First tell us about yourself and your latest news?


My name is Sean McMullen, I live in Melbourne, Australia, and I was born in the same year as Terry Pratchett and George R. R. Martin. I have one grown-up daughter, and although most of my qualifications are technical, I did a PhD in medieval literature a while back, just for fun. Until last year I had a career in scientific computing running parallel with a career as a science fiction and fantasy author, but then I dumped the computers to concentrate on being an author.


I have over a hundred novels and stories published, and my story Eight Miles was runner up in the 2011 Hugo Awards. Recently I have been collaborating with the very prolific Australian author, Paul Collins, on a series of six heroic fantasy novels for older children and teenagers called The Warlock’s Child. Four of the books have already been printed, and the last two will be done soon. Book One, The Burning Sea, sold out and the publisher, Ford Street Publishing, had to do a reprint before the official release date, so the prospects are looking good.


How did you come up with the title?


Paul did most of the work on titles, I just made suggestions. Book One has a major battle between two fleets of sailing ships, so The Burning Sea beat all the other contenders easily. The series title was a lot harder, and Paul had to run a poll between The Warlock’s Dragonand The Warlock’s Child among his writer and librarian friends. Book Two became Dragonfall Mountain because a dragon crashes into a mountain, and Book Three was named The Iron Claw after Velza, the principal female character.


In Book Four a group of dragons put someone on trial, so Trial by Dragons was pretty hard to beat, and Book Five opens with a young dragon towing some people in a rowboat to the island of Morticas, so it became Voyage to Morticas. The last book in the series was difficult because so much happens, but right at the end a group of dragon guardians is established, so after sorting through a couple of dozen possibilities we thought The Guardians worked best.


How much of the book is realistic? Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?


I remember having a discussion with Terry Pratchett about magic and realism at a convention in Leicestershire in 2004. We concluded that the more realism that you put into a fantasy book, the more believable the magic becomes. Not sure why.


I’ve spent a bit of time on yachts, just hauling on ropes and getting yelled at, so I know a little of what it’s like to be a common, garden-variety sailor. I am also descended from a Bounty mutineer, so I have read a lot about what went on aboard the old sailing ships – the Bounty in particular. All that meant I did not have to do much research about life on real ships, so I put that background into The Burning Sea.


Other realistic details in The Warlock’s Child series also come from my background. My father was a civil engineer, so I got to see a lot of bridges and tunnels being built during school holidays. Part of Book Two is set in sewerage tunnels, but the sewerage tunnels my father showed me were new and had no sewerage in them, so I had to make up the rats, the smells and the slime that my characters experience. I have done fencing, quarterstaff and karate, so some pretty informed descriptions of how people fight went into my action scenes. I even get my karate students to try out some moves from my novels, to make sure that they are realistic.


What books have most influenced your life? What book are you reading now? Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?


Currently I am reading Suzanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and & Norrel in bed, at night, and Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning in the morning, after feeding the cats and having my coffee. I often read two of three books in parallel because I find that some authors hijack my writing style. I used to write a chapter influenced by the current book I was reading, then the next chapter would have subtle similarities to the following book. I would then have to do a major rewrite when I had finished my novel, just to put everything back into my style. Reading two books at once means they sort of cancel each other out.


Generally it is authors rather than specific books that influence me. Wells, Tolkein, Le Guin, Gaiman, Pratchett, Chaucer, Hardy, MacDonald Fraser, the Bronte sisters, Doyle, Gibson and loads of others (in no particular order) have all contributed to the way I write. George R. R. Martin can teach you loads about plotting and characterization, Neil Gaiman has exquisite style, and Terry Pratchett was a master of getting serious messages across with extremely funny prose. Rowling and Gibson are both wonderful at detail.


Favourite author … that’s very tricky. I was a Guest of Honour with Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin at the New Zealand National SF Convention in 1998, and they became friends was well as favourite authors. Terry Pratchett and I go back a bit further. I love his work, but we also had similar interests, and I think he appreciated the fact that I thought he was a serious author who had a bit of comedy in his work, rather than a comic author who occasionally made a serious point. William Gibson launched my first novel, and said it was a bit like Gene Wolfe on smack! That was the first time a big-time author had taken my work seriously, and Neuromancer influenced me heavily when I was starting out, so should he be my favourite author? I think that readers can afford to have favourite authors, but once you start doing your own writing you have friends who are authors and you have authors who teach you things, but if you want to keep your own voice you can’t afford favourites.



Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?


As a very little boy I used to make up stories about things because I thought my stories were more interesting than the real world. The adults did not like it, and said I was a naughty boy for lying, but I tried to point out that novels and movies were made up as well. I had been reading science fiction for about five years when I tried writing it myself, for a couple of school projects. I got honours for both of them, but then I was given a guitar for Christmas and I learned that being on stage in a band got far more attention from the girls than sitting at home, writing. I had a fifteen year outage from writing because of music, then I had to stop because rehearsals and performances were clashing with my computer science studies. I went back to writing, because I could do it whenever I had free time. By the time my studies finished I was winning awards and prizes for my stories, so I never went back to professional music.


Can you share a little of your current work with us?


Right at this moment Paul and I are preparing for promotional events, trips and signings for The Burning Sea, which is about to be officially released. Longer term, I am working on a fourth novel in my Greatwinter series, which is set in a future Australia ruled by a caste of librarians. This book is set long after the third book ended, and many of the characters are the descendants of those in the earlier books. The head librarian wants to rebuild one of the human powered computers featured in the first three books, but the instructions and designs have been lost or destroyed long ago. Then he realizes that paper is not the only place where knowledge can be stored. One of the reasons that I took so long to get back to the Greatwinter series is that it was getting too complex for a reader to get into without reading all the earlier books. This book will be like the fourth movie in the Star Wars series, A New Hope, because you will be able to enjoy it without needing the others for background.


 Do you have to travel much concerning your books?


I have done more travel related to my books than all my other travel put together. Whatever people say about how great it is to do things online, the readers, publishers, artists, editors and sales reps still want to meet the authors face to face. The Burning Sea will mean a lot of travel in Australia, because children are especially fond of meeting authors in person. Perhaps it makes us more real to them.


Who designed the covers?


The Melbourne artist and designer Grant Gittus designed the covers for all six books in The Warlock’s Child series. He also did the covers for my earlier books, Before the Storm and Changing Yesterday. An Irish artist who now lives in Melbourne, Marc McBride did the actual cover art. Marc is best known for doing the covers of the Deltora Quest books, and is particularly good at dragons, so we asked him to have at least one dragon on each of the six covers. The result has been some spectacular and exciting scenes featuring fierce and colourful dragons.


What is the hardest part of writing your books?


Changing things. Change something in a short story and it’s easy to see how the change affects other parts of the story. Novels are way bigger. Change some detail in a novel, and it’s almost impossible to how many other parts need changing. You have to go right through the entire text, and even then you can miss bits. I kept strict timelines and notes when writing The Warlock’s Child, but even so Paul picked up logical errors caused by changes we had made.


Do you have any advice for other writers?


Do a Google search on “Neil Gaiman Graduation Address 2012.” He gave a talk to a hall full of graduating students about how he became an author, and about the way publishing has changed, and it is as relevant now as when he did the original talk. His key piece of advice was “The gatekeepers are leaving their gates.” The publishing scene is changing thanks to the internet and social media. Publishing is no longer regulated the same way as it was even ten years ago, so when most established authors give you advice, it is almost certain to be out of date. In some ways it’s a very exciting time with lots of opportunities, but nobody really understands what is going on.


What shows/films do you enjoy watching?


A very wide mix. Sherlock, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Penny Dreadful and Rome are pretty typical of the series that I like. In films, I like Jackson’s take on the Tolkein novels in particular, but in general I like to watch a really wide variety of films. You can’t write good fantasy or science fiction by only taking your inspiration from within the genre.


If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?


I actually did run another career in parallel with my writing. I was a computer manager, working with large scientific computers. That was very different to writing, but had its own sense of accomplishment. Supercomputers and computer models are a real challenge, but after a while you just get tired of the same old challenge from even bigger supercomputers, so I quit. Before that I was a musician in a folk rock band, but I got a bit tired of that, too. I’d much rather be writing my own stories than singing about other people’s stories.


Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?


I have both:


The publisher is at:



Amazon page

Thank you for the interview.