Hi everyone, Petrik from Novel Notions here! Today, I’m bringing you an interview with Alicia Wanstall-Burke, the author behind the recently released debut, Blood of Heirs. Blood of Heirs is easily one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. It was a book that I decided to read simply based on instincts without knowing anything about it. If you’re still not sure about the book, you can check out my review of the book on the blog by clicking this link. Done? Yeah, suffice to say that I was deeply impressed and I highly enjoyed reading the novel. I hope my review and this interview will spark your interest to give the debut a read. Without further ado, here is my interview with Alicia Wanstall-Burke.
- Hi, Alicia! First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and how does it feel to become a debut author?
If I’m honest, becoming a debut author is both terrifying and exciting in equal measure. Actually, it may be more terrifying than anything else, but I scare easily!
Setting myself a three-month deadline from the decision to self-publish to launch day at BristolCon 2018 was definitely one of the most insane things I’ve done in my life, but I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing people in the SFF community who’ve gone out of their way to get Blood of Heirs ready for launch.
So here I am, launching this book written in Central Queensland, Australia, where I live with my six-year-old son and a menagerie of pets.
- What were the biggest challenges you faced during the time of writing Blood of Heirs?
I started work on Blood of Heirs in 2014, after discussions with a publishing house. They liked my stories and wanted to work with me on a new project. But by the time the draft was finished, there had been some changes at the publisher and I found out much later that the editor had left. The project was essentially orphaned, and I was left holding a homeless book baby. That was a big blow and has taken years to recover from. Definitely wouldn’t recommend the experience.
Also, in the twelve months it took to finish the draft, my right hand decided to fail spectacularly. A recurring pain I’d had since childhood reared its ugly head, and after years of being told there was nothing wrong, I finally got to see a specialist surgeon. The offending joint in my hand was fused, and the recovery from that surgery set back the completion of the book quite a bit. Not content with one surgery though, that fusion failed, and I had to undergo a re-fusion while I was drafting book two. So much fun!
- What were the main inspirations and research behind Blood of Heirs?
The first book (and a half) I wrote was started while I was still in high school. It had all the tropes—Euro-centric settings, elves, prophecies, even a two-dimensional villain. It was awesome!
When I was asked to write a ‘new story’ by the publishing house, I’d been living in Central Queensland for almost a decade. There was a lot of chatter in the SFF community about writing fantasy that moved outside those tropes, and I wanted to write something that captured the essence of the place where I lived. Something that didn’t have the same weather patterns or the same animals as the northern hemisphere. Something that in some way captured how utterly terrifying the Australian bush can be if you don’t know what you’re doing, or you don’t respect the country you’re on.
I took a look at the map of my world, the continent of Coraidin, and saw a dirty great big empty space in the southern region. I had a name for a character in my head, and I knew the very basics of what she looked like, but nothing else. So, I started drawing inspiration from the landscape around me, the places and landmarks I knew, and began building Lidan’s home.
I did an unreasonable amount of research into late Stone Age/early Bronze Age and Iron Age societies and their technologies, how knowledge is transferred between groups of people in different geographic locations, and spent far too much time watching Vikings and documentaries on Ancient Rome. I even went so far as to start a Post Graduate degree in Ancient History. Somehow this all bleeds through into the books and hopefully has created a world that is rich and real and ultimately, believable.
- There must be a lot of authors that became your main inspirations, can you tell us who they are/were?
There are a few authors I have read in the past and thought, ‘This is a game changer—I want to do this!’
I read a lot of Matthew Reilly action/adventures when I was a teenager. My mum fed them to me after failing to get me interested in Tom Clancy, handing over book after book as she finished them. I learned a lot about pacing and action sequences from them, and that a head exploding like a watermelon in the first few pages is one hell of a way to kick off a story.
As for fantasy influences, I devoured Juliet Marillier’s novels, and reveled in the way she weaves history and fantastic fiction together with brilliant characters. Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy taught me that I could push my characters far beyond the limits I thought existed in the genre, and Anna Stephen’s Godblind inspired me to write even better fight scenes.
All of that said, the single biggest influence on me was JRR Tolkien. Shocking, I know. I read my mum’s school copies of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit when I was about fifteen, then saw the first Peter Jackson film later that year while on holiday in New Zealand. Without a shadow of a doubt, that experience lit a fire in me that has never gone out.
- Now that you have mentioned JRR Tolkien as your single biggest influence, I’m going to be mean and ask this brutal question. If you have to choose only ONE series to recommend everyone to read, what would it be and why?
You can’t make me choose!? NOOOOO!
Ok… just one series…
The biggest book hangover I have ever had was at the end of the Broken Empire trilogy, by Mark Lawrence.
I found Prince of Thorns by accident, scrolling through iBooks, looking for something to keep me awake while I was breastfeeding my newborn son at ungodly hours of the night. The problem was, after I finished feeding him, he would go back in his cot and I would stay up for another 3 or 4 hours reading. I wasn’t tired because my kid was keeping me up—I was tired because I was obsessed with this book! It’s not for the faint hearted and shouldn’t be read while you’re tired, but it’s brilliant.
- There has been a lot of great covers in the self-published fantasy industry lately. With that freedom of choice in mind, what made you decide to choose your current cover artist, Pen Astridge? (Stunning cover btw!)
LOL – thanks! Pen smashed these covers out of the park. I pretty much died when I saw the cover for the Blood of Heirs Advanced Reader Copy and then died again when I saw the final cover.
Pen really ‘got’ the book, and I think part of that comes from the fact that we’re both Australian, we both live in this landscape that has inspired half of the world, and we’d been online mates for almost the entire period I spent writing the thing. She knew it from when it was a tiny baby book, and she’s also amazing. Perfect combination, really!
In 2017 she did the cover for Graham Austin-King’s Faithless and I knew I had to have a cover from her. She had also done some stunning work for Mark Lawrence and JP Ashman and it just made sense that she was the artist for me. She has gone above and beyond in getting these covers and all the associated materials ready for launch. I really can’t thank her enough!
- Well, I definitely have to agree with your choice on choosing her as your cover artist! Time to move on to the last question! When can we expect the next books to come out?
Book two, Legacy of Ghosts is only 30,000 words away from being fully drafted. Once I have it away to my loyal team of lab rats, I mean, beta readers, I’ll kick off with book three, Empire of Shadows.
Legacy of Ghosts should launch in April 2019, and Empire of Shadows is due to drop at WorldCon in August 2019.
It’s a hectic schedule, but it will be worth it when they are all out in the world. I really just hope people enjoy them!
Best of luck, Alicia! Thank you once again for doing this interview and congrats on your debut!