Nicole Murphy is a writer based in Queanbeyan. She has recently sold a trilogy to Voyager.
1. So, your exciting news is that you have a trilogy coming out with Voyager beginning this year. Can you tell us a bit about what we can expect from the series?
It is exciting, isn’t it? 🙂 The trilogy is called The Dream of Asarlai; the first book The Secret Ones goes on sale in July and the next two books are January and July next year. What to expect? It’s set in the modern world – mostly in Ireland, but a large part of book one is here in Aus, and book three spends a lot of time in America, particularly Boston. It features a race called the gadda – they look human, they seem human, but they come from different ancestors and thus have access to the energy of the world around them. They can manipulate this energy to create what we humans call magic. The gadda refer to it as controlling and using power. The basic synopsis of the entire trilogy is this: for centuries, the gadda have hidden away their most powerful incantations in a collection called the Forbidden Texts. It’s been so long, in fact, that most now think the texts are a myth. However, one resourceful gadda who calls herself Asarlai found the texts and stole them. Now, the hunt is on for the six guardians of the gadda to find Asarlai and the texts before she can use them to twist power in the world, upset the balance and change everything forever.
What’s a bit different about my trilogy is that each book has new point-of-view characters, cause each one is a romance. So in book one, we follow Maggie and Lucas as they meet and fall in love and the impact that has on the search for Asarlai and the texts. In book two, it’s Ione and Stephen’s story and book three covers the romance of Bernadette and Hampton. The books do share characters, so you never lose the continuation of the relationship, but you’ve also got two new people to meet and hopefully fall in love with. All this with the backdrop of the increasing threat of Asarlai and her use of the texts. I hope I’ve created a series with characters that people will love, with tension that will build and make people keep reading and with some views on our world and in particular politics, extremists and terrorism that people will find interesting.
2. How has making a novel sale changed the way you see yourself as a writer and how has it changed the way you write?
Changing my view of myself as a writer is the biggest impact that this sale has had. Up until then, although I was working hard and dreaming and determined, I never actually believed that I was good enough. There was always a part of my mind that was sitting in the background just waiting for me to fail so it could pop in and begin the ‘I told you so’s’. So to have someone as experienced and respected in the industry as Stephanie Smith, and then the rest of the good folk at HarperCollins, love my work enough and believe it is sellable enough to publish it has been the biggest shot of self-confidence I’ve ever received. I still probably get over excited every time I get complimented about the books, but when I’m sitting down and working there’s now a confidence and a sense of accomplishment that is powering me.
It’s also changed the way I write – The growth in confidence seems to have coincided with a growth in skill, or maybe it’s the old throw them in the deep end and see if they can swim analogy. When I sold the trilogy in July, only book one was done. Book two and three were drafted, but so much had been changed plot wise for the trilogy in the process of polishing book one that I had a whole hell of a lot of work to do. So I had to get book two polished and ready to be submitted by the beginning of this month, and had to do that in between edits on book one. With that pressure, I became better at seeing things that did and didn’t work and better at working out solutions to them. I now enjoy the re-writing and revising phase more than drafting, cause I love the challenge of finding the weak spots and fixing them. I’m also getting better at the actual writing – it’s becoming crisper and my word use is expanding. I’m getting away from using the crutches that held me up for so long and I’m working hard to find the right word, the right way to say something.
3. You had a very definite personal plan, working towards selling a novel. How did this help you achieve your goal and what advice would you give to other writers?
It’s been weird, people’s reaction to what I did. I didn’t think it was that big a deal, but others seem to 🙂 For those who don’t know, in February 2008 I left my job as a journalist, and found myself facing a decision. I’d done very little fiction writing for a couple of years, because the journalism was using up all the same brain matter and input that should have been going into my short stories and novels. Now, I was thinking that I could chase the money and go into the public service, but I’d probably still face the same problem of loss of creativity; or I could go get a part-time, menial sort of job and leave myself with time and headspace to focus on my writing. What pulled me was my belief that I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and think that if I’d tried harder, maybe I could have achieved my dream of being a professional author. So I decided to take the menial job (working in a supermarket) and I gave myself a two year deadline. If at the end of the two years I felt that my writing was improving and I did have a shot at being a published novelist, I’d keep going. If, however, after two years of solid slog and determination it was clear that I’d never have what it took, then I’d bow out gracefully from the race to be published (but keep writing for the love of it) and consider what else to do with my life.
I’m lucky that I have a wonderful husband that wants above all things for me to be happy and fulfilled, and so he supported the decision, even though it put pressure on him. I was extremely dedicated – nearly every day that I wasn’t working, I was writing, and some days I’d do both. I acted as though I were a professional writer, even though I didn’t have the sales or the money (not that there’s huge pots of money in being a professional :)) If I hadn’t made that decision, made the sacrifice and made myself as professional in my working as I could, there’s no way I would have gotten The Secret Ones to the point I did at the time that I did, and therefore it’s possible I would never have sold the trilogy, so I owe everything that’s happened to that decision. Certainly if I wasn’t acting that way, I would have found the workload involved with deadlines overwhelming.
One piece of advice to other writers? Act professional right now. Think of your writing now in terms of what you’d need to do if you had a contract. Set aside the time now. Educate your family and friends now about what will be required (believe me, your family and friends are going to need to be really understanding about the amount of time you’re going to spend hidden in your study – I’ve been blessed in that regard). Set yourself deadlines and do everything you can to stick to them. Get into those work habits early, and then when you sell your book/s, you’ll be ready to go and won’t have to not only deal with the excitement and (if you don’t have an agent) potential trauma of contract negotiations and such but also find the time to meet the deadlines.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?
I’m so happy that people are being proactive about talking Hugos and working to honour Australian writers. This is where I confess that I’m not as widely read as I should be, and so my list of writers and work probably isn’t as extensive as it should be 🙂 That said, there are a few things that I’ve read that I adored and would love to see looked at. Top of that list for me has to be a couple of Twelfth Planet Press books (and no, I’m not just saying that to suck up to Alisa). Deborah Biancotti’s collection A Book of Endings was a fabulous read. I’d been looking forward to a collection from Deb for a long time – from the first story of hers I read she struck me as an interesting and thoughtful writer and I wanted to have the opportunity to delve into her work. I finished that book with a determination to sit down with it again one day and try to pull it apart and work out what she’s doing. Reading and looking at Deb’s work will undoubtedly make me a better writer. The other TPP book was Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Siren Beat. I love coming across new takes on the whole urban fantasy genre, and sirens in Hobart nightclubs and huge tentacled beasts in the harbour was DEFINITELY something new, not to mention Tansy’s extremely accessible and extremely clever writing style.
On the novel side of things, my two standouts were Kaaron Warren’s Slights and Glenda Larke’s The Last Stormlord. Slights was a fascinating read for me, cause I could well see the beauty in Stephanie’s desire to have no interaction with the world, yet Kaaron took it to what was almost an inevitable yet horrible conclusion. The Last Stormlord is, I think, a book that’s been long overdue in Australia – a book based on our daily concern for water (although as I write that, it’s been raining here for more than twenty-four hours and it feels weird to consider how much water’s been on the agenda for the past five years or so) and with Glenda’s fabulous writing, intense and interesting characters and wonderful worldbuilding. So they’re the books that come to my mind now – undoubtedly there are other brilliant books that I haven’t mentioned and that I don’t know about.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
OMG, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! After years of hearing of the amazing things that people have experienced at Worldcons, I’m so excited to be going to one. Who knows when I’ll get to one overseas (although I have a dream about next year’s WFC…) What am I most looking forward to? So many things. It’s not going to be the experience I thought it would be twelve months ago – I thought then I’d be going as a fan, but now I’m going as a writer, with my first book out. So there’s going to be elements of networking going on (actually, not so much looking forward to that – networking is something that I don’t have a natural feel for). Otherwise, I can’t wait to go to my first Worldcon party – they better be good, peoples! I’m looking forward to the opportunity to hear the thoughts of so many people from all over the world. New input, new ideas, new perspectives. Most of all, I’m excited about the opportunity for Australia to showcase its talents to the world. All the amazing writers, and artists, and editors. I so love this community that we’re part of and I want the whole world to see that when it comes to support, encouragement, talent and creativity, Australia kicks arse!