2007 Snapshot Archive: Chris Lawson

Interviewed by Kathryn Linge

First published at ASiF!

Chris Lawson is a doctor and writer living in Queensland. His short fiction has been published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Event Horizon, Dreaming Down-Under, Gathering the Bones, Agog! andEidolon, as well as several Year’s Best anthologies. He founded the group blog Talking Squid (http://www.talkingsquid.net/) in 2006 and his website can be found at:http://members.ozemail.com.au/~claw/

1. You’re a writer of fiction and non-fiction, both influenced by your medical and scientific background. What drives you to write both forms? Do you see the two complementing each other? As a bonus question – how important is it to ‘humanise’ science so that the general reader can relate to it and understand it?

I knew I was going to write stories from the age of eight. There’s something magical about creating a story. I can’t really describe it. The non-fiction came later. Partly it was inspired by despair at the overwhelming flow of mental bilge being pumped by prominent news outlets. I wanted to stake out a little area of clean, rational thought. After a while, though, I really enjoyed writing essays because it forced me to think clearly about things that I had not always taken the time to understand well. Writing essays has leaked across into my fiction in the sense that it taught me not to cover every base. You have to cover every base in your own mind, but not on the page. This is just as true for fiction writing, but it took non-fiction to teach me.

I don’t think science needs humanising, really. Scientists are human after all, and so if a subject interests them enough to inspire years of research, it should be possible to translate that into fictional motivation, just as a mystery writer could turn stamp collecting into a motive for murder. Even if the reader comes to the book without a personal interest in the matter, a good story will grab them. Fantasy would be doomed otherwise. All you have to do is pressgang interesting characters into a difficult situation and the human implications will become obvious. The hard part is the interesting characters and the difficult situation, just like every other genre of fiction. As most sf writers will tell you, ideas are easy. Really. Non-writers and aspiring writers often find this hard to believe, but it’s true. Scientific American and New Scientist publish more than twenty story ideas an issue for lunch money.

2. Talking Squid, has been running for about 18 months now. What do you get out of it? Do you think blogging has changed how Australian Spec Fic community relates to itself and to the world?

Talking Squid is my outlet for little bits of knowledge that I want to spread around. It’s a bit of a chimaera with bits of science, bits of writing technique, bits of criticism and review, bits of news, bits of humour, and so on. I guess I want a record of all these little thoughtlets that can be read by others instead of dying of neglect inside a notebook. I can’t say how blogging has affected the international perception of Australian sf. Not much, I suspect. But blogging and other internet technologies like email lists and Flickr have made a very big difference to the social networking of writers who are spread out around the most sparsely populated continent (actually, the second sparsest). It has been especially important to me since I moved from Melbourne and its ebullient cluster of writers, artists, and fans.

3. How do you balance your medical career with your writing career? Would you, ideally, work as a full-time writer or do you enjoy doing a little bit of both?

At the moment I work part-time in clinical practice, spend one day a week teaching, and most of the rest of my time is taken up with family. Right now writing is a low priority, I’m sad to say, but as the children get older and my wife’s health improves, I should be able to put more energy into it again. Ten years ago, I would have said I’d love to write full-time. Not any more. Even if I was selling books a la Stephen King, I’d want to keep up the medicine.

4. Enough about the writing, what’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, and although it’s an old book and very hard to find, Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler.

5. Finally, and certainly most inappropriately, you’re given the opportunity to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most. Who’s it gonna be and why?

Jessica Rabbit. But I’m not a furry so she’d have to be in a human suit.

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