Author Q&A

Good Reading Magazine Blog


Ten Questions with Blanche d'Alpuget


Blanche d'Alpuget tells us about the second novel in her latest historical series. The Lion Rampant is the sequel to the first instalment in the series, The Young Lion.


Which historical period is The Lion Rampant set in, and how did you initially become interested in this period? 

The Lion Rampant is set in the fascinating but little-known 12th C.

What is it about the historical figures of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine that fascinates you? 

Henry II was one of England’s greatest kings. He introduced the concept of the rule of law and applied it throughout England. He punished dishonest sheriffs; he subdued rebellious barons and was compassionate with his subjects. He fought injustice in the Church. His wife, Eleanor, was a woman of wealth, beauty and political skill. She combined the looks of a young Sophia Loren, the money of a Gina Rinehart and the political acumen of a Margaret Thatcher. She was also a patron of the arts.

What kind of research did you have to undertake for the novel?

I read the huge, serious academic histories and visited as many places in both England and France as I could find that still have castles, palaces or cathedrals built by Henry or Eleanor. I also worked with French historians.

What characterised this period of time? Which historical details did you include in the novel to give it a sense of place?

It was a period of renaissance, thanks to the new ideas that Crusaders brought back to Europe from the more advanced civilisations of the Middle East.  I think the sense of place comes through in descriptions of the landscape, especially the extensive forests, the wild animals, the dress, banquet food and herbal medicines that were in use.

Is this novel historically accurate or more historical fiction?

It’s both. Virtually all the characters are real people, but in some cases I’ve had to invent their appearance and personalities because history is silent on these subjects. All battles, descriptions by chroniclers and important events, like meetings between the Kings of England and France, are historically based.

Was writing The Young Lion, the first novel in this series, quite a different experience to writing its sequel?

Yes. Writing The Young Lion was akin the digging the earth and planting a seedling.  In The Lion Rampant the seedling has grown into a flourishing young tree.

Does your expertise in writing non-fiction help when writing fiction?  

My love of research, needed for non-fiction, certainly assisted. I developed certain detective or sniffer dog skills when writing non-fiction that have been useful.

What distinguishes The Lion Rampant from other historical novels?

That is too broad a question for me to answer, except to say I’ve endeavoured to explore the different consciousness of those days and to avoid the social judgements of the 21st C when dealing the with very different moral and social conditions of the 12th.

Were there any particular authors or book that you’ve read that directly influenced the writing of this series?

No. Only the 1970s movie The Lion in Winter.  I think Peter O’Toole was miscast as Henry, but Catherine Hepburn was a wonderful Eleanor---and it was an unforgettably good film.

What’s your next project?

My next project is Book III of the quartet. Its working title is The Lion in Torment


Ten questions with thriller writer Greg Barron



Tell us about your characters Marika Hartmann & PJ Johnson?

I believe that great characters are a gift to the writer, an amalgam of real people he or she has admired over the years. Marika is my homage to the strong, resourceful and independent women I have had the privilege of knowing over the years, starting with my wife, mother and three sisters!

PJ Johnson isn’t especially tall or good looking. He certainly doesn’t ‘pull’ chicks, and he isn’t very sure of himself when it comes to relationships. But he is tremendously capable, and believes that his role is to help create a better world.

You’ve studied education, aquatic science & terrorism – how have these qualifications influenced the writing of your books?

Most writers have a number of different occupations before they finally settle down to write. My qualifications have all helped shape my writing persona. I might also add that workplaces are excellent venues to study the best and worst of human nature.

Terrorism studies have obviously helped inform my books. I gained invaluable detail and general understanding of the issues and motivations behind terrorism. I find the underlying reasons for religio-political violence fascinating. Politicians love to simplify these struggles into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ but the truth is so much more complex as events in Syria and Iraq are proving.

Why were you drawn to the thriller genre?

I never made a conscious decision to write in the thriller genre. I just started writing books with a strong plot and realistic characters in suspenseful situations. Lethal Sky has a huge canvas and a geopolitical backdrop, but not all my books will be like that.

I’m interested in growing the scope and potential readership of my books from the thriller genre into mainstream fiction. Having said that, however, my books will always be page turners because that is what I love to read.

What makes a great thriller?

A character with a moral code, a threat to the world as we know it, and a plot that requires the main character to make sacrifices in order to save the day.

Lethal Sky, for example, presents a disastrous scenario—a genetically engineered anthrax bacteria in spore form, and a group planning to broadcast it from the skies, beginning with Sydney. Importantly, the plot involves the hijack of some deadly Western technology, autonomous drones that work in clusters, or swarms. This is a frighteningly realistic possibility, and my characters have to go all the way to the edge. Some of them far beyond.

How did the concept of the storyline of Lethal Sky come to you?

I wanted to push the boundaries of what’s happening in the world right now. I wanted to explore a new kind of villain - men who could draw on the vast financial resources gathered by the former dictators of the Middle East. These ruling families squeezed their countries dry for generations, and concentrated funds from massive oil profits in offshore accounts. A good proportion of that wealth remains hidden.

At the same time I was becoming interested in the idea that high-tech weaponry manufactured by the West might be turned against us. To me, drones are weapons that should be sending shivers down all our spines. We are not that far away from the hunter-killer machines of science fiction.

What kind of research went into the writing of Lethal Sky?

The research for Lethal Sky included visits to London and surrounding areas, Africa, the Middle East, and revisiting some Sydney landmarks such as Lyne Park at Rose Bay. I’d been there several times in the past, but casual visits aren’t enough to pick up the level of detail required for a novel.

Each scene needs specific technical data, location detail, as well as minutiae such as the clothing worn by each character. I visited as many locations as is technically feasible, given that I write a lot about war zones.  I like to know how many paces it is from point A to point B. The colour of the bricks in a given building. These details are important when the time comes to put the story together.

I interviewed people involved in everything from peacekeeping to defence procurement. I used social media, Twitter in particular to gather up-to-the-minute information. I also devoured dozens of non-fiction books and hundreds of articles. I co-opted friends with strong areas of expertise, particularly in biotechnology and aeronautics. I even had an ex-Special Forces friend read the near-final manuscript to make sure I got the action right.

This is your third novel – is each one becoming easier to write?

No. Each novel is a process that tests all my skills, patience and care. There is no magic bullet and I am constantly dissatisfied, going through periods where I simply cannot see my way forward. Usually I spend at least a year rewriting after finshing the initial draft, and I constantly challenge myself to improve my work.

Did any particular writers or books directly influence you while writing Lethal Sky?

I am a reader first, and a writer second. I read fiction every day, even if it’s only a few pages. Reading great books during the writing process definitely has an influence, but not in terms of voice or ideas.

Reading great books reminds the writer just how high the bar is. Getting close to that level invariably requires more work, more thought, and sometimes a bit of luck in that right piece of information or inspiration reaches you at just the right time.

In this novel, Sydney is under threat from a deadly bioweapon – are there many other thriller novels out there with major plotlines set in Australia?

There aren’t many that have a truly international flavour yet include Australia as part of the plot. Jon Cleary wrote a couple, and British authors Hammond Innes and Ben Elton have used Australian settings with action thrillers. Steve Worland’s Quick is set mainly in Australia. It’s a shame there haven’t been more, because lots of Australians love thrillers.

I also believe that part of our job as novelists is to imagine circumstances in which harm might come to our doorstep. In some small way these creative scenarios, imagined in exhaustive detail, might help to prevent such things from happening. I understand that the planning team of the 2004 Athens Olympics even hired author Matthew Reilly to help dream up possible security threats to the games!

What’s your next project? Will we see more of Hartmann & Johnson in the future?

My next project is a standalone book, with new characters. The story is set primarily in Australia, but has a thread in North America, where I’ve also lived. This is a story that has been simmering away in my subconscious for years and the plot and characters are quite well developed.

I haven’t settled on a final title yet, but at the moment I’m calling it The End of War. That’s what it’s all about for me, really.


Lethal Sky is published by HarperCollins. Head to their website here.