Where fire and saltwater meet

A few years back I did a trip to Hawai’i, with my favourite part being the time I spent on the Big Island. Not only did I get to drive one of my favourite cars, a Mustang, but I also visited the awesome Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. I followed the trail of Kīlauea Volcano, which has been actively erupting since 1983, to where it meets the ocean, and explored many other parts of the coastline that have been formed, destroyed and reshaped by the onslaught of lava.


Looking for black opals in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales

Lightning Ridge, in north-western New South Wales, Australia, is famed for its opal mining, and in particular, for being the largest source of precious black opals in the world.

Sandstone opal mine cavern and timber support posts
10 metres underground in a Lightning Ridge opal mining cavern

During Lightning Ridge’s searing outback summers, the temperature underground is around 20C, making it a comfortable place to search for Australia’s national gemstone: the opal.

The protagonist in my current fantasy manuscript is from a fictional continent similar to outback Australia. His mother scratches out a living in the local mines, so I was particularly interested to learn about the history of opal mining. Opal Mine Adventure offer the fascinating experience of visiting an old opal mine, which gave me an insight into the motivation and practicalities of digging for these brilliant gemstones.

In years gone by, miners sank shafts using a pick and shovel, then chipped away at the sandstone deep underground armed with a pick and candle, looking for a valuable find.

Waste dirt was traditionally raised in buckets by hand windlass, often into a truck such as the one below. The dirt then underwent ‘puddling’ to remove the dirt from the sandstone and harder materials.  If colour is found in the stone, it is buffed to determine the quality of opal that lies within.


Writing inspiration – colours of Australia

Sandstone horse sculpture I’m currently working on a short story to submit to a speculative fiction anthology. My protagonist finds herself returning to her homeland, where the big skies fill her lungs and flows in her veins, and she is forced to face dark secrets she’d hoped to leave buried in the red dirt.

While looking for an outback photo to illustrate the image of my fantasy world, I came across this one I took of Horse by Jumber Jikiya, which sits in the sculpture symposium in the Living Desert at Broken Hill, New South Wales. Horse was apparently created as a tribute to rare Georgian horses slaughtered during Stalin’s rule. I realised this sobering history draws some parallels to aspects of my story.

The symposium consists of twelve sandstone sculptures, which change with the sun’s rise and fall in this amazing landscape. I’m always awestruck by the beauty and harshness of our natural world, and how it becomes its own character in my worldbuilding and writing.

Please leave a comment to let me know what you’re writing now – what inspires your writing and settings?

Worldbuilding for fantasy fiction

Having plunged about 30,000 words into writing a new fantasy story, I am starting to build the foundations of my fictional world. My fascination with the diverse Australian landscape strongly influences my settings, and it’s a lot of fun cherry-picking bits and pieces to colour my stories.

One of the subplots in this particular story inverts the ‘mail-order bride’ scenario. Women from a wealthy, matriarchal nation buy themselves husbands from a neighbouring wartorn continent. Their interracial marriages cause resentment and hostility in both nations, fuelled by conflict caused by the differences in culture and beliefs.

The wealthy nation strictly defends its borders, so needed a landscape that would naturally repel anyone trying to come ashore without authorisation. Yesterday, I read a newspaper article about the amazing dolerite stacks on Tasmania’s Three Capes Track, and my imagination began to fire.

I’ve lived in Tasmania, and have strong family ties and ancestry there, so it’s already one of my favourite sources of inspiration for plotlines and settings. The photos below were taken at the Devil’s Kitchen on the Tasman Peninsula. These siltstone rock formations are estimated to have formed 270 million years ago. It’s assumed that the Devil’s Kitchen itself (centre) is what now remains after the roof of a sea cave collapsed and fell into the water 60 metres below.

So, the sheer, tall cliffs shearing into deep oceans were perfect for my story. Now, with the south-eastern border of my fictional nation clearer in my mind and on the page, my protagonist and her newly purchased husband travel north, to her family estate. A horse and cattle stud with pastures extending to pristine white beaches, where the cattle eat bull kelp that’s washed up on the sand. That plotline, incidentally, is based on cattle from the north-west of Tasmania, but that’s perhaps a story for another day.

Where do you find inspiration for your fictional settings? Which parts of the world would you like to see or write about in fiction, particularly fantasy fiction?

Please feel free to share your comments below.