December 11-12, 2021
2018 has been a busy year for Australian sci-fi fantasy writer Sam Hawke. Between the release of her debut novel, City of Lies – praised by critics as well as renowned fantasy authors including Robin Hobb and Terry Brooks – and jetting around the country for convention appearances, panels and interviews, Hawke has also found the time to maintain her blog and (until only recently) an active social media presence.
Following sibling duo Jovan and Kalina as they navigate a treacherous world, brought forth by the city Chancellor’s sudden death by poison and a city siege by a revolutionary army, City of Lies has been a long time coming. Starting the epic adventure in the early 2000s, Hawke took a break from writing before picking it up again after the birth of her first child.
“When I was at home with my first child, [I was] looking after him and he wasn’t a very good sleeper. And I remember that a friend of mine, who also writes, came to visit up from Melbourne and we got to talking about writing,” she tells.
“I remember being inspired by our conversation, you know, ‘I should actually get back into this. I’m here, awake, 20 hours a day [laughs]. If I’m ever going to get this writing thing happening, maybe I should do it.'”
Written in first-person, City of Lies is a departure from what some may consider ‘traditional’ sci-fi fantasy storytelling. Taking such a long break allowed Hawke to develop an appreciation for different character perspectives, something that became invaluable in finishing her novel.
“I really, genuinely tried to write it in third-person, and probably one of the reasons that I put the project aside for so many years and thought that it wasn’t working was that there was something wrong with the voice, but when I switched to first-person, all of those problems went away,” she explains.
Whilst Hawke’s outlook and, subsequently, her novel has changed with this epiphany, other underlying themes remain the same. City of Lies deals with some poignant, relevant and real-world matters like racism, mental health, the class system and refugees, topics she has always felt strongly about, but acknowledges have become a “sharper critique” in today’s world than when she first began.
The reason these parallels ring so clear can be attributed to the way that Hawke has masterfully crafted the world inside her novel, even just within the bounds of Silasta, the fictional city in which the book’s events are set. And the fact that she discovers things about this society as she goes, weaving a dynamic world around her characters rather than building a world to put characters in, makes its depth even more impressive.
She speaks about developing a society where “sibling relationships are really valued,” and romantic ones are “certainly less important than family bonds,” adding that “every time I needed to do something with the story, I’d think about what the society would do here, and what this would look like, and so on. So, it starts with the characters and it just gets built out from there.”
This world will only expand with her sequel, Hollow Empire, set for (tentative!) release later next year. Hawke divulges that, despite not quite being finished yet, this sequel will deal with “the aftermath of the events of the first book … delving into some different and foreign forms of magic,” including witches and assassins, but set “outside the country in the neighbouring empire”.
Hawke also cares deeply about diversity, inclusion and representation – it’s clear that she does not set out to write stories about specific groups of individuals for the sake of inclusion, but rather passion for the subject feeds into her storytelling in a way which diversifies and adds complexity to her characters. And with the inclusion of another country and empire in Hollow Empire, the potential for an even more diverse set of characters only increases. In relation to the wider media, Hawke speaks about the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.
“She’s going to be a contender for favourite Doctor, I think!” she exclaims excitedly, the other being Tenth Doctor, David Tennant.
Hawke also mentions “this is the first time when the Doctor’s first episode, I’ve immediately thought ‘Yes! She is the Doctor. She fits perfectly, I love her already.’ So, I’m really excited by it!”
Having been a part of fandom before and attending a Supanova with some fellow fans in 2014 to visit one of her favourite authors, Robin Hobb (who is now a fan of her work), the excitement bubbling out of Hawke is infectious as she describes returning, but now as a “Supa-Star”.
“All the costumes, and all the different stalls and everything … it’s really going to blow my mind I’m actually going to go there and be on the other side of it. It’s just a really crazy dream-come-true.”