2014 Snapshot Archive: Thoraiya Dyer

First published at Ben Payne’s blog.

Obscenely talented Thoraiya Dyer bounded labrador-like into the scene a few years ago with a large vat of pre-written stories which she rations out at a sensible rate just frequently enough to make sure she is nominated for most major awards, but never so quickly that we’d get suspicious. For the curious among you, Thoraiya is pronounced to rhyme with “Papaya”, while “Dyer” is pronounced to rhyme with “Sasquatch”.


  • It’s been a year or so since your first collection came out; Asymetry (Twelfth Planet). What did you learn from the experience; was it what you expected? Looking back, how do you feel about the book now?

Firstly, I expected to be the first one to spell it wrong in public, but now you’ve gone and done it 😉

I hope that I learned patience. I hope I learned not to be a prat? My expectations of Asymmetry, well, I expected an amazing product, and from Amanda Rainey’s outstanding cover to Alisa Krasnostein’s high story-selection standards to Nancy Kress’ extremely generous introduction, the book fulfilled that expectation.

I’m proud of the collection, looking back on it a year later, but I also understand better that there is so much happening behind the scenes at even the smallest small press, it’s not helpful to always assume the worst. Maybe a publishing delay is because your work is secretly vomit-worthy and you’re being scratched, but maybe it’s just because a much busier and more heavily scheduled writer is slated to appear before you and they haven’t finished yet?

  • To me, you’ve always appeared quite unpredictable in your choices as a writer, both in terms of the genres and topics you tackle and also the markets you appear in. Is that something you aim for or just something that happened? Do you feel as though you’re conscious of trends and the greater field, or do you tend to see yourself as independent of things like that?

It’s not something I am aiming for, it’s more like, I get to jump all over the place while I’m a short story writer, and the stories that get good feedback maybe indicate where my strengths lie and what I should focus on in longer works. For example, the Aurealis Awards. I’ve been shortlisted three times for fantasy, once for YA and once for science fiction.

That would seem to suggest I should focus on fantasy, right? But I love writing science fiction. LOVE it. And with my novel manuscripts I do tend to write them in this sequence: Science fiction, epic fantasy, urban fantasy. Repeat. Too much of one thing makes me turn to something different. Maybe that’s why you think I’m unpredictable. Here’s a story in the Australian bush, here’s one in Lebanon, now we’re in Nepal. That’s just the style in which I brain-travel. Everything is interesting. Every place is interesting. I have written the best-ever Malagasy historical fiction story. Fingers crossed it gets published. You’d like it, Ben, hahaha!

Having said that, I think I mentioned in the last Snapshot that feeling of waiting. Waiting to find out where I’m going to fit in, to discover what subgenre my debut novel is going to be and then write a few more in the same vein so people don’t get annoyed! I am conscious of trends. See Q5.

  • How do you see your own writing as developing or changing over the last five years or so? Are there ideas or types of story that interest you now that didn’t a few years back? What are you working on at the moment? (yeah I kinda snuck several questions in that one but dammit, you’re an interesting person! What else could I do?)

How has my writing developed. Hmm. You know, I think my prose has always been OK, but I still have plenty to learn about putting plots and characters that are both really excellent in the same story.

It’s simple enough to do a plot-based story where you ruthlessly stuff the characters into the shape they’re destined to take, or to do one where the characters are organic and well-developed but in reaching that development they do things out of order and the climax you need happens too early or too late for the length of the story you want to tell. Stuff like that. You read “The New Moon’s Arms,” “The Dervish House” or “Ancillary Justice” and you can barely distinguish plot from character; it is masterful; they are one.

I want to do that.

What am I working on, see Q5.

  • What works by other writers have you enjoyed lately? Whose work do you find interesting?

So, that character-plot thing I said I wanted to do in Q4, I’ve found recently in “Perfections” by Kirstyn McDermott, “Eona” by Alison Goodman and “Dreamquake” by Elizabeth Knox. I’ve gone back and reread “When We Have Wings” by Claire Corbett and “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by NK Jemisin, because they have it too, and I was trying to unpick the weaving to see how it was done. Also Juliet Marillier’s “Back and Beyond,” a short story from Prickle Moon that I think is close to perfect.

I loved “The Swan Book” by Alexis Wright, for being the truest story of this country, my home, that I’ve ever read, and also for, as one Goodreads reviewer put it, “teaching me to read as I read it.”

Forthcoming short stories that should delight and amaze you (aside from mine obviously) include “The Gun Between the Veryush and the Cloud Mothers” by Anna Tambour, “Goldeneyes” by Jenny Blackford and “2B” by Jo Anderton.

Siv Parker’s tweetyarns ( @SivParker ) are extremely interesting and a highlight of having joined Twitter.

  • The publishing world is changing. Ebooks have shaken things up a bit, and major publishers have undergone some significant changes too. How do you view the field at the moment and where do you think it’s all headed?

It’s headed to the centre of the earth! With giant diamonds!

Hmmm, how do I view the field. I’ve just listed a bunch of world-class recent Aussie books off the top of my head, so the field is excellent, isn’t it? Except for the fact that I’m not in it yet! (See “patience”, Q1)(How come you didn’t ask me the 5 year question, I’m being cheated.)

This might be the place to answer whether I feel like I’m independent of such superficial things as “trends”. I’d like to pretend I’m more awesome and devil-may-care than most, but the truth is, no matter how many people tell me that traditional publishers are buying conservatively in these uncertain times, no matter how often I intend to write a conservative novel, the slippery suckers always seem to get away from me.

For example.

Last month I turned a fantasy novel in to my agent. It was a bit weird, a bit different, so I decided that next, I would write a nice, conventional science fiction thriller about using viruses to change people’s political opinions. I saw a cool way it could be done if we developed antiviral drugs that actually worked consistently and could pass through the blood-brain barrier.

Conventional, right?

Then I had to make it exciting for myself by moving the action to Indonesia. Which, in the story, is now not even called Indonesia because it has an alternate, non-colonised timeline. Fun! Oh, right, and that makes the characters Muslim. And I seem to have made most of them women. Woopsie! Oh well. I am loving it to death right now. I want to live in a cool Minang house with a pointy roof and a geothermal-powered intelli-wall. Oh, and I want to be awesome at silek. Books are great, aren’t they?

Maybe I am more devil-may-care than I thought.


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