Alicia Wanstall-Burke: Author Interview Series

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Many of you may recognize this author’s name as one of the finalists from SPFBO5! Author of Blood of Heirs it was a neck and neck race to the very end with Blood of Heirs just a hairs breadth away from winning. Please give a warm welcome to Alicia as she’s patient enough to answer a few of my questions.

Would you enter SPFBO again? 

I’m not sure to be honest, and that’s not because of anything inherently negative about the competition! It will be at least two years before I have another book that will be eligible, but further than that, it’s an emotional rollercoaster that devoured my mental capacity to write. Phase 1 was a little less stressful, but the finals were hectic. The prize is exposure, but the greater take away was the friendships I made with my fellow finalists, and I’m not sure another round could top that.


You’ve described yourself as “a very social creature”, do you feel like lockdown has been rougher on you than the average? 

I’m a weird social creature. I thrive online because I can mask all my anxiety and ASD behaviours, while face to face interactions are exhausting and stressful. Lockdown has barely changed my daily life—working from home is my jam—but by the weekend I’m usually craving a trip to the pub or some drinks with friends. We can’t do that at the moment, so Zoom has become the replacement mechanism. I’ve been known to ghost out of Zoom parties just like I do in real life, but we won’t talk about that! 


Has lockdown helped or hurt your writing productivity? 

It sunk it like an iceberg in the night. 

Lockdown came at a super stressful time, just as I was starting to get my groove on with writing Empire of Shadows. I was editing for a client, preparing to move to a new house and dealing with SPFBO, then I came down hard with some unidentified virus. By its symptoms it was likely to have been a mild case of C-19, but I wasn’t able to be tested. It’s taken weeks to come back from that, and I’ve only written a chapter or two in-between editing and helping to home school/babysit my fiancé’s kids. 


What’s the biggest difference (outside of climate) between being in Australia and being in England? 

My immediate and violent hatred of any spider that looks slightly dangerous came out in full force. Apparently, spiders here aren’t ‘bad’ but they can look impressive. Any spider that looks like that at home gets dead pretty quick. I know which spiders are ok at home, and they are fine to leave alone, but these things look like they will murder me in my sleep. Graham thinks it’s pretty funny watching me indiscriminately squishing them. 

Also, this latitude is much further from the equator than I’m used to, and the sun stays up until 10pm. I usually stand at the front window screaming obscenities at it because I don’t understand why it’s still light outside.


You did post graduate work in Ancient History—is there a particular era you enjoy most? What do you consider the topic you’ve studied the most? What era in time do you want to know more about? 

It’s got to be Rome. Greece and Egypt are interesting, but I have a serious crush on Rome and the lives of everyday people there. What did they eat, how did their clothes feel, how did they shave or do their hair?

Sadly I had to abandon my post-grad work when I had to move from Brisbane back up north, but I was on the verge of honours and looking at a masters. I hope I can finish one day, and tack on some archaeology too. I’m a bit of a Neolithic/bronze age fan girl. 


If you could be quarantined with any ancient historical figure, who would it be? Who would you consider to be torturous to be quarantined with? 

I’d combine these two into one and say the imperial house of Augustus and the generations that followed—it would be extremely interesting, but everyone would be dead at the end of the two weeks. 

Most of the people we know about from the ancient world, those in leadership positions, were very strong-willed, forceful people who would probably lose their shit if locked in a house for 14 days. 


What jobs did you hold before being a writer? Do you have a day job? 

I worked in mining since I finished school, taking a break to do a teaching degree I haven’t ever used. Most of my time was spent in administration and health and safety, shouting at people for making grammar errors in their safety briefs to site.


Do you ‘hear’ your characters? Do they cooperate with your plans or do they mess things up so badly you can’t have plans? 

I hear them and they HATE me! My metal process basically amounts to me listening to them and writing down what I see/hear. I have very little control over them, but they lead me along a path to sketch out the way ahead, then we walk it together to see where it takes us. Usually they stop talking to me at the end of a story, just out of spite for what happened to them. They always come back though. 


What is the scariest Australian animal, to you? 

There are very few things that aren’t going to try and kill you over there, but for the most part, if you stay out of their way then they will leave you alone. You grow up in the bush knowing this and it becomes very ordinary. 

Snakes are cool, but I wouldn’t want to be surprised by one. You can usually tell a python from anything else, but it’s harder with spiders to know what might be dangerous. Magpies are fucking angry demon birds in spring. They will take your eyes if you aren’t careful. 

Everything. Let’s just say everything.


You offer editorial services, does this help or hinder you with your own editing process? 

I’ve learned so much from editing work for clients, and from being edited myself. No editor is perfect, and a good writer doesn’t always make a good editor. The two processes use different muscles. I can spot errors, inconsistencies and issues in others work, but I get book blind with my own, so I would never launch a book that I hadn’t had professionally assessed. 


“Maps play a huge part of my world, building and creating them for other authors is a dream of mine” where did you get this love of maps? Have you had a chance to start this dream? What are some of your favorite SFF maps? 

Probably from reading fantasy as a teen and younger adult. I looooooved maps in books, and when I started world-building, they were a tool to track my characters and understand the continent as a whole. I don’t think I could write without one. I haven’t had much chance to draw for other people though—my two hand operations and joint fusions put the brakes on that! Tolkien’s maps will always be my all-time favourites, and the original hand drawn one he marked the journey of the fellowship on is featured in The Writers Map. I love it!


Where would you want to vacation in any fantasy realm? Where would you never want to visit? 

There are a lot of fantasy worlds that are reasonably benign, the danger coming from the people in them rather than the place itself. The Broken Empire sounds like a hellhole though, violent and pseudo-medieval in the worst ways. I’d happily holiday in the alternate earth of Dyrk Ashton’s Paternus trilogy, but only if I was a god. I’m not interested in any of the silly mortal stuff. 


What is your favorite word?

Petrichor – the smell of earth preparing for rain (can you tell I live in the land of permanent drought?).


Least favorite word? 

Moist *shudders*


Describe your life in seven words 

Chaotic, messy, complicated, emotional, unpredictable, unexpected, breathtaking


If someone was going to visit Australia, where should they go? How about Lancashire? 

There is so much Australia that this is hard to pinpoint, but whatever you do, get out of the cities. Get a car and go driving to the small towns and long open stretches of road. Go adventuring in Central and Northern Queensland, eat and drink your way through country Victoria or the south west corner of Western Australia. A lot of these areas have been hit hard by drought or bushfires of late and they are the friendliest places you could ever hope to go. 

Since the pandemic hit, all our plans to see the local sights in Lancs have been put on hold. I’m excited to see more of the UK as a whole, but the Fylde Coast is gorgeous in summer. It’s spring now and the weather is glorious, the beaches are lovely, and the people are great. 


Without naming the category, what are your top five? 

Toothless, Smaug, Drogon, Mushu, Icefyre


What would Amortentia (from Harry Potter) smell like to you? 

My son’s pillow, my fiancé’s jumper, fresh mint from my gran’s garden, my grandma’s kitchen and my mum’s quiche.


If you could see a retelling of any movie/tv show from a different character’s perspective, what movie and what character? 

I wanna see Sauron just desperately trying to get his shit together, herding orc-cats into something that resembles an army, dealing with antagonistic allies from abroad who all have agendas and get offended when the guest rooms in Minas Morgul aren’t to their standards. I imagine him like Hades from Disney’s Hercules or Scar from The Lion King, face palming and moaning that he’s surrounded by idiots.


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