Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.
Q: I notice that you were ‘a weedy, asthmatic kid who devoured books like dinner.’ Kate Forsyth had a speech impediment and lost herself in books. I was a fat kid who no one would play with, so I lost myself in books. Do you think this ability to be totally immersed in an invented world, then go on to create invented worlds of our own arises from loneliness in childhood?
I’d lay bets on it.
Q: You’ve lived rough, close to the land: ‘For a while I lived on a farm by a river where I learnt to crutch sheep with hand shears, raise poddy calves and hypnotize chooks.’ Does this inspire your writing?
Yes. It’s the things that live at the bottom of the garden of my psyche that I inevitably plunder in my fiction.
Q: I see you did a Bachelor of Music. My daughter did a BA at the Con in Jazz voice. By the time she finished she’d lost her love of music (fortunately, it came back). Have you gone back to music? Are you one of these writers who create a play-list for your current work-in-progress and use it to get into the right frame of mind?
I won’t ever go back to playing classical music. It’s not that I don’t love it; it’s that I’ve loved it too much. The pressure of performance and desire for perfection nearly killed me. I don’t tend to write with music, but I am one of those people who play music REALLY loud in their car. Bach, Gesualdo, Pärt, Snow Patrol, Lamb, Adele: all loud.
Q: You wrote a theatre pieces for ‘dancer, light and shadow’. My uncle danced with QLD Ballet Theatre. Did you have a background in dance? Was that what drew you to write this piece? Do you have a recording of it or has it been lost in time?
My background was in gymnastics and physical theatre, so you could say I was used to choreographing movement. The aesthetic of dance fitted the vision I had for The City of Midnight: a numinous space where sound and solo performer folded in and out of light and dark. And yes, it’s recorded for posterity…just not on YouTube.
Q: Your short stories have been well received, with an Aurealis win and several final listings, as well as Stella’s Transformation appearing in Year’s Best Fantasy 2005 and several stories appearing in Australia’s Year’s Best SF and Fantasy. Just as some stories have a natural length do you think some writers have a length that suits them best?
Before The Daughters of Moab, I didn’t know whether I could write to novel length—I thought I was more suited to haiku. But the story led the way. Now, whenever I return to writing short fiction, I’m reminded of how much I enjoy the challenge of a compact story arc. I like creating a world that fits perfectly in a teacup.
Q: Your first book The Daughters of Moab was forged in the fires of Varuna Writers Retreat. But seriously, you did work on it at the writers retreat. Can you tell us a little about this experience? I’ve always thought it was be heaven.
The Varuna Retreat Fellowship struck the perfect balance for me: the solitude and calm of writing all day (and yes, I did!) followed by the companionship and sociability of other writers in the evening. This suited me better than the routine of ClarionSouth, which I went to in 2004. The Clarionettes, as I like to call them, would be the first to tell you that I was uncomfortable group critiquing early-stage and unfinished stories. For me, letting a story out into the world before it’s ready tends to oxidise and spoil it like a piece of fruit.
Q: There seems to be a playing with gender in The Daughters of Moab, is this something you like to explore?
Yes, there is. And yes, I do.
Q: Your next book The Courier’s New Bicycle is due out in 2011. Is it also a ‘poetic apocalyptic’ book?
Upfront, I should say that The Courier’s New Bicycle is neither fantasy nor apocalyptic—even the poetic has been swapped for pacy. This is a very fast ride compared to The Daughters of Moab. Salisbury Forth is a courier of contraband in an atmospheric but ailing Melbourne at a time of major socio-political change. The first review (Australian Bookseller & Publisher, July) described it as “a disturbingly credible and darkly noir post-cyberpunk tale.” That makes me happy!
Q: I read your description of how the short story Nightship came to be, and found it riveting. When will we see the book?
It’s in gestation. Think an elephant’s gestation.
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 UK/US perception is news to me, but being in a club is not what makes a writer special. An individual’s prose style is moulded by such a complex array of things, one of which may or may not be their experience of maleness and/or femaleness. In other words, I don’t want to help reify that rather spurious divide.
Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?
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 go back to Britain at the time of the Picts, who painted themselves with woad. Love that blue.
Imagine a parcel that you are posting today to receive in ten years’ time. What would you put in it?
For a podcast of Nightship see here (skim down).