Guest post: Louise Cusack on da Vinci, strangers, and writing

LouiseCusackToday my blog features Louise Cusack, author of the Time Trilogy and many other books, with a fascinating post that delves into her interest in ‘strangers in a strange land’–and the amazing Leonardo da Vinci!

Charming, talented and unfortunately dead

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated obsessed with the life and work of Leonardo Da Vinci – an Italian who died 500 years ago. Not only was he the painter of iconic works like the Mona Lisa, he made landmark medical discoveries in skeletal structure and the functioning of heart valves. He came up with the idea of tanks, submarines and winged flight devices, and was renowned for cartography, hydrodynamics and botany. But wait, there’s more: he was handsome, charming, intelligent, musically talented, and a vegetarian who abhorred cruelty to animals.
I mean, really, has there ever been a more perfect man?
So many accomplishments, such an eye for details, which he recorded meticulously in his notebooks, many of which are still around today as codices – one owned by Bill Gates in fact.
Yes, there were quirks. Leonardo used mirror-writing to ensure others would have difficulty copying his work. He often didn’t finish his commissions, and apparently left more than half his paintings incomplete. He wasn’t great with money and took on a talentless but handsome young thief as an apprentice which didn’t help stifle rumours of homosexuality. So Leonardo’s life was often fraught with difficulties, which doesn’t seem fair to me. If he was alive today, I like to imagine some wealthy patron – a latter-day Medici – would be cosseting him with whatever he needed so he could simply create, unimpeded.
To say that Leonardo Da Vinci was a once-in-a-millennium-talent isn’t hyperbole, but I have to admit, it wasn’t the breadth of his creativity that impressed me the most. It was his unbelievable visual acuity. He could see the individual movement of bird’s wings in flight, and he recorded those movements in his notebooks. I didn’t really “get” how impressive that feat was until I saw those wing movements for myself on a slow-motion film. And in fact, it was only when slow motion film was invented a hundred years ago that scientists could confirm the accuracy of Leonardo’s sketches.
No wonder people speculate that he was either an alien or a time traveller!
I rather think he was a very rare human who looked at his world through completely fresh eyes. It was almost as if he was a Stranger in a Strange Land, inspecting people, plants, animals, landscapes, stars and light as if he knew nothing about those subjects and had to understand it all without relying on previous assumptions (many of which turned out to be wrong). I’m constantly inspired by his example, and in my own craft of writing I’ve tried to look at the world around me with fresh eyes, and to create that experience of wonder and excitement for readers by having a character travel from one world to another.
In my first fantasy trilogy, Shadow Through Time, characters travel back and forth from our world to the brown kingdom of Ennae, and you can’t imagine how weird our world looks to them! The series begins, however, with an Australian girl, Catherine, leaving our world and travelling through a watery portal to Ennae to find her missing twin brother. In that opening novel Destiny of the Light, Catherine (who turns out to be Princess Khatrene) will be helped through the dangerous terrain by Talis, her appointed Guardian, who will sacrifice everything to ensure her safety in a land where magic prevails and nothing is as it seems. At each turn are real and imagined enemies who will do everything in their power to prevent her from fulfilling a prophecy, including the ethereal and erotic shadow woman, the enigmatic tattooed man, even her beloved brother Mihale.
The opening novel Destiny of the Light is currently free as an ebook and I encourage you to give it a try. As one book blogger said: “If you love your fantasy to be slightly gritty but with plenty of swoony romance, Destiny of the Light is for you!”


 Louise Cusack lives in Australia, in a tiny fishing village on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. She’s a long-time vegetarian and caffeine addict who mentors other writers when she isn’t writing herself. A Trekkie from way back, she loves all thing science fiction and fantasy, especially if it has a good love story. Her website is at

Fantasy short stories

80e5d848d958d101575f13ac3b25f841I love writing novels. And fantasy in particular, in its big breadth of genre, from heroic to urban, magical realism to paranormal romance,  fairytale thrillers to vampire and zombie sagas, to name just a few, lends itself to the big canvas. But I love to have a holiday sometimes with the slimmer fantastic, the short story. Not only can it be easier to sell—some types of fantastical narrative, like the ghost story, seem to work even better in short than long form—there are many more great short stories in that genre than there are novels(the possible reasons why would be a whole essay in itself!) But it’s not just the ghost story that can trip the short fantastic: all kinds of fantasy and supernatural genres can lend themselves very well to the short-story form, even epic fantasy, and here I’d like to pass on a few tips I’ve learned over the years of having had many short stories published–some of which are collected together in my e-book, The Great Deep and Other Tales of the Uncanny.

*Remember you don’t have time to build up a detailed setting, but must still plunge your reader directly into atmosphere. Use a setting you already know well, and can sketch in quickly.

*Direct use of a single source is very effective.
Focus straight not only on one story, but on one strand of one story: for instance, the reaction of a single sailor from Odysseus’ crew, turned into a beast on Circe’s island; the feelings of Andromeda, chained on her rock in the ocean.

*Think about focussing on minor characters, rather than major heroes.
This is especially so when you’re using big myths as your background. For my Arthurian short story, ‘The Common Dish’, I used the voice of a very humble character, the anonymous sister-in-law of Sir Agravain, to tell the story of those who are left behind in the great Grail Quest, but who nevertheless learn very important truths.

*If you’re going to write about major heroes, focus on revealing his/her character.
The short story is probably one of the most emotional forms of all. Revealing character, though, doesn’t mean being talky; it means allowing the character to come through effectively, in action as well as reflection.

*Choose one event as the pivot for your story.
This is not the form for lots of sub-plots, though it’s perfectly possible to have more than one narrative stream.

*A twist at the end is always nice—but not always absolutely necessary. You do need some kind of good ‘payoff’ however. And though you don’t need to ’round off’ everything—I always think a good disturbing shock at the end of a story works well, the ‘oh no’ kind of moment—you do need to give the reader a feeling of satisfaction, and not leave things dangling. It’s annoying in a novel—even more so in a short story!

Guest post: Lauren Dawes, author of the Dark Series

Author Photo (low res) DarkDeceit_Final-768x1024 To those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Lauren Dawes and I am the author of the Dark Series published by Momentum. Fellow Momentum author Sophie Masson has asked me to be a guest on her blog, and gave me free rein over the topic.
I’ve decided to give you all a little insight into the process I went through in writing the first book in the Dark Series, and also introduce you to a couple of my characters.
Let’s start with why I decided to write this series. First of all, I love Norse mythology. When I was younger, I was fascinated with runes, to the point where I tried to teach myself the runic alphabet and use it on a daily basis. Alas, like my soirée into teaching myself Greek, it only lasted about a week. By the way, the book titled “Learn Greek in 25 years” is completely accurate. In any case, that is where my love for all things Norse has stemmed from.
In December 2012, when the idea for “Dark Deceit” struck, I hastily scribbled down some rough notes about a potential plot and characters. I started off with the basics: protagonists and antagonists. Korvain, one of the protagonists, is the last of the pure-blooded Mares. ‘Mares’ are dark elves and were considered to be horribly evil creatures by the Vikings. According to Norse mythology, dark elves used to sit on a person’s chest while they slept at night, slowly pouring bad dreams into their heads. They gave these ‘spirits’ the name ‘nightmare’. Instead of using that idea, I changed it so my Mares became assassins because of their inherent perceived ‘darkness’.
The other protagonist sharing the limelight with Korvain is Bryn. Odin’s first Valkyrie now runs a successful nightclub in Boston and lives with her other sisters. The Valkyries left Odin’s service, and have been on their own since the 1920s after the All-Father committed an unforgiveable act. Bryn is still the leader of the group, and takes the job of protecting the other Valkyries very seriously.
Once I had my characters set, I had to think about the world I wanted them to live in. I chose Boston as the setting for the Dark Series after I visited the city while on my honeymoon in 2012. I fell in love with the history, and I knew that it would be the perfect city to set my books in. In “Dark Deceit” it’s explained that an event called “The Fall” was the beginning of the end for the gods and goddesses. The Nine Worlds—the worlds for the Aesir and Vanir gods, the light and dark elves, the dwarves and giants—disappeared. The humans had simply forgotten them, and so these beings settled on Midgard (Earth) and have been living side-by-side with the humans for nearly a thousand years.
The hardest part of writing the book was plotting the story. I didn’t have all the answers right away with it. The plot developed with time, and after many revisions. I actually almost threw in the towel completely with this book when I couldn’t quite get past some initial plotting hurdles.
Thankfully, I saw it through, and have ended up with a series that definitely does justice to my love of Norse gods. “Dark Deceit” firmly sits in the realm of dark urban fantasy. The fight scenes are graphic and bloody, and my characters are gritty and raw. I wanted them to be both loved and hated, and I think I’ve achieved that.
If “Dark Deceit” sounds like a book you’d like to read, you can get it on all major platforms. And if you’d like some more information about either books, check out my website:


Dark Deceit Blurb:
The time of Odin is over. The Aesir gods now live among the humans in their bustling modern cities. Their brutal dominion over the other gods and their eradication of the entire dark elf race may have ended, but their actions have not been forgotten.
Korvain is one of the last full-blooded dark elves, and is feared like no other. His ruthlessness and cold heart are legendary, but when he is given the task of killing one of the most fabled goddesses of all time, he is left with an undeniable desire to make her his own. Failure in his task means only one thing: death. Will he follow his orders, or will he follow his heart? Bryn’s whole world crumbled when she left Odin’s service to protect the other valkyries. Now living with the humans, she is the only thing standing between them and total destruction. But her beliefs are about to be shaken to the core when she meets Korvain—a volatile, completely irresistible dark elf who threatens to take away more than just her innocence …

Dark Desire Blurb:
The time of Odin is over. The Aesir gods now live among the humans in their bustling modern cities. Their brutal dominion over the other gods and their eradication of the entire dark elf race may have ended, but their actions have not been forgotten.
With the death of Adrian still haunting Taer’s every waking breath, she dreams of getting revenge on the dark elf responsible for her brother’s murder. But when the one person she’s depending on to train her in the art of weaponry refuses to help, she has no other choice but to get instruction from the most unlikely of people. Driven by an undeniable desire, Taer finds herself learning more than just how to fight.

About Lauren Dawes:
Born in South Africa and raised in Sydney, Lauren Dawes is an urban fantasy/paranormal romance writer and the author of the Dark Series.
In 2009, she quit her full-time Teaching English as a Second Language job to finally begin writing “that book”, letting her over-active imagination pour out onto the digital pages much to everyone’s horror. The catch phrase “I didn’t know you had such a dark imagination” only fuelled her to write more, where her love for Norse mythology and gods finally got the spotlight.
She currently lives with her husband and daughter in whatever city they happen to be posted to, and her cat, Oscar, who has inspired more than one character quirk or scene in her books.

Nina Kulagina and the frog’s heart

Nina-Kulagina-e1379555713400One of the inspirations for some of the weird stuff in Trinity was the extraordinary story of the Russian psychic, Nina Kulagina, who became very famous in the Soviet Union and well beyond for the spooky demonstrations of her talents in telekinesis–or as it’s sometimes known, ‘mind over matter’ –the ability to move objects solely by concentrating on them. Feted by the Soviet secret services, paraded as an example of Soviet superiority in ‘out-there’ research, Nina was a real character—a Red Army tank driver who became a soldier at the age of 14, she said she first realised her mind-power came originally from great anger, but its full potential could only be achieved through restraint and meditation. Back in civilian life, she was quickly spotted by the secret services, and more than 40 scientists, including two Nobel prizewinners, studied her, while weird black and white films of her demonstrations popped up all over the world. It was one of those films that I saw many years ago at school, as part of a documentary on Cold War rivalry(for the Americans, spooked by the apparent success of Soviet psychic research, quickly instituted their own research project, dubbed the Stargate project–later immortalised in the film, ‘Men who Stare at Goats’!)

I’ve long forgotten most of what the documentary said; but those few jerky scenes of Nina staring at a frog, and apparently stopping its heart then restarting it, simply, apparently, by the power of her mind, always stayed with me, and has now resurfaced in my book. You can see films of her abilities now on You Tube–check it out!