2014 Snapshot Archive: Lee Battersby

First published at Nick Evans’ LiveJournal.

Lee Battersby is the author of The Corpse-Rat King (Angry Robot, 2012) and Marching Dead (Angry Robot, 2013), and his first children’s novel ‘Magit and Bugrat’ is due for release in 2015 by Walker Books.

He has published more than 70 stories in Australia, the US and Europe, with appearances in ‘Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror’, ‘Year’s Best Australian SF & F’, and ‘Writers of the Future’, and his works have won the Aurealis, Australian Shadows and Ditmar Awards.

In a long and diverse creative career Lee has also worked as an editor, cartoonist, teacher and mentor.

Lee lives in Mandurah, Western Australia, with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby, and family. He is a self-confessed obsessive about Lego, Nottingham Forest football club, dinosaurs, the Goon Show and Daleks. In previous careers he has been a stand-up comic, tennis coach, cartoonist, poet, and tax officer, and now works as the arts co-ordinator for a local council.

In 2012 your first novel, The Corpse Rat King, was published by Angry Robots, following by a sequel a year later. You’re now working on a children’s novel, Magit and Bugrat, to be published next year.

How have you found the transition from writing adult to children’s books? Does it require you to shift your thinking in terms of how you write, and the kinds of material you can include? How easy have you found the transition?

They’re different forms, no doubt about it, with different pacing and structure, but I think what required the biggest adjustment on my part was learning to deliver information in a different way: with the children’s novel I needed to build the character for the reader *first*, and then place her into the world I’d created, rather than revealing character information in slow drips throughout the narrative as you do with an adult novel.

I’ve done more structural editing with “Magrit and Bugrat” than I did with either of the Corpse-Rat King books, and I’ve enjoyed it, because it’s a completely new way of looking at narrative structure for me, and by applying some of the skills I’ve developed as a writer for adults I’ve come up with some structural solutions that have pleasantly surprised my editor.

In your last Snapshot in 2012 you were asked how landing the deal with Angry Robot had changed your profile and approach to writing. The answer you gave was: “I’m a novelist now…the whole texture of my life has changed…”.

Two years on, how did you deal with that new reality? How easy did you find it to incorporate the need to keep focused on the next novel into your working and family life, particularly once the initial excitement died down?

Committing to a long-term project is difficult, particularly when you’re time-poor, as I often am. But the feelings I reference in 2012 haven’t changed: I remain tired of committing that small portion of free time to working on a short piece that will net me little by way of payment, readership or critical reaction. It’s taken me a long time to feel confident enough in my marketability to assign a monetary worth to my time, rather than just accepting whatever rate is offered– it’s only in the last fortnight (at time of writing) that I’ve finally made a commitment to setting an ASA-recommended rate for talks and appearances, for example, despite regularly making such appearances over the last 12 years. It still feels arrogant.

However, I’m progressively becoming more comfortable with deciding whether or not a potential market is a valid use of that small amount of writing time I have available. Which sounds horrendously mercenary to me, when I lay it out like that, but it has meant that I am *writing*: I’m currently working on 2 new short pieces because the markets involved will pay me nicely for my creativity. I’m behaving like much more a commercial artist than I have been in the past, which is an effective way of ensuring that I make the most of my work time, and feels like a natural part of my evolution as an artist in the wider sphere.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that yes, I’m still focused on novels– I’ve recently completed a new fantasy novel — but I’ve probably relaxed my views on what form I work in, by tightening up my view of where I’ll send it when it’s done.

There’s no doubt the publishing industry is becoming a tougher place in which to carve out a living, and for most writers the reward for getting their first publishing deal is more long years of hard work.

Where to from here? You’ve got a first deal for a children’s book, Magit and Bugrat – is your plan to keep writing for that market, or are you still working on your Father Muerte book and other adult fiction in the wings?

I’ve always maintained that I never set out to be solely a speculative fiction author– I just wanted to be a *writer*. In the same way, I don’t necessarily want to write solely for one demographic. I want the freedom to work on novels, poetry, scripts, whatever arises and attracts my mayfly interest. I’m not tied into any long-term contracts or agreements, which is tense in one way because I’m constantly trying to sell everything on-spec, but it does give me the freedom to write as I want to, depending on what idea bubbles to the surface next.

I’ve just completed a new adult fantasy novel based on my Father Muerte short stories, and have approximately 11k of another adult fantasy and 15k of a YA SF novel kicking their heels in the background. I’ve got a couple of picture books at the editing phase and another kids novel just beginning to formulate, as well as a long-term project that I keep picking away at, based around interlocking historical ghost stories that link together like a mosaic novel. The problem isn’t so much a shortage of projects as which one comes next?

Of course, I may never sell any of them, which is where that long-term contract would be nice……

What Australian works have you loved recently?

It’s an odd thing, but I don’t read a lot of speculative fiction these days. I mainly read non-fiction, and recently, rather a lot of crime fiction.

Like everyone else in Australia, I thoroughly enjoyed Robert Hoge’s memoir “Ugly”– I knew him before he sold out and went electric– and loved Lenny Bartulin’s colonial Tasmanian crime epic “Infamy”.

I’ve also recently enjoyed Tony Cavanaugh’s debut crime thriller “Promise” and Barry Maitland’s “The Raven’s Eye”. SF-wise, Andrew Macrae’s post-apocalyptic trucker’s fantasy “Trucksong” was a lot of fun.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Not particularly. I have neither the time to invest, nor the interest, in learning all the facets of publication necessary to adequately self-publish, and don’t want to lose what little writing time I have to working it out. I remain best off doing what I’ve always done– creating the strongest work I can and finding a home for it. Where my increasing status may be reflected is in the professional levels of the people with whom I work to do that, which is entirely subjective.

Where I’ll be in 5 years is anyone’s guess– increasingly I’m trying to diversify my storytelling, to move away from telling straight SF stories and tackle genres and formats that are outside my professional history. I’ve always admired artists that can work across several styles and genres successfully; people like Spike Milligan, Ben Elton, David Bowie, and so on– and I don’t think it’s a sign of hubris to attempt the same.

With any luck that will mean that, in five years time, my name will be attached to a wide range of different stories in an equally wide range of formats, but it’s also possible that I’ll have failed in a wide range of ways and you can’t find me *anywhere*. That’s the fun of the journey.


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