You first came to my attention with the very well received Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, which came out in 2012. I have heard a rumour however of a Steampunk inspired novel lurking in the wings. What can you tell us about that?
My current work-in-progress, Monkey See, is the first book in a trilogy about a trio of unlikely heroes who must unite to overthrow a sadistic cult and save their city before a tsunami strikes. It was indeed Steampunk-inspired – the idea for it came to me after reading Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World – but Monkey See is not a Steampunk novel. Gilman’s novel influenced the voice of my novel, rather than the genre. Monkey See is set in a post-technological far-future version of Chile. If I have to put a label on it I’d describe it as an epic quest with a speculative fiction twist.
Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, was as I said very well received but you gained a bit of press when you blogged about how little return you saw despite reasonable sales and working hard at your own media campaigning. What’s your advice to writers on making a living from writing?
My advice would be not to expect to make a living from writing; very few writers do. Do it for love. Give it everything you’ve got, and treat any money you make from it as a delightful surprise rather than a right. Having said that, it helps to be practical: explore other ways to earn money from ‘being a writer’ outside of royalties, for example, public speaking, running workshops etc
I’m interested in multi-media storytelling and your blog features a teaser about a project called The Ark. Its tag line reads “Super Sad True Love Story meets Oryx and Crake”. What can you tell us about its inception and what you hope the end result will look like?
The Ark is a digital interactive novel and app in which a group of scientists and their families retreat into a bunker inside Mount Kosciusko during a post-peak oil crisis, alongside a seed bank which holds the key to the future of life on earth. The app invites readers to dive deeper into the world of the novel, and to continue to develop that world by sharing their own content inspired by the novel. Readers can tour the bunker, eavesdrop on characters’ conversations, and upload their own articles, audio recordings and videos to add to the narrative. I developed it with the assistance of a Creative Australia Fellowship from the Australia Council, and it will be published on September 19th. I am super-excited to share it with the world.
What Australian works have you loved recently ( speculative fiction or otherwise)?
I absolutely ripped through Max Barry’s Lexicon. I enjoyed the suspense in Honey Brown’s post-apocalyptic novelRed Queen and the world building in Jo Anderton’s Debris. Outside of the spec-fic world, I read Dawn Barker’s Let Her Go in a single sitting – it’s an intelligent take on surrogacy and a great page-turner. My favourite Australian book of the last year has been Yvette Walker’s gorgeous literary fiction debut Letters to the End of Love.
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?
Before I signed a contract for Whisky Charlie Foxtrot with Fremantle Press (and later Sourcebooks in the USA) I collected rejections for three years and it was soul-destroying. I vowed that I would never wait so long to find a publisher again, and after struggling to find a publisher who felt like the right fit for The Ark, I made the decision to self-publish. Then I took it a step further and decided to create an interactive app to accompany the novel. A few years ago, both of those things would have been unthinkable. Though there are plenty of kinks to be ironed out, I think it’s a really exciting time in the publishing world. There are so many opportunities for writers which didn’t exist a few years ago.
Having said that, while the process of creating an app and self-publishing have been great learning experiences, they’ve also been incredibly stressful and time-consuming and at the end of the day that’s time I’d really rather spend writing. I wanted to try out new forms of publishing, and I’m very glad I have, but ultimately I guess I’m a traditional girl – I like to write the books, hand them over to someone else, and see them in paperback a few months later.
Annabel Smith is the author of The Ark, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe. In 2012 she was selected by the Australia Council as one of five inaugural recipients of a Creative Australia Fellowship for Emerging Artists. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in Southerly, Westerly, and on Junkee and Wheeler Dailies. She has been an invited guest, as panellist and chair, at Melbourne Writers Festival and Perth Writers Festival, is a member of the editorial board at Margaret River Press and holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Edith Cowan University.