In Conversation: J R Koop

J R Koop is a fantasy writer from Adelaide whose debut novel, Racing the Sun, was released on April 12 this year. Koop has spent years building up her world and her novel to the completed version we see today. The self-published book is available in paperback or as an ebook on all major ebook retailers. Racing the Sun is a queer throw-back to Sleeping Beauty and a tribute to her fiancé, Salsabil Hafiz, set in a South-Asian inspired land. Tulpa’s Kayla Gaskell had the opportunity to chat with Koop about the book and her writing journey.

Having already spent time shopping her book to traditional publishers, earlier this year Koop decided it was time to self-publish her long-time project, Racing the Sun. A stand alone in her fantasy world of Abrecan, Koop has spent four years developing the novel. From a first draft with a typically Western setting, Racing the Sun has come so far. Koop decided to alter the novel after feedback from Hafiz suggesting Koop make it “more interesting”.

And by interesting, she means diverse. Racing the Sun has a wide spectrum of characters ranging from the blind oracle, Taeng, through to the PTSD and chronic-pain suffering faerie Qadira. With plenty of input from a variety of sources and sensitivity readers, Koop says “a lot of people helped make this book what it is and made sure I’d written in a non-offensive and accurate way.”

Set in a South-Asian inspired land, Koop says that the conflict between the Praitosi Empire and Delorran was reminiscent of the conflict between India and Pakistan. While this is a fantasy, Koop was sure to discuss these allusions with friends and sensitivity readers, keeping in mind that the world is inspired by ours but at the same time very much its own. The novel turns away from a more traditional Western-centric fantasy vision, presenting more POC than not. When asked about this choice, Koop replied: “If I just wrote white characters it would be a boring world.”

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In terms of challenges, Koop’s greatest one was accepting that Racing the Sun was finished. She says: “I could keep staring at it for years, or I could put it out there.” Having done countless edits on the manuscript Koop says she was starting to wonder when it would be enough. Once the decision was made, Koop turned her mind to researching self-publishing where-upon she settled on a joint e-publication and print-on-demand package with publishing service IngramSpark. Koop didn’t want the limitations of e-publication to hold her back when so many readers who prefer physical books.

Koop goes on to discuss how expensive self-publishing her novel was, although she was lucky enough to engage an illustrator who has become a great friend. Sylvia Bi took to the project with enthusiasm and produced a gorgeous cover. Koop decided on an illustrator for her book because she wanted Racing the Sun to have a professional feel as well as take a little of the pressure off of the process.

In earlier drafts of the novel, Koop says there was a pronunciation guide to help readers with the many and varied unfamiliar terms, however, in the final version this was scrapped. “I kept adding to it, there are too many things in this list, people might get scared.” Like with many fantasy novels however, Koop confirms that you can easily pick up the terminology as you go.

The world of Abrecan is already a vibrant alternate world and Racing the Sun is just the beginning. A stand-alone within the world, Koop has plenty of plans in various stages of completion to bring more of Abrecan to life. As she says: “people are just coming across this one book, they’re not seeing the other works just yet.” With more than twenty folders of ideas on her shelf, there is always something to work on. Her next project is a circus novella set in a French-based area, although she also has plans for a Cinderella retelling and an Egyptian-based retelling of Cupid and Psyche.

 

To keep up with Koop, follow her on Twitter or Instagram or visit her website.


 

Words by Kayla Gaskell
Images provided by Jasmine Koop

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

Kristin Martin

Illustrations by Joanne Knott

Glimmer Press 2019


 

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme is a children’s poetry collection, the first published with new publishing company, Glimmer Press. Written by Kristin Martin, the collection is divided into rhyming and and non-rhyming poems. The poems are open, visual, and easy to follow for young readers. Accompanied by Joanne Knott’s delicate illustrations, To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme easily captures the imagination.

Taking on a naturalistic bent, the poetry is told through the eyes of a child as they experience the world around them. From frogs and lizards to backyard cricket against a backdrop of the setting sun, everything is fascinating to the child narrator. Martin’s writing oozes with imagery as it reflects the world in which she lives, celebrating the beaches, the family holidays, and the wild-life in her own backyard.

While some of the poems are little sparks of light, fun rhymes, and experiences we’ve all had growing up, others are more educational. In some, Martin examines cloud formations and the rain cycle. In others, she takes young readers though explorations about different types of animals, drought, and how simply shifting your perspective can take you to an art-gallery in the sky.

Knott’s illustrations are realistic, intricate, and instantly recognisable. They are a beautiful and well-chosen accompaniment for Martin’s poetry without distracting from the imagery that comes from the words themselves.

For older readers, the book is a reminder of what it is to be young and captivated by all of the things we now take for granted. Martin’s poetry is a reminder of the time when we saw the trees and the sky and clouds as something magical. Through her words, we remember how captivating Australian wild-life is. To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme puts us back in touch with our inner child and reminds us to pause and appreciate the world around us.

A teacher herself, Martin’s poems are a perfect way to introduce children to the beauty and versatility of poetry and the written word. As the book progresses, different kinds of poetry are showcased, beginning with, as previously mentioned, rhyming and non-rhyming poetry, and advancing to non-rhyming poetry which plays with format and shape.

Easy to read aloud and boasting the type of mesmerising imagery that helped me fall in love with reading myself, I can’t wait to show my nieces and nephews.


Words by Kayla Gaskell

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme is available to purchase through Glimmer Press.

Quirky Quentin

Quirky Quentin is a unique kind of children’s book. Released in August 2018 by Adelaide author Indianna Bell and illustrated by New Zealander Aleksandra Szmidt, Quirky Quentin is based on the character of Quentin, who is on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The story is told from his sister’s perspective and is her take on Quentin’s daily life.

“I wanted to write a book that would help young kids,” Bell said, “especially those with classmates or siblings on the spectrum to better understand [Autism] spectrum and ultimately embrace everyone’s differences.”

Bell was inspired to write Quirky Quentin after helping out at a special needs school as part of a week-long year 11 service program. It was there that she met an ASD boy. She didn’t want to say goodbye and instead went on to do some in-house care work with the family. She has been working with the family ever since.

One of the common traits of people with Autism are their unique quirks. When describing Quentin’s quirks, Bell said: “Quentin has an affinity for collecting red baseball caps. He has a huge collection hanging on his wall, just where they should be. He also loves to watch cars and trucks driving by his house- he would stand there and watch them all day if his mum let him.” As much as Quentin loves traffic, he also forgets to look when he crosses the road. He also hates the texture of mashed potato but loves the texture of carpet.

The main aim for Quirky Quentin is to educate children about ASD. Bell wishes for children to identify that those like Quentin have the same desires for friendship and acceptance as those who don’t have ASD. “The more that kids hear about ASD the more normalised autism will become in their world,” she said. “Once a child understands this, it’s not so difficult for them to find a connection between themselves and someone with ASD.”

 

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Quentin’s level on the spectrum is left ambiguous in the book. “I didn’t want to exclude any part of the spectrum by defining Quentin’s Autism to one extreme or another,” Bell said. “In this way Quentin is a kind of blend of everyone I’ve ever met on the spectrum – I hope that he embodies a lot of different and relatable qualities.”Littl

Writing a character who is different can be challenging for any author. As for Bell, she admits it was quite difficult to write the character of Quentin. As people’s experiences with ASD are different, she wanted to go with a balancing act: between something that’s personal and something diverse. She decided to base Quentin primarily on the people she’s worked with and what she’s experienced from working with them. She was also lucky to have parents of children with ASD read the book and say they saw their child in Quentin.

Bell says she’s never met illustrator Aleksandra Szmidt in person. Bell was connected to Aleksandra through her publisher, Little Steps Publishing, when they showed her a list of illustrators. “One day soon I’d love to go visit her in New Zealand,” she says, “and give her a massive hug to say thank you for all the brilliant work that she did.” She also recommends Szmidt to anyone who is looking for an illustrator.

Depicting ASD in art and pop culture has always been a challenge due to its complexity. Since her mind has become attuned to ASD, Bell’s views have become more critical and personal. One thing she has noticed is that people with ASD in movies are often portrayed as a genius with a photographic memory or amazing music skills. “Whilst any kind of representation is great,” she said, “I don’t think it is really giving people the full picture of what Autism can be.”

Quirky Quentin’s recommended reading age is 3-6 and the book can be purchased by following this link: https://www.indiannabellbooks.com/product-page/quirky-quentin

 


Words by Cameron Lowe.Meet-the-Team-Cameron2

Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.

In Conversation: Anthony Christou

 

During AVCon 2018, I had the pleasure of meeting fantasy artist, Anthony Christou. He had a wide variety of work on sale: all his original art, as well as his comic series, Luminous Ages, and card games in addition to the series. Recently, I was able to catch up with Christou to talk about his work and extensive successes as a working artist and illustrator.

Christou is a very driven person with a vibrant creative spark. He started off with a Bachelor of Visual Art before going on to do a Masters in Illustration at Uni SA. Christou soon after decided to follow his passion in game art and illustration. Christou began freelance work in the games industry and in 2012 decided to fully devote himself to this career. Christou worked with mentors such as Rob C. Richardson and Simon Scales, who encouraged him to further develop his work. Through exhibiting with Adelaide Illustrators, Christou secured enough freelance work to support himself.

In 2013, Christou worked on a New Zealand Kickstarter game called Path of Exile. It was here that he learned more about the games industry. For Path of Exile Christou worked on a number of aspects including illustration, 3D modelling, concept art, assets, and in-game artwork.  It was during this year that Christou began his convention work, attended Adelaide Supernova for the first time, and achieved insane sales for his original fantasy art. Christou now attends up to eighteen conventions a year, earning a profit large enough to make a comfortable living. Since then he has given talks at both Supanova and Comic-Con. The best part about conventions, he says, is that you get to leave the house and make new friends.

While much of his work is digital, Christou still works with traditional mediums as well. His piece ‘Dangerous Seas’ became the cover art for The Path Less Travelled’s album ‘Cast Out the Crowds’. Christou spoke about being approached by a lady who told him that every time she feels sad she looks at ‘Dangerous Seas’ and it reminds her she can make it through the storm. He was surprised to find that his work could have such an impact on people.

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Anthony Christou, ‘Dangerous Seas’

In 2014, Christou decided to explore his interest in making a comic series. Luminous Ages is now four issues in and remains the second highest funded comic Kickstarter in Australia with only 180 backers and a pledge of around $17,000. Thanks to this funding, Christou is able to hire freelance artists and editors to help bring his project to life. Rob C Richardson, Anthony Earl, Elena Lukina, and Christy Butt worked closely with Christou on this project.

Luminous Ages itself is a series set in a surreal world where dreams can become reality. Thirteen dragon gods are fighting for control of both the dream and real world plane. It is up to the main character, Thrakos, and a cast of dream mages to keep them at bay. The series blends cultures and mythologies together to create a multi-cultural fantasy which addresses environmental issues.

A mixture of cultures and mythologies, Luminous Ages presents a story which heralds both multiculturalism and environmentalism. The series gives Christou not only the opportunity to explore his interests but his artistic potential. Contrary to the American style comics which we are most familiar with, Christou works in a style which is very similar to French or Italian, providing richly detailed illustrations in a comic format.

As well as game design and illustration, Christou has also worked with a number of film companies including Disney, Two-tone Studios, and Wolf Creek Productions.

Christou recommends exploring your artistic freedom and not to work for free too much. He says, ‘creativity can be blocked when you work with the wrong people.’ He notes that there are lots of opportunities within Australia, plenty more than when he started out. He also stresses the importance of taking a break, saying he usually gives himself one day off a week and a couple of weeks each year. Without breaks you can’t generate new ideas.

Being an artist is an endurance race. You need to spend a lot of time developing your work and looking after yourself. And it needs to be sustainable.

He reminds us that artists and writers are a business, and you need to understand creative business. You can’t have everything for nothing and you can’t expect it to be easy. We don’t live in an age like DaVinci and Michaelangelo whose artistic development was sponsored by the church and the military respectively.

When asked about the most difficult aspects of being a working artist, Christou said it was the financial side, business, and the sacrifices you have to make for your passion. His favourite things about working full time as an artist are, of course, sleeping and travelling, but also creating images from his mind, he loves being able to “bring his imagination to life.”

Christou’s next major project is a Kickstarer for theme decks of his card game Dragon Dreams. The Kickstarter is due to launch at 5:30pm Adelaide time today. That’s in just a few hours! You can find it here: https://www.kickstarter.com/profile/luminousages/

Christou is also on Youtube and Patreon.

Check out his website here!

 


Words by Kayla Gaskell

Images property of Anthony Christou

Ordinary Objects: Percy the Puzzle Piece

Percy is the filler piece of the puzzle.

The plain blue patch of sky that gets popped aside while all the other more striking pieces get matched up. Forgotten as colourful patches of grass with glints of wildlife are pieced together and trees are built from the trunk up to the tips of their autumn leaves.

Lying patiently, Percy waits on a quiet corner of the table, eager to be placed amongst the other pieces. He is lost under coffee cups and couch cushions.

The puzzle is never completed, but “will have to do,” as Percy is nowhere to be found.

Years later, Percy is plucked from his spot wedged between two floorboards. The puzzle he belonged to has already been discarded. No one remembers where Percy came from, or where he’s meant to go.

Percy is discarded, never completing anything or reaching his potential as part of the bigger picture. Percy the patient puzzle piece.

 


Words and art by Lisa Vertudaches

14117837_1175055035900900_9161235252814084858_nLisa Vertudaches is an independent illustrator & animator, working from a studio in Adelaide, South Australia. Specialising in looping GIFs, Lisa really enjoys creating cute, silly and sometimes absurd animations and illustrations.

 

 

www.lisavertudaches.com