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Creating a Monster at Sydney Writer’s Festival

Read more to hear about the Creating a Monster event at Sydney Writers’ Festival 2024...

The Creating a Monster event, held at the Sydney Writers Festival on the 25th of May, had three ‘Masters of Monsters’. C.S. Pacat, author of Dark Rise, Vanessa Len, author of Only a Monster, and Sarah Street, author of A Curse of Salt discussed their process of crafting their stories in a more complex way rather than in the good-verses-evil binary.  

C.S. Pacat, bestselling author of the Dark Rise and Captive Prince, talked about how the villainous portrayal of queer-coded monsters in media affected her growing up as an individual. From the depiction of queer-coded characters such as Scar from ‘The Lion King’ or Ursula from ‘The Little Mermaid’, it had led her to feel uncomfortable with herself and her sexuality. After a while, she then realised that in her own writing, she could go beyond the binary, so to speak. In her stories, she could create queer-coded characters and monsters that aren’t necessarily malicious in nature. They can be complex, morally grey, be the heroes of their stories, and inspire readers. 

Internationally bestselling Australian author Vanessa Len wanted to take a different stance on how monsters are portrayed in stories. She thought it was strange how monsters were written majorly as villainous when they can be more morally grey and complex in nature. In her first novel, Only a Monster, Len wrote about how the main character comes from a family of monsters with terrifying abilities and how she needs to embrace her inherited monstrousness to defend herself against a legendary monster slayer. Len mentioned how, in watching media with monsters, she often felt empathy for them, thinking about why they can’t be more than a mindless, ravenous beast that kills on sight. 

Young Adult (YA) fantasy author Sarah Street told the audience that she wanted to add more complexity to the monsters in her stories. She achieved this with the heartless king in her debut novel, A Curse of Salt, a retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with pirates. In the novel, the dark, brooding pirate, known as Heartless King, isn’t as villainous as he seems on the surface, and there is indeed warmth within his ice-cold heart. Street explores this and allows readers to realise that there are many sides to an individual, and it takes getting to know them to understand why they are the way they are. 

As a reader of YA fantasy novels, I appreciated how these authors wanted to explore monsters as misunderstood and complex characters. 


W’SUP news would like to thank the Sydney Writer’s Festival team for providing the opportunity to attend events media personnel and for hosting such incredible sessions. We hope to continue collaborating in the future and bring these important conversations to Western Sydney University. 

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Fantasy Book Recommendation Corner 

Read the latest novel recommendations from Symphony Chakma, a book lover and member of the WSU Book Club! Find out why these stories mean so much…...

For as long as I can remember since childhood, I’ve been what you may call an avid reader: I’ve always loved to read and would voraciously read any book I could get my hands on, willing to open new portals to worlds beyond the fabric of reality through fiction and empower myself with knowledge in nonfiction.  

But, somewhere in my transition from my late teens to my early twenties, combined with moving to a new country, I’ve unfortunately lost my joy and love for reading.   

Last year, however, I once again fell in love with reading and finally achieved my Goodreads goal of successfully reading up to thirty books, surpassing it even with an extra five!  

And from it, alongside my reignited spark for reading, it’s my pleasure to present to you, dear reader, some book recommendations I’m sure you’ll love! (Especially if you feel like exploring many illustriously beautiful worlds of fantasy to immerse yourself within, these are surely the books for you!) 

1. First up, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo:

The novel, Six of Crows, is the first book of a duology series written by author Leigh Bardugo.  

It’s part of an overarching universe dubbed the Grishaverse, that was kickstarted by Bardugo’s creation of the Shadow and Bone trilogy.  

In Six of Crows, Bardugo has done an excellent job at portraying disability and queer representation in the story, that I think would be greatly appreciated by many. Additionally, the twists and turns will have you hooked, and you indubitably will fall in love with the characters within.  

Shadow and Bone was adapted into a Netflix TV series, but – with Netflix being Netflix – the series was unfortunately cancelled after 2 seasons. Also, to keep in mind, you may be familiar with some of the characters in this book if you have watched the show prior.  

Regardless of whether you have watched the show or not, I highly recommend reading this absolute wonder of a book and hope you have as much of a joy reading it as I have.  

2. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon:

This is a standalone fantasy book I highly recommend! It has everything – dragons, women in power, and forbidden love.  

Samantha Shannon managed to effectively weave a beautiful story for the readers’ pleasure.  

However, a warning to first-time readers of fantasy: the book is quite lengthy. If you aren’t used to reading 800+ pages, you might have to take your time reading this book.  

Personally, it took quite a while to finish as well, as I was reading it in between my commute time from placement and home (fun fact and pro-tip for you, dear reader: as a social work student, self-care is always emphasized during student placements, and reading was mine).

3. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo!  

Another Leigh Bardugo mention! This book was Bardugo’s first foray into writing adult novels.  

Ninth House follows the story of Alex Stern, who attends Yale, and alongside Alex, we discover Yale’s secret societies, ones that have access to the occult, that regular humans don’t have.  

This book deals with heavy topics such as drug addiction, power, and corruption. Within the urban fantasy setting, the story is woven into a complex tapestry. It makes you question the idea of privilege itself.  

Additionally, if you’re a big fan of classics, you might spot some nods to the Divine Comedy within the pages of his book.  

That is all for my fantasy book recommendations. I hope you all find some new favourites! Happy reading!  

Author: Symphony Chakma (Edited by Luci Kugathsan)