- Nikky Lee
10 Questions with Aiki Flinthart
Aiki Flinthart lives in Brisbane, Australia, and hasn't yet been envenomated by any wild animals. She has had stories and novels shortlisted in the Aurealis Awards and the Norma K Hemming award. Her short stories have also been top eight finalists in the USA Writers of the Future Competition, and published in various e-magazines and anthologies. Her other published works include: 15 novels, a collection of speculative fiction short stories, a collection of sci-fi short stories with Pamela Jeffs, two non-fiction author craft books, and three anthologies edited for her writers' group. She also gives workshops on personality profiling characters, writing multiple POV books, and writing fight scenes (complete with throwing knife demos.)
When not writing, she does fantasy-approved hobbies such as archery, martial arts, knife-throwing, lute-playing, painting, and belly-dancing.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
I grew up in far north Queensland, Australia—amidst rainforest, crocodiles, snakes, spiders, jellyfish...etc. You know, the usual litany of Australian deadly things we use to keep tourists away from the best places. Over the years I migrated further south and am now based in Brisbane, where there are fewer scary animals but more scary people.
I write a few different genres. Historical fantasy, YA urban fantasy, sci-fantasy, science fiction, romance, and even non-fiction.
As long as I can write a smart, kick-ass woman in there somewhere, I'll happily write any genre that appeals.
The non-fiction (Fight Like a Girl: Writing Fight Scenes for female characters) came about after I realised that my 20 years as a martial artist really did help me write decent fight scenes. So I started giving workshops on the subject, and the book came from that.
There's also a second book (How to get a Blackbelt in Writing). That one's aimed at helping writers take the lessons I learned from martial arts around mindset and resilience, and use them to learn the craft, play well in the publishing industry, and to push through the hard times of being an author.
The Queensland Writers Centre is kindly turning that book into a series of workshops. The workshops will fund a residency/mentorship for one author each year.
I'm pretty happy about that as I've spent many years trying to help other authors find their feet and learn their craft.
2. What drew you to that particular style/format/genre/age group?
I was lucky enough to grow up with a mother who was a teacher and encouraged all sorts of reading. She mostly read spy novels and detective novels, but my older brother got into the classics and speculative fiction at a young age. So I had all the genres lying about the house and read everything, including romance, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Asimov, Clarke, Tolkien.
I started out writing romances, but they were pretty ordinary and I tend to have a logical way of looking at the world, rather than a romantic one. Eventually, I realised my first love was fantasy and sci-fi. After all, that's partly why I became a scientist (geologist)! Not an unusual author story, I think. After all, we do tend to invent cool fictional tech which then gets turned into real science for the next generation to launch off.
The non-fiction flowed from a deep-seeded urge to pass on knowledge. Just can't help myself. Once I knew what I was doing and realised I had something fairly unique to offer in my martial arts background, it seemed logical to combine my two passions into the non-fiction books and workshops.
Hopefully they'll help a few people.
3. What’s your best known work?
My best-known work is probably the first series I released: 80AD. It's a YA portal fantasy series set in 80AD across five different countries. Essentially, I was trying to sneak some historical fact (heavily disguised as historical fantasy) into stories for middle graders through to young adults. That series has had around 500,000 downloads last I looked. It's kinda cool, actually. I get emails from people all over the world and all age groups who like the series.
But I'm currently working on a sequel (Blackbirds Return) to Blackbirds Sing, which was certainly the most challenging thing I've written so far. Blackbirds Return is proving even tougher! SO. MUCH. RESEARCH.
4. What inspired you to write it?
With the 80AD series, my son is dyslexic and was having problems wading through some of the big, thick books (like the later Harry Potter books), and also wanted something a bit more action-packed. Since he likes computer games, and I do martial arts and love history, it seemed like a no-brainer to write a historical fantasy series where two kids get sucked into a game set in 80AD. Plus, as I said, it allowed me to sneak some history into his brain.
The Blackbirds Sing book was inspired by the idea that I wanted to give voice to the 'invisible' women of history (i.e. pretty much every woman who wasn't a queen or princess).
5. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, panster or somewhere in between? How do you research?
I totally pantsed the 80AD series—and managed to fluke the story structure because I'd read so many books I guess it had become subconscious. I also had a mental picture for how each book and the whole series would end—I just wrote towards that and it seemed to work out.
But once that series did so well, I figured I should really learn more about the writing process. I'm a little competitive, and I always assume I don't know enough, so I started learning everything I could about how to write better.
Once I learned about story structure, I started planning my books a bit more. I still don't plan scene by scene, but I can't even start a book until I can 'see' the ending and at least know a few key scenes, the character arcs, and the theme. In fact, knowing the theme usually inspires the rest of the story and the characters. Maybe a bit backwards from other authors? I don't know.
Research tends to be both upfront and as I go. I'll usually do a few months of rabbitholing—diving down interesting paths and following scents; finding out specific information I know already is going to be important to make sure it's correct and won't derail the plot at some crucial moment. But I love the serendipitous nuggets of information that pop up and often shift the direction a story takes; or maybe they just enhance it—a few key details that immerse the reader in the right place are gold in a story. But, as you're writing, you often have to stop and think: wait, would that REALLY exist/be possible? Which then requires another hour or so of research to fact-check. Then you end up changing the story to suit some other cool thing you just discovered.
It's a bit circular.
6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
That's a toss-up. I always do HEAPS of research, no matter what genre I'm writing (possibly too much? But it's so interesting!).
There are a few fun examples, though.
When I was researching the final book of 80AD (set in China) I discovered that paper was first invented just before that year, by a eunuch in the court of the emperor. Earthquake detectors were also invented around the same era and place, but that didn't make it into the story. Paper did, though.
When researching for IRON (the first in a trilogy set 700 years in the future, on a terraformed planet that has no iron deposits and no history of life), I decided to make the sun orange and the sky green—which meant the plants had to be shades of purple, blue and black. Also, because that planet had no long-term history of life, the medieval-style society didn't have access to things like chalk, lime, flint, coal, natural gas, oil, etc (all products of life). That meant I had to find other ways of making everyday things like concrete for the buildings, ways to light fires (without flint), what material could be used for swords etc. In case you're wondering... sulphur. You can make a type of concrete with sulphur instead of lime. And a type of ceramic works for swords.
Then, when I was researching Blackbirds Sing (set in London 1486) I discovered all sorts of random and strange things. Different swear words (sard, being my favourite), the fact that red dyes were hideously expensive, how beekeeping works, what oils were used in their lamps (fish, nut-oils, seed-oils), that women weren't allowed to run brothels (but did, anyway), that various body-soaps existed and washing wasn't as unpopular as many stories set in the medieval era would have you believe.
I think my favourite ah-ha moment was when I discovered the official (modern-production) map of early 1500s London had an error in the naming of the individual towers of the Tower of London. I contacted the Tower Library archivist, who confirmed my finding. Then I contacted the cartographer who'd produced the map and he confirmed with the history professor consultant. Now the map is fixed and a copy of Blackbirds Sing is in the Tower of London library.
That was pretty cool.
7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
Oooh—tricky one. I've written one contemporary action-romance novel (Sold!) and the lead female character has come out the other side of a psychologically abusive relationship. That one was written from my own experience—a relationship I had at university. It was nicely cathartic to write her transition from being a defensive loner to being willing to love again. Not my best writing ever, because it was written before I started learning the craft more deliberately.
But the story resonates with me, so I like it.
Plus she gets to kick arse at the end. Always fun.
8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?
I was lucky to have read so widely at a young age that everything got chucked into the melting pot. But I must admit that I do love Georgette Heyer for her characterisation and the fact that not all of her heroines are beautiful. I like Bradbury for his ability to make me feel horribly uneasy—still haven't worked out how he did that. Loved so many science fiction authors it's impossible to name them all. Liked Robert Asprin for his comedic writing. Tolkein was, of course, the gold standard for fantasy and worldbuilding.
I figure the most important reason for reading widely is to pull what each genre does well and mash it into your own writing. Romances are great at character emotion. Thrillers and detective novels are fantastic at pacing, tension, unreliable narrators, and economy of words. Scifi/fantasy are excellent at worldbuilding and huge geopolitical and moral dilemma concepts. Comedies are great at snappy dialogue and making people feel happy. Literary novels are amazing at using beautiful language to evoke emotion. Historical arouses interest and curiosity. The classics teach big themes and construct beautiful, long sentences that are grammatically correct!
The list goes on.
9. What books are on your bedside table right now?
I have Kate Forsyth's The Blue Rose to read, plus Jane Austen's Persuasion (a re-read), and Sebastien de Castell's Spellslinger books to get through—if I get time!
10. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
All my books are available at the major ebook retailers. Or you can find the links through my website, if that's faster www.aikiflinthart.com.
Print books are available online, too, or you can request them at your local library or bookstore. If anyone would like signed copies they can email me email@example.com and I'll happily sign and send paperbacks anywhere.
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