In 2002 Kim Westwood won an Aurealis Award for her short story ‘The Oracle’. Since then her stories have been chosen for Year’s Best anthologies in Australia and the US, and for ABC radio broadcast. Her most recent short story won the Judges’ Prize at the Scarlet Stiletto Awards. She is the recipient of a Varuna Writers’ House Fellowship for her first novel, The Daughters of Moab (HarperCollins, 2008). Her second novel, The Courier’s New Bicycle (HarperCollins, 2011), is “a disturbingly credible and darkly noir post-cyberpunk tale”. It was chosen for the 2011 Tiptree Award Honours List and won an Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
The Courier’s New Bicycle was mentioned on the Honour List for the 2011 James Tiptree Jr Award, “an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender”, and has been lauded for its depiction of transgressive characters. What did receiving that mention mean to you as an author?
It was wonderful affirmation of the substance of the novel, because while the scaffolding of The Courier’s New Bicycle is climate and political change, pandemic and infertility, at its heart are issues of identity and disentitlement. It’s one gender transgressive’s adventure in a city where a prohibitive regime has divested a section of the community of their civil and social rights. It’s also about a community under great duress, and how ‘outsiders’ carve out community for themselves. The Courier’s New Bicycle is a call-out for breaking open the gender categories to make way for diversity. Did I mention it’s also crime fiction? Noir lyricism? Intergenre?
Your bio lists some extremely varied and fascinating experiences! Along with tiger snakes and hornets, you mention your time in theatre. Is this something you have thought about returning to? How has it influenced your fiction?
On the subject of snakes and hornets, all my favourite houses have let the wildlife in. The current one sits on an ant empire and gives me a daily surprise of spiders. Upstairs, there’s a family of possums. The most recent arrival is a wild rabbit—but I digress. Working in theatre had a big influence on me. The visual and visceral world of experimental theatre and dance that I loved so much, I try to carry into my writing. Partly because of that, my stories aren’t just about people but the landscapes they inhabit, and how these two elements intertwine. Both The Daughters of Moab and The Courier’s New Bicycle treat the physical environment as a character. It lives, it breathes, it protects and destroys… As for returning to theatre, that space of “collective dreaming”, I might sometime; but for now I’m happy to stay in the medium of words.
Is the world of The Courier’s New Bicycle one that you want to continue exploring, either in short fiction or with a sequel? What other projects have you planned for the future?
I’ve been working on the ideas for a quite different novel and didn’t plan a sequel to The Courier’s New Bicycle, but when I was back in Melbourne early this year, the beginnings of another adventure for Salisbury began quite spontaneously. Now I’m keen to see what happens next.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
Recent and current great reads: Meg Mundell’s Black Glass; Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming; Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds; and Charlotte Wood’s Animal People.
Two years on from AussieCon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
I never feel well-enough connected to the scene to answer this kind of question intelligently, but I think I see an increasing acceptance of hybrid works, those stories that slip through and between categories—and maybe a growing awareness that the categories themselves need challenging. I have a vested interest in this, so of course I hope I’m right!