Category Archives: creativity

Cat claims Desk, Writer Capitulates

I came into my study to work this morning and found Sassy cat had claimed my desk.

SassyCat_DeskHere she is, sleeping on my notes. This is where I keep my maps, family trees, time lines and list of alliances. So of course that is where she sleeps. She’s keeping company with the two little cat sculptures that sleep on my desk to hold business cards in place. (Thanks Leanne, this is where they ended up!).  And she does go well with the colour scheme, even down to my current desktop theme which is castles of Europe. I use the desk top themes to help me get in the right mood to write about the world of King Rolen’s Kin, with thrones and lives at stake. (It’s pretty hard to think strategic battles and cloaks flying in the wind when it’s 38 degrees with 90% humidity).

So, seeing Sassy cat was happy, I went off to yoga and when I came back she had moved on and I could get to work. I do sometimes work with her beside me. She puts up with me sliding pages out from under her and I put up with sneezing because, wouldn’t you know it, I’m allergic to cats. For several years every time one of my daughters left home and moved into a flat she got a kitten, then she’d move back home with the cat, then she’d moves out and leave the cat with me.

Back to writing…

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Filed under Australian Writers, Cats, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Inspiring Art, Nourish the Writer, Writing craft

Dynamic Duo run National SF Con (Conflux 9)and have new books out…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the Dynamic Duo, Donna Hanson and Nicole Murphy who are co-chairs of the Australian National SF Convention, Conflux 9 and who both happen to have a book coming out this year. They are proof that you can be creative and successful, and give back to your community.

 

Donna and Nicole

Donna and Nicole

Q: Both of you have work and families, you are part of a writing group (the Canberra SF Guild and part of Fantasy Writers on Retreat), you’re published and you both have books coming out this year (more later), on top of all this, you put your hands up to be co-chairs of Conflux 9. Tell me honestly, when you came home from that meeting and told your significant others that you’d volunteered to run the Nat Con, what did they say? (From the photo it looks like you might have had one glass to many).

Donna

Well that photo on the website was my birthday shot ( a High Tea)  so I’m not sure we’d dived into the champers at that time. We think we’re insane and I think our partners know it. Matthew (Farrer) my partner has this wide-eyed stare every time we talk Conflux 9. The worried frown sort of says-‘she’s going to rope me in?’ And just last weekend I did too, do a couple of panels. It’s the power of the inevitable. However, this is definitely my last con.

 

Nicole

I dreaded telling my husband, Tim, cause he really didn’t like the time it took from me when I chaired Conflux 4. But the fact that a) it was with Donna, so the workload wouldn’t be as bad and b) I love doing this meant he was fine with it. However, we’re both swearing that this will be the last time we organise a con and hoping our partners will keep us to that. Not that that means it’s the last thing we’ll do for the community. We have ideas. One that keeps popping up in particular (you know what I mean, Donna).

 

Donna

Nicole do not go there. Do not pass go and do not collect $200. Think of the work involved. You’re insane.

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Q: Not only are you doing all of the above, but Nicole, you’re teaching Year of the Novel with the QLD Writing Centre and the ACT Writers Centre, and Donna you are doing a Masters in Creative Writing, and a course in Millinery (hat making). Is there a point where you think, I can’t take on one more thing? Or is your philosophy, the more I take on the stimulating life is and it’s just as well I’m really good at juggling?

 

Donna

I have my limits. Like if I sold a trilogy I’d probably have massive brain melt. But that’s not going to happen in the next 3 months. I’d like it but you know gee a girl can only do so much. Ironically, I do find the more I have on the more productive I get. RSI stymies me a little. I guess it’s a matter of stacking. Conflux is over at the end of April. Things are hotting up now with Conflux so I ease off on the writing. The Masters starts soon, but I’m taking all of April off to get the Conflux thing done and uni if needs me. Millinery if the course goes ahead (they need a minimum number) will be my time out. I have arthritis in the neck and one day I’m not going to be a happy camper so I do have this philosophy of doing as much as I can now rather than waiting until I retire or something. And to ease the pressure in my writing gears and cogs, I wrote two novels in the last half of 2012 and I just have to polish them and send them out this year. The pressure to write has eased a bit.

 

Nicole

There is no doubt in my mind that I am quite, quite mad. However, there’s nothing that annoys me more than being bored, and this year there’s little chance of that happening! The two Year of the Novel courses were important to me because I love teaching and helping people – I get as much satisfaction from seeing friends and those I’m mentored and taught succeed as I do from my own success. More, even, cause I don’t have to deal with the worry and fretting and constant fear of bad sales figures J And as Donna said Conflux is over is just over three months (eep, eep, eep!) and I’m going easy on myself on the writing front in order to keep things under control. That said – I’ve got two books coming out between now and then, one of which I’m editing and publishing, so… Back to the comment about being mad.

Marc Gascoigne

Marc Gascoigne

Q: You’ve been involved in running other Confluxes and other events like the World SF Con 2010. How did you get involved in running events? Was it overwhelming the first time? I know Conflux 9 is running a pitching opportunity with Marc Gascoigne from Angry Robot. Nalo Hopkins is the International writer GOH, Karen Miller is the Australian GOH writer and Kaaron Warren is the Special Guest writer, (see here for details), so you get to meet cool writers and editors. Are there other benefits to running a Con and is it something you’d recommend to people wanting to become writers? (For information on the pitching opportunity see here).

 

Nalo Hopkins (Photo David Findlay, 2007)

Nalo Hopkins (Photo David Findlay, 2007)

Donna

Nicole will tell you I roped her in. I’ll blame Maxine McArthur because I’d never heard of SF cons (well I had been to a Star Trek convention and knew about those but not fan run lit cons). I ended up being the Chair of Conflux (number 1) but I was just helping out on the committee (cough because Maxine gave me strong hints that I should) and then I ended up being the chair. I did the next one and then scaled down my activities to focus on writing.

I did make a lot of contacts and made many friends as a result. In those early days I was very enthusiastic and networked a lot and I guess brought in other writers to the fan scene. The rest is history. For that first con though I had 10 months off work and I didn’t write much either. I think I did other things like edit anthologies.

I do recommend getting involved with organising these conventions and helping out. It’s a good experience and you make great contacts. However, I do recommend a little balancing between your activities. I got invited to help out with worldcon because I got noticed doing the Conflux convention running. It can be addictive. Worldcons are great fun (going to them and being involved).

 

Karen Miller (Photo Mary CT Webber)

Karen Miller (Photo Mary CT Webber)

Kaaron Warren

Kaaron Warren

 

 

 

Nicole

Yes, it’s all Donna’s fault. She asked me to run the short story competition at the first Conflux. I wasn’t totally happy with my work on that, so I decided to work on the next convention to prove I could do it. And then the next convention. And then I chaired one. And then. And then…

And now, thanks to Conflux, I work full-time as a professional conference organiser. So yeah, I love them.

I’m not sure I’d recommend it to other writers, because it is very time consuming. That said, if you’re not good at networking (like me, I’m atrocious at it, unlike Donna who is an absolute marvel at it), then getting involved in convention organising is a great idea because you have to meet and interact with these people. I’ve not doubt that my work with Conflux helped me get my foot in the door with Harper Collins. Didn’t get me published – it was the fact the company loved the books that did that, but it helped.

So balance it up – the time it takes versus the fact it can be very beneficial. And fun. And you get to meet the coolest people, and often they’ll stay friends for a long time after.

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Q: Donna your book Rayessa the Space Pirate is available from Escape Publishing. You edited the Australian Speculative Fiction: Genre Overview, which was published in 2005. You’ve had a lot of short stories published which range from fantasy, through erotic horror, to SF (is this right?), yet Rayessa the Space Pirate is a rollicking Space Opera, which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Was it a relief to let your hair down and write for the fun of it?

AustralianSpeculativeFiction

Donna

I had fun writing Rayessa and the Space Pirates. I wrote it a long time ago, when I was a fairly new writer. Even though it’s been revised, I stayed true to the character during those rewrites. She’s fun, the story is fun. But when you take in my other work, it is surely different and not what you’d expect from me. I’m very proud of it because of its lightness, its vibrancy and like you said rollicking space opera.

Many of my short stories are me flexing my writing muscles. I evolved from just writing a story to experimenting with styles and content. I do tend to go a bit dark at times. ‘Heat’ was a bit like that with the split narrative (it’s in my free fiction section on my blog-warning adult content) and in the last couple of years I’d been writing short paranormal too, just to see if I could. I’m a bit astounded that I really like writing happy ever afters just as much as the soul sucking endings. I write what is in my head, pursue ideas and go with it. Who knows what I’m going to do next.

3 books.axd

Q: Nicole you’ve had numerous short stories published, and an Urban Fantasy trilogy set in Australia called The Gadda (Harper Collins). The tag-line on your blog is: Where Fantasy and Romance Collide. So your next book’s genre is a step sideway, but not that far. Arranged to Love is written under your pseudonym, Elizabeth Dunk. (For a taste of Elizabeth Dunk’s writing style see here, Claudine’s New Adventure). What was the genesis of Nicole the fantasy writer evolving  to include Elizabeth the romance writer?

claudine-clrsml

Nicole

It all started way back when I was originally writing the first lot of Gadda books. I’d been thinking I was a straight fantasy/SF writer, but I had one of those blinding moments of inspiration where I realised I kept putting romance in as a sub-plot and I’d probably be better off pulling it to the forefront. That was the genesis of writing the Gadda books and when they were done, I kept having ideas for contemporary romances as well.

In 2011 I was at home, writing full-time, and I needed to do something apart from the Gadda books to challenge myself. So yes, I took a step sideways – a small one, but definitely still a step. My aim was to write a Mills and Boon category style romance. The only way Arranged to Love matches that is in length – otherwise it fails. But it’s a great story and it had a checkered road to publication but I’m so happy it’s there.

I’d always intended to use a pseudonym, but to be open about it because some people read only genre, some people read an author. So there will be people who will read anything I publish and there will be romance readers who won’t touch the Gadda books with a barge pole and vice versa. Here’s hoping it works.

 

donna-corset

Q: I understand there is a Steampunk High Tea is planned for Conflux 9 on the Thursday afternoon at 3pm.  (For the full program, see here). I’m guessing this mean we all get to dress up in really cool steampunk gear, sip tea and nibble cucumber sandwiches. Do you have any fashion advice for the event?

 

Donna

I think people should go with that they feel comfortable with. I’m dressing up because: hey I made a dress so I must wear it. But people can come with a bow tie, or goggles or a gun or just in day clothes. I bought Matthew a Nerf Gun. I expect him to paint it and make it look all steampunky. My son gave me a steampunk necklace for Christmas. I’m almost kitted up.

It’s a bit of fun. People can do traditional Victorian or make it up with whatever they like. I’ve seen men and women in corsets, kilts, junk, jodhpurs and google, top hats, parasols. Any and all. Just come for the fun and the high tea. I believe we get lovely sparkling wine too. Try googling steampunk clothing and you’ll be amazed at what is out there. Mind bogglingly awesome. There are some very talented and creative people out there. Just remember you have to book and pay for the high tea as it is an extra event.

 

Nicole

Can I just add – cucumber sandwiches are awesome! Honestly, you read about them and think, how old fashioned, how silly, making sandwiches with cucumber only, what a strange thing to do. But they’re great. I prefer them with a yoghurt dressing, rather than cream cheese. Take note, Rydges!

JAFA2013-small

Q: You are also staging a Regency Banquet. Does this involved getting dressed up like Elizabeth and Mr Darcy? What can people expect at a Regency banquet?

 

Donna

Yes, if you want. We ran a Regency Banquet a few years ago and we had a great turn out. A lot of people love the period and went all out. Some had period costumes, some people adapted modern wear to make it look period, some of those were very effective.

The menu for the banquet is taken from the Conflux cookbook, Five Historical Feasts, by Gillian Polack. We are re-running that. The menu was researched and put together by Gillian, who is our very own historian (she’s a Dr), with the help of a bunch of us who tested and tasted the recipes. The food was really good to eat. Not good for my waistline.

This year to spice things up we have entertainment from Earthly Delights. They are the group that run the Jane Austen Festival in Canberra the week before Conflux. (they always get TV coverage of the event). John Gardiner, his wife Aylwen Gardiner-Garden will be organising the impromptu dancing and also music. John has agreed to do a 3 hour workshop on Regency Dance and Manners on the Friday. I’m so going to that. ($45 for members) and Aylwen is bringing items of costume to do a hands on workshop on costume design ($10 for members), so we are getting into the Regency thing. I hope we get takers because the dance workshop needs 16 people to work.

 

Lewis Morely and Marilyn Pride Conflux 5 (Photo Cat Sparks)

Lewis Morely and Marilyn Pride Conflux 5 (Photo Cat Sparks)

Nicole

The original Regency banquet was run during my conference, Conflux 4 and I may be biased, but I think it was the best of the lot. Everyone really went all out with the costuming and the whole place looked wonderful. The food was overwhelming – there was very little desert eaten because it was so rich we were already full. A fabulous night.

Note that while we’ve cut a lot of allergens out of the menu (eg there’s no fish/shellfish, no nuts), there’s one thing we can’t avoid – dairy. The Regency folks were nuts for it. And butter, so forget your diet! But if you’re lactose intolerant, there’s so little food available for you that you’ve got to seriously consider if it’s worth your while.

 

Donna Hanson, Cat Sparks, Alisa Krasnostein  Conflux 4 (Photo by Cat Sparks)

Donna Hanson, Cat Sparks, Alisa Krasnostein, Conflux 5 (Photo by Cat Sparks)

 

Q: Do you have any tips for first time convention goers who are planning to come to Conflux 9? (For membership information see here)

Donna

Be prepared to meet people, have fun, be entertained, learn things, network (drink). Be prepared to be thoroughly knackered. Come to our Meet the newbie session in the bar after the steampunk high tea. You’ll get to meet seasoned con goers to find out how to make the best of your convention.

 

Adam Browne and Keith Stevenson (Photo Claire McKenna)

Adam Browne and Keith Stevenson (Photo Claire McKenna)

Nicole

Don’t be afraid to approach your favourite writer. One of the great things about our industry is that we’ve all been in the same boat – having to greet our hero for the first time. A lot of the time, we made complete and utter fools of ourselves but we’ve always survived. Australia’s SF industry is wonderfully supportive, encouraging and fabulous and generally we only bite if asked to.

If you’re coming as a writer, intending to network with editors, agents and publishers – be cool about it. For professionals, conventions are part work, part fun and hanging with friends. So be aware of the circumstances and if you are going to approach them for a chat about your work, be polite and understand if they ask you to come back another time.

And whatever you do – don’t do what some shmuck did to poor Stephen King at a convention and chase a writer/editor/agent/publisher into the toilet with your manuscript and fling it under the door to them!

That said, a lot of us are very bribable. I drink red wine 🙂

 

 

Rowena thanks for the interview. You’ve done heaps of research. It is much appreciated.

 

Donna Hanson

Donna Hanson

Catch up with Donna on GoodReads

Donna’s blog

Follow Donna on Twitter  @DonnaMHanson

 

 

 

 

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Catch up with Nicole on GoodReads

Nicole’s Blog

Catch up with Nicole on Facebook

Follow Nicole on Twitter  @nicole_r_murphy  

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fandom, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Indy Press, Pitching your book, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, SF Books, Specialist Bookshops, Steampunk, The Writing Fraternity, Tips for Developing Artists, Tips for Developing Writers, Workshop/s, Writing craft, Writing Groups

Meet Kirstyn McDermott…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Kirstyn McDermott to drop by because her new book, Perfections, has just come out. Congratulations!

 

Q: Okay, first the really important question, your twitter handle is @fearofemeralds. Why?

That question has a simple answer, but I’m afraid that I’m going to skirt around it anyway. Essentially, the phrase is part of a larger sentence that I took with me from a dream a long, long time ago. I seldom remember my dreams upon waking, but this one was vivid and had a lot of impact on me at a time when I was agonising about whether or not I had any talent as a writer at all, and whether or not I should even bother attempting a career in that field. The whole sentence now has such talismanic properties for me that I had it tattooed in mirror writing across my ribs a couple of years ago, as a permanent reminder to keep going no matter what. My earlier use of “fearofemeralds” first as an LJ name and then as a twitter handle had a similar motive, making sure it was front and centre on a regular basis. I probably don’t need that anymore, now I have the tattoo, but it’s a little late to go changing things. And no, sorry, I’m not going to reveal any more particulars of the dream or even tell you the whole sentence – which I know is a dreadful tease, but the superstitious part of me believes that the talisman will be robbed of any power if shown to the world. 🙂

Q: In an interview with Lisa Hannet when talking about the horror genre you say: ‘I find myself fascinated by the monstrous– which really boils down to being anything we’re told “normal” people shouldn’t look at or think about or discuss in polite company. Taboo topics. Fringe dwellers. The black in black-and-white. I don’t believe in Evil as a manifest force. I do believe that humans are capable of doing evil things, and that a great number of humans acting in concert are capable of great evil indeed, but what interests me are the underlying reasons, motivations and causes. What makes a human being – someone similar to myself, perhaps – able to commit certain acts that I would find abhorrent, or allow others to commit them? I deeply, deeply want to understand this.’  Do you see horror as a way of making sense of the world? Do you think people who write and read horror are more troubled by the darkness both around and inside us?

I think one of the driving forces behind humans creating and partaking in art generally is an attempt to make sense of the world, and to connect with others in this endeavour, and horror fiction is certainly no different. That’s not to say that it’s the only motivator, but it is an important one, at least to me. It influences what I write and it certainly influences the types of books I like to read. I want books that make me think, that invite me to view the world differently and reconsider my preconceptions – and that are very well crafted to boot. I’ve become a highly critical reader over the past decade or so and find myself having less and less patience for fiction – horror or otherwise – that feels like it’s playing by the numbers, or is taking too many shortcuts with well-worn tropes or lazy writing.

As to the second part of your question, I don’t that “more troubled by the darkness” is necessarily true. I think we’re genuinely more fascinated by it and more inclined to dig down into the guts of it to see what makes it work, and we might even become a touch inured to some of the horrible stuff we see on the page and the screen – though not, I strongly believe, to real life horrors. But this doesn’t mean that people who don’t read/write horror are any less troubled by the bad stuff; they simply don’t wish to dwell on it when it comes to their culture or entertainment. Which is a fair enough call. Hell, I don’t partake in the romance genre to any sort of measurable extent; it simply fails to ring my bell and always has. But I don’t think that means I am in less capable of experiencing and enjoying love and romance in real life than a hardcore romance reader (or writer). Or that readers/writers of romance are somehow “lesser” than those who like horror. It pays to remember that dark doesn’t automatically translate to deep.

In my more belligerent early twenties, I did share what was relatively common attitude within the horror community, that people who refused to read horror were little more than ostriches with their heads in the sand when it came to The Truth About Life. But isn’t that kind of extremist philosophy what your early twenties are all about? Really, life and people are a lot more complicated than that. My tolerance for those who look down their nose at the genre per sae, or decide that horror readers/writers must be somehow sick or dangerous, however, remains at a critically low threshold. Because dark doesn’t automatically translate to damaged, either.

 

 Q: Since 2010, you and Ian Mond have been hosting a monthly podcast ‘devoted mostly to speculative fiction books, reviews and the odd bit of idle gossip’. The Writer and Critic won the Ditmar and Chronos Award this year. Did you have a ‘mission statement’ when you were first putting together the podcasts? What did you want to achieve with them?

Ian’s initial mission statement was something like, “Hey, podcasts are cool. Let’s do a podcast.” He came up with the idea and beat me over the head with it for a few months until I relented and we nutted out the format. We still don’t have a real mission statement, and have tweaked the structure a number of times with varying results. What we have decided is that we will only feature two books per episode from now on, as having a third title every so often when we had a guest on was really stretching our collective stamina – not to mention the recording time!

Our initial idea was to create a podcast where we could review books at length. We both really enjoy discussing interesting books that we’ve read, and sometimes pulling apart more problematic works, but finding the time to put thoughts down on the page is difficult. There’s no way I would ever be able to write the sort of in-depth critiques of books that I can have in conversation with Ian over the course of a couple of hours. Because we were coming at it from a book review standpoint, we avoided spoilers in the first couple of episodes. But this constrained discussion to a significant extent and, at the urging of a couple of our listeners, we abandoned that strategy and switched to more of a “book group” type discussion, assuming that people had already read the books, or did not care to have major plot points and even endings spoiled. It makes for a more natural conversation, I have to say, when you’re not busy worrying about whether or not the point you’d like to make will result in a spoiler.

I don’t know that we set out to achieve any more than that, to be honest. Two friends, both avid readers, recommending books to each other and then putting aside one evening a month sit around and chat about them. So I’m genuinely flattered, and quite honoured, to think that people enjoy listening in on these discussions enough to consider the podcast award-worthy!

Q: Do you and Ian get together and brain-storm goals for The Writer and Critic? If so, where would you like to take this podcast in future?

We don’t really brainstorm as such. More like, one of us will get an idea for something and email the other one, and they might say, “cool” or “meh” or “don’t be an idiot”, as the suggestion warrants. We’re still proceeding in more of a fluid/organic manner, rather than having any grand plans for the future. (Apart from reaching 100 episodes – I know Ian is very keen to get that far!)

What I am interested in doing is working out a way to bounce more ideas off listeners, and incorporate their suggestions – whether these are actual book recommendations, or structural ideas. It’s been great having Ian, and our guests, influence my reading in such a direct way over the past couple of years. I’ve read and enjoyed books I probably would never have thought to even pick up on my own. On the flipside, I’ve occasionally had to finish a book I might otherwise have flung against the wall, but this is a valuable experience in itself. Not only having to finish it, but to analyse precisely what it was I didn’t like in order to be able to talk about it for half an hour – this hones the critical skills immeasurably.

I’d also like to hit the road with a travelling podcast at some point, if Ian and I can work out the logistics. We always like to record in person, rather than resort to Skype or similar remote technology, so that does limit the guests we can have on to those in close geographical proximity. I’m pushing for a Grand Tasmanian W&C Tour, but still need to convince Ian. Mind you, I’m sure his wonderful wife would love a Tassie holiday …

 

SouthernBlood

Q: Your first short story was published in 1993. In 2003 your short story The Truth About Pug Roberts was nominated for a Ditmar and your story, Painless, won an Aurealis Award in 2008. (For a full list of Kirstyn’s fiction see here). This helped to establish your reputation as a writer. Did you find the publications and award wins helped you sell your first book? And do you recommend aspiring writers polish their writing craft with short fiction before jumping into novels?
I’m not sure how much the awards mattered – although they mattered a hell of a lot to me! – but having short fiction published definitely helped sell my first novel. My soon-to-be publisher actually tracked me down and sent an email asking to see my manuscript after having read a couple of my stories in literary journals. The novel, of course, then had to sell itself but the short fiction is how I was noticed in the first place. I’m not sure how common this type of story is anymore, but in my case it wasn’t apocryphal and, being a short story writer at heart, it pleases me immensely to think there is still a valuable place for this form.

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That said, I don’t think that all aspiring writers should necessarily start with short fiction, or use it as a testing ground. Writing an accomplished short story is quite different to writing an accomplished novel and, although there is obviously some overlap, the skill sets required are significantly different. Just because you get good at one form, it doesn’t mean you will be able to transfer your skills to the other. I know a number of authors who have only written novels (or only series/trilogies even), or else did not try their hand at short fiction until well into their career. So it’s not an automatic stepping stone, and short does not always mean easier, or easier to publish.

If you like the short form, enjoy writing within the confines of modest word counts, and have story ideas that suit, then go for it. But for some writers, the ideas are always going to be big and sprawling, and will never be able to pared down to 5,000 words, or even 20,000 words. And that’s fine as well.  Marathonrunners aren’t likely to need to hone their sprinting skills, after all! Just write the stories that are inside you, in whatever form and length that they need to take, and write them as well as you can. Then rinse and repeat. Over and over again. That’s really the best advice I have for any aspiring writer.

Q: Your first novel, Madigan Mine, was published by Picador in 2010. (Gorgeous cover, by the way). Without giving too much away, the story is told from a male perspective about the love of his life who is also his nemesis. Was there ever any question in your mind that the narrative Point of View had to be male? And did you find it easy to slip into his view point?

Even though Madigan was the character I found first, I always knew that her story needed to be told from the point of view of her lover. And, in this particular story, certain plot points required that lover to be male, so the gender choice was very easy and not one I ever veered away from. The hardest about writing Alex wasn’t the fact that he was male; it was that he was so damn passive. Trying to maintain pacing, suspense and interest in a character who, for greater part of the story, remained almost completely reactive proved to be the most challenging aspect of writing Madigan Mine.

To be honest, I don’t find writing from the male point of view all that arduous. I have been an avid reader my entire life, often in traditionally male-heavy genres such as Horror and Science Fiction, as well as Literary Fiction (a genre unto itself). Which means that I have spent the majority of my intellectual life immersed in the male voice and point of the view, the intricacies of the male subconscious, the particularities of male physicality, and so on, all presented with an innate assumption of male authorial authority. Which of course extends to the perception and representation of the female and the feminine.

So, personally, I find it easier to write from a male point of view because I have encountered so many diverse and nuanced cultural representations of men – or, at least, white western men. Such exposure gives me a better “feel” for a male character, where he might fit in the vast (male) cultural spectrum, where he falls short. Sadly, by contrast, I am often daunted and doubtful when writing the female point of view, because I feel I have less of a cultural sample set, to speak. The feminine is not as well charted, the ground less sure. Which is probably why I am far more interested in writing, and writing about, women these days. I like the challenge, and I like helping to build a more complex, richer and multi-faceted social construct of what “woman” and “girl” and “female” actually mean and how those concepts map to reality.

 

Q: In your 2012 Snapshot interview you said: ‘I did finally manage to finish what I have come to think of as My Difficult Second Novel, and am right about to start the edits on that. Its real name is Perfections and I don’t think I have ever hated writing anything so much as I hated writing that book for the longest, longest time.’ Having won an Aurealis Award and critical acclaim for your first book, Madigan Mine, you must have felt the pressure to top this success with your second novel. How did you come to terms with this and what can we expect from Perfections? (Is that title a Freudian slip, are you a perfectionist?)

perfections_coverWhy, yes, I am somewhat of a perfectionist, although the title refers to a different type of perfection that that. But you’ll have to read the novel to find out exactly what 🙂

It wasn’t so much pressure to top Madigan Mine – for a long time, I just thought of that as my little first novel, which I’d gotten nicely out of the way before moving onto other things; it took a while for the fact that other people liked it, really liked it, to properly sink in. Also, like many perfectionist writers, I excel at dismissing the merit of my own work. Especially once it’s published.

The problem with Perfections was that it consistently refused to be the book I thought I was writing, and kept insisting on being this other book that I kept fighting against. That’s never going to end well, is it? Still, it took me a long, stubborn time to come to terms with the story as it needed to be told, as it deserved to be told, and trust that I was the writer to tell it. Perhaps, as it’s a narrative about two sisters, told equally from their points of view, my inherent doubts about successfully writing diverse female points of view became part of the problem. As was the notion, which I only unpacked and banished towards the very end of the writing, that the story was “too girlie” and “unimportant”. But it’s neither. It’s complex and layered and it happens to feature two women as the co-protagonists, with love and relationships as the central theme. All of which says something disturbing about the types of narratives that we choose to privilege and deem significant in our culture, and how these choices seep into our psyches no matter what.

That said, Perfections did turn out to be a lot darker and nastier than I originally thought it might, so it seems I was worried for no reason on that score. I still don’t know where the novel fits, genre wise, but I’m keen to see what people think of it. To me, it’s absolutely a Modern Urban Gothic, a descriptor with which a friend tagged my work some years ago, and one I’m happy to wear. I love the high stakes, high emotion, haunted and fraught narratives of Gothic fiction, as well as its capacity for subtext and symbolism. It’s a palette I don’t think I’ll ever tire of playing with.

 

Q: I understand you have a collection of short stories coming our through Twelfth Planet Press soon. Are these reprints or new stories? Have you written to the theme?

My collection is part of the Twelves Planets series, so the four stories will be all new and original works. They’re not explicitly interconnected as some of the collections, like Sue Isle’s, Tansy Rayner Roberts’ and Deb Biancotti’s, have been, but I consider them to be linked – or perhaps “harmonised” is a better word – by tone. I started out with the idea that I would write a collection of ghost stories, because I was on a bit of ghost story kick when I pitched the book to Alisa, but that didn’t quite come to pass. They’re all stories of haunted people, though, even it’s not a traditional “ghost” doing the haunting. It’s my Gothic side coming out again, I guess, but the symbolism inherent in haunted stories is something to which I find myself being constantly drawn, as both a writer and a reader.

 

Q: I read your commentary on Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods and really enjoyed it. (I’ve seen all of Firefly, Serenity, Buffy and Dollhouse. Firefly, several times). Firefly was the most sophisticated of Joss’s series and the most ambitious, but the least commercially successful (yet it has a very strong following amongst the fans). While there is a growing sophistication in the audience, the mainstream TV and Movie makes seem to be going for Blander and Dumber. Do you find it hard to discover TV series and movies that are compelling and challenging? Have you seen The Fades, the UK version of Being Human? Can you recommend some interesting and challenging movie/TV series?

I started to watch The Fades after a couple of people recommended it to me, but I really couldn’t get into it at all. It seemed simplistic and overly reliant on convenient (but nonsensical) plotting and conventional character types. I much preferred the original UK version of Being Human (haven’t seen the US remake) and the UK series Misfits to The Fades – although I’m yet to watch the final seasons of either. I have slightly more patience for television shows than I do for books, mostly because I am usually multi-tasking something else while watching them. Movies, on the other hand, especially ones I’ve gone to the theatre to see, have a tremendous capacity to irritate me – Prometheus, Dark Knight Rises, I’m looking at you – again because of the time I’ve devoted to them. Time is my most precious commodity. I don’t have enough of it, and can never get any more of it, so if I feel it’s been wasted … grrrrr. If you’re wanting recommendations, two exceptional films I’ve seen this year have been Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy and the Fincher remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Unfortunately, a lot of the TV shows I begin watching, often with great enthusiasm, tend to go off the boil. Or else I just get tired of them. Long seasons and open-ended narrative arcs that go on forever require tremendous stamina on the part of both the producers and the audience, and rarely does that seem to pay off for me. I really liked Dexter to begin with, for example, as well as True Blood, Battlestar Galactica and Fringe (once I got through the problematic first season), but pretty much abandoned them all. I get bored easily I guess, and simply amping up the (often artificial) mystery and melodrama isn’t going to keep my attention. Personal taste plays a strong part in this, of course, as I don’t tend to read a lot of series or trilogies either. Whether they’re on the page or on the screen, I tend to prefer my stories discrete and self-contained; stories I can read/watch fairly quickly and then continue on to something new and often different. Hence my favourite TV shows are usually those with fewer episodes and/or seasons, or self-contained episodic or seasonal stories. Some I would recommend would be Black Mirror, Dead Set, Afterlife, Luther, American Horror Story, The Wire, and Treme. Oh, and Black Books for comic relief, of course. I manage to re-watch that at least once a year.

 

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? The same could probably be said for horror. What is your take on this?

I do think there’s a difference in the way men and women write all sorts of things, fantasy and horror definitely included. This most likely comes down to gender socialisation and cultural issues, rather than biology, although it’s all interwoven to some extent. That’s not to say that it’s always, or even often, possible to pick the gender of an author from the works they have written, but generally speaking there are distinct differences. Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy in many ways: in the types of writing publishers and readers expect from different genders; in the allowances and authority that will be granted to one gender over another depending on genre, theme, character, subject matter, etc; and in the ways that writers of different genders shape their own work, consciously or otherwise, to suit (or counter) such expectations.

It’s complicated, and problematic, and not an issue that’s likely to be resolved any time soon. And the fact that it needs to be resolved is salient in itself. If we were dealing with a simple observation or acknowledgement that men and women (let alone more fluid gender identities) write differently, then okay, fine, whatever. The greater problem is with the values and judgements that then become associated with the perception (valid or otherwise) of this difference. And the number of surveys, and studies, and statistical analyses that have been published recently do appear to support the argument that women writers, and genres in which women writers comprise the majority voice, are still considered lesser than their male counterparts. (And it’s much worse when it comes to matters of race and culture, let’s not forget that.)

The Horror genre undoubtedly has an image problem. Part of that is the large amount of bad – and badly written/produced – books and movies that focus on, shall we say, the more gratuitous and misanthropic, if not downright misogynistic, end of the genre. That’s not for everyone, granted, although there is some very fine work being done in these areas that tends to be overlooked among the chaff. But perhaps the real problem is a definitional one, and the narrowing effect that the genre is suffering right now. After all, if you decide that all the interesting, challenging, intelligent and well-written books are “too good” to be called Horror, and that Horror is merely a genre made of stories where women are raped, tortured or killed, then of course Horror is going to be maligned, derided and snubbed. And a lot of female writers are probably going to decide that such a genre is not for them, or at least that what they write isn’t Horror. QED.

Horror is a broad and slippery genre that gets its, ahem, tentacles into everything. It isn’t just tortureporn or splatterpunk, and never was; these are just two or many subgenres that Horror has the capacity to contain if it is allowed to. It’s written by men and it’s written by women, and it’s a stronger, more nuanced genre for it. After all, a significant portion of what human beings find horrific, terrifying or dread-inspiring, is gender specific. We need all these stories, and we need to acknowledge them as Horror – no matter which subgenre they inhabit along the way. A little more racial/cultural diversity wouldn’t hurt either, not-so-quietly speaking.

 

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

It almost certainly does, and probably in ways of which I’m not entirely conscious, especially when it’s an author I’m unfamiliar with. Specifically, I know I generally feel like I’ll have a better time with female characters in a book if it’s been written by a woman. Of course, this isn’t always the case and women are more than capable of writing awful, stereotypical, angry-making representations of their own gender. But the expectation is there, to be fulfilled or otherwise depending on the quality of the book.

I’m sure there are many more unacknowledged expectations I have in regards to the author’s gender, but other preconceptions are often more prominent in my mind. What genre it falls into, what I’ve been told about it in advance – it’s very rare for me to pick up a book completely on spec these days – and even why I’ve decided to read it in the first place, which might actually include the author’s gender as a motivating factor.

Actually, there’s one more very specific thing of which I’ve become keenly aware – with a first person narrative, especially if it’s a short story in an anthology, these days I will tend to automatically gender the narrator in line with the author. It’s an improvement of sorts from when I was in my teens and twenties and would find myself automatically defaulting male in any first person narrative – a by product of my heavily male-oriented literary diet back then, no doubt. But it’s interesting, if a little depressing, to find that assigning gender to a character straight out of the gate is still something that my mind obviously demands. Then again, English is a highly gendered language, as is our culture, and gender often is the first marker we  seek in our interactions with each other. We really, really need a good quality set of gender neutral pronouns, don’t we?

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’m going to sound a little boring here, but I honestly wouldn’t book any kind of trip in a time machine. It’s far too dangerous to go into the past and accidentally mess things up, and I don’t think I really want to know exactly what the future holds. It’s more fun to find out the old fashioned way, by living through it.

Unless, wait … how about I keep my free ticket on hand for those awful times when you say or do something you immediately wish you could undo. Like having a “restore saved game” function for real life. That’d be neat. But, again, I’d have to use it as soon as I wanted to reset something or else, you know, that whole messing with the past thing. I’ve read the books, and seen the movies. That never ends well!

Look out for Kirstyn’s new book Perfections .

perfections_cover

 

 

Catch up with Kirstyn and Ian’s Podcasts here

Catch up with Kirstyn on GoodReads

Catch up at Kirstyn’s blog

Catch up with Kirstyn on Twitter @fearofemeralds

 

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My Next Big Thing…

Last week Cheryse Durant tagged me on her blog, as part of a chain of author recommendations called The Next Big Thing. Today it’s my turn to reciprocate and to pass on the torch. I’m going to answer questions about my new project King Rolen’s Kin Book Four . Then I’m going to tag some wonderful authors who will tell you about their Next Big Thing on Wednesday 12th of December. (Here are the other authors who are blogging today on their Next Big Thing: LJ Smith, Kallee BuchananChris McMahon and Keren K)

PS. Regarding my Next Big Thing.  I really had trouble deciding between the book that will be released tomorrow, The King’s Man and the book I’m currently writing. In the end I decided to talk about how writing The King’s Man influenced writing KRK4.

PPS. This blog post contains spoilers if you haven’t read the first KRK trilogy.


Q: What is the working title of your next book?

At this point Solaris Press want to call KRK4 King Breaker (or maybe King-breaker). I wanted to use words associated with kings and royalty, since this was the title theme of the King Rolen’s Kin trilogy.

Q: Where did the idea for the book come from?

I always knew there was going to be more KRK because when book three of the trilogy ended Byren had dealt with one of the Big Bads (as they’d say on Buffy) but the other villain still lived and sat on his father’s throne.

The problem was, I didn’t know how any of this was going to unfold. Then a friend* who had read KRK said to me, ‘Garzik can’t be dead. He just can’t.’ And I realised he wasn’t. And just like that I had the premise for The King’s Man ebook, released 6th December.

*The King’s Man is dedicated to: Leanne, who refused to believe that Garzik was dead.

Q: How did writing a book about Garzik help you write KRK4?

In the writing of The King’s Man I explored the larger world and having a richer world opened up more narrative possibilities. I am a voracious reader, which helps with world building.

I’ve always been fascinated by how societies evolve. What seems perfectly normal to us would be unthinkable to people at some other time, in some other place.

For instance, in Tibet they practice a much more varied form of marriage than we do. Two or more brothers* will marry one woman. All the children the woman has will be regarded as the children of the marriage. Because of the harsh conditions people need a certain amount of land to survive. If each of the brothers took a wife for themselves and had children, the family land would be broken up in the following generation and become non-viable. This would cause rivalry within the extended family. Their society evolved these customs over time to survive and it all seems perfectly normal to them because, for them, it is.

*This is a simple example. For more detail read Stratification, Polyandry, and Family Structure in Central Tibet by Melvin Goldstien.


Q: Speaking of world building, you explored a very differently structured society in The Outcast Chronicles and in KRK one of the central characters is gay. Were you worried that people would be offended? And why write about sexuality?

Some people were offended. There was one reviewer who said they refused to read KRK book one once they realized Orrade was gay. So far the reviews of OC have been positive, but I’m sure some people will find the way the mystics live in sisterhoods and brotherhoods confronting but just like the people of Tibet, the mystics’ society is logical for them.

And I write about sexuality (among other things) because I write about the human condition. I believe that fantasy can take a mirror and hold it to the world to make us question our assumptions.

Our world is a lot larger and more amazing than people realize, and I do my research. Things are never as simple as they first appear. For instance there are straight men go in search of gay sex* for various reasons. For one thing it is much easier than chatting up a woman, as there are no complications since both parties know what they want. For another, some men rationalize it as not cheating on their wife or girlfriend.

Sexuality and the search for love is one of our primal drives. If I avoided it, I would not be writing honestly. I would be skimming over the surface and the act of writing would feel unsatisfying for me. Besides, sometimes it is good for us to be confronted.

*For more information on this see Dr Joe Kort’s articles here.

Q: There are some confronting things in The King’s Man. How has this book been received?

The book will be officially released tomorrow but the first review is already up. I have a beta reader in one of my adult sons. He is a keen fantasy reader and he’s my target audience. If he doesn’t understand something or he wants to know more about it, I will elaborate. He reads most of my books before I send them to my publisher.

 

Q: After all that serious stuff, here’s a fun question. If you found yourself in a lift with a movie director you admire and had the chance to pitch your book to them, what would you say and who would that director be?

I’d say: I write rollicking fantasy that keeps readers up all night. But underneath all that adventure and fun King Breaker is about the price we are willing to pay to achieve our ambition and asks is it worth it?

And my dream director would be Allan Ball because of his wicked sense of humour in True Blood and Six Feet Under, or Peter Jackson because he is a consummate story teller, or Guillermo de Toro because of his lyrical vision in Pan’s Labyrinth.


Q: It’s been a busy year for you with four books coming out. How do you find the time to write?

Actually, it’s been five books this year – The Outcast Chronicles trilogy and The King’s Man, (both fantasy) and my paranormal crime, The Price of Fame. Plus I’ve been cleaning up my original trilogy, (new title The Fall of Fair Isle) to re-release it some time next year. (When I get the chance).

I’m an Associate Lecturer, we’ve been madly renovating, we have six children (the last one just finished high school) so it has been a really hectic couple of years. But the thing that keeps me sane is writing. This is what fascinates me, exploring worlds via character. If you took this person and put them in this situation what would they do? What would they learn about themselves? That is the core of why I write.

Q: When will we see King Breaker? And what will be your Next Big Thing?

I’ll hand the book into Solaris in May and it is scheduled for release late in 2013.

As to my Next Big Thing… there have been a lot of comments on my blog asking for more Outcast Chronicles and I find this series compulsive, so I will probably dive back into the OC.

 

And here are the authors I’d like to introduce. They will be blogging next Wednesday (12th December), when they talk about their Next Big Thing:

Lee Battersby, author of The Corpse-Rat King and its sequel Marching Dead, lives in Western Australia. He has had over 70 short stories published and won numerous awards.

 

 

 

AA Bell, author of the Diamond Eyes trilogy of SF & Fantasy thrillers. Twice winner of the prestigious Hemming Award for Excellence… Website and blog.

 

 

 

Glenda Larke is an Australian living in Malaysia, an rainforest environmentalist who has worked in avifaunal conservation. She’s also author of three fantasy trilogies and a standalone fantasy novel, seven of which have been shortlisted for the Aurealis Best Fantasy Novel of the Year.

 

 

Gail Z. Martin is the author of Ice Forged in her new The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books), plus The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven & Dark Lady’s Chosen ) and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn  and The Dread).  Gail blogs at www.DisquietingVisions.com, and her web site in www.AscendantKingdoms.com.

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Off to the Gold Coast Writers Festival Tomorrow…

The Gold Coast is a beautiful place, beaches, sunshine and the hinterland of subtropical rain forest. Tomorrow I’ll be doing what I love almost as much as writing, I’ll be talking about writing at the Gold Coast Writers Festival. Saturday’s events are being held at the Robina Community Centre.

Here’s the program. They ran workshops today.

I get to hang out with a bunch of fellow writers and talk shop. I’ll be looking out for Anita Bell, Sandy Curtis and Louise Cusack, all old friends. And I’ll get to meet Jill Smith and Tony Cavanaugh who will be on panels with me. And I’ll see Meg Vann who is now CEO of the QLD Writers Centre.

Of course I’ve been doing my homework. I’ve read Tony’s very intense thriller, Promise.

And this is after several weeks of teaching, painting bedrooms for my in-laws who are coming to visit and a week of marking.  A day on the coast with a bunch or writers and readers sound like just what I need!

That’s me… Have to mark one more assessment…

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Gold Coast Writers Festival

Coming up soon is the GOLD COAST WRITERS FESTIVAL 26 – 28th October, which promises to be heaps of fun. Not only is it held in my old stomping ground – I grew up on the Gold Coast back when it was fibro shacks, sand and surf – but there’s a bunch of great writers who will be talking about books and writing. My idea of a good day out. It will be held (mostly) at the Robina Commuity Centre.  Here’s the program.

Saturday, 27th October, at 10am I’m on a Crime and Thriller panel with Sandy CurtisTony Cavanaugh and Meg Vann (chair).

The Thrill of the Chase – will be about writing crime and thrillers. You don’t have to commit a murder to write about it, but how do crime and mystery writers writers research?

 

At 4pm Fantasy and Sci-Fi panel with Anita BellJill Smith and Angelika Heurich (chair).

Fantasy and Sci-Fi – we’ll be talking about the relevance of this genre, its popularity and the challenge of researching invented worlds.

Me when I was 7 with my cat, Zorro. (Yes, I was a hopeless romantic adventurer even then)

I must admit, when I think of the sunburnt girl who grew up on the Gold Coast, loved reading books and dreaming of amazing adventures, I wish I could go back and tell her, believe in yourself, one day you’ll be a published writer, invited to appear at literary events. She would never have believed me. We had one bookshelf in the whole house and it held, maybe a dozen books. I remember being desperate for things to read… Now I can open my Nexus, put in an author’s name and download their latest book in a matter of seconds. Wow… I’m living in the future!

If you live in south east Queensland or  northern NSW come along to the Gold Coast Writers Festival and say Hi.

 

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Juliet Marillier talks about creating Fantasy Worlds…

A whole new world?   

Ask dedicated readers of fantasy, and epic fantasy in particular, what makes a book special for them, and I’d guess a majority would place good world-building high on the list. I’m talking about novels in which the secondary world is so well realised and so expertly woven into the story that the reader becomes immersed in it within the first few pages: a world that’s convincing, consistent and fascinating. Its parameters and its quirks won’t be set out for us in long passages of descriptive exposition, but will be integral to the plot and will emerge as the story unfolds.

Many fantasy worlds are loosely based on medieval Europe – horse transport, sword fights, kings and queens. Some are more exotic, like the version of feudal Japan that provides the setting for Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori. A writer who knows her history can play boldly with it, as Jacqueline Carey does in her Kushiel’s Legacy series. Some worlds have in-built anachronisms, as in steampunk; some add extras to known history (Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series does the Napoleonic wars with dragons.) Since we’re talking fantasy, it’s often a world in which systems of magic are a key plot element – think Garth Nix’s Sabriel series or the Britain of Hogwarts.

My novels are generally classified as historical fantasy – they contain elements of the uncanny, but they are set in ‘real world’ times and places. Known world events, such as Viking voyages to the north of Scotland or merchant trading between Romania and Turkey, take place in the background while the (fictional) story of the book unfolds. I do almost as much research for each book as I would if I were writing a straight historical novel – history, geography, flora and fauna, culture, language. And most important of all, mythology and folklore, since that’s where the fantasy elements of my books begin. I’ve written eleven adult novels and two books for young adults more or less on this model.

My new novel, Shadowfell, steps outside that framework. It’s the first book I’ve chosen to set in a ‘made-up world’.

So how did I go about creating this world? You won’t need to delve too deep to work out that the uncanny characters of the Shadowfell series, the Good Folk, are based on Scottish folklore, and that the realm of Alban is an alternative, magical version of ancient Scotland. History it ain’t. It’s a Scotland that never was, in which men and women mingle with a race of magical beings who inhabit the high mountains, the lonely lochs and the deep caves; a Scotland steeped in the uncanny. The map of Alban does resemble the Great Glen area, but it’s not a perfect match by any means. The human characters’ names are a blend of Scots and Pictish; the clans of Good Folk take their names from nature so, for instance, the mountain clan are named for Scots alpine plants – Hawkbit, Woodrush, Twayblade – and the fighting clan of the north, whom we meet in the second book, have names like Stack, Grim and Scar. The Good Folk speak Scots dialect – I must have absorbed a lot of the language growing up in Dunedin, New Zealand, as those characters’ speech pretty much wrote itself.

Creating the world of Shadowfell was deeply rewarding; a bit like going home after half a lifetime away. But for me a compelling story and engaging characters are far more important than world building. In Shadowfell, I set out to write a story about being brave when your world is falling apart; about finding your strength when you are at your very lowest; about having hope when you’ve suffered more blows than you can count. The protagonist, Neryn, starts the story alone, penniless and on the run. She’s not a ballsy superwoman; she’s tired, hungry and afraid. Alban is in the grip of a tyrant. It’s a place where speaking out for justice means your door gets kicked in and your family dragged away in the middle of the night. It’s a place where a magical gift such as Neryn’s must be hidden if a person wants to survive. It takes phenomenal courage to stand up to that kind of repression. Shadowfell is about finding that kind of courage.

 

Juliet has a copy of Shadowfell to give-away to an Australian or New Zealand reader. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Meet Kathleen Jennings….

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the World Fantasy nominee Kathleen Jennings who is both a writer and an artist to drop by. 

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: In 2009 you won the Inaugural Kris Hembury Encouragement Emerging Writers and Artists Award. Kris attended one of the EnVisions (a mentoring workshop for writers) and worked on the Fantastic Qld committee as well as serving as president for the Vision Writers group. He had such a dry sense of humour. As an emerging writer and artist how did winning this award impact on you?

Kris was a friend, and so it was quite emotional and a huge honour – that’s the personal impact. As a writer and artist, the impact was in realising that what I did was in some way seen by other people. Both writing and art can be (to varying extents) highly subjective pursuits, and realising that it isn’t all happening only in my own head is like opening a window and getting fresh air. I think that sort of combined shout of “we see you!” and “come on in, the water’s fine!” from people further out is a big gift more experienced people can give to those just starting. And one of the best compliments I can give the SF writing scene in Australia is that I have always found them very warm, tolerant and encouraging to awkward and easily startled beginners.

Q: Kathleen has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award in the Art section. When you were a child did you ever think you’d be nominated for the World fantasy Art Award and do your parents finally believe you’re a ‘real’ artist now?

I never even dreamed about it! I recall planning to be an author, or a champion poultry-breeder, or something like that.

As for my parents, they always thought of me as a real writer, so I think the art just required a slight readjustment. I suspect they are slightly disappointed that now they just get to show their friends copies of my pictures, instead of holding them down and reading high-school essays to them. They are recovering gracefully, and fantasy art is sometimes more generally socially acceptable than fantasy writing, but I suspect they’d really like to see my art on a book with my name on it.

Q: Your short stories have appeared in ‘Antipodean SF, the Shadow Box anthology, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #41 and #52,  After the RainLight Touch Paper Stand Clear and a comic in Candlewick Press’ Steampunk!.’ You were the president of the Vision writers group  in 2009, 2010 and 2011. How useful is belonging to a group for the development of a writer?

I found it very useful – it’s another of those things which teaches a distinction between subjective and objective assessment of my work. It took me out of my own head (and writhing self-referential angst) and taught me how to write better, how to be dispassionate about editing (this lesson hasn’t entirely taken yet), how to put my work out there and receive comment on it, and also how to tell the difference between genuine constructive criticism and the personal taste of the reader. But more importantly, it was the beginning of a great many friendships and personal and professional connections, as all the people grew up and out and graduated into new stages of their careers, new pursuits and interests, sharing dreams and ideas and projects. I remember Catherynne Valente wrote a beautiful review of Midnight in Paris, and said of the dream it shows of the literary/artistic scene in 1920s Paris, that as writers “this is what we are meant to get instead of health insurance!”. And it is, but we also get to build it fresh each time for ourselves.

Jason Nahrung

Q: You have done covers and illustrations for Small Beer Press, Subterranean Press, Fablecroft Press, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Ticonderoga Publications, Odyssey Press and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild as well as individual commissions. Can you walk us through how someone would approach you to commission work?

It starts with an email or a twitter message, although sometimes there have been oblique advance hints given at a convention or over coffee. I panic (either from surprise or scheduling) then say yes, give a quote (once there’s enough information) and get the brief. This includes dimensions, details of style, particular limitations, directions the publisher/client would like to go in and the date. The date is very important! “As soon as possible” is not a date, it is a shifting target on the far side of other dates (this is a public service announcement, in case I forget to ask for one: everyone is happier with dates!). There is a varying degree of freedom – anything from “whatever you want” to “precisely these scenes”. For covers, I do like some idea of preference or at least direction. It helps to narrow my focus and the restrictions give more scope for creativity. Also, the cover is for marketing as well as decoration, and it’s good to know what the publisher’s thoughts are in that direction. Good art direction is invaluable. Then I read the manuscript (although once or twice this hasn’t been an option), weep, angst, do several thumbnail sketches, send them for approval and – sometimes after some back-and-forth (usually by email, rarely and delightfully over coffee) – get started on the final sketch which will develop into the final artwork.

 

Q: I used to work as a graphic artist illustrating children’s books and write. I eventually found the answer to the question: Was I an artist who wrote, or a writer who drew? (See Kathleen’s sketch books). Which do you see yourself as? And do you think it matters?

I see myself as a storyteller (or at least, a lover of stories) who works in words and pictures. My favourite works in all media (art, writing, music, architecture, landscape gardening…) either tell, suggest or provide scope for a story. When I write, I sometimes plot in pictures. When I draw, I try to get a story in there (at least in my mind) – something beyond the purely ornamental. Oddly, although I enjoy comics, I prefer heavily illustrated prose at present – possibly due to circumstances surrounding the last comic work I did (mild heat stroke at one end and floods at the other)! Perhaps the illustrated novel gives more scope for imagination in the space between words and text? I have not analysed this yet.

I do find it difficult to do both, but this is purely because of time constraints (I have a day job, and there are more art deadlines). The writing gets done but I am learning that I have to be much more structured to make the editing happen. But it is happening!

Art and writing complement each other well. It’s nice to be able to switch when I get plunged into creative despair in one area. But I also harbour the hope that the rise of ebooks will somehow elevate the importance of beautifully produced hard-copy books, with elegant design, typography, illustrations, initial capitals and endpapers.

Also, it’s beautiful to be able to interact with my favourite writers as an artist, and my favourite artists as a writer, because that’s pretty much the only way I’m able to string two words together in their presence.

 

 

Q: You have said your influences are Brett, Leyendecker and Sender. I love Leyendecker’s work. (He did the Arrow Shirt adverts and many covers for American Weekly). Eg. Having struggled to make ends meet as an illustrator, this picture is one of my Leyendecker favourites:

Of course, Leyendecker was highly successful and made a good living from his art. But that was back in the day when the American Weekly needed painted covers. (It was also back in the day when a short story writer could make a living as a writer). What is it about Leyendecker’s art that appeals to you?

Truthfully, it’s the hard edge he gives to paintings of soft curls. I had a book of fairytales when I was little, and the illustrations had a similar amazing richness – the “Cinderella” was the three-ball version, each dress was more beautiful and gold-embroidered than the last, but mostly I remember the angular painting of the hair, and the square toes of the stepsisters’ satin shoes. When I discovered Leyendecker, I fell in love with him for that. I also love the visible brush-strokes in sleek pictures, the combination of intense drama with dignity, and the sense that if he took himself seriously it wasn’t in a dull way – there’s this edge either of humour or superciliousness in the most elegant pictures which (for all the formal poses and decorative arrangements) adds tension and therefore an element of story to his pictures.

 

Q: You have done a series of cartoons with Daleks as the central theme (these were shortlisted for a Ditmar). Why Daleks?

They are simple and implacable, which makes them wonderful recurring villains: predictable, consistent, unstoppable. But – well, I never thought I’d draw a connection between Leyendecker and the Daleks! – there is a note in their voices that isn’t robotic. It isn’t “you will be assimilated”, it isn’t unvarying. There’s a rising note of anxiety to it, panic, real hatred. Inside those shells are these neurotic balls of intense, obsessive emotion. It creates that same Leyendecker tension between the presentation and underlying feeling. So – I’m a fan of Daleks.

As for the use of Daleks in the game (it was nearly, and may one day be, ducks) – I like parlour games, word games, lying-around-and-being-silly games, so tossing the Daleks (who didn’t do anything to deserve it) into a series of unlikely scenarios amused me vastly.

The rest of the game is an excuse to muse about books I love, or tropes in genre, or memories of reading around the table when I was growing up.

 

Q: Your art has been shortlisted for a Ditmar and won the Ditmar Award for: ‘Finishing School” in Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories’. Do you have a favourite amongst your covers or illustrations and if so, why?

Generally, the second-last one. The last one is a victim of temporary trauma-induced amnesia, the current one is just traumatic and I’ve learned so much in doing each cover that I get a little eye-twitch looking at some of the earlier ones! My favourite parts of covers are usually anything new I was allowed to get away with, and the back.

Among the covers, my current favourite is probably the cover for Subterranean Press’ 10th anniversary edition of Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen. I was very excited to be asked to draw it because I’m a big fan of Kelly’s writing (although I tend to write very fragmented stories after I’ve been reading hers – the structure of “Kindling” in Light Touch Paper Stand Clearwas a victim of speed-reading Stranger Things Happen for this cover), and then to be allowed to get away with a two-tone, wallpaper/toile effect that I’d been wanting to try! Also, there’s a lightness to the linework which I’m always working to achieve in finished work instead of just in sketches, and I’m still fond of the peacocks on the back cover. And I love the typography (which isn’t my doing!). It’s very gratifying to have good typography put with your art – I have a theory that good typography can save bad art, but good art can’t necessarily lift bad typography.

I’m still recovering from the trauma of Midnight and Moonshine, but I am very happy with how (under duress!) it developed the style which Small Beer Press and Sofia Samatar made me discover for A Stranger in Olondria. I learned a lot doing the cover for Olondria, and still view it through a filter of “if I were to do it again I’d…”, but there are parts of it of which I am excessively fond – certain squiggles of colour, the light through a window, the subject matter.

 

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 (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC (where the money is). Have you come across this in your professional life?

I haven’t directly. However, professionally I’ve been raised by writers, which in terms of my illustrations is basically like being raised by wolves. Also, although I’m very aware of the tensions in the comics worlds, I came into comics through short story anthologies so haven’t strayed into that scene. A lot of the women whose work I like are in the illustrative/graphic scene and there appears to be a lot of support and collaboration without regard to gender, so perhaps it is less gendered there? Also, with the fantasy side of illustration the delicate, elegant, beautiful and decorative is highly prized. You’d think something described with those words could easily be segregated into “women’s work” but isn’t at all (think Charles Vess!) and that’s wonderful. And even the sentimental end of that spectrum has a lot of men working in it so there doesn’t seem to be that danger of being “women’s art”. But again, I’m working mostly from printed evidence. I’ll be able to report further once I know more about that community.

 

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

I’m aware that I have held some of the prejudices I referred to in the answer above! I suspect these are hold-overs from some experiences in the writing scene. So I’m usually trying to hold these at bay, not get exasperated by sentimentality or chain mail bikinis as a knee-jerk reaction, or be thrilled at discovering a harder edge in a picture drawn by a woman, or sensible clothing in pictures drawn by a man. I draw sentimental pictures! I have drawn chain mail bikinis! And my favourite things – beauty anchored by fleshy reality or a low rumble of tension, ugliness liberated by common sense or incredible observation – appear in my favourite pictures by my favourite artists, and are usually fairly evenly gender-distributed.

 

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 don’t think about this much! My father discouraged my sister and I from saying “I wish”, because it meant we weren’t happy with the way things were. And if we said we weren’t happy, well then obviously something should be done about that. Which led to some interesting home alterations. However! although I’m fascinated by much of the past, it’s usually the inconvenient parts, and I’m a big fan of modern medicine, amenities and so forth (I get this from my mother, who refused to go camping as it was primitive enough at the house).

So where would I go? I think I already mentioned Midnight in Paris? But oh! I don’t know. Probably not the future (which is odd, because I always like to be very well prepared for upcoming adventures). So – yes – probably that threshold age of the 1920s, when the world was just becoming recognisably ours, and was damaged and new and leggy, hopeless, hopeful, decadent, rebuilding, pragmatic but still with an eye for beauty, taking to the skies. As for where – England for Sayers, or Melbourne for Lindsays, or anywhere with an active literary/artistic community.

Or else just an evening (last weekend, or the last convention, or home, or some recent café) full of conversation and pen-and-paper games, songs, plotting, coffee, cupcakes, genre snark, story-telling, cider, word origins and drawing on serviettes.

 

Give-away Question: How should words and pictures work together?

 

Give-away: A little ink drawing of a famous quote with a word replaced by “duck” (artist retains right of veto/negotiation on quote, because I don’t have time to draw 14 ducks again – you don’t realise how many ducks that is until you have to draw them, but it is a lot of ducks).

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Follow Kathleen on Twitter: @tanaudel

See Kathleen’s Blog

See Kathleen’s sketchbooks

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Comics/Graphic Novels, creativity, Fandom, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Inspiring Art

Meet Gillian Polack…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the ferociously well-read and talented Gillian Polack to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: Your new book, Ms Cellophane has come out through Momentum. ‘Part gentle love story, part bizarre horror tale, but never, ever boring, Ms Cellophane is a revealing look at one woman’s nightmare transforming her reality in unexpectedly amusing ways.’ What prompted you to write this book?

I went through my own cellophane phase when I turned forty. I was doing a great deal of work with women’s groups at the time and I saw just how many women had to learn how not to be cellophane. I also saw how little the wider world cared. Sorting this out in my mind wasn’t immediate – it took a few years. During that time a large number of people (including myself and several friends) took redundancy packages from the public service and discovered the wonder of new lifestyles on too little money (Canberra’s new ‘genteel’). Then I turned my mind to the sad neglect of Canberra as a location for fantasy novels and I realised that I owned a mirror that had a ghost story attached. At that moment, I suffered a plague of ants. I had no option left but to write the book I wrote!

Q: You have a Doctorate in History and an MA in Medieval Studies. You teach at the Australian National University You are known as a medieval food expert. You organised authentic historical banquets for the Canberra convention, Conflux, for a number of years. I remember going to a talk at a conference where you handed out samples for us to try! What led you into history, specifically the middle ages and food?

History has been one of my passions since I was quite young. When I was eight I knew that my adult life had to include both history and the writing of fiction and that it wasn’t going to be an easy road.

My fascination with history is with people and with their lives. Not the biographies, but the daily lives. How do people think? What do they think about? What hero-tales do they know? What food do they eat? What books do they read and what songs do they sing? Do they dance in halls or in graveyards? I always have ten thousand questions I want to ask, even as I learn more and more.

I didn’t actually specialise in the Middle Ages until my fourth year at university. I learned Old French language and literature, but my major included Roman history and French history and pre-Classical antiquity and in Church history and in the history of magic. When I had to come up with a topic for my honours thesis, though, I realised that I had a terribly important question I needed to answer, and that the Middle Ages might have the answer.

This was 1982. Computers were changing our everyday. These days our culture has modified to encompass the process of change, but back then it was all wonderful and terrifying. I wanted to understand how societies adapted to such deep and fundamental change. I wanted to see where we were going and find mechanisms for interpreting my own changing reality.

The High Middle Ages had more books and growing literacy and, in fact, experienced this same style of change. The changes themselves were different, of course, and somewhat slower, but the effects were no less deep. Since that decision – which was made while Geoffrey Blainey and I were sitting on the floor in his office, for all his chairs were covered with paper – I’ve been in the Middle Ages.

This isn’t food, is it? These days everyone knows me for the food history. I can teach people to understand culture and society far more easily using food than using almost anything else. It’s one of the areas I’ve researched and published (obviously) but it’s never been my main preoccupation. This amuses me, because I’ve taught more about food history than about most other kinds, and I had a paid food history blog for three years. And I quite obviously love my food history! But get me started on changes in perception of historical time in the twelfth century or on the development of epic heroes in the thirteenth, or on almost anything Arthurian, or on how we interpret different kinds of evidence, and you’ll discover that the food is just one of many, many loves.

Q: I see you are running a History for Fiction Writers workshop at the ACT Writers Centre in September. Does it drive you crazy when you see fiction books with really obvious errors? What’ s the most common error that fiction writers make, when creating secondary worlds based on Europe in the middle ages?

It drives me crazy when the errors are easy to avoid and when they break the feel that the universe of the book might be real. I don’t mind errors that are entirely in keeping with the story.

The most annoying error that many writers make is to assume that people who are from certain periods (especially the Middle Ages) are particularly stupid. My assumption when a writer does that is that they’re talking about their own ancestors, for my ancestors gave rise to a highly intelligent bunch of people and so must have been pretty bright.

The most common error is in high fantasy where a Medievalish background is set up without some basics. Inns need customers and can’t be too isolated and lonely. Towns need water, otherwise they’re dead towns. If all the local peasants are murdered by the evil lord, then there’s no-one to bring in the harvest. That sort of thing.

Q: You have dedicated a lot of time to supporting feminist/social awareness initiatives, serving on the committees of: the Australian NGO Working Group, UN World Conference Against Racism; the Ministerial Advisory Council on Women, ACT; National Committee, Women’s History Month, Australia 2000-2004 and Status of Women Chair, National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (1991-1999). From this I’m guessing you feel you have to ‘give back’. You are Jewish. I had a friend who lost all of her family except for her mother and father, and I think an uncle, in the Second World War. Her father searched Europe after the war and eventually found her mother. Do your family have harrowing tales to tell? Scientists now know that the experiences of parents and grandparents can be passed down to their descendants through epi-genetics. Do you feel an echo of the events of mid-last century?

All my family was in Australia by around 1917. Some of it came out much earlier. We weren’t missed (alas) by the pogroms and, in fact, have a family story about the Kishinev pogroms. My great-great grandfather was attacked and, with his broken leg, told his children to flee. And they did. The only child who died in a concentration camp was the one who didn’t flee far enough. We were the lucky ones. On all sides of my family, we were the lucky ones. We only went through the normal Jewish suffering, not the Shoah. In fact, one of my great-uncles died fighting over France. I still think that epigenetics have affected us, because persecution didn’t start and end with Hitler, but that’s another story.

In terms of the ‘giving back’ – it’s more than that. I come from a profoundly Australian Jewish family. I was taught that it’s my obligation to make sure that the world is a better place for me being in it. How I do it is up to me, but the way I was taught to improve the world (‘tikkun olam’) was through committees and with food. If there’s a Jewish family CWA member type, it’s from our mob.

I feel really bad when I’m not doing something positive, but it doesn’t have to be activist work or charity work. It can be helping new writers or mentoring. It can be feeding the tired or cheering the miserable or creating things of beauty. I just ended up on committees (and helped found Women’s History Month in the process) because I am, unfortunately for me, good on committees.

Q: You 2002 novel, Illuminations, combines Authurian legend with modern times. I suppose as a historian you are fascinated by the glimpses we have of ‘Arthur’.

Absolutely. The type of historian I am (and Arthuriana is one of my playgrounds) adores tracing ideas and characters and seeing just who has done what with them. This is not an uncommon trait for Medievalists and I’ve noticed that, while I watch out for daft Robin Hood paraphernalia for a US scholar, a Sydney academic found me a copy of A Connecticut Fashionista in King Arthur’s Court. I’m capable of being impossibly technical and also of being impossibly silly on the subject. It’s one of my secret joys.

Q: When talking about your book, Life through Cellophane in a guest post on Mary Victoria’s blog you say: ‘ .the deeds of men are interesting and the lives of women are mundane. Women are allowed to change the world, but we’re expected to do it one cup of tea at a time . I write those cups of tea. Because I’m another of those women who find everyone’s lives fascinating and their own rather dull, and I want to show myself and the world that we’re all wrong. In finding the strangeness of mirrors and the joys of dressing up, in searching out the magic lying underneath the ordinary, I can find the glamour in lives like mine.’ Fascinating, but I still can’t tell what the book is about. (By the way, it appears to have sold out. Will there be a reprint?)

The reprint came out on 1 July!

The book was killed immediately after the first print run sold out. Borders took Eneit Press down with them. Momentum (the new PanMacmillan imprint) have taken it on and renamed it Ms Cellophane. I don’t know if they know what it’s about, either, however.

For me, it’s the story of Liz, who faces the miserable truth of cellophane, encounters magic, finds romance and has a very, very strange year.

Q: I believe you have a new book due out, The Art of Effective Dreaming. Is this a work of fiction or non-fiction? Can you tell us a little about it?

It’s my cursed novel! It’s been coming out for several years now. It has killed several computers and nearly killed my poor publisher several times. It has been hit by three hurricanes and an unknown number of earthquakes. (This description is literal – it really has experienced some interesting events.) I hope that one day the curse is overcome, for it’s a quest fantasy, with someone stepping into an alternate world and encountering a sad lady, a mysterious stranger, dead morris dancers and bizarre magic powers. It contains many folksongs.

Q: You are also an editor. You’ve edited for the Canberra SF Guild anthologies and for Eneit Press, and you work as a freelance editor. Do you find it hard to switch off the internal editor, when you write fiction?

I don’t quite edit in the way most editors do, so I don’t have that problem. Each story or novel is different and each of them needs a different approach. The question is not what I can correct or what changes I can suggest, but what tools each writer needs to bring their writing to take it where it can go. One poor writer gets a three hour phonecall, another gets coffee and cake and I whip out my whiteboard, while still another gets a chatroom and another gets lengthy discussion about white space and punctuation. One writer discovers Evil Editor, where I push harder and harder until they confront the dark stuff they need to make the story what it can be (and the writer reading this will know I’m talking about her – I was so tough on her!!). One writer in fifteen gets old-fashioned markup.

Writers tend to want to work with me again, so my system may sound a bit strange and unpredictable, but it’s effective. The range of my approaches means that it doesn’t affect my writing at all. This is a shame for there are definitely times when I could do with the Evil Editor and we all need the Great Punctuation Lecture at times.

Q: When talking about your historical research you say: A filter of our personal experience and how we interpret it applies to everything we do, and everything we select. The trouble with this cultural approach is that it opens the door to an avalanche of information. The minute you try to sort out what the filters are, you open those doors. And that is what my research is about – and what a lot of my teaching is concerned with. Sorting out that avalanche of information and making sense of it. Trying to work out how it affects our lives, and where we fit with our pasts. This sounds fascinating. Can you give us an example of what you mean?

My favourite example is when you set the table for dinner. Why the table? Why not the floor? Why those chairs? Why cutlery? Why crockery? Every single element of that set table has filters applied, and those filters are shared by most of the people likely to eat that dinner with you. If you know where those filters come from (England in the sixteenth century might have laid a similar table, for instance, but not Japan in the fourth) then you can find out more about who you are and where you come from and begin to understand things more deeply. Not the physical-you, but the cultural-you. It’s what helps shape our decisions and gives us the capacity to interpret the world.

Q: In a guest post on Sue Bursztybski’s blog talking about a short story you say: I also wanted to learn about Jewish magic. Jewish magic is considered special, historically. In the Renaissance, Jewish magicians were thought to be somehow stronger, more connected with the esoteric. I know something about Medieval*** and even Renaissance magic and I thought “What if I extrapolate? What if I bring the Jewish magic systems forward from the fifteenth century and maybe earlier and turn them into an almost-lost family tradition?” Sounds like a great premise for a book. Are you tempted to take this idea further?

I’ve taken it further. I’ve written the book. Finding it a home has not, however, quite happened. When I find a publisher for my Sydney feminist Jewish magic wielder, I’ll let you know!

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’d want a time machine where I could see but not be seen. I have this deep distrust of the things! I can say this, but I don’t actually have a single particular place and time in mind. I have so many places and times I want to see and to compare and to find out about. I think I’d better make up an itinerary. A very, very long itinerary.

 

Gillian has some bookplates to give away, so here’s the Give-away Question:

What should Gillian put on her time travel itinerary, and why?

 

Follow Gillian on Twitter: @GillianPolack

See Gillian’s LJBlog

Catch up with Gillian on GoodReads

Catch up with Gillian on Linked-in

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Filed under Australian Writers, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Historical Books, Writers and Redearch

Busy writer has been busy…

Just one more blog post…

Here’s a round up of recent posts.

Fantasy Book Critic: The Power of Story

Louise Cusack’s Workshop Wednesday: Worldbuilding – you need a flypaper mind.

Over on Book Chick City: Writing, Parting Inspiration, Part Perspiration

On the Galaxy blog I ask: Is Fantasy Evolving?

On Narrelle Harris (The Daggy Vamp) I’m interviewed about The Price of Fame, Punk Rock, Street Kids and Music.

Mervi’s Book Reviews: Are we Hardwired for Violence?

Guest post Falcata Times: Setting Stories Free of Genre

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Fantasy books, Genre, Nourish the Writer, Resonance