ALISON Goodman has been writing and being published for almost 24 years. She began to get published in her second year of university – mainly feature articles and short stories – and her first novel came out in 1998: Singing the Dogstar Blues, a young adult science fiction thriller. It won the Aurealis Award for Best YA novel and was an ALA Best YA book. That was followed by her crime thriller, Killing the Rabbit, published originally in the USA, and which is now about to be re-released in print in Australia and as an e-book under the new title, A New Kind of Death.
Her latest two books are the fantasy duology Eon and Eona, which were New York Time Bestsellers and have been published in more than 18 countries and 10 languages. Eon (under its initial Australian title The Two Pearls of Wisdom) won the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel and was also an ALA Best YA book and a James Tiptree Jr Honour Book.
This year, Alison has been contracted to write a new historical/supernatural series with publishers in the USA, Canada and Australia. The first book is due out in 2014.
- Alison is guest of honour at Continuum, starting TOMORROW NIGHT at Rydges on Swanston in Melbourne.
YA SF, crime, Chinese-influenced fantasy … have you picked stories to best address certain themes, or are you just having a grand old time in all the diversity genre has to offer?
I suspect a bit of both. In terms of genre, I go where the story takes me. When I have the initial idea for a book or series, I take note of where it seems to fit in the genre market and think about the conventions of that genre. If some of them work for me, I’ll use them (either with or against the expectations). However, I don’t feel obliged to stick faithfully to the conventions or, indeed, to one genre. I do like to meld genres, which can bring a whole bucket load of problems with it but is a lot of fun to write.
In terms of themes within a novel, I usually find that I may start with an idea of a thematic line – developed from the plot and character – but find that other, stronger themes emerge as I write. Having said that, the thematic starting point is not usually the driving force for me in my writing process – I am more engaged by character and plot and these supply the passion that propel me. So, I don’t feel that I pick stories to write by the appeal of their themes. Still, it is not really possible to separate out those three elements – plot, character, and theme. They are so deeply entwined in the development of my fiction that at least some of each needs to be in place before I start writing.
Romantic plotlines, of varying degrees, operate under some level of mostly social pressure duress in your books, and happy endings are not guaranteed. In what ways is love, whether unrequited, doomed or conquering all, important to your storytelling?
I think it is more that desire is important to my storytelling, rather than love. That often includes the desire for love, but I think that is secondary to the desire for the ultimate goal of the main character, be it power as in the Eon duology or truth in A New Kind of Death (Clan Destine Press). Love is not the main goal of my characters, but it is almost always part of their motivation. How characters go about loving or seeking love is a fundamental building block of my characterisation. It is not the driving force of the main plot-line – that is the domain of romance fiction – but it is one of the elements that adds depth and universality to the characters, and provides sub-plots that support and add duress to the events in the main plot.
You’re in the midst of a research trip to Europe for your new series. Has anything you’ve unearthed been wonderfully surprising, the kind of thing where you just HAVE to use it in the books?
Yes, I came across a porcelain women’s urinal shaped like a lady’s slipper. In time of necessity in a crowded royal drawing room, it was slipped under one’s huge hooped court dress and clutched between the thighs! That is definitely going into my novel. However, I’m always wary of bunging in a bit of research because I like it. For me, research has to be at the service of the story and the fastest way to become a bore is to write pages of research detail and go off-story.
I recently read an article by James Wood in the on-line New Yorker about Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels, but it is also about writing good historical fiction. Wood writes that:
‘..what gives fiction its vitality is not the accurate detail but the animate one … novelists are creators, not coroners, of the human case’.
That really hit a chord with me. When I am researching, I look for those shining details that are going to give the flavour and energy of the time without weighing down my story…such as a urinal for women that is shaped like a shoe.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
This is where I shift uncomfortably and confess that I haven’t read much fiction lately because it has been all about researching my new series. My stack of fiction To-Be-Reads is huge, but I have just finished Garth Nix’s new book A Confusion of Princes which was magnificently inventive with a great, wry narrator and a lot of satisfying action. I’m also reading an advance copy of Kirstyn McDermott’s new novel Perfections, which is heart-achingly gorgeous. Mostly, though, I have been reading primary and secondary source research books, which sounds dry but is actually a lot of fun. And, as it happens, one of the most valuable research books I’ve come across so far has been by an Australian – Jennifer Kloester – who has written an excellent guide to the Regency era in Georgette Heyer’s Regency World.
What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
I think some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction are the same changes that have been hitting all of publishing. What immediately comes to mind is the rise of the e-book and the crisis of the bookshop. The gathering force of the e-book is offering some great opportunities for authors – more control over backlists and a greater cut of the royalties – but as with all these new modes, it also brings challenges that often leave many behind. The demise of so many of our bookshops breaks my heart, and I sincerely hope that Australia does not follow in the footsteps of Britain and starts closing libraries too.
Another change that I think has particularly affected the speculative fiction market is the ‘phenomenon book’ such as Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games series. They can all be gathered under the banner of the speculative genre and, I think, have opened up new audiences to our work, and in fact, to the idea of reading for pleasure.