As as an Aussie YA Fantasy author on Twitter, it didn’t take me long to bump into fellow Aussie and SFF author Nikky Lee. In this interview, Nikky tells us what draws her to writing YA, what drives her characters, the real-world influences on her world-building, and what she hopes readers will gain from reading her work.
Tell us a bit about you. Where’s home and what’s your life like outside writing?
Hi, I’m Nikky. While I was born and grew up in Perth, Western Australia on Whadjuk Noongar Country, I now reside in Auckland in Aotearoa New Zealand. I write all things speculative, from dark and epic fantasy through to dystopian futures, space opera and the occasional piece of horror. I also write a mix of short and long fiction.
Outside of creative writing, I work in marketing as a communications and content specialist for a market research agency. So anything with words usually goes through me, whether it’s a report for proofing or blogs, case studies, website copy and so on.
When I’m not writing, I’m an avid kayaker, swimmer and coffee lover.
What drew you to your genre/audience age?
I’ve always loved speculative fiction, I grew up with Narnia and Star Wars and those cemented my love of the genre. If it had magic or space battles I was there for it. As for writing short fiction, that development has been relatively recent. For the longest time, I struggled to write anything that wasn’t novel length. My ideas were too big and sprawling (and still often are). Then I stumbled upon a prompt for a submission that really sang to me and I thought I’d give it a go. From that I discovered short fiction is a fantastic way to experiment with style and tone and ever since then I’ve been hooked on writing short stories in addition to longer works.
What are some big themes your writing explores?
In my debut novel, The Rarkyn’s Familiar, the theme of what makes a monster a monster is very prevalent. Along with themes of friendship, found family and not judging by appearance or heresay. My shorter works have examined heaps of other themes, such as climate change and dealing with loss and grief (Dingo & Sister), corrupt people and gods in power (The Dead May Dance), and letting go of a loved one (Ram’s Revenge), to name a few.
What drives your point of view characters?
Good question! I’ll limit this to the characters of The Rarkyn’s Familiar as it’s my best known work so far. For Lyss, she’s haunted by the murder of her father and wants nothing more than to bring those responsible to justice. She’s practical and full of grit and determination to get what she wants, but the trauma she’s experienced has really shaken her. She’s often afraid and is constantly fighting to not succumb to that fear. However, once she meets Skaar, her priorities quickly shift to survival.
Skaar is the other main POV in the story, as a non-human character his worldview is different in many ways to the likes of Lyss and other human characters and yet surprisingly similar in other ways. Like Lyss, he has past traumas that haunt him. But after several years imprisoned at human hands, the tantalising hope of freedom is what drives him, along with the desire to survive.
How much do your point of view characters resemble or differ from you?
Hmm, this is a tough one. There’s a lot of me in Lyss, and I’ve taken inspiration from some of my personal journeys, particularly my mental health journey, to tell Lyss’s story (more about that here). There might be a bit of trait admiration at play as well where I give my POV characters traits I admire—resilience and resolve being chief among them, as well as a willingness to strive for might seem like impossible goals.
And there are probably resemblances that I’m not even aware of that only someone who knows me could spot. Stubbornness might be one 😉
Which real-world influences have contributed to your world building?)
In the case of The Rarkyn’s Familiar, its world building was inspired by a lot of fantasy that’s come before: Robin Hobb, Tamora Pierce and Hayao Mizakai’s Princess Mononoke for their fantastical creatures and immense landscapes, as well as Kentaro Miura’s Berserk, which was my first foray into grimdark fantasy and inspired elements of the Empire’s corrupt nature. I’ve blogged about it in more detail here.
Countless visits to the South Island of New Zealand has helped me dream up my mountain settings. As for the society and culture of the book, a couple of elective units in medieval and ancient history came in handy 🙂
For my other stories, Dingo & Sister was primarily inspired by a trip across the Nullarbor, an arid plain in Australia between Perth and Adelaide. Unbelievably hot (something like 47 degrees celsius outside) and red red sand. For other story settings, particularly those set near the coast, I’m lucky to have an abundance of water activity experiences to draw on (surfing, snorkelling, fishing, sailing and so on) from a childhood spent camping and holidaying all over the Australian coastline.
What do you gain from writing your books and what do you hope your readers will gain from them?
First and foremost, I write to entertain. My stories are a form of escapism for me and, I hope, for my readers too. While my work can delve into some heavy topics and I’m conscious about how I portray certain topics, I’ll prioritise entertainment over social commentary (though that’s not to say you can’t have both!). However, if I can make my world and characters feel real in the mind of my reader and sweep them away into lands of magic and wonder after a hard day at work, I consider that a win.
As for what I gain from writing, it’s mostly escapism, as I said earlier. But on occasion writing has helped me process something from the real world, be it a personal fear, an event, an issue I’m wrapping my head around, or a notion I’m simply coming to terms with. For example, Ram’s Revenge was a story that was partly me coming to terms with the fact that my grandmother wouldn’t be around for much longer. Of course, I usually don’t realise it at the time, only when I look back at it later.
Where can we find your books?
You can find my books online wherever good books are sold.
The Rarkyn’s Familiar store links.
Dingo & Sister store links.
Nikky Lee is an award-winning author who grew up as a barefoot 90s kid in Perth, Western Australia on Whadjuk Noongar Country. She now lives in Aotearoa New Zealand with a husband, a dog and a couch potato cat. In her free time, she writes speculative fiction, often burning the candle at both ends to explore fantastic worlds, mine asteroids and meet wizards. She’s had over two dozen stories published in magazines, anthologies and on the radio.
Her short fiction has been shortlisted six times in the Aurealis Awards with her novelette Dingo & Sister winning the Best Young Adult Short Story and the Best Fantasy Novella categories in 2020. In 2021, she received a Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. Her debut novel, The Rarkyn’s Familiar, was released in 2022 and is the first of an epic fantasy trilogy about a girl bonded to a monster.
You can connect with Nikky on: Facebook Instagaram Tik Tok Twitter
You’ll find more talk of fantasy characters, setting and world-building inspirations in:
Nikky’s Interview Of Me.
My Interview of Debbie Iancu-Hadad.
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