What professions were you involved with before becoming a writer?
I have only been full-time writer since my son was born in 2001. Before that, I ran parallel careers as a writer and scriptwriter, university lecturer, educational designer, technical writer, consultant in organizational communications, trainer. My most interesting work involved researching the effects of reporting misconduct or corruption in law enforcement organizations. We found that the people who reported (the good guys) were much worse off socially, physically and psychologically than the people they reported about (the bad guys). This research allowed me to help some Australian law enforcement agencies and government departments to design programs to support the people who were trying to do the right thing. I still get asked to consult in this area from time to time, and also to design complaints systems which ensure natural justice is achieved. Not easy, but fascinating.
Prior to writing Blood Ties, you predominately wrote for children. What made you want to write a novel for adults?
There are some stories which just aren’t right for kids, and the Castings story was one. I have always found that I am moved to tell a particular story, and then figure out what age group it is for. In this case, it was clear from the start that the story was both too complex and too political to really appeal to children – not to mention the violence, which is extreme.
What interested you about the Sci-Fi Fantasy genre?
I have always read speculative fiction and I think my imagination was shaped by early exposure (thank you Mrs. Wall, my local librarian). If I’m writing a story, quite often it just takes a spec fic twist without me intending it. I think it’s just the way my mind works. As a reader, I love the sense of otherness, of exploring limitless possibilities, of things larger and in some way more real than our normal lives. The sense that everything matters; every action, even every thought. And having read fairly widely in contemporary mainstream fiction, I think that spec fic is where ideas are being explored, as well as emotion and relationships. I find a book which combines all those to be the most satisfying.
Who/what would you consider to be your influences?
Probably Tolkien as number one, closely followed by Jane Austen – and for the same reason: every time I read their work I learn something new about writing. Then all the classics: Le Guin, Carroll, Lewis, L’Engle, Heinlein, Asimov, Ellison, etc. I would also include Dorothy Sayers and Georgette Heyer, because their styles are so clean and their dialogue so vivid. And let’s not forget the Bible; the rhythms of the St James’ Version even got to me, and I was raised Catholic, with a different version altogether!
The Castings Trilogy is a wonderfully unique concept. How did you come up with the idea for it?
Um…I can’t tell you without spoiling the third book. I can say it was a combination of a lecture by Bishop Desmond Tutu, having a prime minister who has no respect for indigenous people, and the desire to know what was going to happen the night before I auctioned my apartment. That’s where the line, “The desire to know the future gnaws at our bones” comes from. I was pacing around my living room, just wanting to know if the place was going to sell, and the sentence popped into my head. I thought, “That’s a good line, I’d better write that down,” sat in front of my computer, and wrote The Stonecaster’s Story in one sitting.
The ghosts probably come from a poem by William Butler Yeats, The Cold Heaven, which asks, “when the ghost begins to quicken, confusion of the death bed over, is it sent out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken by the injustice of the skies for punishment?” I read that in high school, and it has stayed with me. There’s your quickening, and the roads, and the sense of a larger power… maybe the whole story comes from there after all…
Blood Ties is a very intricately plotted novel. Was it difficult to structure it so that the characters’ paths would intertwine?
Yes. It took several drafts to get the passage of time right. At first, I had several more years pass for Bramble than for Ash, but I realized that they needed to move through the same years at roughly the same pace. So although there was some jigging with time to get them to meet in spring, that wasn’t because of their paths not meshing, it was to set up a part of the plot for Deep Water, the second book.
When you have finished writing The Castings Trilogy, what type of literature do you think you would be interested in writing?
I hope I will continue to write both children’s books and fantasy for adults. I do already have an idea for the next story, set in the Castings universe but in a different time and place. Even after three books, there will still be some unanswered questions for me; some areas I want to explore further. I hope readers will feel that they want to know more, too. But don’t worry – I’m not planning on leaving the Castings story up in the air in any way. There will be resolution!