Anita Bell is the author of three of the bestselling business books of the decade. Writing as AA Bell, she’s also a multi-award winner with her first speculative thriller Diamond Eyes, which won the first of its many accolades while still only a draft manuscript (at half its final length) in the 2009 FAW Awards. In the past decade, she’s also published over 200 short stories, articles and poems under her pen-names, and picked up various awards for crime, comedy and children’s adventures.
Your novels Diamond Eyes and Hindsight (and the forthcoming Leopard Dreaming) revolve around Mira Chambers, a character who is blind and, for part of the time, institutionalised. How did you develop Mira?
In two stages; the real character, and her fantastical ability to see the past. As Mira says;
“I’m trapped between two worlds. The one I can see from yesteryears, and the one I must live in, that remains invisible to me.”
For the fantastical ability: I was driving to an optometrist’s appointment to get my eyes checked 12 years ago, when my young son asked me how eyes worked. So I used my diamond ring to show how lenses can bend and focus light, which also sparked the idea for the story and title; Diamond Eyes.
Anyone with over-crystallised eyes is usually blind. To them, we are invisible, but from personal experience, I knew that having one sense robbed away, while making life extremely difficult, can also help us to “see” the world more richly through other senses. It’s also an interesting phenomenon that blind people can still dream and have visions, same as sighted people. And sometimes, sighted people can detect movement through their own eyelids, or see through the skin of their hands when a bright light is set behind their palms.
So my love and wonder of the sciences behind our amazing world also makes me question if the light and other wave-length radiations that we currently know through sight, warmth and mechanical means of detection, are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. And I know from basic kindergarten science that light travels differently through water and other materials, so with Mira, I’ve simply challenged the concept that light always travels at the same speed, by proposing that there is a band of “slower light” that she can see:
“Can you keep a secret? … I can only see the way things used to be, leaving me blind to the normal visible spectrum. I see the ghosts of yester-year, while you remain invisible to me… From my perspective, there are ghosts and invisibles. So if I can see people I cannot hear, and hear people I cannot see, which ones are really my hallucinations?”
Ben scratched his head. “From your perspective, I suppose they all are.”
“Bingo!” She clapped him on the shoulder. “If I’m crazy, you’re part of my insanity. The only way I’ve been able to cope so far is by obeying the rules of the ones who can hurt me.” – Diamond Eyes
The Setting: Until Mira learns to control her ability to focus on different dates, she can only see life a century ago, so consequently, everyone thinks she’s crazy, and that gave me the initial setting of an asylum.
As luck would have it, I’d just worked for a decade in the spooky halls of a century-old mental health facility, which afforded me a wealth of rich characters, juicy settings and conspiratorial sub-plots to draw from.
For the character: Mira is an amalgam of all the people I’ve come to admire for their ability to rise each new day with fresh dignity and determination, even though life and other people consistently conspire to knock them down again. She also gives me the opportunity to explore concepts of freedom and independence, and the irony that the more freedoms we gain for ourselves, the more rules society can have for constraining us.
“I’m not afraid of dying,” Mira cried. “I’m afraid my life will never begin!” – Hindsight
What were you aiming to do with and through her, and do you feel that you’ve succeeded?
In addition to the concepts of dignity and independence, as above, the trilogy with Mira has given me the rare opportunity to propose unique new slants on ghosts, ESP and the afterlife. And she’s finally learning how to see any time period, past or future, from a million years back to a million forward – so no. I’m not finished with her yet. Although the trilogy concludes withLeopard Dreaming in October, there’s still so much potential to explore many other fantastical and supernatural concepts in fresh new ways, and at any moment in time or space, even if it’s not with Mira as the main character.
“I’m cursed with the ability to see any secret, solve any crime and witness any moment in history, so for me, the door to great dangers has barely creaked open.” – Leopard Dreaming
Diamond Eyes won the 2011 Norma K Hemming Award for Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Themes – congratulations! How did that feel, and what impact has it had on you and your thoughts about writing?
Last year, Diamond Eyes won by unanimous vote from the judging panel. I was stunned. That book took me ten years to write as my first foray into speculative fiction, but they told me it stood so far apart from the many hundreds of other wondrous entries, they didn’t need a shortlist. So when I saw there was a shortlist this year, my husband dug me in the ribs and joked, “you must have slipped.”
Then I saw the caliber of writers in the shortlist for 2012 – writers I’ve admired for ages – and could finally appreciate that the Hemming Award for Excellence is one of the highest and most coveted we have. The award itself is also the most beautiful. (Designed by Sarah Xu.)
Since the sequel Hindsight is currently shortlisted in 2012, the feeling is amazing. I’m blown away. But I didn’t write to go after any awards. I wrote because many of the terrible experiences I’ve had in my life have been eating away at me. One of the most sinister characters from the trilogy portrays it succinctly in Hindsight:
In the candlelit darkness of his wine-cellar-dungeon, Fredarick sat on an empty beer barrel, with two taller wine barrels that supported a plank as his table. No sensor lights or intruder alarms to disturb him anymore; he’d disarmed them, so in this loneliest place on the island, he was as free as he could be to prepare for the coming conflict.
With the stolen weapon set up and waiting, he tapped at the M key once, like a kitten testing a snake.
It didn’t bite, so he tapped another key and another, until his fingers fluttered feverishly over the Braille keyboard and he realised the venom was already within him, needing to bleed out onto the page. Safer there in code, he dared to hope, since a small dose had once served as its own antidote…
Are there more Mira Chambers novels in the works, or do you have other projects underway? Where do you hope to go in the next few years?
Leopard Dreaming is the grand finale for Mira’s trilogy. At least, it was meant to be the grand finale. There’s a spooky little boy with a gift similar to Mira’s who keeps popping up in the backstory, so if he survives the final draft, only Mira can see where the future may take her… or him.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
• Kim Falconer’s Road to the Soul,
• Alison Goodman’s Eona, and
• The Devil’s Diadem by the late great Sara Douglass.
Coincidentally, they’re all shortlisted with Hindsight for this year’s Hemming Award for Excellence. Alas, compared to their experience in this genre, I’m still the rank outsider.
It’s been two years since Aussiecon 4, the World Convention that Melbourne hosted. What do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian speculative fiction scene in that time?
The market has become a financial fist that’s closing around Aussie publishers and booksellers. Libraries too, to some extent. It’s squeezing the life out of them, and all genres are suffering for fledgling writers and best-sellers alike. Meanwhile, internet sales are booming with dreck that could be so much better, if properly developed. So the sooner these two worlds can kiss and make up with new living arrangements, the better for all of us.