2007 Snapshot Archive: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Interviewed by Alexandra Pierce

First published at ASiF!

Dr Tansy Rayner Roberts’ novel for children, Seacastle – book 1 of The Lost Shimmaron series – was published this year. She is also involved in the Young Adult-focussed ezine Shiny, and can be found online here.

Q1. So. Shiny and Shimmaron. What’s the go with the Young Adult focus? And the alliteration?

The alliteration is coincidental! I’ve been moving towards doing children’s and young adult fiction for some time, because I really believe that’s where the exciting stuff is happening in our genre right now (plus, the books? shorter!) but it’s something of a coincidence that it’s all happening for me this year. The Shimmaron has been a project in motion for four years that just happened to appear Right Now, and as for Shiny… well, I take total credit for the idea, if not the project!

Internationally, as the profile of YA SF has increased, there have been a number of anthologies released to appeal to that audience (that audience including teenagers who don’t want to be talked down to, and adults who like to read about smart teens) but no magazine markets that follow up on that. So we made one! We’re really excited with some of the authors and stories we’ve picked up so far, and will be making a splash with our first issues later this year. Stay tuned!

PS: The Lost Shimmaron series is actually aimed at children – it occasionally gets listed as YA, but it’s definitely the lower end, as in 8-12 yr olds. I keep getting fan comments from people who read it to their 4 year olds! I don’t want people to expect there are going to be, like, faery drugs and troll sex and all those other good YA things in it. It’s a mermaidy adventure story.

Q2. You’ve had a few short stories published in places like Andromeda Spaceways, and more recently Fantastical Journeys to Brisbane, as well as novels. Do you have a preferred length to write towards? – do you always know whether an idea is a short or a novel?

Actually, the perfect length for a story for me is about 13,000 words. Which is tragic, really. It’s a cross I have to bear.

I’m a novel girl at heart, it’s how I think. I’m always surprised and delighted when I get a short story idea that will actually work in 6,000 words or less, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. Having said that, I loved writingSeacastle, Book 1 of the Lost Shimmaron, because 20,000 words is such a beautiful novel length. Should be more of it!

My trouble is that I think in worlds, so even when I write shorts, I usually want to jam them into a series. It has to be all about the novels right now, though, because last year I swore I’d have three new novel-length manuscripts completed by the time I was thirty, and I have just under a year to go. Score is currently at one with just minor edits to go, one which needs about 30,000 words added to the front of it, plus edits, and one that needs to be written from scratch. I can totally do it.

Q3. You’ve just completed your PhD looking at the use of the term ‘Augusta’ and how it was applied to various Roman women. Can we look forward to a historical fantasy story from you sometime in the future – perhaps with Agrippina or Julia meeting a mermaid? And if not, why not, choose your favourite colour… or explain what else might be coming up.

Heh – I have just completed it, as of about 6pm yesterday (Friday)! Hooray! You may address me as Dr Tansy.

I’ve been wanting to write about my period of Ancient Rome for years, but never quite got up the nerve. I had an alternate history all planned for a while, kind of Roman steampunk (because there’s this legend that steam engines were invented but the Emperor dismissed them because “what would we do with the slaves”) and I was researching Egyptian technology for ages, but I’ve never followed through.

I’ve written half a short story about Caesar being haunted by Pompey’s severed head when he meets Cleopatra. I want to finish that, but as usual, I have no idea how to finish the damn thing. Maybe I need to add smut…

I *really* want to write about the romance of Octavian and Livia, because that story fascinates me (she was pregnant with her second child to her first husband when he married her), and none of the historical novelists seem willing/interested to cover it. I adore young Octavian, he was such a little psychopath and yet he reinvented himself so effectively later on.

And I had this whole idea about writing a story about the afterlife of the deified members of the Julio-Claudian family. Drusilla and Livia, in particular. Such a catfight waiting to happen. Livia died first, but her great-granddaughter got to be a goddess first! Imagine the tensions.

I actually have a huge epic book/series planned which incorporates magic and Roman women’s history, but it’s way down the list of manageable projects, because it’s going to be so damn big! And of course there’s the ‘history fear’ thing to get over, where the more you know about a historical era, the more paranoid you become about getting it Wrong.

In the mean time, the novel I’m working on (the one that needs the beginning added to it) revolves around a festival calendar directly inspired by the Ancient Romans, and the city itself is grounded in my memories of Rome. So that will have to be enough for now!

PS: My favourite colour is green.

Q4. You’re part of the Last Short Story crew, and well known as having a Harry Potter fanfic obsession: what’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

Ooh, that is a really difficult question. I’ve read over 90 books, over 1000 short stories and um, mumble, over 1500 fanfics (including at least 50 novel & 100 novella length ones).

Having said all that, the one piece of reading I’ve picked up this year and adored uncritically is the Fruits Basket manga series – I resent it when I really like something that’s hugely popular and have to join the crowd, but I couldn’t resist this one.

I also loved Castle Waiting by Linda Medley, The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke, The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes, everything that fanfic writers <lj user=“mistful”> and <lj user=“sam_storyteller”> have ever written, and two stories from Aurealis #37: “John Wayne,” by Ben Peek and “Domine” by Rjurik Davidson. And I’m ordering Steve Berman’s novel Vintage on the strength of his gingerbread boys story “Bittersweet” in the new Endicott Studio zine.

Q5. Last, but most salacious: choose one fictional character to get it on with. Who would it be?

Colleen McCullough’s version of Julius Caesar. Mmmm.


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