On writers 4: in loving memory and celebration of Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd_famous_pub_photo_gray_hairThis fourth republished article about writers I’ve been inspired by is a very personal one, because not only did I love the work of the great American children’s writer Lloyd Alexander, but I also knew him personally, at least by letter, as we corresponded over many years. This article was written after he died in 2007, and was originally published in Magpies magazine.

Vale Lloyd Alexander, 1924-2007

The world of children’s literature has lost a great light. On May 17, 2007, the American writer of many classic children’s novels, Lloyd Alexander, died of cancer at his home in Philadelphia, only two weeks after the death of his beloved wife Janine, with whom he’d shared sixty years. Beloved of readers and critics alike, his work spanned more than forty years, and more than forty books, and as a fantasy writer, he is reckoned to be in the ranks of such as JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, TH White, and JK Rowling.
In fact, I’d go so far as to call him the greatest American writer of children’s fantasy of modern times. Many people would agree with me. He has a huge, devoted worldwide audience. His six-volume Chronicles of Prydain have been continuously in print since 1963, with the first two, The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron, made into the 1985 Disney movie, The Black Cauldron, which has always had a mixed reputation—many readers being disappointed by the fact that too many of the events of the books were shortened, and too many characters dropped.   book of three
The books themselves however have had no such mixed reviews. Who can resist Taran, assistant pig-keeper’, and his oracular pig, Hen Wen? The feisty Princess Eilonwy? The bard Fflewdur Fflam? And the noisy, messy creature, Gurgi? It’s not only the characters, though, or the action of the books—which is considerable—or the exciting plots, or the scary villains and mythological richness of the background that readers take to their hearts: it’s a warmth, a humour, a wit, a love of language, a lightness of touch and a playfulness, which is all too often lacking in fantasy. Yet he also doesn’t shirk the darker side of life, and of people. There’s an extraordinary honesty, yet a compassion, in all his work, which is immensely attractive. Readers love the Prydain books, and dearly: to the extent that I know of at least two people who so loved them as children that they were inspired to name their children after them. One friend named her first-born son Lloyd Alexander; another named her youngest son Taran, after the hero of the Chronicles.
alexanderironringBut it’s not just the Chronicles of Prydain, with their earthy yet mystical Celtic mythological background, that Alexander is famous for. He wrote a large number of wonderful, versatile fantasy adventure novels, set against all kinds of backgrounds and inspired by all kinds of fairytale and mythological sources.
Long before it was fashionable, Lloyd Alexander delved into all sorts of multicultural influences. There’s The Iron Ring, for instance, inspired by Indian myth; The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, based on Chinese sources; The Marvellous Misadventures of Sebastian, with its Central European flavour; The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha, with its roots in the Arabian Nights; The Arkadians, with its source in Greek myth. And many, many more. There are certain recurring motifs in his books: cats, music, the quest for true courage and love. And fun. Pure, unadulterated fun. He is such a fun writer, in all sorts of ways: pure pleasure to read, beautiful to read, because everything is so well put together, so deft and exciting and funny and warm and moving and intelligent. And his considerable learning and experience are worn lightly. A man who had travelled very widely and was interested in all kinds of cultures and always curious and intrigued by the amazing richness of the human experience throughout the world, he was also very much a homebody, who dearly loved his city of Philadelphia, where he was born and bred, and where he lived with his family for most of his life, apart from a few years away in Europe.
That deep knowledge of ‘Philly’ as well as of other places shows up very strongly in his marvellous comic adventure series, set around determined 19th century Philadelphia schoolgirl detective Vesper Holly, and told in the rather flustered, fussy tones of her guardian Professor Brinton Garrett, known as illyrian adventure‘Brinnie’: these include The Illyrian Adventure, The El Dorado Adventure, The Drackenberg Adventure, and more. He also wrote a historical adventure series, The Westmark Trilogy, set in a world that rather ressembles Revolutionary France. He wrote several books that weren’t strictly speaking fantasy, including the delightful semi-autobiographical The Boy and the Gawgon. And he also wrote for adults, for the first few years of his career, until he switched to children’s books in 1963.
His first book, an autobiographical novel called And Let The Credit Go, was published in 1955. A fluent French speaker (his wife Janine, whom he met at university in Paris after World War Two, after a stint in the Army and in counterintelligence, was French) he is also the author of several translations of important French philosophical and poetic works, including Nausea, by Jean-Paul Sartre, Uninterrupted Poetry, by Paul Eluard, The Sea Rose by Paul Vialar.
golden dreamYes, the world of children’s literature has lost a great light. Readers everywhere have lost a great writer, though there is that wonderful backlist to enjoy. And his last book, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, will be published in August. But it’s more than that for me. I feel like I’ve lost a real friend, as well, because for the last ten years, I’ve been corresponding frequently with Lloyd, exchanging letters and cards(he didn’t like computers, and never used email)and swapping books with him. The bright row of Lloyd Alexander books on my bookshelf, all inscribed by him in his characteristically warm and friendly style, will be doubly precious to me now.
It’s not always true that a great writer is a great person, but when the two coincide, it’s pure magic. That was certainly the case with Lloyd. From the very first letter he sent me, in January 1997, in response to the enthusiastic missive I’d sent via Cricket magazine(with whom he was associated), after my children and I had finished reading The Chronicles of Prydain, you could tell that here was a generous, warm, intelligent and modest person, a real gentleman in the very best sense of the term. Finding we had a good deal in common—writing, France, music, Celtic myth, travel, and much more—we continued to correspond fairly often over the years, and sent each other signed copies of our recently-published books. Lloyd always replied to letters promptly, typing or handwriting on his own distinctive pale yellow letter-paper, with the drawing of a cat playing the violin(thereby combining two of his great loves, as well as indulging his sense of humour). The elegant envelopes postmarked ‘Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania’ were always welcome arrivals in our mailbox!
Lloyd was always ready with a kind word and a friendly remark, and his generous and perceptive understanding of my own books heartened me enormously, and meant a huge amount to me, as did the warm and intelligent quotes he provided for my publishers when my books started to be published in the USA. Over the years, we shared snippets of information, and exchanged news of family and of friends(he was tickled pink by the knowledge that two of our friends had been inspired to name their kids after him and his characters!) And we exchanged Christmas cards—his featured his own delightful coloured drawings of a fantasy cat world, from the poshest drawing-rooms to the rumbustious tavern, with each year a new scene.. WP_20150327_001[1]
It may surprise non-writers(or perhaps not!), but not all writers are as supportive or as friendly and generous towards other writers as Lloyd was. In a competitive industry where egos can be as big as houses, there is all too often an urge to ‘do down’ or at least ignore other writers. Even when it’s not as bad as that, there can be a sense that really, what do you have in common except that you both write books? But when you do connect on a real level—the personal as well as the artistic—it is a very special friendship, even if that is conducted long-distance, as ours was, for we never met in person. And so I grieve for a good friend and a good writer, a good man and one who will be sorely missed, but whose books will live for ever.

The years have passed, but we still miss you very much, Lloyd.

Guest post: Amanda Pillar on heroines

Today, I’m welcoming the fabulous Amanda Pillar to the blog, to talk about a most important subject: the creation of heroines readers will care about!

Amanda is an award-winning editor and author who lives in Victoria, Australia, with her husband and two cats, Saxon and Lilith.
Amanda has had numerous short stories published and has co-edited the fiction anthologies Voices (2008), Grants Pass (2009), The Phantom Queen Awakes (2010), Scenes from the Second Storey (2010), Ishtar (2011) and Damnation and Dames (2012). Her first solo anthology was published by Ticonderoga Publications, titled Bloodstones (2012). Amanda is currently working on the sequel, Bloodlines, due for publication in 2015.
Amanda’s first novel, Graced, was published by Momentum in February 2015.
In her day job, she works as an archaeologist.


by Amanda Pillar
Writing female characters – as a woman – should be a piece of cake. Supposedly. But like any character (male, female, transgender, agender, young, old) you need to really get to know the person you’re creating/writing. Some women are strong and overbearing, some are soft with spines of steel. No one person is the same; even identical twins are different when it comes to their personalities.
So how do you create a female character that people can relate to?
Well, in my experience, you create a person. Someone who is sympathetic to the reader. Their gender, while important in forming identity, should be a part of a whole, rather than a defining characteristic. If a reader were to discard a book simply because the main character is a woman…well, it speaks of a few things: inability to relate, inability to try and experience new ways of thinking, and well, perhaps some deeper personal issues. Of course, it could just represent bad writing or poor character development.
In Graced, I have four main characters: three male and one female. There was no deliberate choice in that representation, although as the author, I guess you could say it is all deliberate. But I am a character driven novelist; characters form in my mind and I try to be true to them as individuals. So while I could have had two male and two female characters, that wouldn’t have been representative of how the characters should be. And so there was one female lead. Graced Ebook High Res
Elle Brown.
Elle is complex; she’s tough but vulnerable, pig-headed but able to learn new ways, individual yet part of a team. She’s also a badass with a steel baton and has no problem bashing heads when the circumstances call for it. All in all, I wanted to make Elle very human. In a universe where there are four different races of people (weres, vampires, Graceds and humans), Elle was to be relatable. She was never going to be a woman who just stood by and let life happen to her, because in the Graced universe, that could mean dying young. Mental strength is something that is important in survival, and if Elle is anything, she’s a survivor.
And so Elle was almost as tough as can be; she works as a city guard, cleaning up the more unsavoury parts of her home town, Pinton. But she’s also just a person – frightened of her powerful and over-bearing grandmother, and desperate to protect her little sister, who she treats more like a daughter due to their 20 year age difference.
All in all, to create a sympathetic heroine, you want someone who is likeable (although not always necessary), relatable, and believable. As a reader, you don’t always have to agree with everything the heroine thinks or does – because in reality, people rarely do what they should, more what they want – but someone whose reasons can be understood.

More about Graced:

Life, however, doesn’t always go to plan, and when Elle meets Clay, everything she thought about her world is thrown into turmoil. Everything, that is, but protecting Emmie, who is Graced with teal-colored eyes and an unknown power that could change their very existence. But being different is dangerous in their home city of Pinton, and it’s Elle’s very own differences that capture the attention of the Honorable Dante Kipling, a vampire with a bone-deep fascination for a special type of human.

Dante is convinced that humans with eye colors other than brown are unique, but he has no proof. The answers may exist in the enigmatic hazel eyes of Elle Brown, and he’s determined to uncover their secrets no matter the cost…or the lives lost.

Buy here.

Visit Amanda’s website.

Amanda’s Facebook author page is here.

Follow her on Twitter.

Interview with Jane Routley

JaneRoutleyToday it is my great pleasure to feature a really interesting interview I did recently with Jane Routley, multi-award-winning author of haunting and gripping fantasy novels, whose earlier books, I’m delighted to see, are enjoying a deserved comeback through ClanDestine Press, but who’s also hard at work on several new fantasy novel projects. And she’s also continuing with another wonderful side to her writing–Station Stories, intriguing non-fiction vignettes inspired by her day job. Read on!

Your new ebook, The Three Sisters, has just been released by ClanDestine Press. It was first published in 2004 under the pseudonym of Rebecca Locksley, and received fantastic reviews, including one from the great fantasy author Sara Douglass, who deemed it a ‘captivating read’. Can you tell us a bit about the book’s journey from its initial publication to its new release now? Did you make any changes to the original book, and how did you approach the question of pseudonyms for this new release?

The pseudonym Rebecca Locksley was an attempt to re-launch me for marketing reasons. At that time big bookshops like Borders were only ordering numbers of books on the strength of previous sales. Harper Collins had enough faith in me to think it might be worth re-launching me and making a big marketing push with posters and dump bins etc… In The Three Sisters I had wanted to write a three sistersprequel to my Dion Chronicles, to deal with the history of the Klementari and their contact with the Aramayans. The name change came when I was too deep in the book to change the story. To be honest even though I understood the reasoning, I wasn’t very happy about it. I changed the names and some of the geography, but the magic system and the characters – everything that mattered -remained the same.
Since the name change didn’t achieve what Harper Collins had hoped and publishing has changed enormously with the advent of ebooks, I thought I might as well consolidate and change my name back for the re-issue.
Oddly enough when Clan Destine offered to re-releaseThe Three Sisters under my own name,I started out changing the world back to that of the Dion Chronicles. Somehow it just felt wrong so I must have changed more than it seemed at the time. Also I was worried people would think I was setting out to deceive.
The Three Sisters has been re-copy edited and I’ve smoothed out some stylistic edges that seem rough to me now but otherwise it’s much the same book that was released in print.
There is a sequel to The Three Sisters which has never been in print, which I spent a lot of time writing and which people still write and ask me about. Fingers crossed Clan Destine will bring it out some time next year.

In both your earlier Dion Chronicles and this book, you have created vivid and intriguing characters, acting in richly-depicted fantasy settings. How do you go about creating the world of your books?

I usually start out with an idea or a character. I’ve always loved the vividness of Angela Carter and Vernon Lee and I’ve tried to emulate it. Fairy tale and history fuel my world building. I tend to imagine my self living in my worlds. I imagine daily life, the smell of fresh bread and the feel of velvet robes. Hence there must always be the sense that there are bakers and seamstresses in the back ground even if they are not described. You need to make sure that everything follows logically.
For instance, your characters need ways to earn livings, which leads to ideas about social structure and economies.
The Three Sisters is set in a kind of medieval world but one in which a country is being colonized. I’ve plundered a lot of my history reading for that. For instance the local women are regarded as valuable slaves because of their skill at weaving. The women captured after the fall of Troy were used in just such a way. Later in Medieval times the work of weavers was the basis of much of the wealth of the Medici’s and the English Monarchy. Hence my history reading fuelled that piece of world building.
On the other hand fairytales are the back ground for a lot of my writing about the Tari. But even though they are magical they still have to eat! And they are human enough to need something to do during the day. I always notice in fantasy books when someone is just sitting round in their castle/cottage/flat waiting for the plot to catch up with them and it always irritates me. Real people,even magical real people, get bored with nothing to do. Even if you never mention it, at least have an idea in your head for what they do every day.

As a writer, are you a plotter or a gambler’? Do you plan your journey into a book, or do you just set out and see what happens?

As a writer I’m more of a gambler than a plotter. I know what I’m interested in writing about and I usually have some idea of where I want to go, but I never have much idea of how I’m going to get there. Every book I start I try to be more of a plotter. It must save so much time and angst. I always get to a point where the book goes dead and I’ve learned that that’s because I’m trying to make the characters do something that doesn’t work. Gee it’s miserable when it happens! I wish I didn’t have to go through it. On the other hand I get bored easily, so perhaps it’s best if I don’t know how things are going to go.
As a gambler, I know I write stories and books to see what’s going to happen if… For instance I’m interested in female roles in fantasy. In The Three Sisters I wanted to subvert the idea of the beautiful woman everyone desires. My suspicion would be that it would be horrible to be so desired. Sort of like that famous photo by Ruth Orkin of an American girl in Italy 1951 running the gauntlet of leering men. Elena’s quality of fatal beauty deprives her of much of her chance for agency and forces her to make a horrible sacrifice that many women in history have had to make. And I wanted to portray what it mage heartwould be like to occupied by a colonizing force, which is an important theme in Australian History. So I keep asking what happens next when these conditions apply and over time I dig into the story and get closer and closer to the story that feels right for me. It’s a bit like being an archaeologist or painting an oil painting.

Are you working on a new novel now? If so, can you tell us about it?
My current project Shadow in the Empire of Light, is an example of the way I work. I was tired of reading traditional patriarchal gender roles and especially tired of the nice girls don’t have love affairs trope that is so much a part of traditional fantasy. It’s Fantasy for heaven’s sake!! Let’s live a little!! So I tried to design a world in which women are men’s equal and gender is less of an issue. At first it came out a bit dull. I hadn’t realized how much the sex war supplied tensions.
So I added the element of class. In the Empire of Light wealth is passed down the female line and all mages become nobles. Those without magic are peasants.
My heroine Shine Lucheyart is well born but she has no magic and no mother to leave her an inheritance. She works as a poor relation in the house of powerful sorcerer relatives. But she’s smart and feisty and in the first book she spends a lot of time getting sorcerer cousins out of trouble.
Her main aim is the cut loose from her family and, with her telepathic cat for company, make her fortune. I had a lot of fun with gendered language and also fun making it a sexy silky kind of book. I’m looking for a publisher now.

You are a multi-award winning, internationally-published author. How do you think the genre of fantasy fiction has changed over the years since you were first published?

The introduction of sparkly vampires and the growth of urban fantasy is one major new part of the genre. Fairy tales seems to have left nature and have become more and more entwined with our grungy urban settings. I’m not sure the type of historical fantasy I write has changed all that much. A lot of it seems just as sexist and humourless as it was when I started out. There are a lot of women centred fantasy novels nibbling away at the edges, but the mainstream….? Women are still being married off to save their brothers from ruination or in constant danger of being ravished by every man they meet. On the other hand there is the Game of Thrones phenomenon which can only be good for all fantasy writers simply because it’s gone so mainstream. Looking at G o T is a great way of looking at gender roles in Fantasy. A lot of women say that G o T is too rapey. That’s true. It’s set in a war and that’s what happens in the chaos of war. But there are a lot of strong women in the book. You have Aya, Danerys and even the appalling Cerci just to name the main ones. On the other hand you could accuse it of exceptionalism since all these ladies are exceptional and not the norm and the rapeiness is a drag to read if you’re a woman. Still compared with Tolkien we are definitely making progress. I guess one should be happy for small steps.fire angels

Separately to your fiction, you have created a wonderful compendium of non-fiction ‘Station Stories’ of vignettes and micro-stories inspired by your work as a station host at a Melbourne station host. How did ‘Station Stories’ start, and how do you see it as developing? Can you share with us one or two stories that stand out?

As a writer I’ve always wanted to celebrate everyday life – to make little photographs of it but with scents and sounds. Because everyday life is full of tiny transcendent jewel-like moments of delight and sorrow and interest. Fantasy writing doesn’t give you much scope for this. When I first started to work at a railway station (unfortunately my writing doesn’t pay the bills)I was delighted by all the little stories that played out on station platforms and kept a diary so that they wouldn’t be lost. Over time and with my discovery of social media these have metamorphosed into ‘Station Stories’. I really wrote them for my own pleasure. People tell me to look for a publisher for them and perhaps I will. But I already think of it as a small weekly column and I try to post one every weekend. I’d love to build up a following for them so that lots of people get this little story maybe on their mobiles maybe on Monday mornings as a bit of a sweetener. Without really planning it that seems to be what I’m working towards.
Here are two of my favourites.
A regular
G, one of our regulars is extremely disabled. He drives his wheelchair with a stick mounted on his head and communicates by tapping out words on a communicator. Were I so disabled, I think I’d be scared to leave the house, but G goes out to his job most days and has a busy social life. Recently I was tasteless enough to tease him about checking out the pretty girls. The way he tapped out “I’m engaged” and the dignified way he looked at me as it sounded out, made me feel rather small. Serves me right!
Yesterday he was waiting for a friend at the barriers and we got chatting. Hundreds of people headed for the Soundwave festival were going past and my task was to call out “Soundwave passengers – buses to the left!” at regular intervals.
I was startled to hear a little mechanical voice repeating my words. G had typed the words into his communicator and helpfully kept pressing the button at regular intervals until his friend arrived and he shot off in his wheel chair to greet him.

Station Heroics
Today the Crystal lady was in great distress (although not willing to miss her train) because she had dropped a container of freshly made organic peanut butter on the train tracks. I leapt in to help like the hero station host I am. Although these days railway employees are forbidden to enter the Pit (this is the evocative name we rail types use for the area of train track between the platforms) I do have a Scoopy Thing. This thing, created by some great hero station officer of times past,is a plastic milk bottle cut in half and attached to a pole. It enables me to fish all kinds of things – mostly mobile phones safely out of the Pit.
The ST performed admirably but to be honest, I’m not sure the Crystal Lady will want the peanut butter as the jar has a big germ emitting crack in it. Still that’s her decision for tomorrow.

Station Stories can be followed at www.janeroutley.com

Looking for Creative Opportunity: An Interview with Sophie Masson

Interview with me on the Ink Ashlings blog about Eagle Books and Christmas Press and our wonderful project, bringing back Jules Verne’s wonderful adventure classic, Mikhail Strogoff, to English-speaking audiences.


Many people know Sophie as the writer of a number of popular of books across many different genres and age ranges. Some may know of the work she does to support emerging writers through writers centre programs and roles with national writers bodies such as the ASA. However, many are unfamiliar with her latest business adventure – one of the directors and brains behind two new small presses – so I asked Sophie to answer some questions for the blog to fill us all in!

Sophie portrait blue and red

1. Tell us a bit about Christmas Press and its imprint Eagle books.

Christmas Press is a small children’s publisher, a partnership business between four creators: myself; illustrator and designer David Allan; author and illustrator Fiona McDonald; and writer and editor Beattie Alvarez. We started in 2013 and to date(March 2015) have published 4 books – three picture books featuring retellings of traditional tales –…

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See you at the opening night of the Historical Novel Society Conference!


20 MARCH 2015


Metcalfe Auditorium, State Library of NSW, Macquarie St, Sydney at 6 – 9 pm

Join us as we officially launch the inaugural HNSA Conference. Meet other attendees as canapés and drinks are served then enjoy our program.

6.00 pm – COCKTAILS

6.30 pm – WELCOME
Welcome Address by Sophie Masson, award winning novelist

7.00 pm – BOOK LAUNCH
Celebrate the launch of Felicity Pulman’s Unholy Murder
To be launched by Gillian Polack.


Enjoy a lively round table discussion with Kelly Gardiner (Chair), Deborah Challinor, Jesse Blackadder, Rachel Le Rossignol and Gillian Polack as they ponder the question: ‘What can historical novelists and historians learn from each other?

Some special events at the Historical Novel Society Conference

As well as the general program, there are some very special events at the Historical Novel Society of Australia’s inaugural conference this weekend. Here are a couple:

22 MARCH 2015

Balmain Town Hall

Library Meeting Room 1      11.00 am – 12.00 pm           Session Three


A panel of academics will discuss at length this theme ‘Phryne Fisher And Other Fantasies: The Female Detective In History’, the subject of a forthcoming special edition of ‘The Australian Journal of Crime Fiction’.

‘The Australian Journal of Crime Fiction’ publishes scholarly and critical studies of work that fall within, or challenge the conventions of, the crime fiction genre.

Panellists include: Dr Rachel Franks, Dr Rachel Le Rossignol, Dr Kelly Gardiner, Diane Murray and Dr Wendy J. Dunn.

Super Sessions:


Do you struggle with blending research into your writing? Dr Gillian Polack will provide an analysis of the first 50 pages of your manuscript as well as guidance on how to write compelling and authentic historical fiction. Click here to learn more.



Do you want your manuscript assessed? Irina Dunn, Director of the Australian Writers’ Network, will hold one-hour one-on-one sessions to provide detailed feedback on the first 1,500 words of your manuscript. Click here to learn more.



How do you build a reputation as an historical novelist? Learn how to build an author platform with author Elisabeth Storrs, and review blogger Margaret Bates. Click here to learn more.

Two days to go..

HNSA-logoOnly two days to go till the inaugural conference of the Historical Novel Society of Australia kicks off! It’s a packed program! Here’s just a few highlights:


6.00 pm – COCKTAILS

6.30 pm – WELCOME
Welcome Address by Sophie Masson, award winning novelist

7.00 pm – BOOK LAUNCH
Celebrate the launch of Felicity Pulman’s Unholy Murder
To be launched by Gillian Polack.


Enjoy a lively round table discussion with Kelly Gardiner (Chair), Deborah Challinor, Jesse Blackadder, Rachel Le Rossignol and Gillian Polack as they ponder the question: ‘What can historical novelists and historians learn from each other?


Keynote Address: ‘The ANZAC Tradition as Inspiration: Imagining the Past; Claiming the Present’

In commemoration of the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign, international bestselling author, Colin Falconer, will address the changing attitudes towards the ANZAC tradition which has inspired Australian historical fiction over the past 100 years.

11.15 am-12.15 pm Session Three

Tall Tales and True: How Story Tellers Imagine History

How do historical novelists weave history into fiction? What draws an author to choose a particular era, and what research do they undertake to bring past times to life? Jean Bedford talks with Isolde Martyn, Johanna NichollsJuliet Marillier and Craig Cliff about these choices.

2.15-3.15 pm            Session Five

War-torn Worlds: Historical Fiction in Times of Conflict

Vashti Farrer joins Nicole Alexander, Toni Jordan, Kim Kelly and Sophie Masson in discussing why World Wars I and II inspire their fiction, and the challenge of depicting characters who must either overcome, or succumb to, the turbulence of war.


 9.45-10.45 am  Session Two

What is it about the Tudors?

The world’s appetite for historical fiction set in Tudor times continues to grow. What is it about this particular royal house that is so compelling? Are publishers ‘playing it safe’ by not encouraging novels set in other eras? What impact has Tudor fiction had on the popularity of historical fiction as a genre? Rachel Le Rossignol joins Natalie Grueninger, Wendy J Dunn, Barbara Gaskell Denvil and Jane Caro will explore the phenomenon of Tudorphilia.

  11.15 am-12.15 pm         Session Three

Historical Fiction Sub-genres: Intrigue, Mystery, Fantasies and Time-slip

Blending different genres within historical fiction is an increasing trend. What challenges do authors face when intertwining mystery or fantasy with history? And why are readers drawn to tales of characters who travel across time? Posie Graeme-Evans joins Kate Forsyth, Sulari Gentill, Belinda Murrell and Felicity Pulman to enlighten us.

3.50-4.50 pm  Session Six

In Bed with History: Sexy, Saucy and Sizzling Bedroom Scenes – A Romp!

Prepare to get hot under the collar as Kate Forsyth, Jesse Blackadder and Colin Falconer break down closed bedroom doors and read their racier scenes.




An exciting crowdfunding campaign bringing back the best adventure novel ever written!

Eagle Books logoI am thrilled to be part of an exciting publishing project: bringing back to English-speaking readers what many have called the best adventure novel ever written, the legendary French writer Jules Verne’s great book, Mikhail Strogoff. It will be the first English translation in over a hundred years!

First published in France in 1876 in Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages series, under the title of Michel Strogoff, the novel was an immediate hit with readers and has never been out of print in France and indeed in many other countries. But after the first English translation, published in the same year as the book, there has not been another full English translation of this classic, rip-roaring tale of adventure set in Tsarist Russia, and the original translation is stodgy and dated for modern tastes. Indeed, it does not capture the lively, sharp, immediate quality of the original work, which is perhaps why there hasn’t been another translation and why English-speaking readers have missed out on what so many other people in other countries have enjoyed!

All that is set to change with the publication by Eagle Books of a brand new translation by the fabulous translator and writer, Stephanie Smee. Mikhail Strogoff, as it will be titled, will appear in early 2016 and right at the moment a fabulous crowdfunding campaign has just launched to help fund the production of a special limited edition of the novel to mark and celebrate this major publishing event. People can contribute and get their own special copy of this pre-commercial-release exclusive edition, which will Sergei Prokudin and Cossacksbe a gorgeous collectible hardcover book, illustrated in black and white and with many special features.

I’m delighted to be a part of the Eagle Books publishing team, (the new fiction imprint of Christmas Press) and thrilled that Mikhail Strogoff will be our launch title. It was my favourite book as a young reader and since then I have read and re-read it many times, thrilling every time to the extraordinary journey of the brave and determined Siberian, Mikhail Strogoff, courier of the Tsar, and his friends and family who join him on an adventure like no other, set in the exhilerating vastness and diversity of Russia. The book was a big influence on me, triggering a lifelong interest in Russia and its culture, but it always frustrated me that my English-speaking friends had no real access to it. It is truly a dream come true to be helping to bring back this amazing novel back to English-speaking readers!

My sessions at the Historical Novel Society conference

HNSA-logoGearing up for the HNSA inaugural conference in just one week’s time! Here are the sessions where I’ll be appearing(from HNSA program).


The conference opens with cocktails on Friday 20th March at the State Library of NSW where Sophie Masson is our guest speaker. Felicity Pulman will also launch her new book, Unholy Murder, before a lively round table discussion with Kelly Gardiner (Chair), Deborah Challinor, Jesse Blackadder, Rachel Le Rossignol and Gillian Polack as they ponder the question: ‘What can historical novelists and historians learn from each other?

21 March 12.15-1.15 pm  Session Four
Can Children’s and Young Adult Fiction Compete with Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies?
In a world where the Twilight and Hunger Games series dominate the CYA shelves, how can historical novelists capture young readers’ imaginations? Sophie Masson explores the issue with Belinda Murrell, Sherryl Clark, Pamela Rushby and Goldie Alexander. 

21 March 2.15-3.15 pm    Session Five
War-torn Worlds: Historical Fiction in Times of Conflict
Vashti Farrer joins Nicole Alexander, Toni Jordan, Kim Kelly and Sophie Masson in discussing why World Wars I and II inspire their fiction, and the challenge of depicting characters who must either overcome, or succumb to, the turbulence of war.
For more information on all the Conference panels, please visit the HNSA site for program details. And you can buy your tickets here.

Firebird way station on Amanda Bridgeman’s Aurora: Centralis blog tour!

AuroraCentralis BTFBDelighted to announce that today my blog’s a way station on bestselling science-fiction author Amanda Bridgeman’s  official blog tour celebrating the release of Aurora: Centralis, fourth instalment in the Aurora series, published by Momentum. Aurora_centralis_FA

Born and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda hails from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, her three brothers raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. Naturally, she grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring to watch action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com, and liking her music rock hard. But that said, she can swoon with the best of them and is really not a fan of bugs! 

The three earlier books in the Aurora series: Darwin, Pegasus, Meridian have been bestsellers and received rave reviews, and just recently, the third book in the series, Aurora: Meridian, was shortlisted in  the science fiction category of the prestigious Aurealis Awards.

Congratulations, and welcome, Amanda!


Living with The Afterlife

by Amanda Bridgeman
The afterlife, or what happens to us once we die, plays a part in the Aurora series. A hint of it appears in Aurora: Darwin and as the series progresses, more and more light is shed upon it, until finally it comes to the forefront in Aurora: Centralis. This particular plot thread weaves is way through Harris’ story. He dreams of his deceased grandmother and great-grandmother, and feels their ‘presence’ during his waking hours. This particular part of Harris’ story was inspired by tales and experiences relating to my own grandmother and great-grandmother.
My first true experience of the death of a loved one came at the age of 15 when my grandmother, my mother’s mother, passed away in her sleep in the early hours of the morning. My grandfather was up early that day, readying for a planned trip to the Abrolhos Islands with his son. He went to shake my grandmother awake to tell her he was leaving, but alas she never awoke. Upon receiving the news, my parents had stolen away to their house to see my grandmother, and then they came back to the house to wake me and tell me the news. I remember being in shock and jumping out of bed to make my mother a coffee. I had spent much time with my grandmother and her passing was a loss to all.
Strangely enough, that night when I went to sleep I had a dream. It was a strange dream, but a nice one none-the-less. I stood in a car park and some distance away I saw my grandmother standing with my pop. They were about to get into a car and drive away somewhere. I called out to her but my voice didn’t carry. Somehow she heard me though. She looked over to me, smiled, and raised her hand to wave at me. It was very much a goodbye wave. I smiled and waved back, and then they drove away. And I remember thinking at the time that that wasn’t just a dream. I truly believed it was my grandmother making contact from ‘the other side’ to say goodbye to me.
But wait, there’s more. There’s a lot more.
When my father was young he contracted polio. He was living on a farm in the small country town of Northampton and had to be transferred to a hospital in Perth, some 5-6 hours away by car. His father had to manage their farm and his mother had to take care of his 4 siblings, so they couldn’t visit with my father all the time. My father’s grandmother (his mother’s mother) however, lived in what was then an outer suburb of Perth and she made it her business to catch the train in every Sunday to visit him in hospital. He was only 6 years old at the time, and the two become close. Years later, when I was about 9 years old, his grandmother passed away, but it would seem she did not leave him.
One night my father was in the local pub in Geraldton, and the man – let’s call him Ron – who had recently bought and moved into our old house called him over to his table to speak with him. Ron said to my father that he was probably going to think him crazy, but he asked if our house had been haunted. My father told him no, that we had never experienced anything. Ron said that his wife – let’s call her Kelly – kept telling him she had seen the ghost of an old woman, standing by the fridge as though looking inside. Whenever Kelly entered the room, she would see this old lady look up and smile, then just fade away. Kelly said she never felt threatened by this apparition – it was just an old woman with gentle smile. Ron thought her crazy until one night, in the middle of the night, he awoke to see an image of an old woman standing beside the bed and leaning over Kelly who lay beside him. Ron said he wasn’t afraid, just shocked, as this old woman seemed to checking on them, looking for someone. And the way Ron described the woman to my father, it was the spitting image of his grandmother: she wore a quaker style of dress, round glasses, her hair was pulled into a bun, and she had a shawl pulled across her shoulders. And the funny thing is, my father’s grandmother was known for her appetite – even in her 90’s – so visions of her standing by the fridge are rather hilariously on the mark!
So, although she had passed, my great-grandmother was still checking on my father. But alas he had moved house, and she was obviously wondering where he’d gone.
Now my mother eventually told me this story years later when I was an early-mid teen. My brother, Ross, had been there at the time as well and I remember us looking at each other wide-eyed and, to be honest, a little freaked out. I distinctly remember my brother saying ‘I wish you hadn’t told us that!’. Of course for the next little while we found ourselves scouring every room we entered for her presence – you know, just in case she found our new address…
Now, however, I look back on that story with warmth. The fact that a love, a family bond could be so strong as to hold through different worlds, different realms, is really quite phenomenal. If I hadn’t dreamed that dream of my own grandmother, or heard this story of my father’s grandmother, I probably wouldn’t have believed in ghosts or the afterlife. But now I have, I find it hard to ignore.
Are ghosts real? Does the afterlife exist? Or is it simply that they live on in our hearts and minds and that is how we see them – that is what becomes the true place of the afterlife: within us. Based on my real life experiences, this is what I explore in the Aurora series with the character of Captain Saul Harris – whether or not that doorway exists.

Amanda’s website: http://amandabridgeman.com.au/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AmandaBridgemanAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bridgeman_books