted to do something more with her − one day she might get her own novella too − and as I started writing the pair of them just came together on the page. They have similarities and important differences, and I just find them both really fascinating (although Patience is my favourite). 

You are known for your intricate and fascinating characterisation. What do you think makes a good character? Why do many authors struggle with this? 

For me personally I always come back to “desire”: knowing what your character wants most in the world. Knowing what they will do to get it, how far they will go to get it, what laws will they break in its pursuit, what and who will they sacrifice to get it ... and what will they do if they either find it wasn’t what they believed it to be or if it’s taken from them? If I’m finding myself lost in the story I always come back to that one common core: desire. If you’ve got desire, if you know what your character wants, then you’ve got your plot. 

If you could meet any author who would it be? Why?

Angela Carter because she’s the mother of us all! Well, not really, but she did so much to rehabilitate the fairy tale and her steps are the ones most of us walk in nowadays (though she’s also another link in a long chain of fairy talers). Her writing is so beautiful and bawdy and bold and baroque, she was exceedingly smart and very funny; I think she would be an excellent conversationalist. 

Random question… favourite colour?

Green. Specifically forest green.

Take me through a day of writing with Angela Slatter. Do you write in the morning or night? Plotter or pantser? Pots of tea or whiskey bottle?

I used to write in the evening, but now that I’m a freelancer I have to use my day more efficiently. So, I run the day as if I’m doing a day job in an office. I start work about 8.30am, run through emails, check my deadline schedule to see what I need to be finishing up. Then I start the actual writing part, which I tend to do in the morning when my brain’s fresh. I’ll write from about 9am - 1pm (times may vary), then I’ll have lunch and watch bad tv for an hour, just separate my thought processes from what I’ve been doing previously. Then about 2pm I’ll either write some more or, more often, I’ll do the business stuff, like organising marketing collateral or travel to cons, writing articles, going over galley proofs, interviewing other writers, researching, etc. Depending on deadlines, sometimes I’ll also write a bit in the evening after dinner, but that’s mostly a rare occurrence. I’m not teaching this year so I don’t need to factor in writing courses.

I am a mix of plotter and pantser: I like to have a broad outline so I know where I’m going, but nothing so restrictive that I can’t make detours or change things if I think of something better to do. 

Pots of coffee, with the very occasional whiskey in the evening when I’ve finished something major (or am feeling very stressed and am making noises like a boiling teakettle ... or a farting Slitheen).

In the introduction of the wonderful Sourdough and Other Stories Robert Shearman wrote that we are shaped by the stories we are told. I’m curious. What are your favourite stories? How do you think they have helped shape you into the writer you are today?

I think we are shaped by the stories we read. I’ve talked about it a lot elsewhere, but fairy tales were a big part of my childhood and were the stories I was read. I learned to love them then, and they’ve been like food and drink to me ever since. 

I also love picking up lines from other works, like from Susan Power’s The Grass Dancer: “Walk in the shadows and you walk forever" ... I’ve carried that one around in my head for years, along with an from Clive James that those who’ve left home behind always recognise it when they find it again.

I think I read so widely, so catholically, that it gave me a really good idea of what I like, what I could do, how I could experiment. It also made me bold enough to try; I read Eco and Borges with such joy and awe and the certainty that I could never do what they did ... but eventually I thought “You have to try.” It’s one of the reasons I love the phrase “terrible as an army with banners” ... it’s from The Song of Songs but I first came across it in Eco’s The Name of the Rose, and I like to insert it into stories as my little homage to Eco, an acknowledgement of all the things that have fed into me as a writer. And in one of Angela Carter’s collections (I think it’s The Company of Wolves, or maybe the story “Peter and the Wolf” in Burning Your Boats) where she refers to ideas of sitting around fires and hearing stories, because fire meant safety from the things in the darkness and stories were warnings about those things too. When I’m writing a fairy tale I try to tap into those ideas about danger and safety, the known and the unknown, that her observation always rouses in me ... as if those ideas are guiding lights in the blackness that I can stumble towards.

Any plans to appear on the convention/event circuit in 2016? 

I’ll be at Contact 2016 in Brisbane this Easter, doing about four panels. And I get to interview Ben Aaronovitch on 24 March at the State Library!

I’ll be at Nine Worlds in London in August and hopefully the Dublin Ghost Story Festival. I’ll be at KSP in Perth for two weeks over June/July this year. That’s pretty much it for 2016. In 2017 my plan is to head to Helsinki for WorldCon.

And finally, most cherished book in your library?

Oh ... that would be a toss-up between Charlotte Bronte’s Villette (which a very dear friend gave me many years ago) and my copy of Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master ... an a very old copy of Josephus’ The Jewish War from my uncle.

Angela Slatter, thank you so much for your time! 

You can find out more about Angela and her work by visiting her website. I highly recommended that you check it out. Angela is an amazing writer, and even better person. 

Until next time peeps, be nice to each other and keep on reading. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Five Fantasy Tropes That Should Be Consigned to History by Marc. J. Turner

As an author, you need to be careful when talking about fantasy tropes. If I were to make an exhaustive list of tropes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single book in the genre that didn’t contain at least one of them. Most would contain several – but not my own, of course.


Obviously, not all tropes are “bad”. If we define a trope as being a significant or recurrent theme in the genre, then you’d have to include dragons in that, wouldn’t you? And I, for one, will never tire of dragons. You might even find one or two lurking in my new book Dragon Hunters.

Also, a good writer can do something new with a trope and keep it interesting. For example, I’ve lost count of the number of wizard schools I’ve seen. There were three alone on my walk into town this morning. Yet I enjoyed reading about the University in Pat Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. Any trope can be made to work if the execution is good.

Having said that, here are five tropes that I’d be happy never to see again. (Please note, I’m not suggesting that any book that contains these tropes is “bad” or “unimaginative”; I’m simply saying that I would be less inclined to read it.)

1. Prophecies

When I was a teen, it seemed every other fantasy book I read featured a prophecy. You know the sort of thing: “The Chosen One will claim the Sword of Light and defeat the Dark Lord”, or “Upon the death of three kings, the world will be plunged into Chaos”. Now maybe it’s just me, but if I foresaw the precise set of circumstances that would bring about the end of all things, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to share it with the world. You can guarantee that somewhere a Dark Lord is listening in and saying, “Well, that is interesting.”

And why is it that whoever makes these prophecies never sees clearly enough to be able to provide a complete picture? It’s never an entirely useful prophecy. There’s always room for misinterpretation so the author can throw in a twist at the end.

Plus, there’s so much scope for abuse, it’s a wonder the bad guys don’t have fun with prophecies more often. “Ah, yes, paradise on earth is just one step away. All you have to do is destroy that kingdom over there. What’s that you say? If you attack, you’ll leave your border with my Evil Empire undefended? Purely a coincidence, I assure you.” *Whistles innocently*

2. The Chosen One

In fantasy books the protagonist often begins life as Mr A.N.Other, minding his own business in some nowhere village doing nothing in particular. Then we discover that he is the son of a king or a powerful wizard or warrior, and suddenly he is able to take on the world, no training required. Or if there is training, the author presses the fast forward button on the process, and our protagonist learns in a year what it would take others a lifetime to master.

And the transformation in our hero doesn’t end there. He has spent his formative years as a farm boy or a swineherd, yet for some reason that has prepared him perfectly for the demands of running a kingdom. When he rises to the throne, everyone lives happily ever after. There seems to be a sub-text in these books that in order to stop the world slipping into chaos, all you have to do is put the “right” person in charge. It’s as if the natural order is somehow disturbed if there isn’t a man or a woman ruling everything. Whereas in reality we don’t have to look too far in our own world for examples of where putting all the power in the hands of one person isn’t necessarily a good idea.

3. The Older Mentor

Obviously there’s nothing wrong in itself with having an older mentor helping a young hero. It can, though, give rise to some amusing results. Sometimes the “older” mentor isn’t much older than the protagonist, and you end up with the strange position where the mentor spends an age training someone else to do a job she could have done herself in half the time.

Also, the mentor only ever shares her wisdom when she is ready to do so. Occasionally the protagonist is told “you are not ready for this information” – which is really the author’s way of saying “I’m not ready to give you this information”. Or we are told there is no time to pass on the information, before the protagonist embarks on a multi-book quest that spans years and continents. Opportunity in all that, surely, for a quick heads-up that Darth Vader is your father.

As for the chances of the older mentor dying before the end of the story . . . Well, let’s just say the bookmakers have stopped taking bets on that already.

4. One size fits all

Earth has about two hundred states, and thousands of different ethnicities. You’d have to go a long way to find two people who are alike in every respect, and who agree on everything. In fantasy, though, you can sometimes find whole nations – or even whole worlds – of people who are exactly the same. Everyone is wise and graceful, or everyone is a fierce and bloodthirsty warrior.

This sweeping generalization fits in well with the black and white nature of some fantasy worlds. The protagonist and her friends are good, the antagonist and his minions are bad, and there is nothing in between. Consider orcs. In a sense these are “easy” enemies, because they are so obviously evil. There is no reasoning with them, which means our noble heroine never has to think twice before she lays into them with her sword. I prefer to see shades of grey, both in the characters and in the worldbuilding.

5. Names

There was a time when it seemed every fantasy map featured a host of unpronounceable names that began with X or Z, and contained precisely zero vowels. And if you could slip in a few apostrophes too, then all the be’tt’er better. I have to admit, I have sympathy with the makers of those maps. Finding names that no one objects to can be tricky. For example, some people don’t like names containing the word “of” (River of Blood, Sea of Storms).

Anyone complaining about the names on a fantasy map, though, should take a moment to glance through their real-world atlas. The Black Sea, the Red Sea, the Yellow Sea. No prizes for originality there. It’s the same with countries. You can imagine the explorers sailing in to a new island they’ve just discovered and saying, “So, I guess we should give this place a name. Any ideas?” “Um. Well, I can see some ice over there, so Ice … land?”

Job done. Handshakes all round

Review - Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner

Have you ever read a debut novel from an author and thought to yourself, 'yeah, this writer has something special.' 

Well that's how I felt when I first stumbled upon When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner. It had everything that I loved about fantasy. Sprawling landscapes and cultures, intense magical combat and action, and intelligent and fascinating characters with agency. So when I heard that Turner's next book was coming I was extremely excited. I couldn't wait to dive back into the world that Turner had engineered in his debut. 

And then I found out that Dragon Hunters would be focused on an entirely new set of characters and a new setting. 


Alarm bells began to ring in my head, and my high hopes for the sequel started to fall. However, after finally reading it (moral of the story... don't judge something you haven't read yet!) I came to the conclusion that I was wrong.

Very, very wrong. 

This book not only equals When the Heavens Fall, it exceeds and eclipses it. 

Dragon Hunters tells the story of the Storm Lords, a fellowship of water mages who rule the empire known the Storm Isles. Their leader, Emira Imerle Polivar, is coming to the end of her tenure as leader. But Polivar has no intention of standing down without a fight. Once a year, the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon into the Sabian Sea, where it is hunted by Imerle and the Storm Lords. This year however Imerle plans to sabotage the Dragon Gate and destroy the Storm Lords dynasty. But Imerle is not the only one plotting and scheming, and when the sabotage of the gate is set in motion new enemies will appear amidst the chaos and destruction. 

So what did I love about this book? Everything (seriously). From its scintillating action through to its intelligent and enthralling narrative and dialogue, Dragon Hunters is a roller coaster ride filled with intensity and glory (unlike When the Heavens Fall, which was more of a slow burn). Turner has really ramped it up with this book, deploying a bucket load of well crafted and intense nautical sequences (which I love) and insanely brilliant battles with great sea dragons. 

And fuck me... those sea dragons. This book contains one of the best representations of dragons I've ever seen in a fantasy book. Period. They are brutal killing machines... alpha predators that give even the powerful Storm Lords a run for their money.  

The characterisation was also amazing in this book. All of the players, from Imerele through to Webb and Flood had depth, charm, and agency. This is one of the areas that Turner has really shown improvement in since his debut, and it was great to see him control a large cast of characters with real skill and finesse. 

The world building was, like in When the Heavens Fall, layered and filled with history and lore. I adored the nautical setting in a lot of the sequences, and was enthralled at how Turner linked this book back to his debut. Turner has a real skill when it comes to designing fantasy worlds, and I chewed up all of the tidbits that he planted throughout the plot. 

The pacing was fast yet perfectly controlled and structured. This is the key difference between this book and When the Heavens Fall. Dragon Hunters is more reminiscent of an cracking sword and sorcery tale, filled with magic, monsters and mayhem. I loved the sense of adventure I got from reading this story, and the ending left me yearning for more from this world. 

Dragon Hunters doesn't have any weaknesses in my opinion. It is a perfectly balanced and well told tale filled with carnage and brutal delight. 

I am stoked that I read this book... and Turner has impressed me so much that he has now been added to the list of authors whose work I will always buy. 

If you like fantasy then you have to read this book. Do yourself a favour and buy it now. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Interview - Peter Tieryas

Hello Peeps!

I'm delighted to be able to bring yet another awesome interview in our ongoing series here at Smash Dragons. Today, we speak to the delightful Peter Tieryas... at least I thought it was Peter Tieryas at first... 

Read on... if you dare! 

Peter, welcome to Smash Dragons!

First up, tell us a little about yourself and your book The United States of Japan.

I’m actually a program written by DNA that likes to disrupt normalcy. I don’t have a physical body, just a bunch of CPUs that endeavor to speculate on viral fictions that happen in alternate universes. USJ is one of those alternate histories where the Axis forces won. It focuses more on the Asian side of the war, getting into the nitty gritty of Asian culture as well as the tragedies that currently inform the geopolitical interactions there.

Why did decide to write this book? Was it something you always envisaged yourself doing? Can you tell me about the genesis of it?

A strange robot inside my head told me to. It told me it would be very angry if I did not. I had no choice but to listen to the Angry Robot. I kept on wondering why so much of what happened on the Pacific side of WWII wasn’t known in the US. US readers needed a new DLC of content based on tons of research. Also, Philip K. Dick wanted to write a sequel to The Man in the High Castle but was so disturbed by the material, he couldn’t. Even though he didn’t ask me to, I wanted to carry on dude’s legacy.

The United States of Japan has been earning rave reviews early on. How do you feel when you hear such good feedback and buzz before the actual release?

Several stages. At first, shock that someone actually has heard about USJ and is excited about it. Followed by more surprise when my name is next to some of the best authors out there. Then fear and anxiety as the lists start coming in. What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? What if people start complaining about the hype and that’s it ridiculously overrated? Then comes full blown panic as I await reviews, wondering if I will be savaged?  Finally, a sense of, screw it, come whatever may. Cycle repeats.

I am a sucker for alternative history. I adored the alternative universe you constructed in this book. I’m curious; did you do much research in order to make it as believable as possible?

Not too much fortunately. I have access to an alternate dimension transportation beam so I skipped over to the world of USJ and recorded everything on my smart phone. The government is requesting my information be unlocked from the cloud so they can figure out if there’s any tech to leverage and I’m more than willing to cooperate as long as they buy a million copies of my book first.

The cover of The United States of Japan is graced by one of the sweetest looking mechas I’ve ever seen. How did the cover come about? Can you take us through the design process?

A fellow alternate dimension traveler, John Liberto, came with me to the USJ and took a photo of a mecha which became the cover. My publisher was more than happy to buy it from him before he sold it to a tabloid. (can we leave this part out of the interview as I might be under confidentiality agreement to keep it secret?)

Favourite book? Why?

Can I make this books I read this year? All the Birds in the Sky, Ready Player One, and The Paper Menagerie because they’re all awesome and so creative. If you buy one book with a March release, make it Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. The stories are just unbelievable. Secret between us: Ken is one of the greatest galactic travelers ever born, a generous soul who also has an awesome TARDIS.

I’m always interested in the way writers go about their writing. Do you have a particular method or schedule? For example some writers work from home, and others go to cafes or bars (Staveley and Polansky) to work. Some plot and outline, others don’t. What’s your particular methodology?

I’m so predictable when it comes to writing. I write at home on my keyboard. I have a hard time writing outside, especially at cafes and bars where pretty much everything distracts me including transdimensional travelers who have come to harvest mitochondria by spiking people’s coffee and convincing them cats are dogs and snow should be colored red like punch and sold in soda cans for cheaper than an ebook on Amazon.

Hypothetical… if Cthulhu is real and about to attack civilisation what mecha would you choose to go to war with? Why?

Curious, why is this question hypothetical? Cthulhu is real and I’ve used mechas from Gundam, USJ, and Sidonia Knights to fight them. The Neon Genesis Evangelion mechas are awesome, but they always run out of batteries. As for the Pacific Rim mechs, I can’t find anyone to form a mental sync with so I always end up falling over to the left side which is painful and costly.

The United States of Japan has been likened to being the spiritual successor to Phillip K. Dick and his work. How much of an influence has Dick had on your writing and your development as an author? In what ways is The United States of Japan a homage to him?

OMG, to the internet commenters, I’m so sorry that I dared make this comparison. I only did it because I wanted to give proper credit to one of my favorite writers as well as favorite books.

In my opinion one of the strengths of The United States of Japan is its intense characterisation. Do you have a favourite character from the book? Why? What do you think is the secret to a good character?

The secret I think is writing characters who go to war with different aspects of themselves. People aren’t just formulas to be solved. They are wildly inconsistent, illogical, but somehow form cohesion through their strange actions. Capturing that lively vibrancy, no matter how attractive or repulsive, is part of the elusive joy for a program like me. A lot of that iteration and more iteration along with extensive editing. As Akiko likes to say, if your right arm causes you to sin, cut it off.

If you could sit down with one other author for the day to pick their brain who would it be and why?

If God actually wrote the Bible, God, wondering why he inspired Moses to write a cosmological parable that people mistake as scientific fact. Among humans, Philip K. Dick though from the real life accounts of him, I’ve heard he’s unfortunately a bit of a nightmare to be around. On second thought, maybe being around favorite authors isn’t the way to go- though I’ve always wanted to meet Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck.

Tell me about your other work. Bald New World sounds awesome!

Everyone in the world goes bald. A lot of people die. Some are reborn. There’s a popular TV show about a new Jesus Christ. Cricket fights are brutal. I wear a wig that disguises the fact that Bald New World is autobiography in fictional form.

I always ask authors how they catalogue and sort their books at home. Are you a piles person like me (books are stacked in piles in random locations because you have run out of shelf space) or do you have your library all nice and neat in alphabetical order?

All my books are organized by dates received on my Kindle. Physical books are arranged in thematic order that changes every day depending on my mood.

What’s next for you following The United States of Japan?

A long break and lots of videogames. I might write a history of discarded tea bags and where they go next. Also, wouldn’t mind going back to the world of USJ and recording more footage as long as I can limit mental trauma.

Pete... err... creepy AI... thank you for stopping by here at Smash Dragons! 

The United States of Japan is available now from all good stores and online retailers. Check out my review of it here

Review - United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

I remember when I first heard about the United States of Japan on the grapevine. I had logged onto social media, and saw one of my friends going apeshit about some concept artwork for a project that was in the works. After a moment searching and clicking on links I was presented with giant mechs adorned with the Rising Sun. The United States of Japan. The spiritual successor to The Man in the High Castle (one of my favourite stories.. period). I was sold from that moment on. I tracked the updates for this book with utter zeal and fanaticism. I touched base with Tieryas and let him know how excited I was for this book, and that I was looking forward to its release. I worked myself into such a frenzied state of anticipation that I would lurk every night online looking for more news or photos to sate my need. 

And then it dawned on me. What if Tieryas couldn't live up to the hype? What if the United States of Japan was a poor successor to arguably one of the most influential speculative fiction pieces of the twentieth century? 

Fortunately, the United States of Japan is not the poor successor to The Man in the High Castle. And Tieryas not only has lived up to the hype, but exceeded it in ways that are simply breathtaking and exciting. 

The United States of Japan continues the journey that was started by Phillip K. Dick back in the 1960s. Set in an alternative 1980s, the United States of Japan depicts a world where Japan won World War Two. Most Americans now worship the Emperor, and history has been changed to a point where Japan's role in the war is now viewed to be nothing short of exemplary and honourable. Japanese civilisation stands unchallenged at the pinnacle of technological development and cultural dominance, until now. A group, known as the 'George Washington's' are starting to disrupt the regime by spreading an underground game that allows players to imagine a world where the Allies won the war. In order to stop these attacks video game censor Captain Beniko (hereafter referred to as Ben) Ishimura and secret police operative Akiko Tsukino are assigned to solve the mystery of this revolutionary group and stop it. But everything is not as it seems, and the enemy they are hunting may in fact not be the enemy after all. 

I loved everything about this book, from its amazing cover through to its incredibly dark and twisted plot. The United States of Japan took me on a journey that not only entertained me but also challenged me on many different levels. The story itself not only pays homage to Phillip K. Dick, but also forges a new path with the ideas and themes that Dick toyed with in his work. Notions of power, truth, memory and prejudice are all fleshed out and examined within the plot, as the players of the story all maneuver and vie for dominance. I adored the characterisation throughout this book, and Ben and Akiko's relationship and dialogue was both a subtle yet powerful reminder of how agency is the heartbeat of every good tale. The action sequences were a joy to behold, and the pace energetic yet controlled as Ben and Akiko slowly peeled back the layers of the mystery that surrounded them. The world itself was both rich and meticulous in its design, with Tieryas doing a magnificent job of imagining what a technologically advanced and post cyberpunk world ruled by an oppressive regime would look like. With every new page little tidbits were revealed, from Japan's technological prowess (genetic engineering, biomechanics, communication devices, giant mecha) through to their cultural influence on the world (via ceremonies, fashion, language, and food). Admirably Tieryas, whilst showcasing this world, never succumbs to any info dumping or telling. Everything is perfectly balanced and wielded as the story unfolds. All of these elements combined perfectly to give the United States of Japan a dark and moody tension and sense of consequence. One wrong word let slip, or overheard by an 'innocent' bystander, and that person simply disappeared. 

And therein lies the beauty of this book. It is a dark thriller at its heart, but it is laced with elements of science fiction, alternative history, philosophical discussion and war fiction. And damn, it is a wonderful combination. 

And as the story propelled itself to its conclusion I was left thinking that Phillip K. Dick would approve of this book... a helluva lot. 

The United States of Japan is simply brilliant. Tieryas has taken everything I loved about The Man in the High Castle and made it better. A dark and brutal thriller set in a dystopian world that will blow your mind, the United States of Japan is one of my reads of the year so far. 

Highly recommended. 

5 out of 5 stars.