Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.
Q: You say you became a children’s writer while working as a scriptwriter for ABC TV. What were you working on at the ABC? Was it a children’s show? Do you miss scriptwriting?
I was working as a researcher and scriptwriter for the Children’s and Education Department. I worked on a lot of shows – Powerhouse, Living in the Law, Watch! Your Language, For the Juniors, Swap Shop. I was a reporter on Behind the News (now BTN). I even did some research for Playschool!
The thing I miss about scriptwriting is the collegial nature of television making. Writing is great but you do it alone. Television is a collaboration, where everyone’s contribution makes the piece better. On the other hand, now I don’t have directors telling me to cut crucial scenes because ‘We can’t get the outside broadcast van because it’s going to the cricket’!
Q: Your children’s books have been shortlisted for the Children Book Council Book of the Year Awards, the NSW Premier’s Awards and the Koala Awards. Plus Scum of the Earth won the Environment Prize in 2004 and your fictional biography of Australian pioneer Mary McKillop won the NSW History Prize for Young People in 2006. (For a full list of Pamela’s Children’s books see here). You seem to have a mix of nonfiction, contemporary and fantasy books. Do you think the fantasy element is more readily accepted in children’s books?
Fantasy is mainstream in kids’ writing. This is merely a return to the status quo – it’s only in the last 200 years that realistic storytelling has been privileged in Western society. Prior to that fantasy/hero myths and comedic stories were the mainstream.
And yes, I do think it’s easier for a fantasy book to get on a literature awards list if it’s for kids. Unless the publisher can reclassify it as ‘magical realism’ (snort). There is a lot of snobbery about fantasy writing in particular. Even science fiction has more credibility with the critics.
Q: Leading on from there you have three adult/grownup fantasy books published with Orbit books, The Castings Trilogy, and a new stand-alone novel, Ember and Ash. Was this a big break away from your children’s writing, or did it feel inevitable, like something you were always going to do?
It was a bit of both, really. I write for a lot of age groups in my kids’ books – from 3-year-olds to young adult. My approach has always been to write the story and then figure out how old the reader is likely to be.
I found I was thinking about stories where the reader was clearly not a kid, and that set me thinking about writing for adults. My agent encouraged me and so did my husband.
Q: I see you wrote book one of The Castings Trilogy as part of your Doctorate. In what way is this different from writing on your own?
It was fantastically helpful in all sorts of ways. I was supervised by Debra Adelaide, one of our best authors and editors. She helped me make the transition from children’s writing to writing for adults. This was far more difficult than I had thought it would be, and I was grateful for her support and guidance – and for her pushing me when I needed it. I’m a much better writer for having worked with her.
As well, they paid me a scholarship to write a book I would have written anyway! I was at home with a toddler and it meant I didn’t have to go back to the consulting work I’d been doing prior to that, so it allowed me to be a full time writer for the first time. A doctorate is a great deal for a writer!
Q: In an interview with John Marsh on Grasping for the Wind, you mention that one of the themes you explore in this trilogy is racism. This strikes a chord for me because it was the core of my Masters thesis and book. You say anger drove you and kept you interested through the 450,000 words of the trilogy. Are you still angry?
Of course I am. Look at the difference in life expectancy between Anglo Australians and Indigenous Australians – up to 17 years less if you’re an Aboriginal man! That’s enough to make anyone angry, and it’s merely the most obvious sign of the racism inherent in this society. I’ll stop being angry when we have equality.
Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?
I think there used to be a big difference, but the differences are getting smaller. It used to be that only women had women protagonists – but I’ve just read Dave Freer’s Dragon Rising which is beautifully balanced between a human woman and a dragon perspective. I don’t think that’s unusual. Charles Stross’s The Family Business series has a great woman protagonist and engages with sexism on almost every page. As women’s and men’s lives have become more alike, I think it has freed both to write more confidently from the other’s perspective.
There are still male writers out there whose women are busty, simpering blondes, and who concentrate mostly on killing things – but there are also women writers out there whose male characters are thinly disguised wish fulfilments, and who concentrate mostly on romantic relationships! The middle ground is where the interesting and sometimes challenging stuff is happening.
Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?
I’d like to say no, but I have to admit I’m probably more ready to criticise the female characters in a book which has been written by a man. On the other hand, I’m also ready to be very critical of women writers who portray men as always cruel, stupid or insensitive. So maybe the difference is in what I’m alert for. Hmm. We exercise our prejudices all the time, don’t we? I haven’t learnt much from James Tiptree, after all.
Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?
1599, the Globe, the first night of Hamlet! Because I am a total Shakespeare nut, and have seen every Hamlet production I possibly could (up to around 25 now). To see Richard Burbage, for whom the part was written, play the melancholy Dane would be fantastic! It’s also considered likely that Shakespeare played Claudius. (And if I could slip around to the stage door to meet Will himself….oh, be still, my beating heart!)
Ember and Ash features shapechangers. What animal would you like to be able to turn into and why?
Catch up with Pamela on Facebook.
Listen to a Podcast with Pamela Freeman here.
Visit Pamels’a websites: www.castingstrilogy.com (adults)