Thoraiya Dyer is a NSW-based writer. Some of her publications include short stories published in ASIM and Twelfth Planet Press’s New Ceres Nights.
1. You’re relatively new to the Aussie scene and have already been nominated for an Aurealis Award and are piquing the interest of critics. What got you started writing? Why speculative fiction? What interests you most about the Aussie scene?
Like everyone else who has been told they are new, I reply: You can write unpublished novels for decades and go completely unnoticed. Except by your long-suffering mother, who has been forced to read your exploding-goblin-on-the-train-tracks stories since you were six. And your slightly less-suffering husband who has only been forced to read your platypus-spirit-battles-pixie stories since you first started dating.
After finishing high school, I wrote a fantasy or science fiction novel every year. Until I got pregnant and my back suddenly couldn’t take sitting at the desk. That year, I wrote a short story, “Night Heron’s Curse.” It got published and I met many wonderful people, and I wrote more short stories because the attention went to my head. Before the baby, when I worked as a vet, people paid good money for my opinion. I felt that I was important, and I felt that I was helping people. I lost that when I became a stay-at-home-Mum. So this is a bit of a lifeline for me.
Why spec fic? My Mum had/has an excellent science fiction shelf. She would clap if anybody said they didn’t believe in fairies. It’s all her fault.
The Aussie scene interests me because it is full of generous, unselfish, welcoming people, and also because I am the kind of person who finds hope in the achievements of those who have gone before. I need role models. They are here. The quality of their work has changed my book shopping habits.
2. I might cheat a bit on this one and mention the novelette that Twelfth Planet Press has bought from you – Edward Teach – this is a YA story, with a very strong Australian voice, but not the kind of Australian voice that you often see in Australian specfic. What do you see as the role for fiction, as specfic in particular, in exploring the other?
Fiction is so important when it comes to exploring “the other”. In fiction you can let the essence of a story show without being strangled by the extraneous. You can try to see beyond facts and try to pin down truths.
In the past week, I have been an African child soldier forced to rape for his supper (A Song For Night), a young woman struggling to make her dreams come true in the dreary Australian bush (My Brilliant Career) and an ambitious British gay man trying to escape his working-class roots (The Stars’ Tennis Balls).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t run into strangers very often who will immediately pour out their most harrowing experiences for me to learn from. Maybe it’s just that I’m introverted? Maybe extroverted people have actual conversations to learn from, and so they don’t need to read books.
Speculative fiction goes the extra step. As regards “the other,” I think it helps you stop making excuses for yourself or your culture by taking away your points of reference. Disguising humans as elves or aliens might help you to hear a message you might not otherwise be able to hear. Does a Palestinian kid in a shelled-out house want to read about the Holocaust? Does an Israeli kid in a bunker want to read about a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank? We don’t want to feel sympathy for the other if it means doubting ourselves or belittling our own suffering.
But both those kids can read the Dark Crystal and instantly recognise the Skeksis shouldn’t be torturing and killing the Podlings.
In our minds, when we’re young, we are all Bagheera the panther, who easily recognised the worth in something new and different, and bought the life of a human child. We’re all Creb, the Neanderthal shaman who spared Ayla’s life.
Nobody is Shere Khan the tiger. Nobody is Broud, who wanted to leave the Cro-magnon baby out in the snow because it wasn’t Neanderthal enough.
When we’re older, we start to see a bit of ourselves in the Skeksis who want to live forever, Shere Khan who wants power he thinks he has earned, or Broud, who cannot comprehend the future and yet jealously refuses to pass the torch on to those who are better equipped.
Hey, it’s not the nice little story I thought it was! It’s a mirror in disguise!
Edward Teach is a bit different. There’s disguises – but then again, there isn’t. Australia is full of migrants. We all have baggage, including the two kids in the story. But the other power of spec fic is to make metaphors literal. These two kids are in a situation where putting on a costume can physically transform them. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes takes on a whole new meaning.
3. What goals do you aspire towards as a writer? And what drives you to achieve them? What are you currently working on?
I aspire for my novel-length stories to be read and enjoyed. I want to put fantasy in Australian settings out there, and I want people who haven’t peeked at fantasy before to consider giving it a look-in. There’s one important step missing so far, which would be publication. But I’m working on it!
Also, I aspire to having the conversation. The thing about a great book is that you close it afterwards, maybe close your eyes, hold it tight and think, “this is a box full of awesome!” But it’s a one-way broadcast. It’s not a conversation. You can’t then turn around to Ursula or Sherri or Neal and say, “that was awesome, you are a genius, what do you think of MY idea?!”
So writing books is a feeble attempt to have the conversation. Because some ideas are book-long ideas that you really can’t articulate in your elevator pitch.
Oh, and I like to make things up.
I think everyone should. Michael Ende got it right in the Neverending Story. If we stop using our imaginations, the world will get gobbled up by the Nothing. One thing we should try hardest to imagine is the future, because the first step towards making a better world is conceiving of how to do it.
A few years ago I met Bob Carr at the launch of his book, “My Reading Life,” which was an impressive catalogue of classics and historical texts. When I asked about speculative fiction, he said he didn’t read it, point-blank. I thought: Does that mean you don’t imagine the future? Are we in for more of the same, then? History repeating itself? How depressing!
I’m still plotting to send him “The Dispossessed”, “The Diamond Age” and “Raising the Stones”.
What I’m working on right now, besides short stories, is my last-year’s novel which has turned into this-year’s novel: Waltzing Mathilda, the story of two Scottish families whose historic magical feud continues in the fledgling colony of New South Wales.
The first draft wasn’t finished by the end of last year because, in a mystical and horrific process, my baby has turned into a banshee toddler who enjoys “sit up” on “Mum’s chair” and “typey typey” when my back is turned – or while I am, in fact, sitting in said chair, pushing her away with both hands and shrieking, “NO TYPEY TYPEY, DON’T TOUCH MUMMY’S PUTER!”
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?
I’d love to see Roberts’ gorgeous “Siren Beat”, Lanagan’s haunting “Sea Hearts” and Haines’ despicable “Wives” in their eligible categories, along with KJ Bishop’s poem “When the Lamps are Lit” and Kathleen Jennings’ short story “The Splendour Falls.”
I haven’t yet read Pamela Freeman’s “Victor’s Challenge” because I’ve been too busy with her genius Castings Trilogy, but I got a kick out of “Worldshaker” by Richard Harland. The other top novels I’ve read this year aren’t eligible because I’ve been playing catch-up with past Aurealis and Hugo/Nebula winners and also reading loads of non-fiction about convict ships, the Battle for Vinegar Hill and the Rum Rebellion (see Waltzing Mathilda, above).
Juliet Marillier’s “Heart’s Blood,” was that 2009? “Lavinia”? “Blonde Roots”? “The Mystery of Grace”? “The Gathering Storm?” I enjoyed reading those. That last one came with a car sticker, care of a Californian friend, that said, “I killed Asmodean.” If only there was an Awesome Bumper Sticker Hugo category.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
Yes. Provided no crippling injury befalls my husband which would prevent him from wrangling the Small One. Remember what I said about some ideas not fitting into an elevator pitch? Well many of them do. And I’m hoping to meet up with hordes of other writers and editors and talk, if not in an elevator, then at the very least in a coffee shop, behind a curtain, or over the TPP dealer’s table. So make sure you order a big one, muahahaha. With lots of comfy chairs. I have a bad back.
Also, I want to eat at MoMo restaurant. A Lebanese-Australian celebrity chef doesn’t spring up every day. Maybe I can convince him to set up shop in the Hunter Valley. It’s nicer than Melbourne, haha.