I have been running a series of interview with female fantasy writers to redress a perception I came across – that fantasy was a bit of a boy’s club. It really isn’t like that here in Australia. We have many wonderful fantasy writers who just happen to be female.
Today I’m interviewing Trent Jamieson because, for one thing he has a wonderful new book coming out. (Yay Trent!), and also I thought I’d ask him the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male fantasy writer.
I’ve known Trent Jamieson since he was a fresh-faced aspiring writer coming to the VISION meetings (almost 15 years) and Trent has been a part of the ROR writing group for 8 years. He’s sold heaps of short stories, won or been a finalist in awards and now has a second series coming out.
Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.
Q: I can remember dropping you at the ferry after one of our critique sessions, saying – One day The Roil will be published, Trent. It’s so creative and interesting. It just has to hit the right publisher at the right time. Now it is coming out through Angry Robot. I was thrilled when you asked me for a cover quote. The Roil can be described as Steampunk, but it is so much more, dystopian SF, Lovecraftian horror. How long has The Roil (The Nightbound Land duology) been in the making?
Ooh, I remember that, too! I’m not sure if I believed you at the time, but I’m so glad you were right. In fact, I never quite believe it until I know the book is in print – just got an email from my publisher to say that copies arrived at Angry Robot today – Yay!
The Nightbound Land’s been around in my head a very long time, at least ten years though there are elements going back to my early twenties, just after I graduated Uni. I’ve notes sketches, and bits and pieces in my earliest notebooks. I think this is the world that I’ve kept circling all my adult life, and I might come back to it once I’ve finished the next book (which is due in a couple of weeks, Arrrgh!). I’ve short stories planned, there’s a novella I want to do concerning a person that really only shows up for an instant in book one (and as a corpse, no less, but up until that point they had led a very exciting, if rather tragic, life), there’s poems too. This is the world I always come back to in my mind.
It’s dark and grim (and I’ve glad you’ve noticed the Lovecraftian elements – there’s a reason my blog is called Trentonomicon) – and nonsensical. But it’s also very much grounded in my experience of city spaces. My wife Diana says she can’t read the scenes in Mirrlees or Tate without thinking of Brisbane.
This is Trent’s cool new book trailer for The Roil .
Q: You’ve written a lot of short stories with an anthology Reserved for Travelling Shows and over 23 stories published individually. Your stories have been finalists in the Aurealis Awards four times and won twice (SF and YA, but also nominated in horror). Just as it is hard to pin down The Roil, it is hard to pin down your short stories. If you had to describe your genre as a writer, how would you do it? And, if that’s too hard, what are your favourite genres to write in?
I like to mess around in various genres. Believe it or not, my first published works were nonsense poems. But I don’t set out to write in a specific genre. Stories start as either a particular image, or a weird sentence or even a beat, I just follow the pulse to end.
I don’t know if I have a favourite genre, I like the grand epic gestures of Urban Fantasy, and the way it’s also curiously intimate.
Steampunk is just glorious, the machines, the clothes, the foggy streets (or in my case rain-drenched). I’m really itching to work on a sword and sorcery novel that has been sitting in my hard drive for years (I sold Death Most Definite, before I could get back to it).
I love genre fiction, but ultimately what makes a tale work is the author writing it not the appurtenances of genre, I love authors that are their own genre, I want to read a Tansy Rayner Roberts story or a Rowena Cory Daniels story or a Marianne de Pierres story or China Mieville or Michael Swanwick or Kim Westwood.
What I would love to be is an author that drags people with them whatever genre they write in (maybe one day, eh) though my sensibilities are deeply fantastical, so they know it’s always going to be a bit weird.
Q: You’ve tutored at Clarion South and the Queensland University of Technology. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated your critiques at our ROR weekends. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Honestly the most important thing is to read, and read lots. Everything you can get your hands on, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, swim in the words. You don’t learn to riff off words until you’ve heard a lot of tunes. Unless you’re some sort of genius, then you don’t need my advice anyway.
The other thing is to take a delight in it. Writing is play, writing fiction is play, if you’re not enjoying it there are far more lucrative careers than writing (pretty much anything). It’s hard work, hard, hard work, but it should sing for you, too.
Q: Your Death Works trilogy was published by Orbit. The first book, Definite Most Definite was nominated for both the horror and the fantasy section of the Aurealis Awards (again you defy genre). This trilogy combines horror with humour, zombies and death as a corporate business (not to mention a love story).
The trilogy is set in Brisbane, our home town. In an interview on Fangbooks you say: ‘Brisbane is very important to me. From the brown, and slightly ominous coils of the Brisbane River to the flashing transmitters atop Mt Coot-tha, and the knitting needle bunches of the Kurilpa Bridge Brisbane is full of stories (and the possibility of adventure, explosions and love).’ Did you come across any resistance to setting the trilogy in a little-known Australian capital city?
None whatsoever. No-one ever told me not to set it in Brisbane, it never came up. Orbit grabbed it and ran with it, and they’ve never been anything but supportive – maybe it helps that Bernadette Foley, my publisher is from Brisbane!
See Trent’s cool Death Most Definite book trailer.
Honestly … I discovered that I had a video camera in my computer and thought, why not? They’re really something I do as a bit of a hobby. I have a rule that they have be pretty rough, and daggy, so far I am in no danger of breaking that rule.
And, I thought, I can do this, whereas I could never see myself podcasting. Galactic Suburbia, the Writer and the Critic, Coode St Review, all of these are brilliant podcasts – that I love, and could never hope to replicate – I figured there was some room for silliness.
Q: By the end of August, you’ll hand in the second Nightbound Land book, Night’s Engines. What do you plan to write next?
Gah! I’ve a kid’s series called The Players that I wrote with an Arts Council Grant a few years back, I’d like to see if I can sell that. I’ve a Sword and Sorcery novel called Empire December that I would like to finally polish up and send out. I’ve a story about a girl that is carried by a storm to a carnival in a cherry orchard run by the devil – and he’s a slick old devil this one. And there’s a Space Opera novel I’ve been meaning to write, not to mention an Urban Fantasy series about a family in Logan City – the city on the southern edge of Brisbane. And there’s a vampire novel that I want to write based on my short story “Day Boy”.
You know how it is, the ideas never stop coming. It’s deciding which one grabs you the most at the time and running with it.
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?
If I pick up a book without knowing the author’s gender I rarely guess correctly, and that’s usually only because the odds suggest I have to get it right some of the time! So, to me, no. Writing is about inhabiting other people’s heads. Good writers of either sex do this. I think there is a difference in the way that different people write fantasy in the politics, the concerns, the lyricism etc that they bring to their work, but gender isn’t as big a determinant of that. Though this is me coming at it as a reader, and I want to read (or at least try) EVERYTHING!
But what happens if you cut out one sex is that you miss out on fifty percent of the voices, fifty percent of the richness of the world. I don’t want to reduce my chance of being surprised and delighted by half.
Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?
Margo Lanagan, Kate Griffin, Grace Dugan, Hope Mirrlees, Lucy Sussex, Kirsten Bishop, P.M. Newton, Steph Swainston, Krissy Kneen, Gail Carriger, Kate Elliott, and I could go on and on, all of these writers do that because, like any other writer I admire, they’re not me, I don’t know what they’re thinking or what game they’re playing with their stories, until I read them.
That’s the chief pleasure of reading any work of fiction, you’re reading someone else’s imagination, and mixing it with your own to form a cool sort of imaginative story stew. What an amazing thing that is.
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?
I think it would be to the beginning of the universe. If you could somehow exist and watch the laws of physics coming into play, watch something become, well, something when before there wasn’t anything, how wonderful that would be!
Either that or I’d love to hang out with a T-rex or two.
What steampunk technology would you used to travel around the world?
Follow Trent on Twitter: @trentonomicon
See Trent’s Blog.
Find Trent on GoodReads.