New Zealand-born author and June Supa-Star Maria Lewis knows about fear. At 23, she found herself barely able to speak, and her limbs non-responsive. In what she describes as the most terrifying 24 hours of her life, she underwent every test the doctors could think of to determine what had happened.
The result? She had just survived a stroke.
While she has mostly recovered, it still impacts her to this day, and constant headaches remind Lewis of what could have been a tragedy. Which makes one of her latest achievements all the more special; awarded the 2018 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, The Witch Who Courted Death is the fourth entry in Lewis’ impressive collection of works — a fantastic achievement for any author.
All set in the same universe, with a few familiar faces between them, Lewis’ Who’s Afraid?, Who’s Afraid Too? and It Came from The Deep show an exceptional layering of characters, as well as a seamless merging of our world and the supernatural.
Perhaps that isn’t surprising with Lewis’ history; 15 years of journalism, starting with covering police incidents, and quickly moving to reviewing films and pop culture. She has featured on numerous worldwide news outlets, and has appeared either as host or guest on SBS Viceland’s The Feed, ABC’s Cleverfan, and recently appeared on Ten’s The Project as well.
But it isn’t what’s in pop culture that has inspired Lewis’ dark fantasy stories; rather, it’s what is not featured that is the driving force behind her unique style.
The Witch Who Courted Death tackles some pretty heavy themes — Indigenous cultures, controlling environments, mental and physical health, and moral relativism are just some of the themes dealt with by Lewis. But it all started in Who’s Afraid?, in which Lewis wanted to challenge the role of female protagonists and how they are defined.
Enter Tommi Grayson, female werewolf protagonist of Who’s Afraid? and Who’s Afraid Too?, joined by the traumatised former ironwoman Kaia Craig of It Came From The Deep, and the intelligent, ghostbusting, medium amputee Casper of The Witch Who Courted Death. Each one is a complex and well-developed character with their own depth and story, each the hero and monster of their own tale.
She likens her work to looking at Bride of Frankenstein versus She-Hulk – one is identified and defined by her societal role as a bride, by her relationship to a male. The other breaks the contemporary mould of female superheroes. In her own words, the plan was “to examine the idea of a female monster and truly embrace the feminine grotesque”.
The exploration into female monsters, smashing preconceptions with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and writing with an energy and passion clearly transferred onto the page seems to have worked out well for her, with Daniel Radcliffe joining the ranks of Lewis fans, awaiting their regular fix of Maria Lewis book releases every Halloween.
Not only has she got pop culture royalty on board though, the Who’s Afraid? series is reportedly heading to the small screen (big in our hearts, though). In 2017, Queensland’s Hoodlum Entertainment (Secrets and Lies, Vikings, Divergent, Salt) signed a deal with Lewis to develop the series to television!
With any luck, Kaia and Casper will follow soon after.
Maria Lewis will appear at Supanova Comic Con & Gaming Sydney (21–23 June) and Perth (29-30 June).