2007 Snapshot Archive: Terry Dowling

Interviewed by Kathryn Linge

First published at ASiF!

Terry Dowling is one of Australia’s most awarded and internationally acclaimed writers of science fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy and horror. His Ditmar award-winning Tom Rynosseros saga (Rynosseros, Blue Tyson, and Twilight Beach) is soon to be completed with the fourth book, Rynemonn, being published by Coeur de Lion in October. His most recent collection, Basic Black: Tales of Appropriate Fear (2006), earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly and has also been nominated for an International Horror Guild Award. His website is: http://www.terrydowling.com/

1. With Rynemonn, the fourth and final book in the Rynosseros saga due for publication soon, how do you feel? Where did the original concept for the Rynosseros stories come from and what was it about Coeur de Lion that led you to entrust Tom’s final chapter to such a relatively new publishing company?

I’m very excited about the book’s appearance. It’s very personal work and means a lot to me. A curious thing, but my hand was forced in a sense, in a very good and most appropriate way. As with all arc stories (BABYLON 5, FIREFLY etc readily come to mind) I could have kept the story of Tom’s search going a fair bit longer and gained by it. In a sense, it was Peter McNamara’s serious illness back in 2002-2003 that determined the shape and form of this closing instalment. Peter didn’t have long to live and was editing FOREVER SHORES with Margaret Winch. He asked for a story and I sent him “Coyote Struck by Lightning”. Then, because his days were limited, I sent along “Coming Down” and “Sewing Whole Cloth”, the companion stories that resolved the penultimate events described in “Coyote”, and with them the whole RYNEMONN manuscript so he could read the sequencing of tales and the linking narrative, “Doing the Line”.

Peter and Margaret ended up taking all three new pieces for FS plus a part of “Doing the Line”, certainly not what I’d expected. Once the final stages of Tom’s journey of discovery appeared in that book, it seemed time to have the whole saga appear. In conversation with friends at one of our solstice celebrations, Keith Stevenson of Coeur de Lion expressed his and Andrew Macrae’s interest in picking up the book. It’s the sort of thing Peter would have applauded wholeheartedly: a book championed by one small press being passed on to another.

The Tom Rynosseros stories owe their conceptual beginnings to many things, some of which I’m probably not even aware of. But in there will be the powerful 15th/16th century song lyric “Loving Mad Tom” (aka “Tom O’Bedlam’s Song” etc) with its wonderful second-last stanza: “And those that cross Tom Rynosseros / Do what the Panther dare not”. Those words, with the splendid and oft-quoted final stanza gave the spiritual heart of the series in miniature. It just need a dash of J. G. Ballard’s VERMILION SANDS stories, a healthy slice of Bradbury’s Martian tales, a jot of flavour from Fritz Leiber and Philip K. Dick and definitely the work of my dear friends Jack Vance and Harlan Ellison. Toss that up with the Arabian Nights and a few favourite pirate films, the discovery of the genuine term “char volant” and you have it.

2. Throughout your career you’ve produce work in a huge number of formats – song, theatre, short and long fiction, even computer games. What drives you to involve yourself and use such a wide variety of media? How do they differ in the satisfaction they provide to you as an artist?

It’s important to remember that storytelling has traditionally made use of whatever media are available and effective for presenting story. It can be puppet shows, bawdy ballads, fireside jokes and yarns, dance, whatever. I’ve always been predisposed to this sort of transmediation (it was the subject of my PhD thesis). There is always story. You’ll find it in the simplest, most minimal things. For all sorts of reasons (among them sheer delight at possibility) I’ve tried whatever comes to hand. It’s what storytellers should remember to do.

3. What do you think of the state Australian speculative fiction as it stands today? Has the community changed much since you first became involved?

Statistically, in terms of the delivery of what’s available, it’s arguably healthier than ever. Yes, there’s more derivative, formula work at the longer lengths than ever, surprisingly lacking in sense of wonder, but there are more players and that’s tremendously exciting. My only concern is that some writers are sidelining themselves by releasing less than A-grade work, but that is their call, and no doubt they don’t see their as less than top standard.

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

Some of the work in Jonathan Strahan and Gardner Dozois’s The New Space Opera, and probably a re-read of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. The sheer bravura of the storytelling in that novel is astounding.

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

Probably Inara in Firefly, but then you know what we pirate types are like!

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