Interview by Ben Peek
1) You’ve quietly established for yourself a reputation for producing quality dark fiction, as well as maintaining a strong reputation for RPG material, selling non-fiction work to magazines such as Dragon. These days, what attracts you to a project?
I went through a patch last year where I could hardly use my hands at all and definitely couldn’t type (RSI — it could happen to you). To write I had to rely on voice recognition software. Three months of that makes a person think.
In a word, Ben, what attracts me to a project these days is extension. I’ve written some short stories, some feature articles and have two novel manuscripts kicking around. I have done certain things and now I’m trying to push beyond them; in theme, style and exposure. From the outside, this probably doesn’t show; Lady knows there’s not enough of my work out there to form a canon. Which is, of course, part of what has to change.
My projects are all self-motivated at the moment; the most recent exception being the article in Dragon #329, “The Petit Tarrasque”, which the editor actually pitched to me. That was gratifying. I must say, for those of you who have never done work for hire (which is how the RPG industry runs) that it can be both a useful and creative experience. The discipline of having to stick to a topic, a set of rules, a world, and yet come up with intriguing ideas, I find an excellent thing to apply to my fiction. Plus you have a contract and if the company is an established one you usually get paid. Being paid for your writing is good. It is very, very good. That’s something I don’t intend to give up.
2) Horror is not really a favourite of the publishing scene these days. What I see a lot of is dark fantasy, which is often two or three steps from reaching the horror genre. How has the market drift from traditional horror fare (if there was ever such a thing) influenced your own work, which began with strong horror roots?
Horror is a chameleon, Ben. It has little sucker feet and a long, coiled tongue. It adopts the colouration of whatever genre it clings to, shoots out its tongue and hits you on the back of the neck when you least expect it. Having said that, I do feel that there is a kind of pure horror fiction — the chameleon’s native habitat, perhaps. But I would be hard put to define it or possibly even recognise it. To illustrate; ‘Kijin Tea’, my story from Agog #2, was nominated for an Aurealis in the short horror category. I wrote that as fantasy.
I like dark fantasy. By which I mean Kirsten Bishop’s The Etched City, Kim Wilkins’ The Autumn Castle and Kate Forsyth’s TheTower of Ravens; and that’s just the Australian contingent. Fantasy has a lot to offer the horrific chameleon; I savour in horror a sense of possibilities opening beyond the norm and fantasy provides a way to follow through. Dark fantasy is where the teenage girl from the trilogy (brought up in various other interviews) gains amazing powers that are warped by her twisted psyche, and the dragons are not coming to help. And that could be taken as a very broad summary of one of those novel manuscripts I mentioned.
What I’m saying is that I don’t think the market drift has influenced my work so greatly. It may be easier to summon up pure horror within a short story, or at least to spot it there. Ah heck, I write dark. Probably best to leave it up to you and the other readers and critics and dear-gods-yes the marketing departments to decide dark what. Don’t forget to feed your chameleon.
3) Your honest opinion of the quality of the local scene, its positives and negatives.
The overwhelming positive about the local scene is that it’s there. I saw the Sydney roleplaying scene shrivel up and die as something you could actually go to and meet people and wear an 18th century ball gown at. The speculative scene, writers and readers, is here on the net and it’s there at conventions, parties and certain speciality bookshops of a Thursday night. It’s where I don’t have to restrain my more outré tendencies, and I can have a vocabulary if I want to. I pray that the people at my new day job don’t get curious and google me like the last lot…
But I like to think of it as part of an international scene, swept by the same new waves and based on the same traditions, generating its own movements that in turn sweep back across the world. Why not? Speculative fiction has a history of local circles of writers generating the enthusiasms and trends that spread across the world; I’m thinking of the Crouch End Drinking Society, and a certain legendary get-together at the Villa Diodati. The circle can be based around a magazine, as when we refer to the Weird Tales writers. Am I fantasising here? Am I ignoring both the tyranny of distance and the importance of national identity? Maybe so, but in my opinion, to concentrate on such things to the exclusion of the work is very negative.
4) You’re dead. In a rare act of charity, you kicked a crying child into the Sydney Harbour and it was eaten by, well, we’re not sure which. Still, it was the lynch mob that did you in. You go to Heaven and God is there, waiting. What do you say?
“Don’t think I’m backing down now!”
5) Favourite swear word?
I say “ah heck”. I’m also the only person I know to have spontaneously sworn by the Lords of Chaos in a moment of stress. Never swear at voice recognition software.