Interview by Stephanie Gunn.
Your most recent novel, Day Boy, won Aurealis Awards for Best Horror Novel and Best Fantasy Novel. Can you tell us something about the process of writing that novel and having it published? How did it feel to collect two best novel awards for it?
Most of my writing takes a long time, there’s plenty of missteps and stumbles. And Day Boy was no exception. It started as a short story published in 2008 (and shortlisted for best horror short story in the Aurealis Awards) and I always felt that it had enough to be become a novel – even though I thought it worked pretty well as a short, I like stories that leave plenty of space, and questions unanswered. But it took me nearly six years – and many false starts – to find the shape of that novel. In my defence I also published five novels in that time.
I’ve pretty much come around to the idea that, in most cases, if I come up with something worth writing, regardless of the length, it’s going to take a while. I get a feeling with most of my work that it will be finished at some stage – I just never know when that will be (though about seven years for a novel seems about right). Luckily, I work of lots of things at once.
The next three books I’d like to see published (if the winds of publishing are blowing my way) are all at least four years old. I just kick off with a story and keep swimming until I reach the end of the pool – some of those pools are just very, very long.
Day Boy meant a lot to me. It’s a little darker and more serious than my earlier work, maybe a little closer to my short stories, so I was delighted that it won two best novel awards. If it’s going to be the only time I ever win an award for a book – which it probably will be – then I am very happy that it is that one.
You’ve had novels published with a several publishers, both overseas and Australian publishers. Has the experience of publishing with an Australian publisher differed when compared to an overseas publisher? Do you have any advice for authors seeking to publish novels, with either Australian or foreign publishers?
I’ve enjoyed all my experiences with publishers. I was very lucky with Orbit (on the Death Works Books) to work with some wonderful and thorough editorial folk. My publisher at Orbit Australia Bernadette Foley was a delight, she pushed me with a clear eye and a great sense of story and I respond very well to that kind of editorial. I found my major issue with Angry Robot who published Roil and Night’s Engines was simply the distance and, I think, I kind of had a bit of melt down – I don’t think those books were as good as they could have been, but that’s my fault entirely – I was basically putting one series down and picking up another without any real break while teaching and bookselling, and, while some people thrive in that environment, I really didn’t. I may multi-task my stories, but I do it slowly. I hit my deadlines but the work suffered.
Text has been wonderful too, Mandy Brett is simply a great editor – who pushed me, and helped me get the best book I could write. I found the editorial process on Day Boy a delight, and a challenge – but in the best way. Honestly, my experiences with publishers has always been pretty good – maybe I’m just lucky.
As for advice, everyone’s experience of publishing is different. And, sometimes you don’t get a choice who will publish your book. Try and write the best book you can, and then think about who will help you deliver that book in the best possible way. Don’t overcommit – which is very hard. If you can actually afford to make it over to the country that is publishing your book that is a very good thing too – I’ve never been able to, but I suspect that it may have helped – or maybe not.
Also, the moment you get a bite from a publisher (if not before) find yourself a damn good agent. Publishing is a pretty tough gig (so is writing, but that you can control) it pays to have someone on your side, working in your interest
Can we expect any work from you in the near future?
I’m still working on a draft of a novel called The Stone Road, I doubt it’ll see the light of day for another year or two, by which time I should have a new draft of a book called The House in Arbitrary finished too, and possibly a new Death Works novel – which has been sitting in MS form for a few years.
There are several novels stacked behind them, and a good dozen short stories. But I suspect I am going to be quiet for a while. Fortunately for me the delight is in the writing. The world doesn’t need another novel by me; I just need to write them.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
I’ve enjoyed Gary Kemble’s Harry Hendrick’s books – Bad Blood is the latest. Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward was great too. I’m so behind on my reading in the scene, but I’m looking forward to catching up on Angela Slatter, Ben Peek and Rjurik Davidson’s novels too.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Ursula Le Guin, I wouldn’t even say a word. I just think we have been so lucky to have her in the world (and to still have her).
In fact, I don’t know if I would even want that. Sometimes it’s best to leave your heroes perfect and on the page. The older I get the less I really want to meet the authors I admire, I prefer their words where they should be. The transporting moment is always in the book; meeting them on a long plane trip wouldn’t bring out the best in either them or me.
Hmm, that really is a terrible sort of answer.