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Myles Ojabo, the slave experience, and the water goddess

Today I’m honoured to speak with Myles Ojabo, whose debut novel Black River was published earlier this year. I was very fortunate in being chosen to review Black River for Aurealis magazine, and very appreciative that Myles is able to be with me today to share some of his experiences in researching and writing his splendid novel. I used words like ‘energy and unending relevance’, as well as ‘complex, thoughtful, entertaining and pertinent’ in my review which can be found in Aurealis #123

Welcome, Myles, I’m very pleased to meet you. I thoroughly enjoyed your novel. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Myles: The novel Black River: An Account of Christmas Preacher, a Slave Freed is the creative component of my PhD study, completed at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. The novel comes out of my desire to fill both a symbolic and literary gap in my family history.

I came to New Zealand from Nigeria in 2011 to study. I completed a Masters of Creative Writing in 2013, which focused on the features and significance of the short story cycle, and the PhD came later on.  I met an African American man in my first year in New Zealand and we became friends. Our friendship often got me thinking about the historical impacts of slavery in our contemporary societies. When my African American friend told me about life in America, I saw a different but really fascinating black culture that originated from the continent of Africa. My thoughts often wandered back to days of my childhood, when my mother and father told us stories of some of our forebears who were taken as slaves. I wondered if some of my distant relatives could be living in America, Brazil, Cuba, or the Caribbean. I became interested in American slavery and its impact on black people. And the PhD in Creative Writing explored my own lineage in this regard.

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In the course of writing Black River, I carried out an ethnohistorical research on my own ethnicity, that is, of the Idoma people of Nigeria, and on American slave history. I also undertook a psychogeographical trip to America for the sole reason of visiting old slave plantations to confirm some information acquired from my ethnohistorical research. I tried to employ fantastical features when merging the history of my people with that of the African Americans. One legend vital to the novel is that of a forebear believed to have flown from slavery in America back to his village in Africa. Black River became a neo-slave narrative with supernatural elements that fills the literal gap in my family history. The novel has recently been nominated for the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Prize for prose fiction.  

Congratulations! That’s so fascinating. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

My protagonist, Christmas Preacher, sold into slavery as a boy, lives most of his life on American soil. A supernatural mermaid, Oda’nyaa, is bent on having him remain in America. She is irresistible and he often finds himself trapped by her seduction. On the other hand, Orinya, Christmas’s resurrected forebear, wants Christmas to return at a predestined time. Christmas is indecisive all through the novel.

For an African American writing about slavery, home in most cases is freedom. Some never get it. Some get it. The novels The Underground Railway by Colson Whitehead and Grace by Natasha Deon are good examples.  Both works, written by African Americans and published in 2016, depict enslaved blacks in America’s South heading North in pursuit of freedom. Africa is the mother continent to most black people around the world. In Black River, freedom is not depicted as home. Africa is home in the novel.

My favourite scene in Black River is that moment when Christmas Preacher realises that he has powerful ability to levitate back to Africa. He leaps into the air and heads for the sky. However, he is captured by the mermaid and her followers in the course of the journey. Christmas is held captive until his Ancestor, the great Alekwuafia, comes to his rescue, allowing him to complete the journey to Africa.

I love that mermaid. She’s pretty much my favourite character. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Black River has two endings, offering readers the liberty to pick one of them. A scene predicts his death in America. And another shows his return to Africa. In the novel, death is not able to end existence. Characters die, but their spirits often continue to communicate with each other, and with the living. In the life beyond death, Oda’nyaa, the mermaid, attempts to convince Christmas that his trip back to the mother continent was a lie, that it never occurred.  He laughs and calls her a lying mermaid. Well, I think Christmas would laugh and of course accuse you of lying to his face.

I like the freedom this gives to the reader  and I know which is my preferred ending (but no spoilers here!). Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

The list of writers that inspire me continues to increase over time. The list of my favourite books also changes with time. If we were to look back to the period in which I was writing Black River, I would list these books:

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, a memoir written by himself.
  • Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, an autobiography written by himself.
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, an autobiography written by Harriet Ann Jacobs.
  • The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, an autobiography written by himself.

Their works were the first to inform me in detail about the experiences of the brothers and sisters taken away from the mother continent many centuries ago and enslaved. It was exhilarating for me to see the painting of Frederick Douglass among the great African Americans honoured on the walls of the Freedom Centre when I visited America. He was born enslaved in Maryland and escaped to freedom as a young adult in 1831. He did this by pretending to be a black sailor. The Civil War galvanised Douglass and others who saw that slavery might finally end and they lobbied President Lincoln and other leaders for the recruitment of black soldiers.

Literary works such as Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Grace by Natasha Deon and Kindred by Octavia Butler provided me with an opportunity to elucidate why and how literary genres such as historical fiction, neo-slave narrative, and magical realism can mutate or come together. This equipped me to handle my research and also to tackle its question by being able to draw out themes around the African American slave experience. 

Thank you; these are good additions to my wish list. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Be confident. Be proud. Be much more ambitious.

I say this because I have been a victim of spiteful words. You go through a PhD journey only for some people and institutions, I call them strongholds, to use their demoralising words to crush you. There are people who have never read a novel but enjoy telling you what to write about. I would tell my younger self to be ruthless in pursuing his desires amidst these sorts of negative energies.

I used to worry about some of the negative things said to me until my father asked me what I was worrying about. He went on to say, “You are still young. You can make a lot of mistakes. You can make a lot of decisions and you can attain a lot of success.” I would tell my younger self the same thing. I would tell him no one can tell the stories he intends to tell or write about. 

What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I dug up some short stories I wrote during my Masters Degree in Creative Writing and have started polishing them. They are all about the experiences of exiles in a psychiatric hospital. The collection of short stories will appear early next year.

I am also working on a play about a Nigerian PhD student living in New Zealand and struggling to maintain relationships with his supervisor and his Kiwi girlfriend.

I like the sound of that play! What would the student’s name be, I wonder…And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would like to be Christmas Preacher’s son, Ijeyi. Christmas, as indicated earlier on, is the protagonist of my novel, Black River.

Ijeyi, born in 1804 to Christmas Preacher on American soil, represents the American experience that I cannot relate to.

My African American friend and I recognise Africa as our mother continent, but we have different outlooks on life. I could relate to my friend’s experiences in life but not fully, since he is the one that has been through life in contemporary America. It is vice versa when it comes to him trying to relate to my experience growing up in contemporary Africa.

Christmas has two sons in Black River. An African American and an African son. I can relate with the African experience. I can relate with the impact of the colonial experience on the continent of Africa. I wish I could be Ijeyi who was born a slave, just because of the desire to fully understand the impact of slavery on the lives of African Americans in contemporary America. Due to this, Ijeyi’s story seems missing in Black River. He is sold off as a child, and not even Christmas ever sees his son attain adulthood.

That’s terribly sad! Maybe a future book about Ijeyi? Thanks so much for speaking with me today, Myles, and congratulations on a wonderful book.

Myles Ojabo Links

Where to buy: https://www.amazon.com/Black-River-Account-Christmas-Preacher/dp/047341175X

Twitter: @Myles_Ojabo

Melissa Ferguson, a new and shining writer

Melissa Ferguson’s debut novel The Shining Wall was released earlier this year. Melissa is a medical research scientist with a graduate certificate in human nutrition. She likes to explore scientific possibilities through fiction. Her short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in lots of places that pay very little money.

When I reviewed her astonishing speculative fiction for Aurealis magazine a couple of months ago, I used words like grounded and observant,  accessible and engaging. I was utterly transfixed by the premises in the storyline, so frighteningly futuristic and so devastatingly apt for today’s world. I’m looking forward to reading more from this Australian writer and very pleased to have her on board for today’s Last Word of the Week.

Welcome, Melissa, it’s so lovely to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Melissa: Access to affordable healthcare (as well as accurate health and nutrition information) are very important to me. I worked in medical research for many years (cancers and infectious diseases) and also completed a graduate certificate in human nutrition. I’ve also been a patient in the public system myself (two babies and Hodgkin’s lymphoma). And I have two children, one with allergies and asthma. The possibility of Australian healthcare being eroded until it resembles that of the United States terrifies me. I see people on social media crowd-funding for their treatment and paying ridiculous prices for medications such as insulin and epipens. I can think of nothing worse. There are many themes in my novel The Shining Wall, but access to affordable healthcare is the most important one to me. 

The Shining Wall_COVEROh, interesting, because there are so many fascinating themes in your book. I’m a huge fan of the Neo Neandertal/Sapien contrast that you explore, reflecting so many historic instances of some people being seen, and treated, as lesser than others. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

There’s one scene in The Shining Wall where the stories of all three point-of-view characters converge briefly at one of the city gates. The repercussions of that chance meeting have profound impacts on each of their stories. Angling the different threads of the story towards this convergence and then playing it out was a lot of fun and very satisfying.

And it’s really well done, IMHO. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

I think all the characters in The Shining Wall would be quite relieved. They’d probably also wonder why I hadn’t created a kinder imaginary world for them. There’s a lot of weird consciousness stuff going on in the manuscript I’m working on at the moment. Those characters would probably be resigned to the nature of reality being an illusion.

Alida & Graycie by Brad O'Gorman

Alida & Graycie by Brad O’Gorman

Relieved! That’s an excellent response ! Now, can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I was always writing as a child. I was very into fantasy stories and fairy tales. I stopped writing to pursue science in my late teens and I didn’t take up writing again until I was in my thirties and had had my first child. The first things I wrote were short misery and motherhood memoir/realistic fiction pieces. Then I found Margo Lanagan’s books (Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels) and I wrote a fantasy novel with witches, selkies, dragons, man-eating trees, fighting bears and all sorts of fun fantastical stuff. While I was writing that I discovered Octavia E Butler and decided science fiction was for me.

Some other books that have influenced my writing include The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, The Power by Naomi Alderman, and Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, The Road to Nowhere series by Meg Elison, and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.

The character of Alida in The Shining Wall was influenced by some of my favourite female characters in fiction including, Mirii from Marlee Jane Ward’s Orphancorp books, Devi Morris from Rachel Bach’s Paradox series, and Temple from The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell.

Oooh, thank you, there are a couple of new ones there for me. I love to hear about undiscovered treasures to chase. They sound excellent. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Ten years ago I’d just moved from Melbourne to Geelong, had left a job that saw me crying in the toilets on many occasions, was very pregnant with my second child, and very worried about my future career opportunities. If I could talk to that woman now I would say: ‘Your science career is going to fall flat on its face. Enjoy the time with your children and concentrate on your writing because that’s where most of your joy will come from.’ I would also maybe say: ‘No spoilers, but someday someone might even publish one of your books.’

Ooh, now I’m scared that I would adversely affect the future if I told past me too much!

Lucky you don’t write time travel then, eh? LOL. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

By the time I’d finished The Shining Wall I’d written three full-length novels in the space of five years. As a result, I felt the need to take on a more wieldy project. So during 2018 I wrote a novella, set in the world of The Shining Wall. The novella is out on submission at the moment (fingers crossed). I’m currently working on another story set on both a far-future, post-apocalyptic Earth and a distant planet colonized by a cult of humans. My plan is to keep exploring ideas that interest me with the hope that other people find them interesting too.

TSW front and back coverLovely to hear that there’s more where The Shining Wall came from! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I don’t think I could take the adrenaline of being a fictional character in the kinds of books I like to read. I like a quiet life. I would have to read some slow-paced realistic/literary fiction to find a suitable answer for this one (it’s not going to happen!).

Follow Melissa here:

Website/Blog:  http://melissajaneferguson.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/melissa.ferguson.50309

Twitter:  @melissajferg

Instagram: @melissa_ferguson

Buy The Shining Wall here:

https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/the-shining-wall/

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/the-shining-wall-by-melissa-ferguson-9781925760187

https://www.readings.com.au/products/26956184/the-shining-wall

 

 

The Silence: cover reveal

Cover Reveal!

Today I’m jumping up and down with excitement as the cover of Susan Allott’s debut novel The Silence is revealed. The Silence will be released in April next year.

I’ve been lucky enough to have Susan answer a few questions, too, about her writing process and the story behind her novel, a suspenseful mystery about a missing woman, marriage, emigration, children, and especially secrets. The Silence has been compared to both Jane Harper’s The Dry and Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours.

I can’t wait to read it.

Welcome, Susan! At last, your cover is here, and it looks wonderful. Covers are so important. Can you tell us something about the process for you? Who gets to design and choose the cover – do you have input? And what about the title – was that your choice?

Susan: My covers were done by the in-house team at Harper Collins, one designer based in the US and one in the UK. The US cover came through first and I thought it was beautiful but I did ask for some changes. I had a very specific image in my mind of what the houses on Bay Street look like, and it bothered me that the houses on the cover weren’t exactly as I’d described them in the book. The designers went away and made the changes I’d asked for and when it came back the houses were accurate, but the cover was no longer beautiful! It was a good lesson. I realised the cover needs to evoke the book rather than depict it in a literal way, and it needs to be attractive to potential readers.

When the UK cover came through I loved it immediately. It’s so intriguing and inviting: exactly the kind of book I would pick up in a bookshop.

The title was my choice but it took me ages to come up with it! My book is about a woman whose disappearance goes unnoticed for thirty years, but it’s also about Australia’s ‘forced removal’ policy which continued for decades, and most white Australians were somehow unaware of it. We were trying to find a title which brought those two elements together, but nothing was quite right.

In the end I went back through working titles I’d used before I found a publisher. One of these was ‘The Great Silence’, a quote from W.E.H. Stanner’s famous lecture which describes a ‘cult of forgetfulness’ around the history of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I played around with it a bit – ‘The Long Silence’? ‘The Huge Silence’? – but of course the more powerful title was the simplest one. I sent an email to my editor and agent: ‘How about The Silence?’ And they both replied ‘I love that.’

It was such a relief, that we’d found the right title, but also that we’d held out for one that really worked instead of compromising. It’s so right for the book, I can’t believe we didn’t think of it sooner.

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Do you have a favourite task in writing, such as scribbling ideas, fleshing out scenes, inventing characters, visiting locations, editing? If so, why?

I get the most pleasure out of editing. I do a lot of deleting, rewording, deleting again, over and over until it finally works. My happy place is sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, reworking what I wrote yesterday and making it shine. I have to force myself to push on and write new material. I think it’s because the first draft is often so flat and clichéd that it dents my confidence. I need to get over that. I do know that even the best writers’ first drafts are appalling.

I’m going to ask you to play favourites: who is your most beloved character in your own writing, and why?

I think I’d have to say Mandy, the character whose disappearance is central to The Silence. She’s a 1960s Australian housewife who doesn’t fit the mould. Her husband wants nothing more than a brood of children and she is secretly taking the Pill.

Over 50% of the novel is set in the 1960s, before Mandy disappeared, so we get to know her well. I wanted her absence to be felt in the chapters set thirty years later. Hopefully she comes across as complex and relatable, as flawed as we all are. She’s been in my head a long time.

Can you tell us something about yourself that you think readers should know?

The Silence began as a story about my experience of living and working in Sydney in the late nineties. More specifically, my experience of failing to love Australia, while everyone around me seemed so happy and at home. The book I tried to write was about a young British woman called Louisa who, like me, left Australia to return to the UK. Then she got home and wondered what was wrong with her. That experience of overwhelming homesickness was my starting point. But the story didn’t come to life until I started exploring the world Louisa had left behind: her husband Joe and their neighbours, Steve and Mandy. I wrote against my own experience, describing Australia through the eyes of people who loved it and called it home.

I fought the idea of setting the book entirely in Australia for a long time. Funnily enough, I met an Australian man in London a few years later, and went on to marry him! He encouraged me to keep writing. We visited Australia a few times over the years and gradually I accepted that my story was there. In part the novel is about the experience of migration, and how liberating it can be to make a new home on your own terms, even though that didn’t happen for me.

Are there any particular writers or books that inspired you on your own creative path?

The biggest influences for me while writing The Silence were Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, and Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara – the book and the film. Tim Winton too of course, I’ve read everything of his including his memoirs. Oh and Evie Wyld is incredible. The trouble is, these wonderful writers can be slightly intimidating and I spent a few years thinking my writing wouldn’t be good enough until I sounded like them. I think I took a long time to accept that my own voice was ok. I read a lot of non-fiction too while I was researching. The stolen generation storyline was inspired initially by a passage in a book called Australia: a biography of a nation by Phillip Knightley. There’s a section in that book about an Australian policeman who used to come home from work, sit at the back of the house and cry. I knew I wanted to tell his story.

What would you say is the most difficult barrier to overcome in writing a novel and having it published? Do you have advice about that, or a good story of how you got there?

I think the hardest thing is to keep going, especially when you’re aware of how hard it is to get published. For me, the challenge of writing alongside the demands of work and family life sometimes felt insurmountable. My advice would be not to fixate too much on publication as a goal, especially not in the early drafts. Write primarily for yourself and try to write the kind of book you love to read. If you love your book and enjoy writing it, that will come through on the page.

I’d also caution against giving up the day job too soon. Time is not always your friend. I never had enough time to write for the first few years, when my kids were little and I was working. I wrote whenever I could find a spare hour in the day. (Sometimes it was only twenty minutes.) It gave me an urgency when I did sit down to write that may not have been there otherwise. Writing was always the thing I did when I should have been doing something else. My me-time.

That said, I think it was a gift from the Universe when I was made redundant at the end of 2018. I had an agent by that stage and she was keen to submit my manuscript before the London Book Fair in March this year. The months I spent writing full time in the run-up to submission were completely immersive and I’m not sure I’d have managed it if I’d still been employed. I might have found the time somehow but I wouldn’t have had the headspace.

And the book did sell in the run-up to the Fair! I don’t like talking about luck, when really it’s sheer stamina that gets the book written in the end, but I do feel very lucky that I had that period of time to finish the book just when I needed it.

What was the most difficult scene to write in the novel – you don’t have to give away spoilers!

There’s a scene about a third of the way through where Isla, my protagonist, starts to question her long-held loyalty to her father, who is suspected of murder. I needed to show her range of emotion while also managing the plot and the logistics of the scene. The hard part always is trying to be subtle, but not so subtle that the reader loses the thread of where the character is coming from. I’m pleased with that scene now but it took forever and I drank an awful lot of coffee.

What are you most looking forward to in your writing?

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the new book, which is set in London this time. I want to get the sense of momentum again, where the hours go by and I barely notice. Other than that, I’m not sure if this is strictly ‘writing’ but I want to hold the published copy of The Silence in my hand and flick through the pages. I can’t think of anything more exciting.

That will be a wonderful day indeed. Congratulations, Susan, and I’m looking forward to holing a copy too – and reading it!

The Silence by Susan Allott will be released on April 30th 2020.

Susan’s links:

Website: www.susanallott.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sallottauthor/

Twitter: @SusanAllott

Instagram: @susanallottauthor

Carleton Chinner on Xhosa storytelling and space opera

Carleton Chinner writes near-future space opera. He is the author of the Cities of the Moon series—The Hills of Mare Imbrium, and Plato Crater. He also reviews new releases of predominantly science fiction for the Aussie Speculative Fiction Review where he enjoys reading stories that explore what science means to humanity. Carleton is known to enjoy solid science and will grumble at stories where fires burn in a vacuum or scuba divers spend hours underwater without needing decompression. I detect a healthy dose of scepticism in a writer with no need to suspend disbelief.

Welcome, Carleton, and thanks for joining me on Last Word of the Week. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Carleton: I’m more a storyteller than a writer. I guess that comes with the territory when you spend your childhood on an African farm where old Xhosa women spin marvellous tales of river serpents and white-painted, clay-clad women who return from the dead. I absorbed the craft of stories from these Xhosa ladies: the pull of suspense, the impact of vivid imagery, and the all-important need to suspend disbelief. There was no book learning, but learning nonetheless, in the deep organic sense of stories told in voice and rhythm. Learning in the way of things told and remembered.

That’s the best description of storytelling I’ve encountered! Lucky you. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

Just one scene? If I had to choose it would be a scene from my second book, Plato Crater, where two characters who cannot be together meet as remotely piloted droids in an uninhabited lunar crater. Circumstances mean there is no way they will get together soon, but they still find a way to share a kiss under the endless stars.

Plato Crater - eBook small

I love this scene because it captures an idea that is quite central to my writing; no matter how whizzbang the future technology is, people will still be people with human needs and desires. 

That’s really romantic, especially for droids! If I told one of your characters that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Brother Jonas is a monk in a collection of short stories I am writing who may be something other than human. It would be great fun to tell him he was imaginary. I suspect it would lead him to deep introspection about who we are and what makes us real. 

Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I’ve always been drawn to descriptions of our first interactions with aliens that cast light on who we are as humans. One of the first books I read like this was Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land where a child raised by Martians comes to Earth and has to comprehend human culture. Heinlein’s description of laughter as a human response to the suffering of another had me sit back and go “Whoa! I never thought of it like that.”

I’m a big fan of China Miéville’s creative worldbuilding, but his Embassytown stands head and shoulders above the rest with its twin-brained aliens who get high on language, in a world where hyperspace is like travelling on the sea complete with seasickness and sharks.

More recently, I’ve been reading Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis series which is packed with a diverse array of ideas about race, sexuality, violence, and even body modification.

Wonderful books in that list! Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Don’t be afraid of rejection. Just write! Tell the stories you want to tell.

I wasted so much time wondering if I should write instead of just getting on and writing. 

The Hills of the Moon - eBook small

Good point! What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Planning for the GenreCon * conference in November is taking up a lot of my writing time right now. It’s hard work, but worth it. GenreCon is going to be great.

When I’m not busy with that I’m working on a new technothriller about how Australia implements a reputation system like the new Chinese system.

*Genrecon will be a three-day feast of genre held in Brisbane from Nov 22, 2019, with fantastic speakers and panels.

Oooh, that sounds interesting! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

An oldie, but I would love to be Phillip Linx from Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx stories as he explores crazy worlds in the Humanx Commonwealth. More importantly I’d be Flinx for his pet Alaspinian mini-dragon Pip. How cool would it be to have your own dragon?

Super cool! Thank you for sharing with me today, Carleton, and all the best with Genrecon.

Carleton-Chinner-web

Carleton’s Links:

Website: https://carletonchinner.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sunfishau

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarletonChinnerAuthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/carletonchinner/

Buy: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0758DSP5Z

Rebecca Bowyer, story addict

Rebecca Bowyer, author and book reviewer, is a self-confessed, card-carrying story addict. On her Story Addict website, she offers range of new release recommendations, particularly historical, contemporary, literary and speculative fiction. You won’t find romance or horror books, but you will find a wealth of inspired and engaging reads in her carefully curated collection. Her debut novel Maternal Instinct, a speculative fiction that explores the humanity of love, has just been released to fab reviews.

Welcome, Rebecca, and thank you so much for chatting with me today.

Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book really ought to know?

Rebecca: I’m a mum who also works in the paid workforce, living in Melbourne, with two gorgeous kids aged 7 and 9 and a lovely husband. I love coffee, pancakes and comfy armchairs and I don’t like brightly coloured Lego-style apartment blocks.

The relevance of all this will be clear to anyone who has read Maternal Instinct!

Of course! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

That award goes to the scene from my novel, Maternal Instinct, where 39-year-old Alice is trying to teach her teen-aged daughter, Monica, how to hand-express breast milk in the back room of a hair salon.

The scene is wedged into other, quite serious, conversations about whether Monica will be required to give up her 6-month-old baby to be raised by the state (she will be) and what would happen if she refused to (they would take him anyway). Australia in 2040 is primarily centred around the needs of children and all children must be raised by professional parents called ‘Maters’ and ‘Paters’.

But a new mother’s body doesn’t respect serious conversations about social structures – the milk needs to come when the milk needs to come.

Dealing with the messy, physical realities of new motherhood is a real bonding moment for Alice and Monica, who have always had a fairly formal relationship. It also provides some comic relief when Monica gets the hand-expressing horribly wrong!

That’s wonderful. If I told one of your characters that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Oliver, Alice’s partner, has the most ‘maternal instinct’ of any character in Maternal Instinct. He’s a professional father – a ‘Pater’ – and picture-book author who has his head in the clouds most of the time.

Oliver has to face some heart-wrenching decisions about his kids throughout the novel. I think if you told him he was imaginary, he’d probably pause and consider it for a moment. Then, quite calmly, he’d nod and say to you, “That’s okay. As long as the kids and Alice are imaginary too so I can stay with them.” Then he’d probably stand up and call out, “Ellie, stop jumping on your brother!”

That’s quite touching, thank you. Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

My earliest memory of meeting an author was at the schools component of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival back in the mid-90s. I was obsessed with the Obernewtyn Chronicles and was absolutely thrilled to hear Isobelle Carmody speak. She’s an inspiring speaker and a magical storyteller with an incredible imagination. Her advice has stuck with me ever since – start with the ‘What if?’ and follow the story. 

Of course, 25 years later it seems like obvious advice, but it was a revelation to teenaged-me, and I certainly used her advice when writing my first novel.

Maternal Instinct starts from the premise of ‘What if parenting was a high-prestige, highly paid profession?’ What would that mean for the rest of society? What would that look like?

I built a whole world around that single ‘What if?’. It was a whole lot of fun.  

That’s such a great premise! Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Ten years ago I was trying to fall pregnant with my first child. I was still convinced that I was never going to be a writer and had given up altogether.

I’d like to tell myself:

“In the next few years your world will be entirely shattered and pieced back together. When you come out the other side of the pregnancy/baby/toddler labyrinth you’ll find the creative drive you lost somewhere around the end of university.

“Your children will help you rediscover your creativity. Your husband and extended family will help you nurture it. And your online parenting, writing and reading community – which you haven’t yet started to build – will help you bring the end product to life.

“In ten years, you’ll be a published author.”

Oh, that’s such good advice … all we need is a time machine … What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I have at least 3 writing roles at the moment. First, my day job is as a technical web content writer. Second, I run a book blog called Story Addict where I publish reviews. And third is my fiction writing.

Anyone who follows me on social media knows that I ‘quit’ fiction writing at least every 6 months or so. I’ve recently un-quit (again) and have finished off the first draft of my next novel, Time Thief. This one is based on the premise of, ‘What if, as a parent, you could buy time?’ What would that world look like? What would that drive you to do as a parent?

As you can tell, my books are basically written around every parent’s fantasies! Being valued, having more time…  

More time! Now that’s something I really might be tempted to steal. And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would be the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The ability to drop in and out whenever I felt like it, make witty comments and then observe the fallout from the safety of invisibility sounds like fun.

Aha! I see the gem of another story: parent can become invisible and actually does have eyes in the back of her head…LOL. Thank you so much for chatting with me, rebecca, I’m very excited to read more from you asap.

Rebecca’s Links:

Website: Story Addict

Twitter: @RebeccaBowyerAU

Instagram: @RebeccaBowyerWriter

Facebook: Rebecca Bowyer – author

Maternal Instinct, by Rebecca Bowyer, is now available at online bookstores around the world. For a full list head to: Maternal Instinct | Story Addict

Teddy bears, wolves, and cow pats

My spirit animal is probably cute and cuddly rather than strong and noble. What do you think? I can dream … I’m pretty sure heart and soul would be part of it though…

Today I’m sharing this wonderful interview with Meeting the Author. What fabulous questions! Thanks to Camilla Downs, gracious host of Meeting the Authors website, author, poet, nature photographer, and all around good egg.

For great insights and intros to new books, you can follow Meeting the Authors at http://meetingtheauthors.com/

Here’s my interview. As Camilla says, watch out for the cow pats!

http://meetingtheauthors.com/2019/10/22/meet-the-author-the-stars-in-the-night-by-clare-rhoden/

A run on the dark side with Claire Fitzpatrick

Claire Fitzpatrick is an award-winning author of speculative fiction. She writes tales of terror and dark possibilities, in both short story and novel form. Her latest collection of meticulously researched, nerve-rattling stories was recently reviewed in my favourite magazine, Aurealis (issue #124) where it is described as ‘a wicked joy to read’

I’m thrilled – not to say a little spooked – to meet this other Claire of the incredible words.

Metamorphosis by Claire Fitzpatrick zoom

Metamorphosis by Claire Fitzpatrick zoom

Hi, Claire! Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Claire: I think the main thing readers ought to know is that my stories are semi-autobiographical. Every story reflects some aspect of myself, my emotions, my desires, fears, etc. A lot of them reflect my feelings regarding my Epilepsy, BPD, and being a mother. I’ve had Epilepsy since I was 12 (I’m 28) and was formally diagnosed with BPD when I was 26. I also have a wonderful 7-year-old daughter who inspires me to write more and become a better person. She can be quite a handful – she has ASD, and stresses the hell out of me sometimes, but we do so many creative things together; she’s my annoying best friend. I’m also an artist. I paint between writing, and I’m currently building a mansion out of paddle-pop sticks. I’m crafty when I procrastinate. My house is filled with books and paintings. I also have a cat named Cthulhu and don’t own a TV. Are those things readers really ought to know? They are now!

And fascinating things they are. Cthulhu, eh? I bet the cat can say that name better than I can, being an alien of sorts…

What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

Huh. No one has ever asked me that before. I rather like one of the final scenes in my novel Only The Dead. It’s a death scene; well, rather, one character finds another character’s body. I remember feeling rather proud of myself when I finished writing it. I also received a wonderful review with a nod towards that scene, so it made me feel quite thrilled I’d managed to evoke such a strong emotion from a reader.

only the dead

Sounds gripping! Now, if I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

There’s a character named Cassie in Only The Dead  who’s a badass motorcycle-riding artist and Vietnam War protestor. If I told her she was imaginary she’d probably tell me to get fucked and offer me a joint.

She sounds very real – which is exactly what you want from a character! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

Of course. I still have all the Sonya Hartnett books I stole from my high school library. I’m a hoarder and have a few hundred books, many of which I’ve owned since I was a teenager. Notable authors include Isobelle Carmody (of whom I named my daughter after), Anne Rice, Catherine Fisher, Clive Barker, Jostein Gaarder, Emily Rodda, etc.

I started writing at a very early age. The first ‘book’ I wrote was essentially fanfiction. I was fed up of waiting for the fifth Harry Potter book to come out, so I ended up writing my own book. It was called ‘Harry Potter and the Magic Broom’ and it was actually quite depressing. Harry felt all sad he couldn’t see Ron and Hermione over the holidays, and then he found a magic broom which gave him a sense of euphoria every time he rode it. Now that I’ve come to think of it, I believe it was a metaphor for antidepressants. I started self-harming when I was 12, so I’m pretty sure it was just another way to express myself. Weird. After I wrote the book, and a half-finished sequel, I developed my own characters, my own ideas. A lot of my early fiction were adventure stories, mostly about pirates. Incidentally, I still have those early books.

Returning to other authors…. Anne Rice, in particular, has a special place in my heart. I first read Anne Rice when I was 18. I had a pretty shitty home life, so I left home and moved in with the first man who paid attention to me. He was horribly cruel, a drug addict, would alienate me, and steal my money. During the period of three years all I wrote was scraps of things here and there. Yet the only nice thing he did for me is buy me Anne Rice books as a form of penance for my suffering. I was so lonely, I’d read her books from cover to cover and imagine I was in New Orleans with the vampires and the Mayfair witches, and that my life was as exciting as theirs. When I finally left the relationship, I felt so inspired by Rice’s world I immediately started writing again. And then I wrote ‘Madeline,’ my first published horror story, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Metamorphosis by Claire Fitzpatrick

What an amazing backstory! Lots of material – but very glad you’re through to the far side of it. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Fuck. Umm. Don’t worry your Epilepsy held you back from the Air Force. Don’t worry you didn’t get into university on your first go. Don’t worry you failed year 11 high school English class. Everything will make sense one day. It may be dark and horrible. You may think self-harm is something you need to do. But life – though it gets a hell of a lot harder – will get more manageable, I promise. Also, drink and party as much as you can. 21 is a really young age to become a mother. I won’t judge your breakfast rums. For now.

That’s precious advice, thank you! What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I’m currently working on two projects. The first is a novelette, of which I’ve almost completed a first draft. The story is about the grief and pain one feels regarding suicide, but I’ve disguised it as a supernatural horror. I think! Unfortunately, over the past four years, three of my friends have committed suicide, so it’s a subject that’s often on my mind. I’m enjoying writing this, as I’ve managed to throw in cantankerous off-beat character I’m hoping will get a few laughs.

The second project is a novella, something I’ve been working on slowly for the past two years. It’s a dark fantasy novella, tentatively titled ‘Therianthropy,’ and is about shapeshifters, the moral obligations of humans, what it means to have a soul, and the difference between being a human and a monster. ‘Therianthropy’ is my major work, and it’s something I’m taking my time with. I’m currently being mentored by the esteemed author Paul Mannering, who is helping me conclude the draft. I originally started the book as a mentorship with the fantastic author and illustrator Greg Chapman, so I suppose, in a way, it’s a collaborative project. Three heads are better than one! 

Oooh, that sounds wonderful. I want it now! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

Someone else’s. My characters are fragments of myself, and that’s horrifying enough.

Great answer. Thank you so much Claire for sharing with me on Last Word of the Week.

Claire’s Links:

Website – https://www.clairefitzpatrick.net/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/witch.of.eldritch

Twitter – @CJFitzpatrick91

IG – wetoo.arestardust

Metamorphosis – https://ifwgaustralia.com/title-metamorphosis/

On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Metamorphosis-Collection-Stories-Claire-Fitzpatrick-ebook/dp/B07TCJX6X2/

Latest news: #WeLoveOurAuthors

Every day throughout October, awesome Odyssey Books is celebrating one of its authors with a feast of shares including FREE SAMPLES!

Now is the time to discover your new favourite.  Look under Odyssey News every day in October to meet yet another fab author. Remember, this is where books are an adventure!

My feature day was Saturday October 12th. If you want to learn some of my secrets and get some freebies of my writing, here’s the link:

https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/2019/10/12/clarerhoden-weloveourauthors/

Rosalie Ham: author and extra

Rosalie Ham is an Australian author most famous for her debut novel The Dressmaker, a black satire about love, payback, and 1950s haute couture, which was made into a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, and Hugo Weaving in 2015.

Recently I was fortunate enough to meet Rosalie at an event where she explained how the movie was made, her part in it, and the challenges of shifting a story from prose to film. Rosalie was so inspiring that, grabbing my courage in both hands and telling myself that being scared every now and then is good for me, I introduced myself and asked if she would consider appearing on the Last Word of the Week blog. And here she is! 

There-Should-Be-More-Dancing-677x1024

Thank you for joining me today, Rosalie. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Rosalie: I tend towards the ironic, and so some readers don’t ‘get’ that sort of tone or my black humour, but I get that not every book is for every reader.

That’s a great way to think about it, very wise. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

I have favourite scenes in all four novels, so I’ll pick a couple. In The Dressmaker it’s at the end when Sergeant Farrat is sitting on top of The Hill. Everything around him is razed, the landscape burned flat to the ground, smouldering and smoking, cinders floating. The District Inspector of Police arrives and asks, ‘What happened?’

The sergeant replies, ‘There’s been a fire.’

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At the beginning of Summer at Mount Hope Phoeba, Lilith and Maude are sitting on the narrow bench of the family sulky which is stranded in the middle of a roadside dam. The three 19thcentury ladies are wearing their Sunday best, sheltering from the sun under their vast, ostrich plumed hats. Their skirts are bunched on their laps exposing the lacy trim on their bloomers, their boots are up on the dash, slimy green water swirls just below their bottoms and the tail of the horse supposedly conveying them to Church floats before them. In the quiet of the country lane, they hear a carriage approach. It is the grand Britzka containing the wealthy neighbours from the vast property to the west. Maude speculates, ‘They may not notice us.’

Oooh, yes, these are perfect. From what I have read, I understand that your characters are not completely imaginary, but based on real people. Has anyone recognised themselves in your books?

I suspect most writers create characters using elements of real people. Because characters, basically, carry a theme, creating a plausible vehicle is my main focus. The added personality traits are instilled to make them more memorable and hopefully readers might then find empathy with a character and his or her purpose. Some readers out there might just recognise why a character says and does certain things.

I know that you appeared in the film version of The Dressmaker as an extra. Are you a character in any of your books? Why/why not?

No, I’m not a character in any of my books. Generally, in order to create an effective character for a particular role that character needs to do what you want them to do. Their intention is their narrative drive, if you like, so their intention has to be quite separate to what I might say and do. It’s essential to strive to present a balanced argument, so you need to think about alternate arguments and create characters to present them so they all need to be other than the writer’s personal point of view. The story becomes about the argument rather than how I feel about the point I’m prosecuting. 

Dressmakermovieposter

That makes sense. Take yourself back ten years – what would that Rosalie like to tell you?

Trust your ability. Believe in yourself more, go for it, your stories will reach further than you imagine.

Amazing, yes. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

 More writing. I’ve got a few more events to attend this year to promote my last novel, The Year of the Farmer, then there’s a rough first draft of my fifth book that I’m dying to get stuck into. As I see it, there are at least two more novels I could write. And I have a dream that one day I’ll adapt one of my novels to a stage play. And I need to do all of this while teaching part time.

 

Year-of-the-Farmer-677x1024What’s the single most important quality in a writer, in your opinion?

Talent. Some books are written through sheer determination and they’re good. Readers will get much from them, but some writers are different, their stories boil straight from the heart, they burn and shimmer, they’re well-structured and moving, revelatory, unique, life-changing, and above all, memorable. That sort of writing can’t be taught, it comes from the way writers look at the world and convey it to others.

And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I’d be Phoeba Crupp from my second novel, Summer at Mount Hope. I’d grow my own grapes and produce fine wine, raise beautiful sheep with superior wool, cultivate exceptional grain crops and work hard with nature. Because I value friendship above romance, I’d carry sad matters of the heart in my back pocket like a spare hanky. When my father betrays me, I’ll turn that to my advantage and make my life a testament to female strength and the fighting rural spirit.

She sounds divine. Great choice.

Thank you so much for sharing with me today, Rosalie. I was indeed a pleasure and an inspiration to meet you.

 

Rosalie’s Links:

Website: https://rosalieham.com/

Twitter: @RosalieEHam

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RosalieHam/

If you’d like to book Rosalie to talk at your school, library or book club (or fundraiser, lunch, valedictory…) please get in touch with Booked Out Speakers, Melbourne on (03) 9824 0177. I can highly recommend her as a speaker!

Rosalie is represented by Jenny Darling and Associates (03) 9696 7750

B.G. Hilton: steampunk, Frankenstein, thieving magpie?

B.G. Hilton has a fascination with the weird and wonderful, from Victorian-inspired steampunk to a place where low fantasy meets high soap opera … and no doubt beyond! Then there’s Leonard Nimoy and Dr Who to add to the mix.

Ben’s debut novel will be published by the awesome Odyssey Books (where books are always an adventure!) next year. It’s titled Champagne Charlie and the Amazing Gladys and promises to be a rollercoaster read.

Ben has published many fab short stories (such as ‘I was a Steam-age Werewolf‘) as well as flash fiction, and you can join the fun with his DIY serial novel at https://bghilton.com/diy-serial-novel/

Welcome to last Word of the Week, Ben, great to meet you! Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Ben: I was always an eclectic reader, even when I was young. The seed for my novel ‘Champagne Charlie and the Amazing Gladys’ came from a book of trivia for kids – probably from Scholastic? I’m not sure.

This book had an article about a weird science-fictiony idea, a hoax that people in the Nineteenth Century believed to be true. Somehow, this idea stuck with me for thirty-odd years and became the basis for my novel. I’ve always been interested in Victoriana, so this idea joined with a bunch of other things that fascinated me about the era – the music hall, weird quack medicines, steam power, the Royal Navy and more.

So, coming the long way round to answering the question, what they should know is I’m a bit of a magpie with ideas, and when I’m writing I try to make use of them.

What a great combination of notions! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

For me, the easiest part of writing is dialogue – I’d write dialogue only novels if I could get away with it. For that reason, the scenes I’m most proud of are the ones that are largely or completely dialogue free. They’re my biggest challenge to write. My favourite is a scene in Charlie and Gladys in which one of my protagonists, Charlie Decharles, escapes from a boat and swims for safety across a freezing river so for obvious reasons he can’t say anything. It’s probably the least complicated action sequence in the book, but I think it’s pretty pacey and it captures Charlie’s struggle against the river. And it ends with Charlie having a nice little chat with his rescuers, so it makes me happy on that level.

So maybe you’ll be writing plays and film scripts in the future! Or episodes of Dr Who. That would be cool. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

My protagonists probably wouldn’t care – Gladys is too practical to let something like that worry her and Charlie would probably pretend to understand but not really follow. The character who would react in the most interesting way is Charlie’s mother, Lady Decharles. I think she’d try to take advantage of the situation by outsmarting me, the author. She’d probably succeed, too. She’s much smarter than I am.

I like the sound of her! Can’t wait for her to appear. Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

When you’re in a writing class and they ask you that question, you’re supposed to say Hemingway or Carver or someone like that, I don’t know. I love reading great works of serious literature when I’m in the mood for it — but they don’t make me think ‘I should try that; I should do that’. The people who make me want to write are more like Harry Harrison, Agatha Christie, Terry Pratchett, Frederic Brown, Robert Holmes, Cherie Priest. Not writers of deathless prose, perhaps, but entertaining writers with something real to say. That’s the sort of writer I want to be. 

Entertaining and real – perfect goals, IMHO. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Ten years ago, I was alone and struggling to balance my studies with a job that I hated. I guess I should say to myself ‘hang in there’ – but I actually did, so it wouldn’t be particularly useful advice. More practically, I think I should have told myself to spend more time hanging out with other writers when I had all that time to socialise. Now I’m a dad, and I just have too much cleaning to do.

No, wait, that’s what I’d do. I’d tell myself – ‘learn to be a more efficient cleaner, and also get used to finishing half-eaten bananas’.

That’s hilarious! Great answer. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Short term? Marketing. Lots and lots of marketing.

Longer term, I’m working on a sequel to Charlie and Gladys. Also, I have a horror-inspired speculative fiction manuscript I’m trying to get into publishable shape. It’s about a young woman whose life is turned upside down when she learns that she’s Frankenstein’s granddaughter. To escape from her family’s enemies, she must seek shelter with the creatures that her ancestors have made and cast out. I think it’s a basically a good manuscript, but the setting was very misjudged, so it needs a serious rewrite.

Great heavens, that sounds interesting! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I hate to say it, but probably I’m most like Mr Toad from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ in that I get very enthusiastic about things and then lose interest in them. It’s not a bad thing for a writer, having dozens of past obsessions that I can call on when I need. Saves a lot of time researching, sometimes.

My wife says I’m like Professor Moriarty. That could mean that I have big plans that don’t go anywhere or just that I rock a top hat. Or maybe she’s just saying I’m good at maths. I’m not sure I want to know, so I didn’t ask.

Brilliant! Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Ben. Can’t wait to meet Charlie and Gladys.

LINKS:

Website: bghilton.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bghilton.author/

Twitter: @bghilton