I could say that 2019 is the year that convinced me that I am writer. So that was quite affirming, as well as a huge relief! Looks like I can sort of do this thing I’ve always longed to do.
Middle Child Reads
Some of you know that I ‘suffer’ from Middle Child Syndrome. I’m not the eldest, or the youngest; I’m not the prettiest, or the most artistic; I’m not the most talented sportsperson, or the most charming bloke. Each one of those titles belongs to one of my six siblings. Three older, three younger. (Search Middle Child Memes – they’re hilarious!)
Your classic middle child, so they say, craves the attention that is lavished on their older and younger sibs. Mid kids are said to be overachievers as they try desperately to be noticed. I could call 2019 the year of overachievement.
But I won’t. I’d rather say that my defining characteristic is that I’m the reader – reading is my superpower – and now I feel I can confidently say
I’m the writer!
Oooh, that felt good.
Thank you so much for your support and interest in 2019. Next week I’d better get my head properly around 2020.
It’s 2020! I’m not sure how we suddenly arrived at 2020, but here it is. A new month, a new year, a new decade.
And many, many new books to read. Yay!
2019 was a stand out year for me in both reading and writing (see next week’s post for more about that). I met many great books, and authors, for the first time. In this post, I’m listing my Top 10 of 2019. I’m dividing them My Way, in alphabetical order by genre, because numbers are too hard, don’t you think? I’ve already made a resolution to do a top 20 at the end of this year … 10 is too few!
All of these books found me with a permanent smile of pure enjoyment on my face, cover to cover. Except when things got scary, of course. I recommend them all, especially if your taste in reading matter matches mine.
Too many to choose from, of course, when we start talking about my favourite genre. However, for sheer ingenuity and enjoyment, I’m nominating Desdemona and the Deep by CSE Cooney. I loved every baroque word of this glorious adventure. I reviewed this for Aurealis and named it one of my two favourite ‘books of the year’. Yes, we were allowed to choose TWO.
Only two! LOL
This was quite a crowded field for me this year. The story which has lingered longest is Voyage of the Dogs by Greg Van Eekhout. I just loved the Barkonauts on the crippled spaceship Laika trying their best to find a home. Dogs and space travel. How could I resist? Read my review here.
This is of course another favourite genre for me, which always makes it difficult to choose. Yes, I know: all these are difficult to choose. Right up there is The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. I am a dedicated reader of Barker’s wonderful writing, and this did not disappoint. A clever and touching re-telling of the Trojan War story. Read my review here.
My second nominated ‘book of the year’ for Aurealis was Icefall by Stephanie Gunn. Maggie and her wife Aisha travel to the planet of Icefall so that Maggie can climb the mountain that nobody has ever survived … I was enthralled! Space, diversity, adventure, romance, and AI. Perfect.
I was lucky enough to read the whole series for Aurealis this year, and Queens of the Sea by Kim Wilkins was a fabulous conclusion to a sword-and-sorcery adventure about five royal sisters. My favourite is of course Bluebell who is the warrior sister, with her own special magic.
Can you believe I’ve started reading some witchy books? My 2019 favourite was The Lights Go Out in Lychford by Paul Cornell. This short novella, which I reviewed in Aurealis, is very well crafted and great fun, and definitely makes me want to read more about the Witches of Lychford. You’ll devour it in one gulp and come up slightly scared, mostly reassured, and looking for more.
That’s the list for 2019. I’ve already started a list for 2020, but more about that next week. In the meantime, happy reading, happy writing.
Melissa Ferguson’s debut novel The Shining Wallwas 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.
Oh, 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.
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.
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.
Lovely 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!).
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.
Lachlan Walter, writer, science-fiction critic and nursery-hand (the garden kind, not the baby kind) is today’s guest on Last Word of the Week. Lachlan’s Australian post-apocalyptic novel is called The Rain Never Cameand his next book will be the Kaiju story-cycle We Call It Monster. Lachlan also writes science fiction criticism for Aurealismagazine and reviews for the independent ‘weird music’ website Cyclic Defrost. Lachlan’s short fiction can be found floating around online, and he has completed a PhD that explored the relationship between Australian post-apocalyptic fiction and Australian notions of national identity.
LWOTW: Welcome, Lachlan! Tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer.
Lachlan: To me, the distinction between wanting to be a writer and actually being a writer is psychological more than anything else. Being a writer means accepting the fact that you don’t have to write a blockbuster (and probably won’t) or churn out a book a year, but instead have to put in the work and make the sacrifices needed. Lots of people who want to be writers seem to see it as some kind of glamorous calling that doesn’t actually involve any real work, whereas the truth is that it’s often a slog involving persistence and tenacity, in which a thick skin is utterly invaluable. To touch on an old chestnut: writing is about perspiration, not inspiration.
In my case, I realised that I was actually a writer when found myself unable to step away from my work-in-progress of the time. I was putting in ten and twelve-hour days, turning a simple idea into a novel (and neglecting my oh-so-forgiving family and friends), and waking up each morning dead-keen to do it all over again. There were good days and bad days, but the important thing was that they were all writing days, and ever-so-slowly my first book was coming together. By the time I’d completed the first draft, this had become a routine – wake up, have breakfast, clean up, start writing – and was the equivalent of punching a clock or reporting for duty. And thus, I considered myself a writer.
Of course, it helps to have your work affirmed through publication, positive feedback, in-depth reviews and sales, but they aren’t strictly necessary. What matters is your work ethic, getting on with the job and creating a body of work that you can be proud of.
That’s an interesting analysis, thank you. For your writing, do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream that resulted in a good piece of writing, so let’s scratch that off the list, which leaves imagination and planning. Both are important, but planning is a skill that can be refined whereas imagination is intuitive, inspiring and seems to strike like the metaphorical lightning bolt. An example: I had the idea for my first book long before I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, which is more accurate though less poetic), but when I started writing it – and consequently started planning it – I really had no idea what I was doing. It wasn’t until a fellow writer gently pointed out that my plan was a bit long – three books long, by their estimate – that I realised how much I had to learn about this underappreciated skill.
In other words, I rely more on my imagination than anything else, but it’s the planning that really matters.
That sounds like a good balance of imagination and organsation. So what’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
This would have to be a tie between having my first book accepted for publication, and having my second book accepted.
Having your first book accepted is an incredible feeling, as all authors would know – it’s a validation of your hard work, and confirmation that the idea behind it and the writing within it is solid and of a high quality. Everyone’s first book is a labour of love, something that’s been happily sweated over, something that contains a little bit of your heart and soul, and mine was no different. As mentioned, I had the idea for it long before I put pen to paper, and nurtured this idea like an obsessed gardener growing the fussiest plants from seed.
But once your first book has been published you realise that if you want to be a writer, you have to do it all over again from the beginning. This can be a struggle because you carry within you an expectation that your second book has to happen sooner rather than later, and you have to conceive it and work at it quickly and diligently, whereas the ideas and writing of your first book just seemed to come naturally and at its own pace. However, once it’s completed to your satisfaction, having it accepted for publication somehow proves that you’ve got what it takes to keep on writing.
That letter (or email) acceptance is such a joy, isn’t it? What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
Finishing my third book, so that I can then get onto the next and the next after that and so on. I’m like most writers – I have more ideas than I do time to write them, and I just can’t wait to get them down and bring them to life.
Oh, yes, that’s the problem. Not where we get our ideas from but how to herd them! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Write, write and write some more – you can always be better, and the only way to achieve this is through dedication and work. And remember that not every piece of writing has to be a book: short stories, articles, reviews, blogs, criticism, they all help hone your talent.
And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
The Doctor, without a doubt. He/she possesses everything that one would want in life, and that makes a good person: kindness, intelligence, inquisitiveness, childlike wonder, loyalty, a circle of loving friends who are loved in return, and a dedication to pacifism that only falters when absolutely necessary.
I thought you had a bit of a Tom Baker look about you! Thanks for speaking with me, Lachlan, and more power to your writing.