We’re delighted to have with us the author of standout debut City of Lies, Sam Hawke!
Thank you for agreeing to an interview with us! How have you been, since the release of City of Lies?
It’s been a very weird time! On the one hand, it’s obviously very exciting to have your literal lifelong dream come true. I am not in any way unaware of the incredible good fortune I’ve had to be here. But on the other, grumpier hand, I’m also extremely annoyed at my long term nemesis, Past Sam, who thought it would be excellent to be frantically finishing up the second book at the exact same time as I am meant to be promoting the first one. So I am also exhausted and annoyed at myself all of the time. 🙂
What was the book that first brought you to the SFF world?
I think I was born in this world! A huge proportion of kids’ books have some speculative element – at some point some kids stop reading that and gravitate more to ‘real world’ type stories, I guess, but for me, once you’ve seen a dragon why would you ever want to go back?
In terms of adult SFF, I certainly read a bunch of grossly age inappropriate fantasies well before I should have. The Hobbit and LoTR were in there pretty early, and (rather baffling for a primary school aged kid) Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. But honestly it never occurred to me to not read this stuff. Dragons forever, baby!
Confession time: City of Lies has been my “can’t shut up about it” book for a while, now. What is your current “can’t shut up about it” (book, movie, tv show, video game…)?
You are the best and I hope no-one ever shuts you up. Hehe. I haven’t done a lot of reading this year because my aforementioned failure to complete my second book on schedule meant I had to ban myself from pretty much all recreational things that bring me joy, so I’m a bit out of date. I did sneak in a cheeky little bit of Devin Madson’s We Ride the Storm, which I’m sure is going to be amazing, but shhhhh don’t tell anyone…
In terms of what I constantly recommend to people, I’m trying to make all my friends with kids watch Avatar: The Last Airbender with them because I just did with my kids and the whole household is pretty obsessed with it. (The kids are currently airbending on the trampoline as I write this!)
I saw on Twitter recently that you were talking about how much Robin Hobb means to you. As she’s one of the Inn’s favourite authors (along with you, now, I have to say!), I have to ask… just how awesome is it to have Robin Hobb as a friend?
Uh, look, it’s bloody ridiculous. It is the actual best thing, and I will never not feel like I’ve won some kind of lottery, because how often do you get to not only meet but actually end up friends with your idols?
The first time I met Robin in person many years ago, even though we had been friends for years through her old newsgroup on SFF.net my sister and I were still so nervous that we hid around the corner from her signing line hyperventilating and trying not to throw up for about five straight minutes before we were able to go say hi. Hehe. There is still a part of me that has a little quiet screech of joy any time I get an email or a text from her, because ROBIN HOBB. But I try to be cool and not let that weirdo emerge in her presence.
The truth is she has made friends around the world, genuine friends, because she is just the kindest, most generous person with her time and energy. I will never stop feeling lucky to have her.
Now, about the book. One of its major themes is how the ideal city of Silasta crumbles in the face of an internal crisis, and how its citizens turn on each other in a show of “otherisation”. Was this an issue you wanted to expressly explore?
Not expressly in the sense that I didn’t devise the plot in order to explore that. The idea of having the story during a siege was really to just put additional pressure on the heroes and to create a suffocating closed-room kind of setting. But having come up with that it was then natural to try to explore how people would react to that kind of pressure, who they’d turn on first, etc. Unfortunately there are a lot of real world examples of how people act in response to those kinds of pressures, and the answer usually isn’t “by treating each other with dignity, respect and kindness”.
There has been a somewhat back-and-forth between anti-heroes and heroic protagonists in epic fantasy these last years. Where do your main characters stand in this dichotomy?
Haha, you know they’re fluffy marshmallows! They’re very far from perfect heroes and sometimes they make dumb mistakes, but my main characters are goodies in the traditional sense, trying to do the right thing.
One thing I really liked about City of Lies was its matrilineal culture. Was there any specific motivation for it?
One of the fun things about writing in a secondary world is that you don’t have to faithfully recreate familiar social structures, but it’s surprising how rarely we mess around with the ole nuclear family even in SFF. (We can think of the most amazing fantastic settings and magic and technology but adults only ever live alone or with their romantic partner/children because… somethingsomething).
Because I wanted to centre a brother/sister relationship and platonic friendships I just started messing about with what kind of society might put a lot of emphasis on those relationships. And when you take out a real modern social bedrock like the concept of marriage, it opens up a whole fun range of new worldbuilding ideas you can run with. Like, how would that change how we handle romantic relationships? How would it change how we treat our children, how men and women treat each other, the kinds of pairings/groupings that society elevates or encourages?
Your story is about poison but not about poisoners (and now is as good a time as any to tell you that Jenia and I have started a “he protec, but he also attac” meme about Jovan). Do you have a favourite poisoner in fiction?
I nearly did myself an injury laughing at that meme! I love it. Oh look I already rabbited on about Robin Hobb as a person but she’s also been my favourite writer ever since I picked up Assassin’s Apprentice in the 90s. Fitz, my boy Fitz, will always be my best poisoner, even though he is actually not a great poisoner, what with kind of hating it and all. (Once I read a review of the Fitz books where the reviewer was furious, legit furious, that the main character took no joy in murdering. Like someone had promised him that books featuring assassins had to be fun and it was a personal affront that there existed one in which death and killing has weight. Sometimes when I get a bad review I go and read what terrible people say about perfect books and that makes me feel better. Hehe).
What can you tell us about Hollow Empire, the second book of the Poison Wars series?
We will finally make it out of the country. There are drugs and witches and at least one homage to the Princess Bride. Everyone drinks a lot of tea, as usual. You may send me angry messages at various points. *innocent whistling*
About Sam Hawke
Sam Hawke has wanted to write books since realising as a child that they didn’t just breed between themselves in libraries. Having contemplated careers as varied as engineer, tax accountant and zookeeper Sam eventually settled on the law. After marrying her jujitsu training partner and travelling to as many countries as possible, Sam now resides in Canberra, Australia raising two small ninjas and two idiot dogs. City of Lies is her debut novel.