Thursday, 30 April 2015

Shining a Light on Wattpad!

Wattpad is an online writing community and social media platform.  It has over 75 million stories, and 35 million users - many of whom are teens.  It is a global writing group for writers of all levels to share and chat about their work. Users are encouraged to comment and vote on each other's stories. The right feedback can improve your work.  Great, well written stories generate a lot of votes and become more visible due to Wattpad's ranking scale. It can be an excellent way to develop a fan base and it's fun. 

Meet Hannah M. King, author of: The Dorston Fall, Book One in The Dorston Legacy.

Hannah M. King is the author of The Dorston Fall, the first instalment in her trilogy -The Dorston Legacy. This is really engaging and well written YA fantasy novel on Wattpad which has achieved over 20.6K reads and a huge no of votes!  I’m sure only a matter of time before Hannah is published!  

This is part one of my interview with Hannah, focussing on her writing.  
Part two will focus on her great tips on using Wattpad.

Tell us a little bit about yourself please?
I’m a 22 year old, trying to find her way in the world. I am currently studying Creative and Professional Writing at university and having an amazing time! When I’m not being sociable, I’m in my room reading, writing or catching up with shows and films. (My list of shows is growing! Help!) I find fandom references everywhere and I talk to myself more than I should. I am a big kid and I love tea!

What books did you like to read when growing up?
Roald Dahl was a constant, and entertaining figure in my childhood. His novel, Matilda, is one of my absolute favourites. The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnet are two other novels I have cherished all my life. Harry Potter has touched the lives of millions across the world, and I am no different. It has played a massive part in my writing, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

I love the Fantasy genre. Always have. Always will. I enjoy work by Rick Riordan, Maggie Stiefvater, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, Veronica Rossi, John Green, Cassandra Clare, Rainbow Rowell, Wattpad’s very own Beth Reekles, P.C Cast – literally the list goes on. I also love the classics like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Peter Pan etc. I enjoy historical fiction, particularly work by Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory.

Had you always wanted to be a writer?
Honestly, no. Growing up, I was so desperate to travel, that the idea of becoming a stewardess stayed with me throughout my time at high school. However, going into sixth form, I realised just how much I enjoyed writing and reading and soon enough, that’s all I wanted to do. It took a lot of courage and determination to get where I am now, at university and studying creative writing, in the hopes of achieving this.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated
I do remember the moment I started thinking about it. My best friend, who was a keen reader and writer herself, wanted me to read through a story she’d just started. It took me a while to get into the flow, but once I did, I just wanted to read and read. I wanted to try it for myself. Looking back, my first attempt was appalling! Oh my goodness, the spelling and the grammar. Cringes. After that failure, I tried again, and again, and again. I haven’t really stopped since.

What motivates you to write? 
For me, writing is a means of escape. It is an outlet where I can voice frustrations, joys, dreams and regrets, anything I am afraid to say or show to the world. It is a way to experience something completely extraordinary; experience something you can’t do, something you can’t see. To be somewhere else, when life gets you down. To be someone else, when you lose confidence in yourself. Writing is the best kind of therapy, whether it be story writing or writing a simple entry in a diary.

Tell us a little bit about “Dorston” (audience age range too please) and the series.
The Dorston Fall is about a young Princess, Katelyn, who discovers her father has been kidnapped by a group of mercenaries hell bent on destroying her family and their good reputation. It follows her journey across a land, changed by war and fear. She encounters people who both protect and threaten her. She experiences great change, and not just in herself, but in the people she meets, and none more predominately than Sammy; her charming, but cocky companion and later love interest

The series itself revolves around the two qualities I value most above all others: love and loyalty. It examines the extreme measures one would go to protect those they love, despite all the odds and dangers. It explores the consequences of trusting the wrong people, of not trusting yourself. It is about the coming of age, and finding the strength to do what is right even if it means abandoning your family to serve a greater good, or disobeying a parent, as Sammy and Katelyn demonstrate most famously.

I consider The Dorston Fall to be a Young Adult novel, as the majority of my readers are between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however it is not limited to this age group. I like to think that the novel has something for everyone.

To read The Dorston Fall on Wattpad Click here

Can you tell us about your main character? 
Katelyn Dorston is the combination of every strong female character you’ve ever read and idolised! She is a twenty year old Princess and is heir to the throne of Belran; a kingdom based on medieval England. She’s headstrong, fiercely loyal, passionate and independent. She longs for adventure, and for the chance to prove herself to her parents and her people. Did I forget to mention she’s beautiful too? On the downside, she’s headstrong, fiercely loyal, passionate and independent! The strongest of people are the hardest to control. She is the living embodiment of this.

Katelyn was a challenge to animate in the beginning. As her polar opposite, I found it difficult to write speech and portray the right body language that would echo her strong sense of character. It was predominately after Sammy’s introduction, that I was able to incorporate my own traits and a new side to Katelyn was born. She comes to appreciate different ways of life and thinking. She comes to understand true hardships and true love. By the end, she’s not just a warrior princess, but a real woman with her own voice and her own passions. Since leaving home to come to university, I have grown into my own person and I like to think Katelyn has too.

How much research did you have to do for this book? 
To provide authenticity and realism, I had to conduct a lot of research, looking particularly into medieval living, history, language and warfare. I watched many period dramas and action films to arrange good fighting scenes, as well step-by-step tutorials on platforms such as Youtube. I searched graphic websites like Pinterest and Deviantart to get a better visual of clothing, character and landscape. All of this being said, there is still so much I need to do and to find out, before Dorston is ready for the publishers.

Can you tell us about your next project? 
I have so many stories that are in need of planning, that I’m not sure where to begin. However, once the Dorston series is complete, I like to think I’ll start work again on my other teen novel, The R Word. A world away from Dorston, this novel is of a serious and sensitive matter, a matter I hold close to my heart. Following Dorston’s growing success on Wattpad, I had to put it hold, however I feel it is a story that needs to be told and I look forward to returning to it.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?  
I have never been in a real fight or held sword and I have never had my life threatened, nor have I been responsible for the lives of thousands of people. But I have experienced the grief of losing someone I love, and being separated from my family. I have felt the joys of being in love and travelling new places; having adventures, however small. I know how it feels to be betrayed by those closest to you.

In this regard, there is much of my personality, morals and memories instilled in the plot and my beloved characters; all of whom possess a very special part of me that cannot be erased, whether it is loyalty, love, ambition, youth or strength.

How do you juggle writing and working / other pressures and obligations in your
I write whenever I have the chance and the motivation. If I’m at work or university, I focus on the task at hand and try my best not to wander. If I have to decide between finishing an assignment or a chapter, I’ll finish the assignment. Completing the chapter will be my reward. I just live in the moment and do what I feel like doing at the time. Cheesy, I know! Ha ha.

How do you write: lap top, pen, paper, in bed, at a desk?  Do you have a favourite writing spot? 
I work mostly on my laptop, but it really depends where I am when inspiration strikes. If I happen to be at work, I will write on as many blank till rolls as it takes. Naughty, I know. If I’m at home, I will race to my laptop or quickly write it in my notepad. Every spot is a favourite writing spot. During the day, it is at my desk with the window open, and with music playing. At night, it’s tucked up in bed with my notepad, or my mobile. I’d be lost without my Wattpad app!

Do you outline your books from start to finish or just start writing? Or a bit of both? It’s a bit of both, I guess. Before I’d even created the characters and their back stories, I knew how The Dorston Fall would end. It was the one thing I was sure of, but getting there was the tricky part. Dorston Fall is very much a journey story, and what is a journey without a good chase, conflict or romance? Many of the scenes were made spontaneously, simply because the story was losing pace and needed some tension. This later proved a good move, as it developed the storyline and the characters concerned. 

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Film Review

Starring: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim
Written by: Oliver Nakache, Eric Toledano
Based on the novel: Samba pour la France by Delphine Couline
Director: Oliver Nakache, Eric Toledano

Running time: 118min

I really wanted to love this film and came out of the screening merely liking it.

There’s an eye catching opening scene during a 1920s themed wedding reception.  After this the camera follows the wedding cake through the bowels of the hotel into the kitchen, where you see the ethnicity of the workers change with the quality of the jobs.  Cue the camera on Samba (Omar Sy) who is in the kitchens washing dishes.  Samba is Senegalese and has been in France for 10 years, illegally, and struggling to get ahead in low paid work. He is desperate to get working papers.  Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is an executive who’s had a breakdown and is doing volunteering work in a centre supporting immigrants.

This film had all the ingredients to be great, but suffered from slow pacing at the beginning.  After the opening scene there was about 30 min of story that I felt could have been halved and still had the desired effect. 

Samba hits its stride about halfway through.  There are some very funny and touching moments after this.  Gainsbourg and Sy are excellent and believable.  The development of the relationship between Samba and Alice is deftly handled. The issues surrounding illegal immigrants – not only their myriad personal situations, but the stress placed upon those who try to help them navigate the legal system is dealt with in a way that doesn’t “beat you over the head” with a political message.  It is intrinsically woven into the tale that shows you many facets of life and people’s hearts – honesty, cheating, love and sorrow.  The mixture of humour and poignancy make the film work.  You can make up your own mind about the politics.

Watch out for the Coca Cola scene, the Bob Marley scene, and when Alice recounts what she did when she had her “burn out.”  (The cinema erupted in cheers and laughter when she confesses what she did.)

Was it worth seeing? Yes. Will I buy the DVD? No.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Book Review

The Acolyte by Nick Cutter

(Publisher: ChiZine Publications, 2015)

I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

1984 meets Fahrenheit 451, meets the Spanish Inquisition and crime noir.

Brilliant, brutal, mildly horrifying; at times savagely funny…I think I have another favourite author in Nick Cutter.

In a country ruled by fundamentalist Christians, Jonah Murtagh is an Acolyte, an officer of the Faith Crimes Unit in the City of New Bethlehem - a unit which enforces religious conformance and operates outside the law.  Jonah’s involvement in an investigation into a series of terrorist bombings, expose him to the machinations of the extremist theocracy.


I could not put this book down.  At times I was horrified and at others I laughed out loud at the biting satire of Cutter’s writing.  The scariest thing is that I can see how you could extrapolate our current world into this dystopian vision.

The characterisations are wonderful and the story is fast paced.  Cutter’s writing and use of imagery immerses you in this harsh world and two of the scenes made me grimace in their savagery; it takes a lot to make me do that. I loved every minute of it.  

This has to be one of the best books I’ve read in a long while.

Five out Five Stars.  Brutally Awesome.

Release Date: May 5th, 2015.


Friday, 24 April 2015

Film Review

Avengers: The Age of Ultron


Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, James Spader
Written by: Joss Whedon, Stan Lee (comic book), Jack Kirby (comic book)
Director: Joss Whedon
Running time: 141min

Action packed from beginning to end, but did I like it as much as the first avengers movie? No, not quite.

I really enjoy the Marvel movies and I desperately wanted to love this film and watched each of the new clips as they came out.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have. Perhaps jumping into all the hype created unrealistic expectations.

Don’t get me wrong – The Age of Ultron is good, fun, exciting and entertaining, but the sass and laughs of the first film fell a little flat.  The witty one-liners were still there, but didn’t elicit laughs throughout the cinema.  This film is a little darker than the previous film and I think it took itself a little more seriously – perhaps that was the problem. 

The opening scene is really fast paced as Captain America races through a forest on his bike. CGI here with the bike wasn’t great in a couple of places, but this was the only place I noticed that. The rest of the special effects and CGI were wonderful and I was totally hooked.

The usual plot, developed some interesting twists, delved into moral and ethical issues, created friction between the main characters and managed their multiple story arcs really well. The development of back-stories for the main characters was excellent – I appreciated the irony of Hawkeye’s story. I loved what happened to Jarvis. 

Did the time pass quickly – you bet.  Will I get the DVD?  Of course!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Author Interview

Peter McLennan

Peter is the Australian author of Who Will Save the Planet? 

A YA novel about a boy battling the "system" to enable action on climate change. 

Firstly, let me express my thanks to Tracy for this opportunity. I hope this new site is a great success.

Tell us a little bit about yourself please?

I’ve lived in multiple Australian cities and towns, and currently reside in Canberra. I served for twenty-eight years in the RAAF as an engineer. Since leaving the Air Force, I’ve divided my time between writing fiction and developing software.

In addition to my engineering qualification, I have a degree in information science and a PhD in planning.

I love playing computer games (so long as they’re not too taxing on my reflexes) and listening to classical music. I also enjoy playing the piano and flute, but nobody else enjoys it when I do, so I usually don’t.

What books did you like to read when growing up?

My uncle was determined that I should read the Biggles books by W.E. Johns, even though most of them were fairly dated even then. These doubtless influenced my career choices.

Since the young adult (YA) genre hadn’t really kicked off when I was a kid, I migrated fairly early to adult fiction; typically war stories and science fiction.

I also read a lot of non-fiction. I even worked through physics textbooks and teach-yourself-maths books for fun (or, at least, interest).

You’ve had a background in the RAAF and have been involved in numerous academic publications. What turned you towards fiction writing and, in particular, writing for a younger audience? 

During my time in the RAAF, I was involved in a form of planning called scenario planning (or alternative futures planning). This involves writing hypothetical stories (ie, fiction) that describe possible future situations, to help managers determine how to plan for those situations. I was surprised at the extent to which the use of fictional stories could influence real-world decisions.

Had you always wanted to be a writer?

I detested English at school, and resented the fact that I often did better at it than I did at maths and science. So, no!

What motivates you to write?

I write to engage with other people. Readers are therefore highly valued!

Even though the main drawcard of fiction is entertainment, I like my stories to present ideas that prompt people to think, and possibly even to act differently.

If, peradventure, I happened to make a million dollars from writing, I wouldn’t mind that either.

Tell us a little bit about Who Will Save the Planet?

Fourteen-year-old Jason can’t work out how to get climate change fixed—until he saves the life of the mysterious and powerful Graham. Graham promises a reward, and Jason asks him to do something to stop climate change. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the man’s trapped and has to keep his word. But Graham’s got other ideas.

Who Will Save the Planet? is the sort of novel I would have liked to have read when I was younger. It takes a real-world problem and builds a story around it. There’s some geeky themes in there for those who are so inclined, but they’re not critical to the plot.

The book is primarily aimed at 10–14-year-olds and up, but has been read by a few younger kids.
Available from: Amazon  and  Book Depository, Barnes and Noble

Can you tell us about your main character?
Jason is very smart, which sometimes causes him to be headstrong and over-confident. He loves computers and cars, and even gets to thrash a car around the neighbour’s paddock despite being too young to have a driver’s license. The science magazines he reads have made him worried about climate change, which puts him in conflict with his father.

Despite being sure of his opinions, Jason is a bit shy, so when his controversial plan attracts public and media attention, he doesn’t like it.

How much research did you have to do for this book?
I was exposed to many issues concerning climate change while I was studying at university. Even so, I had to do a fair bit of research to distil things down to an appropriate level for a YA novel.

Jason’s home town is fictional, because the plot required it to be a small coastal town and I’ve never lived in one. However, other settings had to be real, such as various landmarks in Canberra. My familiarity with Canberra was helpful, although I still had to do a lot of dredging on the internet to fill in numerous gaps in my knowledge.

Because climate change is a political issue, I also had to improve my understanding of a few political processes. Would-be readers shouldn’t be put off by this: I kept the details to the minimum required for the story!

Did you base any of your characters on real life people? (Given that one of your characters is a politician you may not want to answer this!) Or is he just an amalgam of many politicians on TV and in the media?

The characters were carefully designed to fit the plot. That said, my notes contain references to real people who possess the personality and physical traits I had in mind. Various relatives, work and academic contacts (and a politician or two) get a look-in. But because each character borrows from multiple real-life exemplars, it’s not a simple mapping.

Regarding the politician in the story, I went to a lot of trouble to be politically neutral. Since I first started drafting Who Will Save the Planet? I think the character remains credible and representative of politicians generally. Despite the latter point, I did try to give him a few redeeming attributes.

Can you tell us about your next project? 
The sequel to Who Will Save the Planet? should be published this year. It is tentatively titled Hot Quolls.

I don’t like sequels/series that recycle the same story over and over, so I determined to make the plot and character development quite different (in some ways, opposite).

In Hot Quolls, Jason is beset with insecurity resulting from his battle of wits in the first book. Despite that, he can’t resist when a girl from school asks him to join a rag-tag bunch of greenies (environmentalists) who are trying to prevent logging in the local forest. The greenies and the loggers all seem to be playing dirty tricks, and Jason has to use his computer smarts to find out who’s doing what to whom.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?
My books are definitely influenced by my experiences. Jason’s black-and-white attitude is something I observed commonly at university, and it didn’t strike me as being a very good basis for learning. I therefore took great delight in giving Jason a hard time over it.

I picked up my concern for the environment while at university, so the idea of a YA hero who saves the planet from an environmental challenge came immediately to mind.

I’ve realised that different aspects of my personality are in all of my characters. Worryingly, the characters I enjoy writing the most are the evil or thick ones. That should probably tell me something about myself, but I’m deliberately not letting it.

Do you set yourself a writing routine and a daily word limit?
I write, or do writing-related work, three days a week.

I don’t set myself daily word limits because I find there’s much more to writing than writing. For example, sometimes a good opportunity for promotion comes along and it would be silly to forego it for the sake of an arbitrary word limit. Planning, researching and editing are also not amenable to word limits, and I spend as long on some of those tasks as I do on drafting.

There’s also great variation in how long similarly-sized chunks of work can take. For example, at the moment, I’m editing Hot Quolls based on feedback from beta-readers. Some days I can fix up two whole chapters; however, one particular chapter required a full two weeks on its own.

Fortunately I’m self-disciplined to a fault, so I’m pretty good at avoiding distractions.

How do you write: lap top, pen, paper, in bed, at a desk? Do you have a favourite writing spot?
I’ve got a study with a brand new computer and two 24-inch monitors. There’s a nice spot by a river within walking distance, but I’ve resisted the temptation to try writing there because it might break my concentration. How people can write in coffee shops I’ll never know!

I’ve tried various software products intended for writers but I keep coming back to Microsoft Word. I’ve got Word so thoroughly customised with templates, styles and macros that nothing else comes close to being so productive for me.

Do you outline your books from start to finish or just start writing? Or a bit of both?
I’m an obsessive outliner. The plot outline for Hot Quolls is over 20,000 words; ie, half the length of a small novel! In addition, I write a lengthy profile on every character and setting, and I complete checklists for every chapter and scene. Drafting becomes largely a matter of turning notes into prose.

Even so, sometimes my characters don’t do exactly what I prescribe for them. For example, a dense thug in Hot Quolls was supposed to be only a minor character, but he was so much fun to write that he’s almost stolen the show.

Writing is a solitary endeavour and many writers are often beset by self-doubt. How do you deal with this?

Self-doubt is a problem. My pig-headedness forces me to strive for completion even when I harbour concerns, although that doesn’t assuage the psyche. For the latter, a single upbeat review from a stranger on Amazon or Goodreads can have a meteoric effect. Readers are gold!
How do you feel about self-publishing vs traditional publishing?
There’s a stigma associated with self-publishing, and it’s somewhat deserved. In general, there are no quality controls and it’s easy to do, so a lot of self-published material isn’t up to the standard required for traditional publishing. The average income derived from a traditionally-published work is also higher.

That said, I self-published my first novel. I enjoyed the technical challenges, the level of control, and the ease and speed with which it could be done. I haven’t decided whether I’ll strive for traditional- or self-publishing for Hot Quolls, but I’ll have to do so soon!

Twitter: @petermcl 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Book Review

Chimera by Vaun Murphrey, 

Book 1 in The Weaver Series.

(Publisher: Artemis Femme, 2014)

I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This YA sci-fi novel starts off slowly and requires persistent reading, but halfway through it really hits its stride and the pace picks up - after which it rollicks along.

Cassandra, the protagonist, is a thirteen year old who has witnessed the death of her parents and been incarcerated for eight years.  Her jailers seldom speak with her and her treatment has, at times, been brutal. She discovers that she is a member of a group of humans known as Weavers.  Weavers have expanded mental capabilities and can travel via an alternate plane to explore the universe. Cassandra is vastly more powerful than other Weavers and herein lies her problem: she will be hunted for her gifts.

My difficulty with the initial part of this book was that there was an enormous emotional distance between the reader and Cassandra.  However, I began to wonder if this was a deliberate strategy on the part of the writer.  Cassandra’s imprisonment has necessitated that she repress many of her emotions in order to survive, apart from the fact that there is no-one during this time for her to form any kind of attachment to.  As the book progresses and Cassandra learns to show emotion and begin to form friendships, the reader is, similarly, more able to connect with the story. If this was strategy on the part of the author, then it was risky, because if I hadn’t been reviewing this, I may have actually stopped reading earlier on, though I’m glad I didn’t.

There is a really great, different, interesting and complex story here, the mechanics of which are well thought out.  However much of the first part of the novel felt like it was setting up the story for the bigger picture/next books. The reader is given a huge amount of necessary background information in dialogue between characters, which barely avoided feeling like an info dump and slowed the pace.

The latter half does zip along really well and at this point I found myself not wanting to put the book down.  When I finished it, I was disappointed and wanted more – I was glad to see that the first three chapters of the next book were there to read and they really romped along.

The verdict: 3.5 stars and yes I’d read the next ones in the series.

Friday, 17 April 2015


Katie Stewart

Author and Illustrator. 

This is the final part of my interview with Katie.  In this segment we talk more about her books and writing. I've scattered Katie's lovely artwork throughout - just for fun.  Take a look!

(All images copyright Katie Stewart)

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I loved reading, so I suppose that was the start. I went to a little English village school which encouraged writing. We used to go on a ‘school trip’ once a year and there was always a competition afterwards to see who could write the longest recall! I think, though, that I didn’t really seriously think about writing until I was in Year 7 (in Australia), when I found that I kept getting stories in my head that would annoy me until I wrote them down. They were nearly always historical and probably hysterical as well.

Tell us a little bit about Treespeaker and the series.  How many books will there be?
Treespeaker was the first book I finished. It’s the story of a forest tribe, survivors of a much larger population long ago almost annihilated by invaders who destroyed their habitat. In the end, what was left of the forest itself fought back and protected itself and its people with a ‘veil’. This invisible dome was impenetrable by anyone intent on destruction. That is until one man, a sorcerer, finds a way to break through. The novel is the story of the Treespeaker’s journey to save his people and the forest from this man. It’s also the story of his son’s journey into becoming a Treespeaker.
It’s followed by Song of the Jikhoshi and I’ve a third book planned loosely in my head, but I haven’t thought of a name for it yet.

Can you tell us about your main character?
Jakanash is a Treespeaker – a seer and healer – closely in touch with the spirit of the forest. He knows from visions he has experienced that the visitor to his tribe has evil intentions, despite being ‘allowed’ into the forest. He’s a man of deep faith and goes on a journey to find a way to save his people with no real idea of what it is he’s looking for and at great cost to himself, simply because Arrakesh, the forest spirit, tells him that is what he must do.

What inspired you to write Treespeaker?
It actually started with a dream I had (I have some really strange dreams sometimes) about a huge tree that housed a whole community of people and provided them with everything they needed. That got me thinking, but I came to the conclusion that a tree community wasn’t a very unique idea, so I played about with it a bit and decided that maybe it would be better if the whole forest cared for its people and the big tree was simply a centre for worship by the people. Shortly after that, I was watching a programme on TV and saw an actor I’d never seen before. I was really taken by his face and general demeanour and gradually he morphed in my mind into the Treespeaker, the man who could communicate with the forest.  

How much research did you have to do for this book?
I didn’t do a lot of research for this one, mainly because having written a major essay at University on life in a temperate forest during the Late Mesolithic period, I had a pretty good idea of how they might have lived. Being fantasy, too, it wasn’t imperative that I got every single detail right, as long as it all made sense within the community I was creating. I did have to look up some details like hunting techniques and herbal remedies, but I enjoy that sort of research. I had to do a bit of research on rats, too, as one features in the story and I had to be sure it could do what I wanted it to. I found out all sorts of interesting things I didn’t know, like - did you know that rats can be trained to look for landmines and people lost in earthquakes?

Did you base any of your characters on real life people?
As I said, I based the look of Jakanash on an actor, as I have other characters, but no, I’ve never consciously used any person I know personally in a book. They tend to be a conglomeration of tiny bits of characters I’ve known, read or viewed, mixed with a whole lot of imagination.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?
Again, I’m not consciously aware of adding anything of myself to my books, but I don’t think you can really help your personality and ideas seeping into a story. It’s coming out of your head after all. I didn’t consciously set out to write Treespeaker thinking, ‘I’m going to write something about the destruction of the environment and of societies by greed and the importance of having faith in what you believe’, but that’s what came through. Hopefully not too blatantly, but it’s there.

My prior knowledge of archaeology, history and anthropology helps, too, because I can create societies and have some idea of how they work without having to do a huge amount of research first.

You write for many age groups – MG through to adults?  How easy is it to switch between writing for children and writing for adults?  Are there some things you won’t write about in either age bracket?
I apparently have a very simple writing style, so even when I write for adults, people tell me it reads more like YA. That annoys me a bit, but I write how I write and what I want to write and at least it means that anyone can read my books, from children through to adults. As for writing children’s books; being a teacher and having worked in a school library, I don’t find it too hard to change gear…and if my writing comes across as YA anyway, it’s only a small shift after all.
I’m not aware of avoiding anything in writing for children and some of my reviewers have mentioned that I don’t skirt issues. I like to write about things that children find difficult, like bullying or peer pressure, to try to help them, but subtly.

With my adult writing, I’d never write erotica. It’s just not my ‘thing’. When I first saw this question, I thought I’d say politics as well, but that’s not true, because in my fantasy worlds, there is politics, but couched in terms of my imaginary worlds. There’s a lot of the real world that can be portrayed through fantasy. I’d never write about real world politics though.

Does reader feedback affect your writing process?  For instance when writing a sequel, have you found feedback or comments from readers on the first has caused you to change a part of your sequel?
Yes, definitely. I’ve belonged to a site called Critique Circle for a long time. You post chapters of your work in progress and people can tell you what they think. There have been times when I’ve rewritten whole sections of the book because someone has made a remark about an event or a character and sent my mind spinning in a completely new and, to me, better direction. I’ve had a couple of people who read and edited my books before I publish, too, and their comments have made me rewrite things. When you’re writing, you can get so involved in your characters that you may not notice their peccadillos or even their lack of peccadillos which is just as much of a problem. It’s good to have a reader pull you up on it.

Can you tell us about your next project?
I have two projects on the go at the moment, one writing, one artistic.

The novel I’m writing is a rewrite of a short story, Orlando’s Gift, I published a couple of years ago.Orlando’s Gift was about Willem, a young boy put in charge of caring for a singer kidnapped by the boy’s wizard masters in hope of capturing the magic of the man’s voice. Larkspell, the current novel, is the story of Danjel, an Abikon, or low-ranked priest, in charge of an orphanage in the slums of the city. He’s working against time and the church hierarchy to save the boys in his care from being sent out to work to save the church money, but he has another enemy, too, that he’s not told anyone about. Willem’s and Danjel’s stories have a link that becomes clearer as the novel goes along.

The art project I’m working on is a book of portraits of famous historical figures portrayed as animals. So there’s Lionardo da Vinci, Cleopanther and Joan Aardvark, just to mention a few. I’m torn between leaving it as a pure picture book and trying to write a humorous biography of each one. I’ll decide on that when I’ve finished, I think.

Do you set yourself a writing routine and a daily word limit?
No, I’m afraid I don’t, which is why Larkspell is taking so long to finish. I went through a patch where I wrote lots and did little in the way of art and now it’s the opposite; I find I get distracted with doing book covers and illustrations and writing is getting neglected. I need to find a better balance.

How do you write: lap top, pen, and paper, in bed, at a desk?  Do you have a favourite writing spot?
Missy Beagle Nose by Max O'Grady
I write on my laptop, using Scrivener for the first draft and Word for editing. Occasionally, if I’m out somewhere and I get inspired by something, I might write a little on my iPad or a notebook (a paper one, that is), but usually it’s straight onto my laptop at my desk in ‘Mum’s room’ – a side verandah of the house that we did up just for me (though I usually share it with at least a dog and a cat).

Do you outline your books from start to finish or just start writing or a bit of both?
I’m a terrible planner and that’s partly why I use Scrivener, which allows you to make notes for each chapter or segment to remind you where you’re going when you open that file and then lets you rearrange them however you like. Even so, I often find myself going off in a completely different direction and having to rewrite all the chapter notes. With Treespeaker I actually wrote the story with only a vague plan in my head and I did it in scenes as they came to me. So it was a huge jigsaw to put together at the end, because the story is told in two different viewpoints and each scene had to correspond in time to another scene in the other thread. Then I had to rewrite the whole lot to make it seamless. I can tell you, it’s not the best way to write a book!

How do you deal with juggling your writing and all your other commitments?
I gave up my job in the school library at the end of last year, so now I work for myself and can plan things as I want to – sort of. I’ve been trying to do ‘work’ things (i.e. things for other people that I get paid for) during school time and ‘my’ things (i.e. writing and my own art) in the evenings and on weekends, but it doesn’t always work that way. I think if I’m going to get more writing done, I’m going to have to include that as ‘work’ and set aside a certain time of my work day for it.

How do you feel about self-publishing vs traditional publishing?
I used to think there was no way I would ever self-publish, but after a few near misses with publishers I became thoroughly disillusioned and decided I had nothing to lose by self-publishing. I don’t regret it, except when I join an author association and they accept your money as a ‘published author’, but only give certain perks to authors published by ‘real’ publishers.  I do still sometimes wonder if it would be easier to get noticed as a traditionally published author and I’d certainly prefer to have my work formatted by someone else. That’s the part I really hate – setting it up for publishing. I love doing my own covers though, which I don’t suppose I could do with a traditional publisher. So there’s pros and cons on both sides.