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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Author Interview - Angela Slatter

The wonderful Angela Slatter has kindly answered some of our questions about writing, life and who she would love to have a cuppa and cupcakes with from history. One of the greats at writing horror and dark gritty fantasy, Angela is the author of the Aurealis Award-winning The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, the World Fantasy Award finalist Sourdough and Other Stories, the Aurealis finalist Midnight and Moonshine (with Lisa L. Hannett), and the 2015 Aurealis finalist of The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Black-Winged Angels, and The Female Factory (also with Lisa L. Hannett) Aurealis 2015 Winner of the Best Collection with Lisa L. Hannett for The Female Factory, Aurealis 2015 Winner of Best Fantasy Short Story for  “St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls” and Aurealis 2015 Winner of the Best Horror Short Story for “Home and Hearth” 

·         What was it like winning an Aurealis Award or three?
It’s always nice to win awards, but (as I’m on the record as saying several times before) it’s just the jam. You don’t write for awards, and whether you win them or not doesn’t change who you are as a writer, doesn’t make you better or worse as a writer. And the other thing is this: you’re often on shortlists with friends. How can you feel super − happy if your friends lose and you win?
But, yes, it’s nice and the shiny pointy things certainly look purdy on the shelves!

·         What inspired you to start writing and what motivates you?
I always loved reading as a kid and after lights out I’d tell myself the stories that had been read to me over and over before I slept. I’d think about them and pull them apart  − maybe I was actually a budding editor! − and then tell them differently, especially if I hadn’t liked the ending. I’d always scribbled, but didn’t make the decision to give writing a proper bash until I was 37 − I didn’t want to hit 40 and feel I’d never tried to live my dream. I’ve been working at it ten years now, and I still love it, despite the poverty. There are all these stories and characters living inside my head − if I don’t write about them, they get grumpy.
·         Can you tell me a little bit about the main characters of your latest MS?
Ah, well, the novel Vigil, which is doing the rounds now is set in Brisbane. It’s based on a short story “Brisneyland by Night” that was first published in Sprawl (from Twelfth Planet Press) and been reprinted a couple of times. The main character is Verity Fassbinder who works for the Weyrd Council, keeping the folks of the Weyrd community in Brisbane law abiding. Her father was a kinderfresser, a child-eater and butcher to the traditionalists amongst the Weryd who thought it their right to eat humans, so V has grown up with a fair few chips on her shoulder. The novel takes place at a time when kids are disappearing from the streets and someone is producing a wine made from the tears of children. It’s a mix of fairy tale and urban fantasy and horror, and V has a bit of DNA from John Connolly’s Charlie Parker and Clive Barker’s Harry D’Amour.

·         Do you have a name for your computer?
Nope! It’s just “the desktop” and “the laptop”.

·         What type of books do you like reading?
Well, speculative fiction, fairly obviously :-) − more dark fantasy and horror than science fiction (I read a lot of science fiction as a teen and it’s now much less interesting to me). I like reading crime  − that’s my go-to when I just need to relax because it’s not my genre so I don’t generally see all the seams and plot holes I see when I’m reading spec-fic.  

·         What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why from one of the winning entries?
Oh, that too hard! I love the opening scene from “St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls” when Mercia sees the ghost of a man crucified against the alder tree with mistletoe binding coz I think it’s a striking image, and I love the scene when the girls are being taught how to use fans to assassinate someone because of the challenge in writing something both frivolous and deadly! I love the scene in “Home and Hearth” where the ghost child climbs into Caroline’s bed and snuggles against her because it makes me shiver. And in The Female Factory ... I love the first transformation scene that Baron watches at the billabong in “All the Other Revivals” because it’s so strange and rich; I love the last scene in “Vox” where Kate waits for instructions because it makes you feel like you’re holding your breath (it’s one of Lisa’s scenes and it’s perfect); I love the escape scene in “Baggage” where Robin does something terribly ruthless and you sense that both of her personalities have joined forces; and I love the first scene in “The Female Factory” novella where the children go grave robbing, because it’s got a wonderful mix of innocence and dread utterly untouched by any sense of morality. All of those sound wrong when you read over them! But it’s about successfully creating all those moods with words.
·         What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
Don’t take yourself too serious; grow a thick skin; remember you’re not always right about the shape of your story; have two or three people whose opinions you trust; remember there’s more than one path to the end of a story and you don’t need to tell it the way you first wrote it; network  − and that means creating mutually helpful relationships in the writing community, not just trying to get whatever you can for yourself; keep in touch with the tribe; don’t just talk about writing, do the writing.

·         If you could have a cuppa with anyone from history, who would it be?
I’d like to sit Catherine the Great and Hatshepsut down for a coffee and cupcakes.

·         Do you have a writing routine that you need to do before you start to write? 
I go for a walk around the park in the morning, which means I get some fresh air and exercise before I sit down. But I’m very mindful of Jeff VanderMeer’s advice: free yourself of writing fetishes. If you can only write with a certain kind of pen, in a particular place, using a special font, facing west with a teddy bear to your left and a Sheldon bobble-head to your right, then you’re already making a whole list of excuses not to write. You need to be able to scribble anywhere, anytime, using whatever mediums are at hand. It’s about getting the words down, it’s about the habit of the actual writing, not about the superstitious customs we use as gateposts.  
·         How much research goes into your writing?
It depends on the subject matter. If it’s a deeply historically based piece − such as “The Female Factory” novella − then a lot. Lisa and I both went through old records online about the female factories of Australia, who was in them, what happened to orphan children at that time, where the closest Queen’s Orphan School was, the duties of convict supervisors and overseers, the sorts of buildings and facilities around the place at the time, the kind of foods, the sort of work the female convicts did, the duties of each class of convict, etc. Even though not every bit of research goes in, you do your best to ensure that it underpins and flavours everything you write so that the story feels authentic ... all stories are about ‘what if’, but you still need to make sure the foundation is believable for the reader.
The other danger with research − apart from losing yourself in it in an attempt to avoid the actual writing − is that you do so much research that you just want everyone to know everything that you now know! And that’s not good for a story ... it gets weighted down by so many historically accurate details that you can’t see the story for the minutiae. So you need to be really careful and have a constant check − in with yourself to ask “Is this detail relevant to the story?” You can get away with some flab in a novel; a short story, not so much.
·         What would be your ideal century and why?
Honestly, if I were to choose any other than the present it would be based purely on the clothing and how they look. Alas, due to all the research I’ve done I know how filthy the streets of Paris were during the years of the Sun King even though the dresses were gorgeous; how disgusting Victorian London was although, again, the gowns were amazing − but you couldn’t breathe because of the corsets or the fog or the stink of the sewage. So, I’ll say Now: as women, we have more freedom and comfy clothes than ever before, even though our shoes are often stupid.

·         How did you become interested in horror?
I read Dracula as a teen! I read Richard Laymon and Stephen King, Shaun Hutson, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz. I read MR James and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. I read Barabara Bayton and Marghanita Laski and Mary Shelley. And I read so many, many fairy tales, which are the basic building blocks of horror: forced to wear hot iron shoes and dance! Your father wants to marry you! Eaten by bears when you commit a break and enter! Traded to a witch by your mother because she love radishes!
·         Has the dog ever eaten your manuscript?
Nope. I’m very professional and respect my deadlines. And I am a compulsive backer- upper of files.

·         What are your tips for people entering into the Aurealis Award for the first time?
(a) Write good stories!
(b) Enter the stories in the appropriate category rather than trying a ridiculously optimistic scattergun approach.
(c) Don’t be depressed if you don’t get shortlisted − and don’t be shitty to people who are shortlisted.
(d) Remember always: awards are a crapshoot − you’ve got no control over people’s reading tastes or who the competition is.
(e) Winning or losing, shortlisting or otherwise, doesn’t change who you are as a writer and doesn’t magically change the quality of your work, so keep perspective at all times. No one has the right to win an award.

Thank you very much Angela for taking the time to answer these questions. If anyone wants more information about Angela's books then please head over to her website here.
We can also try to order in any of Angela's works for you all to read :D

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