Interview by Tsana Dolichva.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of books including the Creature Court trilogy, Love and Romanpunk, & Musketeer Space, as well as the co-editor of Cranky Ladies of History. Tansy has won all kinds of awards including the Hugo (twice), the Washington SF Small Press Award (twice), various Aurealises and Ditmars, and the William Atheling for Criticism and Review (five times!). Tansy also writes crime fiction under the pen-name of Livia Day. Come and find TansyRR on Twitter & Tumblr, and listen to her on Galactic Suburbia, Sheep Might Fly or the Verity! podcast.
You have recently launched a new podcast called Sheep Might Fly, where you have been reading out short stories, alternating between previously published and original works. Do you see this now as a main destination for your future short stories?
Absolutely – I started the podcast because I love reading stories (author readings are my favourite things to do at conventions) but also to justify the kinds of stories I really want to write, which aren’t always easy sells to books or magazines. I love serialised stories following the same characters, I love the longer novelette/novella length, and with my Patreon running I can now justify writing those pieces from a financial/career/audience point of view. It’s also nice to have a way to extend the life of my favourite previously-published stories, and maybe extending their readership – I’m not someone who loves to listen to fiction rather than read it with my eyes, but there are so many readers who do prefer this medium.
Sheep Might Fly is certainly not the only destination for my fiction – I rarely have time to write shorter pieces on spec to send out, but I write stories when solicited for projects that excite me,. I recently had “Kid Dark Vs The Machine” published on The Book Smugglers, which is a sideways sequel to “Cookie Cutter Superhero” from Kaleidoscope. But I’m currently taking a break from novel writing after I finished my last full-length manuscript, and still haven’t lost too much of my writing momentum because of my podcast – those weekly deadlines are very inspiring!
Some of your work, like the Cafe La Femme books written under the Livia Day pseudonym and “Siren Beat”, is set in Hobart, where you live. Do you find that you are drawn to the local setting? What’s the main appeal?
It’s a little bit the other way around – it took me a long time (more than a decade as a published author) to start feeling comfortable writing stories set in my own backyard. I was brought up to think of Tasmania as a literary space, rather than somewhere that genre could thrive, which held me back for a while, and I was always weirdly self-conscious about writing “local.” But the more I did it, the more fun it got – especially when I can mix up the real and the unreal, as in the imaginary town I created for Drowned Vanilla, or when I threw a kraken at the Hobart docks.
The truth is, I know this space better than any other, and I’d be crazy not to use that familiarity to write it. It can be difficult, because Tasmania has such a strange liminal identity in Australian culture – you hardly ever see it on TV, and many mainlanders only experience it as a holiday destination – so what feels normal and realistic to us can feel unrealistic to them. (also like 95% of book set here are super grim and depressing, like we’re living in some kind of ghost-drenched backwater… okay that’s partly true but we have good coffee and quite a lot of sunshine too!) I still remember hearing my early fantasy works being criticised for having an overly English flavour to them instead of wearing their Australian identity proudly – but Tasmania has a very English side to it at times. (plus I’m half English, so that’s always going to be there in my work too)
What new books and stories do you have in the pipeline? What can we expect to see from you next?
My current serial at Sheep Might Fly is Unmagical Boy Story, which takes on the queen bee/mean girl trope and is about friendship, magic and postgraduate study. I have a story about retired assassins called “Death at the Dragon Circus” coming out in the book And Then: The Great Big Book Of Adventure tales, from ClanDestine Press, later in the year – I love this story to bits, and excited it’s finally coming out. That’s another one I’m going to put on the podcast eventually because I want to write lots of sequels with dragons and trapeze artists and handsome men fixing things with tools.
Livia Day has a brand new murder mystery novel coming out towards the end of 2016 – it’s called Keep Calm and Kill the Chef, and has Tabitha Darling as prime suspect in the killing of an unpopular celebrity chef during the filming of a reality cooking show. I’m changing up the usual format of these books, dividing the point of view between Tabitha and another character, so I’ll be interested to see how it clicks with readers.
We’ve just released The Mocklore Omnibus, with fantastic cover art by Tania Walker – this contains Splashdance Silver and Liquid Gold, my very first comic fantasy novels, first published in the late 90s. Fablecroft have done a great job at promoting my backlist, and there is still one more title to come out this year – a collection of Mocklore short stories and novellas, some previously published and some not, featuring the characters of Bountry Fenetre and Delta Void. They’re a mix of adventure fiction, romantic comedy and magical mysteries.
Apart from that, there’s a few exciting projects shifting around in the aether that aren’t ready to be announced yet – including an anthology to be crowdfunded, a novel still looking for a publisher (Victorian fairies, mad science & love-potions-are-not-consent, anyone?), a superhero novella, and so on!
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Just finished watching Cleverman, which is an amazing achievement – just having such overt, intelligent and political Australian science fiction on our screens feels like a win in itself, and that’s without getting started on the powerful use of indigenous themes, stories and performers. It wasn’t a perfect piece of television (a lot of story threads especially the white people plotlines that didn’t resolve as strongly as I would have liked, and I wanted more scenes with the indigenous and hairy women in the story) but it was very well done and I hope is a precedent for Australian drama in television to offer us stories that are different and challenging and original. I’m really looking forward to Series 2.
It’s cheating a bit to mention Defying Doomsday, because it’s an anthology that I’m in, but honestly I think more people need to be talking about this extraordinary book of apocalypse fiction with disabled protagonists centred in every story. Not all the authors are Australian, but the editors and publisher are – I’m really glad this book exists, I’m proud to be part of it, and I think there will be a lot of stories from this book competing over awards next year.
Books I’m currently in the process of reading and enjoying include Kate Forsyth’s The Rebirth of Rapunzel (essays based on her fairy tale research), and Ben Peek’s epic fantasy debut from Tor, The Godless.
This one’s not SF, but a shout out for Robert Hoge’s Ugly, particularly the kids edition of the book – my daughter owns her own signed copy and STILL took another copy out from the school library and brought it home because she likes it so much. That’s the sign of a book that has won the hearts and minds of children.
Oh and since you said work, not just books, I would like to add that I am addicted to buying Kathleen Jennings art from Redbubble, particularly the silk scarves. I even wore one to my wedding.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
I want to say Joanna Russ, but the truth is I think I’d be too scared to open my mouth and ask her any questions! So I’ll go with Diana Wynne Jones, because I’d love to be able to talk to her about what her stories have meant to me over the years, and listen to anything she has to say about her characters and her writing! I’d have to make sure to take my Kathleen Jennings’ “I belong to Chrestomanci Castle” cushion on the plane with me.