Interviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts
Dirk Flinthart is a writer based in Scottsdale, Tasmania. His recent published work includes short stories in New Ceres #1 and ASIM #30. Earlier this year, Dirk edited an issue of ASIM, and he was recently announced as the editor of an upcoming anthology (submissions currently open) with Agog! Press: Canterbury 2100. He blogs over at http://flinthart.livejournal.com.
Q1 The project which has you most solidly place in the “Aus spec fic scene” right now is the upcoming Canterbury 2100 anthology. Where did the inspiration for this project come from? What do you hope to achieve with it?
I’m not sure where the original idea came from. I do know that initially I thought it would make a nifty theme for an issue of ASIM – and then I thought no, wait… why would I presume to screw with something that works as well as ASIM does already? And besides, I’d also realized it was a far more interesting idea than at first I’d considered.
What I’d like to achieve… oh, yeah. Metafiction, folks. The fiction of an imaginary future.
Humans are storytelling beasts. Nothing that happens to us counts save that we can make a story of it, and structure it, and shape it into the story of our lives. Stories outlast their tellers. They explore, shape and even define our worlds for us. Stories are a refined, sharpened and polished glimpse of the very process of being human.
That being the case, you’ll understand why I enjoy the original Canterbury Tales, and the Decameron of Boccaccio. For me, these collections of late medieval tales are far more interesting and significant than any number of historical accounts, memoirs, biographies, lawbooks, etc. Looking at what Boccaccio and Chaucer wrote, I get more than just history: I get a sense of how the people of those times lived, and felt, and what was important to them, and why. Take The Knight’s Tale, for example. (And if your only experience with it is the Heath Ledger film… go away. Stop reading here. Please. Really.) It’s nothing more, nothing less than the fantasy-bestseller of the 14th century. It combines classical Greek myth-figures with knights in armour with fairies and sprites and all kinds of glorious magic. It’s an escape – but it’s an escape for the reader of the 14th century. It tells us what they feared, and what they hoped for, and what they dreamed of, just as our modern-day books and movies and comics speak of our own fears, hopes and dreams.
It’s hard to convey the joy those collections bring to me. The sense of ‘connection’ and understanding with the writers, and with the people they wrote for, is tremendous, and the experience of ferreting about in the details and the humour and the pathos of the world as recreated in those stories is just gorgeous.
Now, I don’t expect to recreate Boccaccio or Chaucer. Nevertheless, I’d like to see a body of stories which are not about 22nd century England as-it-is, but the 22nd century England that its inhabitants fear, hope for, and dream of. I think that such a collection of meta-fiction has tremendous potential to speak evocatively of our communally-imagined future – and I firmly believe that the present pool of speculative fiction talent in Australia has the ability to carry it off with style.
Keep your fingers crossed, eh?
Q2 You’ve been an active participant in the shared world zine New Ceres, and you’re one of the ASIM collective. What is it about shared worlds and collaborative projects that appeal to you as a writer, editor, whatever?
Heart on my sleeve here: I’m just a storyteller. Collaborative stuff is no more or less interesting to me than solo work. Yet there’s considerable fun in working with others. I had the good fortune to have a short story optioned to make a short film, and as it was a no-budget indie sort of thing, they let me in on the scriptwriting. That was tremendous fun. I adapted the original story – a piece called “fish story” which turned up about a decade ago in the shortlist for some award or another via Australian National University – into a script. Then I watched while the director gently and very kindly adapted it again, to make it more film-friendly, which was interesting. Then, when the final production came out, I got to see how the actors had interpreted and recreated the dialogue and the action, and that was even more interesting.
Collaborative work has its own particular charm because ultimately, we tell stories for readers. And yes, we get feedback from reviewers and critics and (if we’re lucky) even fans – but it’s frequently kind of dry, and removed. In a shared-character or shared-world situation, you get to watch other people (readers who are also writers!) reinterpret your work and ideas. It’s vivid, fresh, surprising – sometimes even shocking, which is marvellous. On the other side of the fence, there’s a particular intellectual challenge in taking somebody else’s ideas and guidelines and making something new with them. Of all the stuff I’ve written and published, I think I’m most proud of the story I did for Cat Sparks’ third Agog! antho. I contacted Michael Moorcock and got permission to write a new Jerry Cornelius story, which I called “Gaslight a go-go”, or something similar. Jerry Cornelius had to become both Professor Moriarty and Jack the Ripper to prevent Sherlock Holmes becoming unfictitious and dooming the world to a deterministic, Newtonian future… I’d say it makes more sense when you read it, except I’d be lying. And that’s how a good Jerry Cornelius story ought to be.
That was really tremendous fun. If I never put any more runs on the board, I’ll always be pleased with the fact that I got to play with Jerry Cornelius.
Q3 Where do you want to be as a writer in five years, and how are you going to get there?
I’d like to have an agent, so I don’t need to spend time wooing publishers. And I’d like that agent to spend most of his or her time saying “no, not right now – he’s too busy.”
How am I going to get there? Keep writing. Keep refining. Keep working. What else is there?
Q4 Do you read much in the Aus spec fic scene? What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?
Regrettably, with three kids and a seriously overloaded life, I can’t read as much as I used to. I must say, I find the Australian spec fic scene to be well equipped with talented, interesting writers. In fact, having signed up for a few of the Big Name International Periodicals, I’m surprised by the patchiness of quality that I see. I’ve had a few arguments with various folk about this, but I’m going to go out on a long limb here and say yes: there is most certainly a sociocultural bias apparent in the selections of editors of well-known overseas publications. (I know. It’s not that long a limb, really, is it? Suggesting that perhaps an American editor might have somewhat different tastes to a Brit, who might be different from an Aussie or a Kiwi or a South African – in any other field, nobody would bat an eyelid if you said that. But for some reason, in spec fiction if you dare to suggest that just maybe there’s the slightest possibility that sociocultural influences might play the very tiniest of roles in influencing an editor’s choices, they start calling for Homeland Security to drag you away for an enforced holiday in Cuba.)
Best thing I’ve read this year? So far, nothing really jumps out. However I would definitely have good things to say about Marianne de Pierres Dark Space, and I read Sean Williams’ Saturn Returnswithin a 48-hour period, which is very high praise from me. (Sean! You bastard! How come the damned book doesn’t say “First of yet another indefinite-length series which Sean will get around to finishing when he bloody well feels like it.” on the cover? Have you written the second yet? Well? No? What are you doing sitting here, reading this stuff? Turn OFF the Internet connection, and get back to the word processor. NOW!)
Q5 and finally, if you had the chance to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most, who would it be?
Eh? Whoa. There’s an unexpected question. Thank you very bloody much… now I have to admit that I’ve never actually thought about it, which probably implies I’m way, way weirder than even I thought. Umm.
Well, hell. There’s sex, and then there’s the rest, you know? But I’m gonna sidestep here. Of all the fictional femmes I’ve encountered over the years, not one has had the same appeal as a real, live, historical woman. She was around during the sixteenth century, and to be honest, the records which exist of her life are so damned crazy that frankly, she ought to be fictional. In fact, I did fictionalize her in a story for ASIM entitled “Invictus”.
The woman in question was Grace “Granuaile” O’Malley, the pirate queen of Ireland’s western coast, and I leave it as an exercise for the reader to use Google and find out a little more about her. From what I can tell, if we had ever met – well, if one of us hadn’t killed the other within the first five minutes, I think it might have gone very well indeed.
Hmm. Mind you, there’s always Molly Millions/Sally Shears from William Gibson’s Neuromancer stuff. What’s this thing I’ve got for really, really dangerous women, do you suppose?