A quick interview with Venero Armanno

A quick interview with Venero Armanno

Welcome to my second IFWG author interview for this year! It’s published as part of IFWG’s Uncaching the Treasure’s campaign. IFWG Publishing moved most of its intended 2020 new release titles into 2021, to offset the impact of COVID-19, in effect caching treasures. They are excited to…

A quick interview with Russell Kirkpatrick: Epic Fantasy Author

A quick interview with Russell Kirkpatrick: Epic Fantasy Author

You’ll be seeing a lot more author interviews on this site in the next few months, mainly as part of IFWG’s Uncaching the Treasure’s campaign. IFWG Publishing moved most of its intended 2020 new release titles into 2021, to offset the impact of COVID-19, in effect caching treasures. They are excited to release them from February to June 2021 ( an ‘uncaching’). The Uncaching the Treasures campaign is extensive, including partnering with quality reviewers, bloggists, podcasters, and events, both virtual and physical. Near on 20 titles will be uncached, and yours truly has signed up to help promote.

First author I’ll be interviewing as part of this campaign is an awesome friend of mine, Russell Kirkpatrick! An award-winning, best-selling author of both epic fantasy books and thematic atlases, Russell’s first novel was the biggest-selling debut fantasy of 2008 in the USA, and his fiction has won three Sir Julius Vogel awards. Atlases he’s worked on have twice been finalists in New Zealand’s Montana Book Awards. He’s still a university lecturer, despite having tried to retire at least twice. Although he lives in Canberra, Australia with Kylie and Rogue (one of whom is a dachshund), he is most definitely a New Zealander. His biggest claim to fame is that he has the most wonderful group of friends in the world. Today, Russell talks about his latest novel, Silent Sorrow, as well as some other aspects of his writing process. Welcome, Russell!

Photo Credit Cat Sparks

As well as an award-winning fantasy writer, you’re a writer of thematic atlases! What are thematic atlases and does the work you do with them influence your writing, especially in new novel, Silent Sorrow?

So a standard atlas, the kind you might have used before Google Maps, shows physical features, roads, places and administrative boundaries. These are supposedly the ‘real’ landscape, though there’s a lot of important things missing from maps like these. A thematic atlas tries to highlight these important missing themes by devoting a map or series of maps to them – like average annual rainfall, for example, or employment, or First Nations people. The First Nations people map is an excellent example of a thematic map. It doesn’t have roads or rivers or mountains, just information consistent with one specific theme. I make atlases like this, and they haven’t been superseded by Google Maps like normal atlases have.

My work with maps and atlases has definitely influenced the way I think about the world. In particular, it informs what constitutes a white western gaze and what realities are hidden from that gaze. In Silent Sorrow I definitely try to make some of those realities visible, though inevitably things are still often seen from my own viewpoint.

You’ve also been a geography lecturer. How does that work influence your fantasy and your world-building?

Aside from the obvious head start geography gives me in world-building (both physical and cultural), having immersed myself in the subject has had an even broader influence on my fantasy writing. In particular exposure to post-colonial ideas helped me set up the underlying rationale for the basic global conflict underpinning the narrative in Silent Sorrow. I should emphasise that the world of Silent Sorrow is not a thinly-disguised metaphor for the distressing global disparities in our own world: my world is driven by quite a different dynamic.

I do struggle with a tendency towards realism. So much of what I read in the genre is geographically implausible, but it’s often the implausibility that makes it so interesting. I have to remind myself that it’s called “fantasy” for a reason, and not everything needs a hard science explanation.

What other writers influence your fiction? Who are some of your favourite authors and why?

Tolkien and Lewis were the first, followed by Le Guin (though not Earthsea, which I dislike) and, latterly, Reynolds, Bujold, Abercrombie, Elliot and a pile of others. I love large canvases and huge conflicts with great attention to detail, which is what drew me to Tolkien and Lewis (but not the awful LOTR and Hobbit movies). Le Guin gave me compelling cultural geography (The Dispossessed!) and a commitment to social justice. The other writers embellished this, adding cynicism, biting humour, depth of characterisation and stories that matter.

You say in your bio you have the most amazing friends in the world. How do they/how have they helped you on your author journey and how important is the speculative fiction community to you?

They are the most amazing friends. They gave me a home, made me feel welcome, offered gentle (and sometimes fierce) critiques of my work, and made a wide variety of baked goods which I recklessly consumed. They are thoughtful, talented, dedicated and working hard to rid themselves of their privilege.

You’re originally from New Zealand, though you live in Canberra now. How do you think your NZ background/identity affects your fiction? Do you think there’s differences between Australian and NZ spec fic writers in how they write and see the world? Will we see some of that in Silent Sorrow?

Being a New Zealander gave me lots of opportunity to get outdoors and experience what it’s like to interact with a mountainous wilderness. It’s no surprise these landscapes feature heavily in my work. It’s only a small reveal to say the characters in Silent Sorrow have to learn to stop trying to dominate nature and start living within its limits, a lesson New Zealanders learn when young (or they die in remote valleys and on mountainsides).

New Zealand authors have tended to write small: a trip to the corner shops, growing up in a small town, living on the coast. I find Australian writers are more prepared to engage with a larger canvas, yet few white writers look to their own enormous continent as inspiration, because they continue to struggle with issues around identity. With Silent Sorrow I’ve tried not to see our world at all, but imagine something with different rules and attitudes and a different fundamental conflict – science vs the old gods.

As the interview starts to delve more specifically into Silent Sorrow, let’s look at the book’s blurb:

Brilliant and ambitious, Remezov is already recognised as the best earthquake predictor in the business. He travels to the ancient city of Hanemark to be received into the powerful Guild of Geographers, the youngest inductee in decades.

On the way he finds a dead scientist’s diary, warning of an imminent invasion. Nonsense, of course—except the diary explains otherwise puzzling occurrences. Does he surrender it to the Guild, risking accusations he killed the scientist and stole the diary—all for an invasion that may never come—or does he keep it and use it to make his name? He has to decide soon, because he’s being hunted by something leaving a trail of mutilated bodies across the city.

The lizards are coming…

Tell us more about Silent Sorrow. What inspired the story?

Silent Sorrow has its genesis in a panel at a New Zealand SF convention over a decade ago. I was part of a discussion that talked about Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and tentatively (all right, stridently) argued that fantasy privileges human agency over social structure – Frodo the insignificant’s courage, and the bravery of a few mates, will always overcome the power and might of the dark forces set on enslaving the world. I tried to make the case that it was time fantasy explored the much more realistic notion that social structure – the vast, faceless system we’re organised by (call it capitalism if you like) – always suffocates human agency. There isn’t one ring to cast into the fire, there’s 8 billion.

We see this struggle everywhere. I teach a Global Environmental Futures course at Uni. Students turn up to class with their lovely activism, their reduce/reuse/recycle attitude and have taken responsibility for their own actions, the way they’ve been taught at school. They’re shocked when they learn their recycling isn’t recycled, and that corporates are responsible for the vast majority of global warming (don’t shoot me, I’m generalising, I haven’t got time to check the figures). The best they can do is a flea-bite. The de-emphasis of society and the focus on individualism has exacerbated this trend. Students feel powerless. Social structure triumphs over human agency


humans use the power of aggregation and band together, rediscover society and let their sheer numbers make a difference. Frodo isn’t going to win the battle against climate change on his own. We need a million, a billion Frodo’s to take action in the market. The Frodo’s are already doing this by demanding their super funds stop investing in fossil fuel, or using boycotts to pull polluters into line.

So – what if this happened in a fantasy novel? That’s the premise of Silent Sorrow: attempting to overcome a global existential threat by united social action. A look at the title of the book suggests it doesn’t go well, not at the start. Yes, the story is about a few individuals, and it’s not a dry university course, but there is no Chosen One, there are no saviours.

Can’t emphasise this enough. Fantasy as a genre reinforces the notion that brave individuals can triumph over the dark forces threatening us. This is NOT the message we need right now. We need to rediscover our social mojo. Tell you what, I was really surprised by how much drama and action and individual courage this approach generated, as well as how different the novel feels to its contemporaries.

I know that this novel had some challenges along the road to publication (your last fantasy trilogy wrapped up in 2009). Are you able to tell us about that and what helped overcome them? Any advice for people in similar situations?

Yeah, well, things didn’t work out great after 2009. I had serious health issues and a relationship breakdown that killed all the momentum I’d built up in the preceding decade. Added to that was the sudden deflation of the market, which hit midlist authors like myself extremely hard. While I’ve sorted my health and I’m in a wonderful relationship, I was not able to solve the collapse of the midlist. I’ve had to adjust to the new reality and recognise that Big 5 publishers are looking for something slightly different to what I offer. So be it! IFWG have very bravely picked up Silent Sorrow which, with its length and plethora of maps, is expensive to produce.

I think I’ve written a great book, but that doesn’t automatically qualify me for a lucrative publishing deal (or any deal at all). I have an unshakeable core belief in my own ability, one that has withstood stripping away layers of white male entitlement. That sort of unshakeable belief, whether real or deluded, is what authors need to ride out the rough patches in their careers. I’ve also had the generous and unfailing support of friends and fellow writers, which means the whole expanding universe to me.

How do you think Silent Sorrow is different to other books out there? (Give us your elevator pitch) Do you have any comp titles to compare the novel to for readers?

I’ve read two other fantasy series that have tackled this notion: Martin’s Game of Thrones and Abercrombie’s The First Law. In both novels the better you were as a person the swifter you died, and their endings were chaotic and certainly not triumphant. I’ll be sure not to repeat those mistakes!

Elevator pitch?

“In a land so unstable geographers predict earthquakes like forecasting the weather, it is a foolish thing to banish the gods keeping the continents from falling apart – but that is what Medanos has done. The gods flee to nearby Beduil, which suffers catastrophic quakes as the world plunges out of balance. The Beduil solution is to launch an invasion to wipe out every trace of the Medanans, so the banished gods might return.”

What novels would I compare it to? Definitely similar in tone and intricacy to Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, and with Abercrombie’s bite.

What does Silent Sorrow have in common with your previous novels (aside from you writing them)? How is it different?

Silent Sorrow is a much more active novel, with deeper characters, more humour and a faster pace than anything I’ve had published. It’s a world-spanning fantasy with crisp, believable worldbuilding that directly affects the plot, similar to what I’ve written before. Readers acquainted with my previous work will find this familiar, but also quite different in its approach. It’s definitely a step up in quality.

What’s next on the writing horizon for you?

I have the rest of this story to tell, a YA science fiction superhero novel to rewrite and a literary SF novel to complete.

I found this interview fascinating so thanks so much Russell for putting in the effort to answer so many questions. You can pre-order Silent Sorrow from the links found here, with the book released 1st Feb 2021. Silent Sorrow is available in all good ebook and print outlets. It is distributed through Gazelle (UK/Europe), Novella (Australia) and IPG (North America).

Autumn in New Orleans: A Flash Fic

Autumn in New Orleans: A Flash Fic

How did I come to live in a forest looking like a freak with Betty McLean, leaving school, friends, and family behind? Well for starters, the red-gold leaf was as big as my face. Which is why it was kind of bad it stuck to…

A quick interview with L. L. Hunter: paranormal romance writer

A quick interview with L. L. Hunter: paranormal romance writer

My December author interview is with L. L. Hunter, whose Midnight Ball series concludes this month. Here’s some info from Laura about this particular series:

The first book, Reign of Secrets came to fruition about 7 years ago. I had this image of a princess with magical jewellery that could portal to different worlds. But the full world building of this series didn’t happen until earlier this year. My writers’ group helped me plan it out. We chatted about the rules that governed the world. I also wanted to write a story featuring gods and goddesses. At the time there weren’t many around in bookstores, but it seems stories of gods and goddesses are quite popular haha. I was glad in a way, because the book was received really well and is one of my highest bestsellers to date.

The sequel Crown of Lies, begins straight after the end of Reign of Secrets. I left it on quite a cliffhanger (sorry, readers!), but I planned to release each book fairly close together so readers wouldn’t have to wait that long.The last book, Queen of Midnight, follows Grace, as she not only deals with the aftermath of the gates of the underworld being opened, but her power growing stronger, and a couple of bombshells being dropped on her in the form of family secrets. She also doubts herself a lot in this book, so there’s a personal journey she has to take as well so she can eventually be queen and unite the kingdoms.There’s also the angsty romance between Grace and Maddi which I absolutely LOVE. I think they’re my new favourite couple.

So now I’ve whetted your appetite, it’s time for the interview to begin!

You mention in your bio you used to write fan fic. What fandom did you love and how have they influenced your original works?

Yes, I have written some fanfics. I loved writing Supernatural, and a few others. My friend and I actually wrote a Supernatural / X files crossover. I also had a Vampire Diaries one that was pretty popular online, as well as a few based on the Shadowhunter books by Cassandra Clare. They’re still published on And no, I will not tell you my penname…

You’ve studied many different fields … vet nursing, forensic science, dramatic arts … how do they inspire this trilogy?

I’ve found that in studying many different subjects, it’s prepared me well for research when writing a book and as an author. I used some of my forensic science knowledge to write the Adelaide Paige Saga for instance.

You mention writing plays and musicals in your bio which I think is so cool! Any faves and how do they inform your novels?

With my drama class, back before I started writing my first novel, I wrote, produced and directed a series of musicals entitled No Frills Airlines. They were so much fun. Play writing and screenplay writing is a whole different ball game to writing a novel, but I guess they help you with plot. They use the same story arcs.

What speaks to you about paranormal romance? How do you think this trilogy stands out from the crowd? Also, any other great paranormal romances you’d recommend to readers?

I have loved paranormal romance since as long as I can remember. I love writing the creatures, their powers, you know, angels and demons with wings and glowing irises, and a man that can change into a dragon, etc. I think there’s something so interesting and magical about paranormal stories.

In thinking about the Midnight Ball series, when I was trying to market it, I couldn’t really think of a series that was similar. That’s good and bad. You want something to stand out from the crowd, but also something that fits, so readers finished one fantasy or paranormal series, can pick up another similar in theme and genre etc. When I first started writing and plotting Reign of Secrets, there wasn’t anything published that was like it at the time. And now a year later, I’m finding a lot more stories featuring gods and goddesses and epic adventure fantasies out there.

Can you give us an elevator pitch for the series as a whole?

The Midnight Ball series is about a young princess named Grace with magic blood. She lives in a kingdom named Sydlandia, which she then finds out is part of a bigger world called Aurum, and then that world is part of a bigger universe. There are secrets and magic and curses, witches, mysterious demi-gods as well as gorgeous gods and goddesses. Grace finds out her parents had been lying to her throughout her entire life, and she is part of a hidden destiny meant to restore peace throughout all the kingdoms and to unite the worlds. There is also a LGBTQ romance at the heart of it.

Tell us a bit about the trilogy’s protagonist and why we’ll love her.

Grace is naive at first, but only because everyone has been lying to her. But when she finds out about the lies, and experiences further betrayals, she really grows into her own skin and has to grow up quickly. She becomes strong and powerful and empowered, and that’s why I loved writing her. I hope you will love her as much as I do.

Why gods and goddesses? What about them appeals to you? Did you draw upon particular myths and legends for your trilogy?

I hadn’t written about gods and goddesses really before, and it’s something I’ve wanted to explore for a while. As well as creating a brand new world built from the ground up that has its own lore and rules. The trilogy was inspired by Greek mythology, such as the tale of Persephone and Hades, but in my books, Hades calls himself Aed.

Tell us a bit about what we can expect from the romance in Book 3.

Without giving away any spoilers, Grace and Maddi’s romance and relationship as a whole will really be tested in Queen of Midnight. But I promise you, there is a happy ending 😉

What kind of research did you do for this trilogy and what’s the coolest thing you discovered writing Book 3?

As this series is epic fantasy, and the world totally created by me, I didn’t really need research that much. But at a writing retreat, which is where I finally finished Book 3, I threw out a question to the rest of the ladies: If you could eat anything in the world, say it’s your last day on earth, or wanted that special dish you couldn’t get anywhere else, what would it be? Something gods and goddesses would dine on.

Some of the answers floored me, such as Strawberries served in fairy floss tasting clouds, golden pear tarts, and thousand year old mushroom risotto using mushrooms found at the end of the rainbow in the land of the unicorns … most of them made it into a scene toward the end of the book.

Do you have a fave passage you’d like to share with readers to tease the final book?

I can’t really share a quote that won’t spoil the book, but there are so many favourite scenes in this book that I love. It’s my favourite in the whole trilogy. Especially the very last epilogue scene…

Awesome Laura! Thanks so much for chatting to me at my blog! Readers, you can read the complete Midnight Ball series now.

Reign of Secrets:

Crown of Lies:

Queen of Midnight:

L.L. Hunter is the author of over 20 published works, including The Legend of the Archangel Series and The Eden Chronicles. She has studied everything from veterinary nursing, forensic science, and dramatic arts, but has always known her true calling was to be an author. She has been writing since her teens – everything from fan fiction, to song lyrics, to plays and musicals. When not working on her next paranormal romance, she can be found at home in Australia, reading somewhere comfortable with one or both of her “fur babies.” Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @llhunterbooks, and her blog –








A quick interview with C. E. Page: Epic Fantasy Novelist

A quick interview with C. E. Page: Epic Fantasy Novelist

So this is a bit exciting … I decided a while back to interview authors to showcase their latest work and so I could learn more about what’s happening in speculative fiction, celebrating with some amazing writers. So, every month I’ll be (hopefully) putting out…

The Lamplighter: A flash fic

The Lamplighter: A flash fic

Maureen’s Halloween inspired free October fiction. A lamplighter gets more than he bargains for when he comes face to face with a ghost …

Re-watching Sleepy Hollow (1999): One of the most beautiful horror films ever made?

Re-watching Sleepy Hollow (1999): One of the most beautiful horror films ever made?

As Halloween approaches, what better way to spend a cold and foggy Sydney evening then curled up on the sofa watching a spooky film? Some friends and I re-watched Sleepy Hollow (1999) and honestly, I can’t help but feel that this little gem is underrated. Yes, Burton has become far less interesting in recent years (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen Big Eyes, and Frankenweenie and Sweeney Todd were both astonishing films), and yes, these days he cannibalizes his own work so that everything feels like something you’ve seen a hundred times before, but something about this particular horror goth confection just works.

Maybe it’s the brooding atmosphere the cinematographers created (sets were built and feats of lighting and smoke and colour paid off – you can read some interesting behind the scenes on this here), maybe it’s Danny Elfman’s beautiful, haunting score, maybe it’s the fun of playing spot-the-Harry-Potter-actor (hint: there’s a lot), maybe it’s the puzzle box script or Johnny Depp back when he was indie or Miranda Richardson stealing every scene she’s in, or the theme of reason and logic versus emotion and heart. Sure, the romance between Ricci and Depp is a bit naff, but it’s all part of the charm.

The Cast

Johnny Depp is an awkward topic of conversation these days (why oh why did you not stay with Vanessa Paradis?) given a raging court case with ex Amber Heard and accusations of domestic violence. It can be hard to put knowledge of his real life dramas back of mind when watching him in a film, especially when many feel he has been dialing his characters up to 11 since the second POTC film. In Sleepy Hollow, he walks a difficult tightrope between leading man and character actor and in my opinion, pulls it off with aplomb. It’s one of Depp’s best performances in my humble opinion.

Police Constable Ichabod Crane comes to Sleepy Hollow from New York City to investigate a series of murders in the village of Sleepy Hollow by a mysterious Headless Horseman. His cowardice, snobbery (as a city slicker he sees himself as superior to the rural town he comes to deliver justice to) and childhood traumas make him an interesting lead. Crane is prepared to place women and children in danger before he himself is risked, but also shows courage, grit and determination in vowing to deal with a supernatural creature he only half believes in.

Christina Ricci as the leading lady, Katrina Van Tassel, is so-so and she and Depp have some cringe romantic lines, which in some ways simply add to the charm of the film (it’s so cheesy it’s fun). It’s also fun to see her play a different part (even if the age gap between her and Depp is a little creepy). Miranda Richardson as Katrina’s step-mum is, of course, brilliant (you can always rely on Ms Richardson to deliver her A game and she has an important role in this story). She’s also very beautiful. The supporting cast (including Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid and Michael Gough) are all good and each has an important part to play. Christopher Lee has a fun cameo and Christopher Walken is astonishingly memorable in his key part. One things certain, Burton put together a dream cast for this film.

The Visuals

Burton has always been known as a visual story-teller and that’s certainly the case with Sleepy Hollow. The contrast between the city and the village is cleverly done through use of fog and colour (or lack thereof), with each and every shot looking like a painting. The costumes are also extremely rich, with Miranda Richardson and Christina Ricci especially, having some beautiful outfits. There are some nifty steampunk touches too which I appreciated, curtesy of Crane’s newfangled detective contraptions from the city.

Some images really stand out … the young child watching a lit Halloween lantern cast shadows on his bedroom wall, the fog creeping as the horseman approaches, snuffing out the village’s torches, Crane’s bird in a cage trick, blood spurting up a pumpkin scarecrow, the way heads spun, the very landscape like a dream culminating in the Tree of the Dead.

Many reviewers at the time noted this is an old fashioned movie, doing visuals lovingly and painstakingly with every ounce of the sweat and tears of the production team evident on the screen. Ian Mcdiarmid was quoted as saying (having just come off the set of Star Wars: Phantom Menace):

Having come from the blue-screen world of Star Wars it was wonderful to see gigantic, beautifully made perspective sets and wonderful clothes, and also people recreating a world. It’s like the way movies used to be done.

For all it’s horror and death, this is a very beautiful film and it makes the journey memorable and worth watching again and again. I notice a new loving detail every time.

The Music

A lot of people feel Danny Elfman’s music sounds the same across Burton films. I’ve always disagreed with that. I think he’s a very good composer and when he’s inspired, his work is truly beautiful. Just think of Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride and the Batman films. I’d add Sleepy Hollow to that count. His music for this film tells its own story, full of eerie choirs, violins and crashing horror sounds. It’s a strong enough soundtrack I can happily listen to it on Spotify. The music really adds to the dread of the film and it wouldn’t be as good without it.

The Themes

I loved the motif running through the film about masculine coded reason and logic versus feminine coded emotion, imagination and superstition. It is only when Crane works with both sides that he is able to crack the crime and find love. I also thought the film did a good job of showing why Crane had fallen so hard on the side of logic (“I am beaten down by it”) whilst allowing nods to Hammer Horror and gothic horror tropes (for this is a film that nods to past films including the original Karloff Frankenstein). It really adds a little something to rewatches when you see how the scriptwriter wove this theme throughout the plot and character interactions.

To conclude …

I’m one of those people that just can’t get enough of Burton doing gothic horror. My favourite films by him all edge into that territory … from Batman Returns to Sleepy Hollow to Corpse Bride to Sweeney Todd, something about his lonely, constructed worlds speak to me. Though Sleepy Hollow was popular at the time, it’s a Burton film I hear less and less about as time goes on. I suggest it’s high time people dusted off their DVD jackets or hightailed it to a streaming service. There’s a lot to enjoy in this bloody, eerie tale. It may have little to do with the original Washington Irving story, but it remains a fun jaunt through a beautifully constructed world that could only exist at the movies.

Ben: A Poem

Ben: A Poem

Sadly, one of my closest friends passed away 2nd September. Ben was a wonderful friend; warm, kind, loving, gentle, passionate and caring. I hope this month’s freebie (a poem dedicated to him) captures some of what he meant to me. Ben We ballroom dancedthrough your…