Kirstyn McDermott’s short fiction has been published in various journals, magazines and anthologies in Australia and overseas. Her debut novel, Madigan Mine, received an Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel, and her second, Perfections, is due out later this year. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and fellow scribbler, Jason Nahrung, and can be found online at www.kirstynmcdermott.com
1. The Writer and the Critic has become an integral part of the Aussie spec fic scene very fast – and you don’t even talk about spec fic books all the time! What does podcasting offer you, as a social medium or a creative one?
For one thing, it gives me a chance to review and talk about books. It sounds simplistic but somehow I never find the time to actually sit down and write reviews these days, let alone the sort of substantial, in depth critiques that The Writer and the Critic affords me. Of course, it does mean that “reading” for me has now been shifted across into the “work/obligation” box, but I’m learning to live with that. And I’ve realised what a highly critical reader I am … now when I read a book, my filter is generally, “Can I talk about this for half an hour on the podcast?” If the answer is, “No,” as it very often is, I’m afraid I find myself resenting that book rather a lot more than I might have a couple of years ago. Maybe that’s not really fair, but it does remind me that life is way too short to read anything less than brilliant books.
As a natural introvert – yes, really! – I also deeply appreciate the social interaction that seems to go hand in hand with podcasting. Both the feedback from our listeners and the ongoing banter that happens between various podcasters both here in Australia and internationally. I love the spec fic community and it feels great to be able to contribute to and help build that community. Ever since I stumbled upon my first fanzine a couple of decades ago, I’ve toyed off and on with the idea of publishing one of my own. Problem is, I really don’t have the time, patience or spare words to successfully do that on a regular basis – it’s been hard enough maintaining an online blog and so on while still finding time to write my fiction. Podcasting is definitely a quicker and easier medium for me, production wise, and I’m very glad that Ian was finally able to talk me into it.
2. Since the last Snapshot, you had your first novel, Madigan Mine published! What was that experience like, and how have things changed for you since then?
It was a steep learning curve, is what the experience was! People always tell you that, but somehow it’s even steeper and curvier than you imagined it would be. One thing I wasn’t really prepared for was the need to juggle all the work that happened around the publication of the Madigan Mine with the writing of the next book (or the writing of much else, to be honest). That’s something I think I’ll be better at the next time around; or at least not quite so bad at. We’ll see.
As for changes, well. I did finally manage to finish what I have come to think of as My Difficult Second Novel, and am right about to start the edits on that. It’s real name is Perfections and I don’t think I have ever hated writing anything so much as I hated writing that book for the longest, longest time. It was just this awful thing which refused to be what I wanted to it be, or do anything I wanted it to do, and I almost abandoned it several times. But then I started listening to it, and letting it be itself – which is a contemporary gothic fairy tale of sorts – and now I love it. Albeit grudgingly. We’re probably going to have a love-hate relationship forever, that book and me. But it’s much better than Madigan Mine; more intricate, more complex, more mature. And darker, much darker. With Perfections, I think I can actually call myself a novelist. Before that I was a short story writer who accidentally managed to finish a novel somehow. Now, with two of the beasts beneath my belt, the prospect of beginning my third at the end of this year is much less daunting. I know I’m able to write it, and I know that if I end up loathing it somewhere in the middle, all I really need to do is press on until the end and see how what happens. I really didn’t have that confidence before.
3. A little bird tells me you have a collection of short stories due out soon, as part of the Twelve Planets series! What will we see in this book that we haven’t seen from you before?
Yes, I do and I’m very excited about it! The Twelve Planets volume has given me the space to stretch myself with a couple of novellas – a notoriously difficult size to find a home for – and to think about how the different stories will complement each other. My stories aren’t interlinked like some of the Twelve Planets have been, but I think their themes and tones work harmoniously together. (Or discordantly … depending on your taste.) I’m in the middle of finishing the final novella now and it’s horrible, really horrible. I think the research broke me. But “horrible” really isn’t new for me, is it? Hmm. How about this: one of my stories in this collection has a happy ending. Well, not in the kittens and rainbows way, but still, optimistic. Yep, I’m going with
optimistic. I’m not sure I’ve ever quite managed that before …
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Also, The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood, which I was delighted to see win the Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction novel recently, and the Ishtar anthology which features three novellas by Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti and Cat Sparks. Then there are my two favourite collections of last year, Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa L. Hannett and The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines, which are both exquisite.
Plus, having just judged the horror category for Aurealis, I’ve read some excellent short fiction in the past twelve months. As well as the stories which made the final shortlist, I’d like to give a shout out to a few more which rated very highly on my personal long list: “At The Top Of The Stairs” by Richard Harland, “Letters of Love from the Once and Newly Dead” by Christopher Green, “Say Zucchini and Mean It” by Peter M. Ball, “The List of Definite Endings” by Kaaron Warren, and “Lamia Victoriana” by someone called Tansy Rayner Roberts. Well worth tracking down, the lot of them.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4 (and the last Snapshot), what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
That’s a really difficult question, because it’s not something I tend to reflect upon. What I have seen over the past couple of years is a rise – or perhaps the resurgence – of a DIY mentality in the scene. Podcasts and new fanzines are launching, small presses are ramping up their ambition and output, and a lot of authors – both emerging writers and those more established – are experimenting with digital publishing, self-publishing and new media. There seems to be a real confidence in the scene right now, a lot of optimism for future opportunities, or at least that’s what I feel among the people with whom I find myself interacting these days. And it seems to be working, because a lot of Australians are popping up on international awards ballots and in year’s best collections, being widely published outside of Australia, and generally garnering favourable notice beyond our shores. The internet has made the world smaller, but it’s also a much noisier place now, and it’s great to see Australian voices rising above the madding crowd. More importantly, I think, it’s great to see them remaining Australian voices, telling our stories in our words. I love that.