Category Archives: Interviews

Kirstie Olley and her Cogs (Interview with author Kirstie Olley)

If Kirstie could be assigned a category, it would be the ‘upcoming author to watch out for’. Last year, she wrote the marvelous ‘Short Circuit’ and found herself whisked away to the Aurealis Awards in April as one of the finalists for ‘Best Fantasy Short Fiction’. Of course, the greatest thing about Kirstie is that she doesn’t neatly fit into any category; in fact she often defies them.

Rather than being the traditionally serious auteur who you often find at a coffee shop, staring into the distance—Kirstie is a bundle of excitement to be around. She’ll chat with you enthusiastically about the newest releases for the Xbox One and then jump right into a powerful story about the tribulations of being an author mother.

Iconoclastic, often hilarious and a fantastic wordsmith: Kirstie Olley stopped by to talk about her latest story, Nightfall, in the recently released anthology, 18.

I think everyone who’s ever dreamed of being a professional author has fantasized, at one point or another, of attending an awards ceremony with some of the most skilled authors in the country. As a first-time participant, what was the experience like?

Oh wow. There is so much I can say about this, but I don’t want to write an entire essay. It was the amazing mix of excitement and expectation. I didn’t get my hopes up (you did see some of the names in my category right?) but you’d probably laugh if you saw how many winners stepped up to the podium and explained they hadn’t prepared a speech because they really didn’t expect to win.

It was kind of terrifying gathering in the hall before going in. There were people I recognized from author photos but didn’t want to just go up and fan girl all over them – after all I was there as a professional. I didn’t personally, face-to-face, know anyone so it was one of the odd opportunities where you see me acting shy. I have this amusing introvert/extrovert personality. If I know anyone in a group, I’m confident and fun, but when I don’t know anyone I am quiet and have trouble introducing myself. I ended up pouncing on someone also by themselves and having a good chat with the photographer’s wrangler and one of the judges.

It was all just so much fun, even if it was a little daunting at first.

It’s interesting you were selected for a short story because you’re quite renowned for your flash fiction pieces. What would you say are the biggest differences between the two genres?

Renowned for flash? I do write a lot of flash, but it’s mostly as a challenge to myself. I always get too involved in my characters and blow out my word counts. Usually in a ‘now this will be an epic fantasy quartet’ way (I’m not kidding, actually happened once)

As for the difference, in flash fiction you’re usually focused on one lead character, their primary desire/need and one twist. You can have more, but that’s when things get messy and longer. Trust me, I’m a master of longer and messier.

No matter what you write, and one of the reasons I look forward to your work, is that you explore the effects of religious or fanatical ideologies on normal people’s lives. Nightfall queries if the groupthink of the flock is based on a lack of curiosity or true wisdom passed down by the ancients. While in another piece that you were tweaking, you explored the effects of a cult on young love. Why do you think you keep returning to these themes and exploring the impact of rigid belief structures on people’s freedoms?

Ah, this one can be a tricky one to answer, religion can be a touchy subject for some, but essentially my answer is because religion impacts everyone in both the real world and fantasy worlds. Even those who aren’t part of a particular theology can be affected by it. I think about religion a lot and a great way to explore these thoughts is in fantasy worlds.

The ending is quite ambiguous. I obviously can’t give it away to the readers, but let’s say Marrille is wrong. In those circumstances do you think she still made the right choice? That following her own natural curiosity and impulses were better than being subservient to the authority figures in her life?

This is a hard one to answer. To a certain extent you should follow the rules, but also, blind following of the rules isn’t always the best course. If you never think outside the box there’ll never be anything new. Even for the big rules there are grey areas. Should you not kill someone who intends to kill you? Sure you can try to incapacitate the attacker and run, but that might not work, they might get back up again and keep coming at you.

I believe Marrille did what she thought was best for everyone, and if you read the story you’ll know it was a sort of ‘damned if you do damned if you don’t’ decision.

As for the ending’s ambiguity, I’ve started working on a prequel story following one of the Last Lords which might make you think the ending is a little more this way than that ;p

There’s no way I can get through an interview and not ask about your world creation process. Every story you write, no matter where it’s set, feels so vibrant and full of life. How do you go about creating these fantastic backdrops and imagination spaces for readers to dive deep into?

I think my answer for this one might be a bit disappointing. I usually come up with a character and an action or desire and everything blossoms out from there. Saying ‘they just come to me’ sounds a bit evasive but usually that’s exactly what happens – or at least my best worlds come to me like that.

You might say the worlds are born out of the needs of the character and story.

My husband often likes to cite the theory that every possibility and every story is actually playing out in a parallel universe somewhere – so maybe I’m tapping into those other worlds!

On that note, you’re a gamer and video game players receive a lot of flack in the media for being unimaginative and needing constant stimulation. How do you feel playing games as impacted the way you write?

I think a diversity of worlds mostly. I used to write only traditional medieval fantasy, but the amazing fantastic worlds in the RPGs I love expanded my world, expanded my reading and my imagination with them.

Sometimes I think my stories are a bit like an RPG: a long winding story and then halfway through, just when you think the quest is pretty much complete, I flip the table over, laughing like a maniac and you realize there’s a much longer quest you have to complete before you take on the final boss(think Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time). Or at least I try to do that as much as possible.

On a side note, I disagree with the media’s view of gamers as well. Sure there’s an overly obsessed few who do nothing but play games and so become lost in them like drug addicts(I could get side-tracked by the topic of gaming and the neurochemical reactions related to it, but I’ll focus for now), but for the most part you just have to enjoy in moderation – don’t ignore your partner, don’t skip your homework – sounds obvious, I know, but when you’re young(and young at heart) it’s hard to have the strength to stop doing something fun and do something hard. That’s why parents have to step up and say ‘homework before video games’ or ‘only x amount of game time, then let’s all go out to the park and feed the ducks’. Ha ha, sorry, with a toddler in the house I’m discipline focused at the moment so it kind of surfaces in every conversation. /rant, I swear ;p

So, I guess the only remaining question is, what’s on the horizon? Can we expect to see any longer pieces coming out soon or will we be able to snatch up a few more short stories to tide us over until then?

Well, there’s no confirmed releases right now(some things are best not discussed until set in stone – or paper as the case may be) but there’s always the free flash fiction I post on my site to whet appetites while waiting for news, or you can check out ‘Short Circuit’ in Oomph: A Little Super Goes A Long Way.

Thanks so much for your time Kirstie and looking forward to hearing about your new projects soon. 

Kirstie’s Nightfall can be found in 18, a recently released anthology from Vision Writers, and is available from Amazon.

London’s Calling Via Distance (Author Interview with Allan Walsh)

Hailing from the wild streets of London, Allan’s our dark fantasy writer. As one of those folks who has the ‘inside dope’ on some of the best upcoming authors of this decade, I’m very excited about Allan’s next couple of years. He’s just set up his own online platform and—after being forged in the fires of our writer’s group—he’s about to embark on the next part of his career.

He recently released Low Life—a short story brimming with demons and a creepy caretaker—in the anthology, 18. This week, I catch up with him and find out who the man is behind an eternity of saws.

Q: A lot of your tales are thematically similar to some English directors, especially the way the highlight life’s rawness. Do you feel growing up in London has impacted on the stories you are drawn to tell?

I have never really reflected on my own work, but now you pose the question, I believe the answer is yes. We are advised to write about the things we know, our experiences, our feelings, etc… If those experiences have made us who we are then it is possible that those very same experiences will come out in our writing. Maybe subconsciously for some writers, consciously for others, and perhaps some writers make an effort to suppress this in their writing. 

Q: What made you decide to move out to Australia and stay here?

I have told this story a hundred times before, so it is an easy one to answer. My sister moved about eight years before I did. She went from a tiny flat on a large council estate in dreary, grey London (where there was lots of crime, drugs and urine stained stairwells), to a house with a pool, a garden and a garage in Australia where the weather was always nice.

I was in a similar position in London, living on a council estate in a tower block, where you risked getting mugged if you went out alone at night. One day my partner and I were bringing our daughter home from nursery (Kinda). As we turned the corner to our tower block, there was a crowd of people in front of the entrance. Sadly someone had jumped from high above and the ambulance officers where performing an open heart massage where they had landed on the concrete below. There had also been a couple of stories in the local rag about gunshots fired in the area and later that week my partner suggested she would like to move. Naturally, I suggested we try Australia – and you know how the story ends.

Q: Let’s talk Low Life. There’s an interesting contradiction in the story: what the protagonist did was an unforgivable crime, yet his partner still loves him even after death. How did you seek to balance these two competing ideals: evil vs. forgiveness, in your narrative?

I struggled a little with this, my first draft portrayed Callum as a heartless villain that nobody could love – it didn’t work and got shot down by my Writers’ group as too unbelievable when I submitted the piece for critique. I took a step back and asked myself the question – What would make the reader conflicted between liking him and hating him? I decided the only way was to make him do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

Q: Juggling the sympathy of the reader towards Callum in contrast to how terrible he is as a human must’ve been difficult. As such the references to the crimes he committed were quite vague and often obscure. We know he was selfish and horrible, but…what did he do? How do you feel the readers would react if they learned the specifics?

If the readers found out what he did, and more importantly, why he did it, I think they would feel the same way – conflicted. The unwritten story would tell you that Callum was once a lawyer and a good man. He fell in love with Zhu Li, a beautiful woman who unknown to him, was forced into prostitution by the Triads at an early age.

When Callum found out Zhu Li worked for the Triads, he freed her from that life, but it came at a cost, he had to earn her freedom by helping them. Zhu Li had loved him because he was a good man, far removed from the life she knew. But out of his love for her, he became corrupt to free her from a life of slavery.

Q: Like a lot of us at the writing group, I’m excited to see you branch out and start to put your pieces in front of a larger audience. You’ve just set up an author platform and have stated that you’ve decided to take the self-publishing route. What were some of they key reasons for this final decision?

I have done some research and to be honest, it seems the traditional method of publishing is a lot more work, a lot harder to achieve and far less rewarding. You need to do things their way and they have a lot of control over you and your writing. I don’t need to have the bragging rights about being with a publishing house. Writing is not about fame or recognition for me. I get a great deal of satisfaction out of knowing I have achieved a goal or created something. If I can share what I have created with others and they get some pleasure from my work, then I am even happier. I also think that if I am good enough, one day the publishing houses will come to me.

Q: Any quick tips for aspiring authors out there torn between the traditional and the non-traditional route?

Understand what it is you want. Do some research, and then work out the best way to achieve your goal.

Q: Finally, Low Life is your first work to be released to the general public, but what can we look forward to in the next twelve months?

I have written a fantasy novel called Blood Rage. I am currently editing this piece and hope to release it by the end of the year. Once I have that out on the e-shelves, I will start on the second book in the series. I have also been working on a short story about a group of sorcerers. This is a little more light hearted than Low Life and Blood Rage. I also have a few other ideas knocking about in my head for my readers to look forward to.

Q: It’s been a pleasure chatting with you Allan and I wish you all the best with your new platform launch.

Thanks Kenneth, it’s been my pleasure.

Low Life, Allan’s tale about a corrupt soul trying to do right, can be found in the recently released anthology, 18. It can be found on Amazon in Kindle format.

Sharing paragraphs with Talitha Kalago (Lifesphere Inc: Acquisition)

Talitha Kalago is an Australian writer, horror aficionado, multi-genre geek and all-around good egg. She recently took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her new YA novel, Lifesphere Inc: Acquisition, ruminate about the quality of stories told in video-games, and discuss the future of writing.

Firstly, on behalf of myself and all my readers, I just want to thank you for taking some time out to answer some questions and put to rest a couple of the rumours we’ve been hearing about your incredible novel, Lifesphere Inc: Acquisition.

I think the first thing a lot people were surprised about, myself included, was the lack of romance in Lifesphere. Every other book out there on the market, especially YA, seems to be a romance / paranormal novel because there’s a significant number of readers interested in those kinds of stories. Could you step us through your decision process on why you decided to “buck the trend” and write not only a sci-fi novel, but also one with a male protagonist who is totally not into girls at this point in his life.

Lifesphere Inc is really targeted at 10 to 13 year olds, so it’s more of a middle grade book than a straight YA. However it’s been frustrating, because most retailers don’t have a middle grade section. However I avoided romance because I don’t really enjoy reading about it. As much as possible I stay away from romance in all genres and I think one of the reasons Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is my favorite series is because the romance is all at arm’s length–and largely unrequited until the end of the third book.

When I was younger romance in books made me uncomfortable. I used to skip over those sections–I just wanted to get back to the story. However I don’t consider avoiding romance to be bucking the trend. Harry Potter is the most successful YA series ever and the romance in it is very minimal.

There is a little romance in Lifesphere Inc. Squall has a very obvious crush on Aquillis and Eli had a huge crush on Tally Talmon, the famous news anchor, but as she is ten years older than him and they’ve never met, I’d say that romance is doomed.

On that note, I’d like to like to talk about a rumour I’ve heard relating to the future of Lifesphere’s universe. It’s a two-part query. Firstly, is it really true you’re thinking about taking Lifesphere’s world and using it as the basis for a RPG game? Secondly, could you give us a brief rundown on what it would take for us to see this goal become a reality?

I would love to make the Lifesphere Inc world into a play by post rpg game. I’ve been working on the idea for several years now and have grand visions of how it would work, however the cost of hiring developers and programmers, as well as paying for the servers, would be prohibitive. If launched, the game would be completely free to play, so I’ve considered using kickstarter or another project funding website to get it off the ground.

Those who supported the project would get benefits in game and I would hope to find ways of making it well worth everyone’s while to contribute.

I really want to get into the weeds of this game because it sounds so good. Essentially, from the rumours I’ve heard, you’re looking at a tweaked Neopets model where people are rewarded for their creativity and depth of posts. I know it’s a work in progress, but is it possible for you to give us an overview of how this game will connect with players who are used to high-definition graphics and linear character development?

Play by post rpgs are really designed for people who have a love of creation, not just people who want to absorb content created by other people. People who love to write tend to be drawn to rpgs, because it’s interactive storytelling. You tell your part of the story, then someone else comes and interacts with you, telling their part.

RPGs based on books, movies and TV shows are very popular with people who write fan fiction and I hope people who love Lifesphere will want to come to the Lifesphere RPG, create a character and role play in that world as an author sanctioned way of expressing their passion. Of course, I’ll be thrilled if they make their own RPGs and write fan fiction too. I think that’s a huge compliment for an author.

In the Lifesphere RPG, players will be rewarded for improving their writing skills. Longer, well thought out posts will earn more in game XP and money than short, poorly constructed ones. Characters and the meka will have combat stats, money, player houses and be able to compete against each other in fighting arenas.

I hope playing on the Lifesphere RPG will make people better writers, just like playing RPGs for the past 21 years has for me.

As a gamer, do you think user interactivity for story narrative is going to increase the overall quality of video-game plots / character development? Even for linear-based games such as Diablo III and Mirror’s Edge?

I think it will for some players. The truth is, different people want different things from their gaming experience. Generally speaking though, players like to feel they are in control. I always loved the final fantasy games, but essentially you’re grinding, then watching a movie clip, grinding then watching another movie clip. Sometimes that’s what you want and that’s okay. Sometimes you want a sandbox game like Sims 3 where there is no plot and you can kill people by surrounding them with toilets.

We’re not there yet, but I think soon gaming is going to revolutionize the same way publishing has. It used to be self publishing was very difficult and expensive, but then e-readers came along and everyone could publish cheaply and easily.

I think in the future they will develop game engines that allow someone to make high quality computer games at home. Like Little Big Planet but on a much grander scale. I imagine being able to design your characters and setting, then just ‘create’ a game like Dragon Age at home with intuitive software. The new Neverwinter MMO already lets you create your own dungeons and missions for yourself and other players. It’s already starting.

So when someone asks me how I think interactive story narrative is going to affect gaming, I say we’re going to be creating our own games and stories. There’s going to be a huge glut of them, just like there has been with e-books and a lot of the gaming companies who are screwing with people (*coughEAcough*) will crash and burn the same way the publishing house are.

The future of gaming is glorious and chaotic.

Second last question, in your post, RPGS and Writing, you discuss a friend of yours who is an amazing author but has no interest in writing a novel / novella / book at all. If she (and others) can go on-line and create / read quality writing, universes and stories which they can have direct role in shaping, what’s the incentive for them to keep reading novels? Do you think this is the last burst of the novel era before we start switching over to a more organic writing model?

Why will people keep reading novels? Laziness. Creating takes time and huge amounts of energy. It’s a wholly different experience to reading something created by other people.

Lots of people love TV, but virtually none of them are going to rush out and become actors in their own TV shows. It’s exactly the same thing. We all want to be entertained, but we don’t all have the time or energy to be the entertainer.

I create all day every day, and I still absorb books, TV shows and movies at an alarming rate. If anything, the more I create, the more I need to absorb. So there is also the ‘feeding of the mind’ aspect.

If you were able to recommend one game, excluding MMOPGs, to our readers which you think would allow them to see the world in a different light, or understand the world a little differently, which title would it be and why?

It’s a tough question. Firstly because I don’t have a lot of life changing experiences gaming. I love games, but they are very much reserved for the part of the day when I can no longer do anything productive and I just want to bash a keyboard mindlessly for a few hours.

It’s also a tough question because I want to say Sims 3, but I can’t recommend Sims 3 to anyone in good faith, because while it is a fantastic game when it works, it rarely works. It’s so buggy you’re likely to spend a fortune on something you play for an hour, and then can never get to load again.

However when it does work, it’s brilliant. There is so much user generated content from the Sims games. It’s not just clothing and hair styles that youcan use in your game. Legacy blogs are fantastic. There are numerous ‘goals’ and ‘rules’ people have made up so you can challenge yourself and it’s amazing to see a game generate so many stories and inspire people to write blogs and make communities.

If the game worked, it would definitely be one of the best games in creation. However it doesn’t work, so it’s just an exercise in frustration.

Once again, thanks for your time Talitha. It was great having you here and you can find Lifesphere Inc: Acquisition – a novel with mekas, fights and burning passions – over at Amazon.com for free.