The apocalypse is here, in the form of more fires, floods, and storms. Meanwhile, belief that democratic processes can find a solution is fading.
In difficult times like these, an outpouring of stories occurs. Witness the millions (literally) of books inspired by, based on, and discussing the Great War. A terrible experience gave birth to a never-ending strand of stories.
Now there is an explosion of science fiction: dystopian, cli-fi, and post-apocalyptic. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Scott Westerfeld’s The Uglies, among many other examples. Australian Mark Smith’s fabulous Wintertrilogy is right on topic.
Alongside the enthusiasm for such stories, there is a strain of dismissal. Dystopian science fiction is criticised for glorifying hardship, or for giving unrealistically happy endings, or for giving depressingly horrific unhappy endings, and especially for not providing answers. A recent article on the dystopian sub-genre called hopepunk (where continuing to fight for good is an affirmation of humanity) commented that such stories, validating the struggle rather than providing a solution, were simply telling the downtrodden that it’s their place to suffer.
Many of you know that my academic area of interest is Great War literature. War stories, too, have been criticised as glorifying war, revelling in misery, continuing the cultural expectation that life is harder for some than others, and worst – not preventing future war.
I have to ask whether that is the role of war fiction. Isn’t it rather like expecting murder mysteries to solve crimes? Romances to enable real-life happy endings? Fantasies to provide tangible proof of faeries?
I could go on about the role of literature (and I have elsewhere), and I could enter the discussion about the bourgeois nature of fiction (which, after all, is written by the literate for the literate). And I probably will go on a bit more soon. For now, though, let me say:
Don’t blame science fiction for the world’s ills. Science fiction can sound a warning, or point out current issues, or provide role models. Dystopian stories are like the traditional adventurer genre described by the poet Paul Zweig, too*. Such narratives imply action and purpose, and to my mind this is just as valid as feelings of hopelessness. Adventure stories show how to keep living in the face of peril.
This is not a new role for stories. In fact, I would argue that it is one of the original tasks of the storyteller, handed down from the first oral stories and continuing through the earliest written narratives of about 4000 years ago. Ancient stories such as The Odyssey and Gilgamesh reassuringly confirm ‘the possibility that mere [hu]man can survive the storms of the demonic world’ (Zweig 1974, vii); a powerful affirmation for readers in apocalyptic times.
I’ll no doubt write more about this. I see ample opportunities in the difficult future, sadly.
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
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.
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.
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.
Phyllis M. Newman is my guest on today’s Last Word of the Week. Born in New Orleans, Phyllis spent her formative years in Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, and on a dairy farm in Ross Country, Ohio. After a long career in finance and human resources at The Ohio State University, she turned her attention to writing fiction. She published a noir mystery, “Kat’s Eye” in 2015, and “The Vanished Bride of Northfield House” in 2018. Today she lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three perpetually unimpressed cats, ghostwatchers all.
Phyllis M Newman author
LWOTW: Lovely to meet you, Phyllis. Tell me, when did you write your first story?
Phyllis: I was thirteen and attending junior high school. It was a murder mystery entitled M is for Murder. (At the time I was living in Dade County Florida, murder capital of the world.) I still have a copy of it somewhere (and since then I think someone stole my title.) Maybe I could brush it up and finish it? At the time, I didn’t have the maturity and discipline to complete it with a well thought out plot and exciting characters. I do remember that the main character was named after my best friend Rhudell.
Ahem, murder capital of the world…*shivers*…You totally should revisit that book! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Only if you dream can you write. Only if you have an imagination can you create fiction. Planning, not so much. I prefer to start out with a strong character who has a set of problems and just write as if I am that person. I develop in my mind only a vague idea of where she will go and what she will do and about my major themes. Those details come to me as I flesh out the story.
Case in point, when I started The Vanished Bride of Northfield House, all I knew about Anne, my main character, was that she was orphaned, she secured training as a typewriter, she could see spirits, and it was set in England, 1922. You can see that any writer could develop volumes out of such a situation. It’s quite exciting to write in this way. It’s an adventure.
I love your method! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
When a traditional publisher accepted my manuscript for publication. And I got a cash advance. And a very professional editor worked closely with me for months to polish and improve the writing. After a year, I was holding a book in my hand with my name on it. Talk about dreams!
That’s a completely magical feeling. What are you most busy with at the moment?
I am polishing a finished manuscript, a novel in the same genre as The Vanished Bride of Northfield House. It is another gothic mystery with elements of the supernatural and a suspenseful romance. And, of course, trying to market and publicize my two other publications.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Just write. Stop dreaming and put your fingers to the keyboard (or pen to paper. Whatever floats your boat!) The more you write, the better you are at it. And read. Learn what makes a good story. And don’t forget the craft of writing. Good story telling is an art, but good writing is a craft that anyone can learn. But you can only learn by doing. That’s more than one thing, but all of the above is important.
Excellent advice there, thank you. And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
I wear yellow, the color of sunshine, at every opportunity
How lovely! Thank you so much, Phyllis, for being my guest on today’s last Word of the Week.
Michael Pryoris a Melbourne author who writes in many veins: from literary fiction to genre sci-fi to slapstick humour, depending on his mood, and very successfully too. Over fifty of Michael’s short stories have been published in Australia and overseas, and he has been shortlisted nine times for the Aurealis Award for Speculative Fiction. His short stories have twice been featured in Gardner Dozois’ ‘Highly Recommended’ lists in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Fantasy. Eight of his books have been awarded CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) Notable Books status, and he’s been longlisted for a Golden Inky (YA book award) and shortlisted for the WAYRBA Award (Western Australia’s Young Readers Book Award).
He has also twice won the Best and Fairest Award at West Brunswick Amateur Football Club (Australian Rules), so I know he’s a fully rounded person!
Hi, Michael, great to talk with you. What project are you talking about today?
Oh, that’s so cool! Is there one aspect of The Graveyard Shift that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
The book is set in Melbourne, my home town, and it’s a bit of a love song to a city I love. After years of writing stories set in imaginary locations, it was fun to write in a setting that I knew well. Instead of trying to work out how far it was from Imaginary Castle A to Imaginary Desert B, I could just use my local knowledge.
What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
I’m driven by the fact that anything else I could be doing would be a whole lot less fun and wouldn’t suit me nearly as well. Besides, I want to be part of the ranks of storytellers that stretch back to the dawn of language, because storyteller is such a human activity, part of who we are.
So true! Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I liken it to using stepping stones to cross a swiftly flowing river. The stepping stones are well thought out ahead of time and are in place, nice and solid. Between, though, it’s fluid and changeable, able to take you anywhere.
That’s perfect. A plan with flexibility, I like that. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Isobel Blackthorn writes great stories. She’s one of those accomplished authors who won’t be put in a box. Think thrilling mysteries, dark and dangerous romances, eerie occult tales and more. Every time I pick up one of Isobel’s books, I know I am about to be transported into an exotic location where I will meet intriguing characters who wrestle with particular circumstances…and I will have to read as quickly as I can to the end!
Hi Isobel, it’s wonderful to have you as today’s guest on the Last Word of the Week Q&A. Can you tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer?
Isobel: When I was eighteen, I developed a thirst for literature. I had uni friends studying English literature and I asked them for lists. That was how I feasted on Austen and Hardy, and then Zola and Flaubert and Kafka and Hesse. A little Sartre. I devoured those books and as I did, something in me stirred. I wrote little bits of poetry and song lyrics. I had not an iota of confidence, just a deep urge or impulse that would rise up in me every now and then. I heard the narrative voices of those books in my mind and I began to develop a narrative voice of my own, which proved to be a lot like Hesse at first. This was in the 1980s. It took decades before I had the time and space and self-belief to apply myself to learning the craft.
A great way to enter the world of writing, indeed. As a writer, do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
Ideas for new works emerge as if from nowhere. Little aha moments. It is rare that a whole novel will emerge at once. Sometimes many years go by before the initial impulse is developed into a book-length work. I do as little planning as possible. Too much planning can kill the creative spark. I prefer to let things flow as much as possible. Although writing mysteries and thrillers, there is always an element of plotting. And I usually know how a story will end so I have something to work towards. I am forever mindful of balancing the story elements and I am always fixated on the word count.
Story ideas are delicate creatures, I agree. I think you wrangle them very well. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Finding myself shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Prose Prize. I have long coveted winning a prize or even just reaching the long or short list. A prize is a rubber stamp that tells the world you are really quite good at what you do. In a fiercely competitive and swamped marketplace, we need to stand out somehow.
Congratulations! Yes, wonderful to have that stamp! What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
That is a big secret.
Oh, how marvellous! Now you have me guessing. If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t give up. Writing is an all-consuming activity that will stretch you in unexpected ways. Enjoy the creative process and do not be defeated by rejection. It can take ten years and many books before you feel you have climbed more than a rung of the ladder. Above all, support your fellow writers. We are a vast community, published and unpublished and we can help each other progress in many ways.
Lovely, thank you! And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
Here is that curly question at the end of the exam! Just when you feel you are ahead and passing is assured, along it comes and dashes your hopes. Who would I be? I used to think I would be Cathy in Wuthering Heights. No more. But I can think of no single character. I am that woman who sits by her upstairs window and gazes out at the world. An artist, probably, and very solitary. Who is she? I am a lot like, or want to be a lot like the protagonist in The Oblique Place by Caterina Pascual Soderbaum. I urge all literary fiction fans to read that book.
It sounds intriguing – very suitable! Thank you so much for talking with me today, Isobel.
It’s a cross-disciplinary book that scrutinises the characteristics of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and considers the potential of literary speculative fiction.
Eugen Bacon Author
That sounds wonderful. As a genre-hopper myself, I’m fascinated by insights into all of these. Is there one aspect of this book that you relate to most?
I really love this book because it is a reader’s paradise. It has vignettes and excerpts and samplers from renowned artists and novice students. It has writing exercises at the end of each chapter. It offers provocative and useful insights on speculative fiction, moving—as one reviewer professed—‘between ideas and stories, between analysis and narrative’. It is a book that celebrates amazing authors like Ray Bradbury and Octavia Butler, and supreme theorists like Roland Barthes and Simone de Beauvoir in embracing the pleasure of the text, and writing about the ‘other’.
I’m sold! I want my copy asap (but you have to sign it for me). What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
Dominique Hecq, a wonderful friend and mentor (she was my doctorate supervisor), articulates it best. She says that she writes to answer incipient questions troubling her mind, or to relieve some form of anxiety where cause may not yet be symbolised. She states, ‘I write because I must do so, exhilarating, detestable or painful though this might be.’
Like Hecq, I write to… find.
You write with very fluid genre borders yourself, of course.
How do you do it? Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline.
What can you say about your process?
My approach to the compositional space is with excitement, with a sense of urgency, with a knowing that writing is an active speaking. Writing is a search, a journey, a coming through. Text shapes my silence. It shouts my chaos. I often start with a skeleton, a general idea, and then the writing shapes itself.
Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Experimental. Inventful. Bold. Otherness. Poetic.
Eugen, thank you so much for having Something to Say!
Here’s an invitation for us all! Put it in your diary.
Amanda J Evans is an award-winning writer of paranormal and fantasy novels as well as children’s stories. Growing up with heroes like Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones, her stories centre on good versus evil. An early tragedy in her life has also made its way onto the page and Amanda brings the emotions of grief to life in her stories too. Amanda lives in Oldcastle, Co. Meath, Ireland with her husband and two children. Amanda is also the author of Surviving Suicide: A Memoir from Those Death Left Behind, published in 2012.
LWOTW: So lovely to meet you, Amanda. Can you tell me when you wrote your first story?
Amanda: I wrote my first real story when I was eight. It was called The Little Elf Fairy. It was about a young elf fairy child going off in search of his mother. I remember that it filled a copybook and I drew little pictures to go with it. My parents had it typed up and I even sent it to Penguin books. My first rejection too. :-0
Oh that is starting young in the realities of writing! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
I’m a big believer in dreams and the messages they can give us. In relation to writing dreams, I believe you have to have them. You have to have something to strive towards, something to excite you and keep you motivated. Whether it’s seeing your book in big name shops like Easons, or hitting the bestsellers list. You have to have a dream.
Imagination is essential for writing. I love imagining what my characters look like, how they’ll overcome the obstacles they are facing, etc. I also love imagining success and people reading and enjoying my books.
I’ll be very honest and say I don’t plan my books at all. I am what is referred to as a pantser. I pick up my pen and just write. The story unfolds as I’m writing it and I love it. I love the surprises, the twists, and the way that characters take over. I get to experience the story as a reader would even though I’m the author. I have tried planning in the past, but it never works. My characters always seem to do their own thing and I’ve learned that they know best.
That’s fabulous. What a wonderful way to write. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
There have been a few, but I think the best one was probably the most terrifying. It was after I’d finished writing Finding Forever and had sent it to beta readers. I was a nervous wreck. I was imagining all sorts, mostly negative. I kept thinking readers were going to say my story was rubbish, and who did I think I was being a writer. When the first messages started to arrive, I was afraid to open them. They could literally shatter all my hopes and dreams. I remember having a drink or two the evening I decided to read them. To calm myself down and give me the courage. The very first message I read left me with a big smile on my face. The reader loved the story. The rest of the feedback followed the same way. They loved the story and wanted more. I had readers telling me it could be a series and everyone loved one particular character. It was the boost I needed to move forward and publish my book.
Finding Forever won the Best Thriller category in the Summer Indie Book Awards 2017. Save Her Soul, my next book, won Silver in Best Paranormal book in the Virtual Fantasy Con Awards in 2017.
One of the highlights for 2018 was being invited to take part in two anthologies with bestselling authors and being asked to write an editorial quote for Anna Undreaming.
Congratulations, what a fabulous list! What are you most busy with at the moment?
At the moment, I’m busy promoting my latest release, Hear Me Cry. It’s a short novella that retells the Irish myth of the banshee. It’s a fantasy romance and is receiving great feedback so far. Next month I have a new angel and magic themed book releasing in an anthology. It’s called The Cursed Angels.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t give up. If writing is something that you love to do, do it. Not for the money and fame, but because it brings you joy. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the talk about making loads of money if you self-publish and this should never be your focus. Write because you love it. Read a lot, and improve your skills as you go along. Don’t put yourself under too much pressure and always remember why you started writing in the first place. Don’t ever let it become a chore.
And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
This would have to be either blue or pink, in all shades.
Thank you so much Amanda for speaking with me today. You have made my TBR pile even bigger. Thank you!
Blessed with a wildly overactive imagination, English author Jeannie Wycherley is chatting with me today. Jeannie lives in Devon with her husband and the fur-kids, three beloved dogs who are spoilt rotten (something I totally understand). Jeannie writes stories that are dark, suspenseful, horror-filled … and sometimes just plain weird in a wonderful kind of way.
LWOTW: It’s so lovely to meet you, Jeannie! Tell us, when did you write your first story?
Jeannie: I suppose like most writers I began in school. I loved writing, but you know what careers officers are like. They put me off. Instead I followed an academic path – right through to a PhD in history (which I loved doing, don’t get me wrong) – and worked in education for a long time. I ended up burnt out, on anti-depressants and receiving counselling for my struggle with work. Turned out I was just doing the wrong job and needed something more creative.
I started to write again in my early-forties and fell in love with it. It’s a rare day indeed where I don’t now do something related to my writing. My first success was an erotic story entered into a competition. I forget what it was called but it won. I was hooked!
Thanks, Jeannie, that really is a marvellous story and a bit of a reminder to those of us who have put off writing to do something more mainstream! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Where would we be without any of those things? For as long as I can remember I have lived inside my imagination, a rich and colourful tapestry of weirdness for sure. I dwell there, with the characters I meet in other people’s work and the ones I conjure up myself. On long journeys I settle down for a good day-dream and put those characters in my head to work in different situations. My mind is a magical place, preferable to day-to-day reality sometimes!
Dreams are extremely important on a number of levels. I have my own dreams, as in my ambitions, driving me forward as a writer. I would love more people to delve into my stories. I’m sure there’s something for everyone. My ultimate dream is to write full time and support myself and my husband through sales, but at the moment it’s a balancing act.
I use my own nocturnal dreams as a starting point for stories. I recently wrote a love story (my first one as I usually write dark fantasy and horror) that came straight out of a dream. I awoke having experienced this coherent exploration of my feelings towards growing older, and feeling regret about things I miss from my younger years – a youthful body, the excitement of music and life and dancing, the first flush of true love etc. I really badly needed to write this up, and it became Keepers of the Flame. It’s a story I’m proud of, although a huge step away from what I normally write.
As for planning, well … I am a planner, and all my work is plotted. I find it makes writing easier, although there is room for manoeuvre within the story if things strike me of course. Sometimes characters – and events – can take me completely by surprise. I love it when that happens.
Yes, that’s brilliant, isn’t it? What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
At the time of writing, the highlight is probably the publication of my debut novel Crone (2017). Sometimes I flip through my own copy and I think, ‘Did I really write that?’ Hahaha! It’s won a few awards that I’m proud of. A Chill with a Book Readers’ Award, and an Indie B.R.A.G Medallion.
But by the time this piece goes out, it will definitely be TheMunicipality of Lost Souls. The characters and the setting have me totally hooked and I can’t wait to unleash it. It’s a Victorian Gothic ghost story set where I live on the East Devon (UK) coast – think Jamaica Inn meets TheWalking Dead but with ghosts rather than zombies. It’s special and due out in Spring 2019.
Jamaica Inn meets The Walking Dead? Now I’m scared! Congrats on the new publications too. What are you most busy with at the moment?
I am hugely busy! I’ve just launched a new series called The Wonky Inn Books. The first novel, The Wonkiest Witch launched on Halloween, along with the Christmas special, The Witch Who Killed Christmas. These are designed to be lighter than my normal fare – they are clean and cozy witch mysteries.
I’m having such fun putting this series together! Book 2, The Ghosts of Wonky Inn and Book 3, Weird Wedding at Wonky Inn are both written and will be out before the end of the year, with two more to follow in 2019.
I’m currently writing Book 4 and plotting Book 5. At any one time I seem to have a book being edited, one being formatted, one plotting, one being written and one in marketing. There’s nowhere near enough hours in the day!
That sounds intriguing. If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Bum on seat. End of.
Oh yes!And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
My inspiration is drawn from the landscape, and I am so lucky to live where I do, where the forest meets the sea. My favourite colour is green.
Today we’re speaking with the Melbourne writer Deborah Sheldon.
Some of Deborah’s latest releases, through several publishing houses, include the noir-horror novel Contrition, the dark literary collection 300 Degree Days and Other Stories, the bio-horror novella Thylacines, the dark fantasy and horror collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (winner of the Australian Shadows Award “Best Collected Work 2017”) and the monster-horror novel Devil Dragon. Deborah’s short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, SQ Mag, and Midnight Echo. Her work has been shortlisted for numerous Aurealis Awards and Australian Shadows Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books, stage plays, and award-winning medical writing.
Something to Say: Welcome, Deb! That’s quite a list of achievements. What project are you talking about today?
Deborah: Award-winning press, IFWG Publishing Australia, is releasing my noir-horror novel, Contrition, today – September 3rd. The back-cover blurb reads:
In her late teens, Meredith Berg-Olsen had all the makings of a runway model. Now in her late forties, after everything she had been through – including horrors that John could only guess at – she looked bloodless instead of pale, skeletal instead of slender, more dead than alive…
John Penrose has two secrets. One is the flatmate he keeps hidden from the world: his high-school sweetheart, Meredith. His other secret is the reason he feels compelled to look after her.
Contrition is a horror story with noir undertones and an atmosphere of mounting dread.
STS: Is there one aspect of Contrition that you relate to the most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
My novel has two timelines: the present day and the 1980s. For the latter, I drew upon my own memories of high school for inspiration. If some of my old chums were to read Contrition, the basis of a few events might seem vaguely familiar. Since I hadn’t thought about my teenage years in a long, long time, it was interesting to sift through the memories, both good and bad. I think doing so gave the novel’s earlier timeline its rawness and pathos.
STS: What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
My brain is hard-wired to write. I started writing when I was a kid, and I’ve been a professional for 32 years. I’ll write until my dying day. There are two of me: the subjective self who lives this life; and the “observer” who squirrels away occurrences, feelings and thoughts to use in fiction. Every experience is potential fodder. I often reassure myself while going through a rough time, “Deb, elements of this will make good stories.” And it helps!
STS: That’s an interesting way to approach hard times. I like it! Now, many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I see each writing project – whether it be a short story, novella or novel – as a kind of jigsaw puzzle. I know what “picture” I’m trying to create. I just need to find some way to put all the pieces in the correct order. I’m technique-driven. To use another analogy, I build a story like an engineer builds a bridge.
STS: Jigsaw-like, that’s excellent. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?