Karen Wyld lives by the sea, nestled between scrub, hills and vineyards. She’s had an eclectic working life, and currently works in Aboriginal workforce development. From dabbling with poetry as a soppy adolescent, to editor of a pre-internet alternative magazine, Karen now uses social media to procrastinate.
Never content with taking the easy path in life, Karen independently published her first novel. With sights on becoming a hybrid author, she is working concurrently on four genre-confused manuscripts.
Visit Karen’s website to find out about her first novel ‘When Rosa Came Home’. While there, read some short stories and blog-posts.
You live in an incredibly beautiful corner of Australia, and some of the shots on your blog are stunning. You also get to do a fair bit of travel around the place. When it comes to your writing, how much of an influence are your surroundings? How big a part does a sense of place play in your stories?
Over the last five years, my day-jobs have involved a fair bit of travelling through country South Australia, and more recently around Australia. Recent business trips involved airports and motel rooms in capital cities. It’s surprising how much writing can be done in a motel room, especially if it doesn’t have free Wi-Fi. However, I’m a country-girl at heart, and need to occasionally get out on the open road.
Travel inspires me on many levels. I’ve just returned from a two-week road trip from coastal South Australia to Uluru, Northern Territory. Finding myself suddenly in-between work (my job was a victim of the recent federal budget cuts to Aboriginal services), I ended up doing this trip on the cheap. This meant days of driving (window down, belting out songs) and then sleeping in my car at night (it was too windy for the tent). Might sound awful to some, but this mode of travel gave me a much better perspective of the country I was travelling through than the usual plane plus motel combo.
I started a new job this week, so I’m now looking at how to keep travelling as a writer. The dream of the moment is to hunt down a vintage caravan, renovate it, and hit the road on week-ends. I can imagine travelling to new places, writing, speaking at writers festivals; and then coming home to the beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula. Home is important to me.
I’ve always felt a strong connection to my surroundings, and I think that comes out clearly in both my fiction and non-fiction writing. Done right, place becomes another character in a novel. A reader should be able to not only see the setting of the story, but to smell, feel, hear and taste. What better way to evoke all senses then through place?
There is a beautiful tribute to Doris Nugi Garimara Pilkington AM on your blog. Could you tell us a little about her influence on you, and your writing? Are there other writers who have influenced you, or in whose footsteps you wish to follow?
Aunty Doris, who passed away earlier this year, is on my list of inspiring authors for two reasons. Firstly, because of her courage to write about issues many would have preferred stayed secret. And secondly, being related to a fearless female author inspires me to use my own writer-voice.
Some people label me as ‘political’, as I have a strong sense of social justice, and I’m very vocal about rights for humans, animals and the environment. Naturally I gravitate to writers who tell brave stories, and touch on enviro-socio-political issues. Which is probably why I mostly read, and write, magic realism. It’s a genre that is rich in place, and gives a voice to the oppressed. Magic realism is strongest when used by First Nation peoples that are grappling with the aftermath of colonisation, and other power-based atrocities.
Many Australian First Nation writers, past and present, are labelled as political. Mostly published by universities and small publishing houses, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers have been sharing brave stories for decades, especially using autobiographical and historical styles. This is changing as new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers find their own voices, and explore other genres, putting pressure on publishers to accept a broader range of work. We shouldn’t be expected to fit in a certain literary box, or always create main characters who are Aboriginal, or story-lines that involve Aboriginal issues, culture or histories.
Still, we need to honour the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers who have paved the way for us, and brought important issues to the attention of mainstream Australia, as well as internationally. Aunty Doris will always be remembered as having a pivotal role in raising awareness of darker times in Australian history. A time not so long ago, when many children were forcibly removed from family and community, through polices founded on cultural bias and xenophobia. By writing of these times, her words have helped progress healing and social justice. I believe that to constructively influence peoples’ worldviews through writing, to bring about much needed change, is the pinnacle of writing.
You’ve talked on your blog about coming to writing later in life. Can you tell us a little about the road to publication, and what the future holds? What are you working on?
To clarify, I’ve been writing both fiction and non-fiction from a young age, but only just published my first novel. In the 80s, I volunteered for an alternative magazine. I eventually became the editor and main contributor, until it got too much juggling the challenges of micro-publishing in the pre-internet days, and being the sole provider of a young family. I finished my first full-length manuscript about 20 years ago, but I put it in a drawer after being disheartened by the messages I was hearing from the publishing industry. However, like the banks’ opposition to women seeking mortgages, it was just a matter of waiting until attitudes changed. Decades later, having obtained the qualifications to get an acceptable income to buy a house, I felt it was time to publish a book.
The timing was perfect. Advances in technology, and the way people use new technology and social media as a source of information and entertainment, has had a positive impact on publishing. Control is slowly shifting from the gate-keepers to the innovators, and this has opened the flood gates for aspiring writers. Diving into this on-line world enabled me to connect with supportive writers from around the world, and given me the means to learn both the art and business of writing. Going indie is not easy, and it’s extremely time consuming, but I’m glad I’ve taken that pathway. I’ve had to build a wide range of capabilities, and master elements that traditionally published writers wouldn’t even know existed. I’ve also had to toughen up; to not let the creative side take over, and instead make decisions based on good practice. Publishing independently does not mean that quality should be compromised, nor does it mean doing it alone. So for my first novel, I outsourced key elements of the publishing process, such as editing and cover design.
As an emerging writer, I’m not confined to any particular genre, and like to create hybrids. So far, my work fits within magic realism, literary fiction, indigenous literature, speculative fiction, or contemporary fiction with a dash of the absurd. Over the past few years, I have developed a number of manuscripts, which are in differing pre-published stages. The next one off the rank, which I will venture down the traditional publishing path for, is a politically-charged magic realism novel, set in the 60/70s. Through the lives of non-identical Aboriginal sisters, and their mother, the book explores themes such as identity, diaspora, racism, country and belonging. The characters travel through Country, from coast to desert, so place will be a key element of this story.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
I don’t recall the last time I read a book by an Australian author. Writing on a daily basis changes the way you read. I still read daily, but the way I read has changed. For me, writing involves a rhythm, both when stringing words together on screen and when reading. I find too many recently published novels lack a rhythm I can relate to, so I don’t often read for pure enjoyment anymore.
Because I needed to pack lighter when travelling, I went over to the dark side and am now an avid reader of e-books. I read a lot of e-books by other indie authors. Some as research into this emerging side of publishing, but mostly to support writers I’ve met through social media. There is a strong sense of community and playing-it-forward amongst indie writers. If there is a traditionally published book I really want to read, then I’ll look for it at the local library. The big publishing houses don’t seem to understand, or are resistant to, new ways of reading. They often overlook e-books, or overprice their books on-line, and basically make it more difficult for readers to access commercially published books.
When I do read for enjoyment, I usually find myself returning to my collection of books with dog-eared pages. My favourites have rhythm, they are rich in descriptive prose, evoke emotions, and touch upon important issues. So I re-read books such as Beloved (Toni Morrison),One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) or Marie Laveau (Francine Prose). At the moment, I am not connecting to fantasy or sci fi novels. However, a new Pratchett novel will always get my attention.
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?
We live in exciting times and, for writers who are able to adapt, it’s only going to get more interesting. Writers finally have choices, and are no longer kept out of the game by conservative guardians. These changes will be of particular benefit to writers who may have been pushed aside in the past, such as indigenous writers, and for those who creatively explore genres that are not considered profitable by industry.
It’s not only writers that are benefiting from a transforming industry. We now have more choices of reading material, at prices that suit all incomes, and buying methods that are more consumer-driven. And the breadth of available storytelling formats is amazing. The way we tell and absorb stories will keep on changing at such a rapid pace that it is almost impossible to predict the next five years.
Hopefully, changes will include the actual bones of story, and not just how they are published and consumed. Personally, I think many novels have become stripped of descriptive prose. Writers are being told to be concise with dialogue and scarce on adverbs. Verbs and adjectives have also become victims of the prevalence of action-packed books. Reading should be challenging, it should expand both our vocabularies and capacity to think and feel. We might be at risk of losing the beauty, and profound messages, which can be found within books.
My first novel was driven by a dissatisfaction with contemporary novels; those with a pace that is much too quick and prose too thin. I purposely slowed down, filled the pages with uncommon words and enhanced the role of setting. I also experimented with how far I could push an allegorical style of writing. What resulted was a warm tale for adults, reminiscent of fairy tales but without fairies and similar folk. Now that I’ve had my fun, the next few novels will be in a more serious vein. However, if I can continue to fuse magic realism, gothic tales, speculative fiction and other non-commercial genres, I’m sure I will still writing far beyond the next five years.