GLENDA Larke is an Australian who has spent most of her adult life abroad, living in Malaysia (including Borneo), Austria and Tunisia, yet still feels herself to be 100 per cent Australian. She has worked as an English teacher and as a conservationist, specifically tropical bird conservation, on jobs that have taken her from peat swamps and tropical islands, to logging camps and fishing villages. Her 10 published novels, including three trilogies (Isles of Glory, Mirage Makers and the latest, Watergivers) have been published in six different countries, and she has had books short-listed seven times for the Aurealis Best Fantasy of the Year. She is now working on another trilogy set in a fantasy version of the 17th European century spice trade to Indonesia, involving buccaneers, birds of paradise, witchery, magical daggers — and the morality of colonialism. The first book is called The Lascar’s Dagger.
Your most recent series have been set in arid lands — what’s the attraction for you as a storyteller?
As an Australian, the daughter of a farmer, I know about the preciousness of water. We bathed in untreated water pumped up from the river when I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are about shortages – the summer a rat drowned in our rainwater tank, for example. Or the night my father walked through the smouldering remains of a bushfire to pump more water from the river so we could fight the fire. They are the stories of my childhood, and they have been reinforced by what is happened in today’s world. Wars are going to be fought over water.
In the 21st century, for the first time in recorded history, the Rio Grande has failed several years to flow out to the ocean. The Marsh Arabs had their livelihood and life styles taken from them because others wanted their water. In Australia we contaminate our underground water with salt water intrusion and endanger it with fracking. Fresh water is the most precious of all the world’s resources and we should treat it as precious.
There are so many water stories out there!
You mention on your blog that publishers are reluctant to buy a series based on a proposal, even from authors with your track record. Is this another sign of the decimation of the midlist we hear about?
It certainly seems to be a widespread complaint among authors that proposals have been a hard sell lately, especially last year. I was astonished by some of the Big Name Authors who have had been unable to sell their next works without a finished book in their hands. I think it stems from publishers being more circumspect about buying on spec while they try to work out where their industry is going. Once they decide what direction their company is taking, and have invested in new methods of distribution and sales, then things will settle down. It won’t be the same industry, but it will be perhaps less volatile and a tad more predictable than it has over the past year or two.
You are a regular visitor to Swancon, in your home state where you’re planning to retire to … soon? What is it about the convention that draws you to make the long flight from Malaysia each year?
Not every year, alas. But that is something I intend to work on once we move to Mandurah, which I hope will be within the next 12 months. Swancon was my very first con. I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I dragged my sister (a school teacher-librarian) along because I was so scared of having no one to talk to! I needn’t have worried, of course. I had a wonderful time, people were so welcoming, and they wanted to talk about all the things I wanted to talk about – it opened my eyes to a community of writers and readers and fans that I’d had no idea was out there anywhere. Every time I go to Swancon, it feels like home.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court trilogy and Karen Miller’s Blight of Mages. I thought the first two books of Tansy’s were utterly brilliant, worthy of huge international acclaim. I had a few plot issues with the last one that I am dying to chat to Tansy about next time I see her, but that trilogy as a whole is one of the most original and well-written works to come out of Oz fantasy writers since, oh, since The Etched City by KJ Bishop.
Blight of Mages is a tour de force – for a start, it’s a prequel that can be read by people familiar with the series or by those new to her work, and either way it offers a startling read. On one level it’s a brilliant character study of two flawed people and the disaster they create. On another it’s a tragic love story. On another it’s a traditional fantasy with lots of magic and battles on an epic scale. I was surprised it never made the Aurealis shortlist.
What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Hard for me to say because, living abroad, I am always so far behind in my reading. If I wasn’t, I’d probably be adding, say, Lanagan, Anderton or Freeman to the list of authors mentioned in the above paragraph…
From a distance, then, I would say it has been the healthy growth and outstanding success of the small press; the international success of Australian podcasts; the success of Australian woman in fantasy, horror and science fiction writing. Generally, Australia appears to produce a huge pool of talent when you consider the small population. What I’d love to see in the next couple of years is some great Australian fantasy from indigenous writers and immigrant writers drawing on their own cultural/ethnic roots.
Taking a broader outlook, I think Australian readers/writers of all kinds have to think very carefully about what kind of reading experience they want in the future. Simply put, if you want bookshops in High Street you have to buy from bookshops in High Street. If we want cheaper books, then we have to rethink how it can be done without bringing Australian publishing to its knees.