Felicity Banks is a force to be reckoned with.
This year, her steampunk fantasy trilogy, Antipodean Queen, will wrap up with Book 3, Iron Lights. At the same time, a new series has begun, with the launch of the Heest trilogy just last month. The first book, The Monster Apprentice, is a pirate story with an icy twist... and I was lucky enough to illustrate it!
If that isn't enough, Felicity also writes interactive fiction, and is in the midst of launching a whole new project, Murder in the Mail! Even the name sounds intriguing, doesn't it?
Murder in the Mail is a story with a difference — an experience delivered right to your door, once a week, over a two month period. At the same time, you are invited to join the MitM community, where you can chat all about the, uh... happenings... within the story. It's a collective creation between a bunch of authors and illustration, including me! BUT, I won't spoil the surprise any further, I'll let Felicity tell you alllllll about it in our chat below!
Tell me a little about yourself! Have you always been a writer?
I first attempted to write a novel when I was seven years old. It was about a family of cats and the grand climax was the Shocking Revelation that there were more kittens on the way. I completed a full-length novella when I was sixteen, and finished my first full-length book at eighteen years old. And of course I was writing short stories and poems too, throughout my life. Luckily most of the poems have been lost by now.
Where does your inspiration come from? Favourite authors, books, artists — go!
Everywhere! Writing is one way to make sense of our lives, and when people talk to each other they’re constantly telling stories:
“When I saw Matt across a crowded room I knew he was The One.”
“We didn’t know it then, but having that Tigger toy would change little Billy’s entire attitude towards sleeping in a big bed.”
“This year was all about my Dad’s health.”
“No one liked me in high school—not until I realized I could make them laugh.”
“If your mother hadn’t burst out laughing at that exact moment, we would have divorced as soon as legally possible.”
— To me, everything is a story.
When I read an amazing story (fictional or otherwise), it makes me a better person. Whether it’s Sabriel by Garth Nix, Borderline by Mishell Baker, or Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I’m a sucker for any story that seems impossible. That, and magic. Magic is fun because it’s something we don’t have in the real world. It’s also a great way to talk about real-world problems at a slight remove—or to remove real-life problems and see what that world would look like.
You’re halfway through a steampunk fantasy trilogy, have numerous interactive stories online and you’ve just published the first of a children’s trilogy! Do you have a favourite genre, or is asking that like asking you to pick your favourite child?
Oops, I just answered that! I’ve found that I get bored if there’s no magic in a story. I can only write crime if it’s relatively short (and it’s hard, dangerous work to understand a killer’s motivation). I can stretch to scifi because it often feels like magic. But whether I’m reading or writing, fantasy is what makes fiction fun.
Are there any other genres that you hope to dive into in the future?
As long as there’s magic involved, I’ll try anything.
What led you to interactive fiction?
Money! There’s a US company called Choice of Games that is doing very well with interactive fiction games — so well that their doors are constantly open to submissions, and they pay an advance of up to $10,000. I started talking to them in early 2015 and by the time they decided my outline didn’t fit their style I’d run ahead and written almost the whole book. Luckily they have a “Hosted Games” label for books that don’t quite fit the “Choice of” label, and they have so many devoted fans that the royalties for Hosted Games are actually really worth having.
I’ve written two Hosted Games, Attack of the Clockwork Army which is in the same steampunk universe as my novels, and Scarlet Sails, which is technically in the same universe as my pirate fantasy trilogy (the one illustrated by your brilliant self) except it’s definitely not for kids. They’re both available for a few dollars on pretty much any device, including PCs, iOS and Google Play, and I still get royalties from them every month. I’m also now working on an official (and contracted) “Choice of” title, called The Floating City.
Continuing on from that…
While interactive fiction is typically only available in a digital space, you’ve found a fantastic way to create an exciting, interactive narrative that is delivered right to our doors…
Let’s chat MURDER IN THE MAIL! Where did this idea come from?
This idea came from my friendship with Michelle Lovi, the head of Odyssey Books and its new imprint Publisher Obscura. Both of my trilogies are in the process of being published through Odyssey, and Michelle and I often sit together selling books at writing and fan conventions. She asked me a lot of questions about interactive fiction, which has such a lively and enthusiastic fan base. Because Publisher Obscura is for really unusual, visually beautiful books, those conversations made me think about having an experience that was both interactive and very visual.
Then I started collecting artworks that were gorgeous, and also complicated enough to have clues inside the pictures themselves. Then I built the story around the art.
In A Bloody Birthday, Naomi is killed at her own 18th birthday party. One of her guests is the killer. Since they’re all artists, “you” have asked them to post you letters and artworks they did around the time of the party, in order to help you see which of Naomi’s friends killed her.
Can you explain the Murder in the Mail experience?
Fundamentally, the story is told through letters, objects, and artworks that are physically posted to the reader over several weeks. I ended up leading a huge team of authors and artists. Every character is written by a different published author, and has their own distinct artistic style as well.
Is this the first of many mail stories to come?
That depends on the Kickstarter campaign! It’s running until April 14th 2018 here. I do have an idea for a second story. . . and for a Magic in the Mail series specifically for kids. . . but it all depends how this story sells. It will only be available in its “true” form for thirteen months (although the Kickstarter also includes cool rewards like a book pack, opportunities to meet some of the contributors, and premium versions of the story that include unique items), and after that the objects will be photographed and it will become a “normal” visual book (sold through Publisher Obscura, of course).
You’ve had the chance to engage both writers and artists in the creation of this story (including me!) — how do you think a story differs when images are brought in, too?
I understand a little better why movies made from books are often so different to their source material. They’re such different mediums! I love that this story is both a story and an art collection (and, for that matter, a sampler of Australian authors). I’m not at all gifted with visual artworks, so for me having a story that includes art is real-life magic. As with other interactive fiction, I feel like the reader has a huge influence over the story (even though the Murder in the Mail story doesn’t change as dramatically as digital interactive fiction can), and giving them visual elements of the story gives them both more and less freedom. I deliberately left most of the characters’ appearances out of the art, so people can still use their imaginations freely.
There is a dedicated public forum where readers can talk to specific artists or writers, and can also discuss clues in the story with other readers as they wait for the next installment. Some clues are fairly straightforward, and others require specialist knowledge.
MitM is kicking off, excuse the pun, through Kickstarter as we speak! Why did you choose Kickstarter, and what opportunities does crowdfunding bring its backers?
Kickstarter is great for getting an idea of the potential market for something unusual and creative. It’s also great for giving early backers truly unique rewards, so it was an especially good fit for this story. A lot of the rewards are specifically designed to further blur the line between reality and fiction. For example, one of the rewards is to buy a custom-made cake based on a picture of a cake in the story—which is in turn based on the works of a real-life sculptor called Thierry Masterson. I’ve spoken to a cake shop here in Canberra and shown them the picture of Naomi’s birthday cake in order to get a quote. The real-life cake would be covered in strawberry sauce instead of blood, though! Someone who really loves the idea can also become a full-blown contributor to a second story—sharing possible ideas, naming a new character, and even getting paid sale bonuses along with the other artists! Or people can just come to our “Collaboration and Coffee” event in Canberra, where a bunch of the contributors will be prepping envelopes while chatting and having coffee. But those opportunities are only available during the Kickstarter period—which ends soon!
…. can we have a tiny sneak peek?
Sure! Your readers already know how amazing your pencil drawings are, and they’ll appreciate that it’s worth over $40 just to get a good-quality print by Tash Turgoose. But here’s a couple of the other artworks that I have permission to share online: “Cattitude” by Jane Virgo, and “Matakitari” by Adam Lee.