Interview by Rivqa Rafael.
Janeen Webb is a multiple award-winning author, editor and critic who has written or edited ten books and over a hundred essays and stories. Janeen is a recipient of a World Fantasy Award, a Peter McNamara Achievement Award, an Aurealis Award, and a Ditmar Award. She holds a PhD in Literature from the University of Newcastle, and divides her time between Melbourne and a small farm overlooking the sea near Wilson’s Promontory.
I thoroughly enjoyed your 2014 collection, Death at the Blue Elephant, which was published by Ticonderoga and was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award. Two years on, how has the book been received?
Thanks for your kind words about Death at the Blue Elephant. I’m happy to say that the collection has been very well received: shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award, and also recommended in the Locus Best of the Year list. One of the stories, “The Lady of the Swamp”, was reprinted in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror (edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene). Readers have responded generously to the stories, and I understand the book has been selling well. I am, of course, working on a new collection, with new stories slowly making their way into print.
You’re quiet on social media compared with many writers, and you live in a relatively remote area. Do you need that distance to be able to write?
Yes, I have to admit to being something of a recluse, especially when it comes to social media. And yes, I do need that distance to write – I need a quiet space, both physical and mental. I admire people who dash off blogs and appear on social media everyday, but that’s not for me: I am a fairly slow writer, and I just know I would spend ages carefully composing tweets and using up all my available writing time. I do have a website, which I really should use more often.
You’ve written YA and adult fiction across various genres. Is there something pulling you more strongly at the moment, and what can we expect to see next?
I do write across genres, fiction and non-fiction, and I don’t think that will change. I have recently finished another YA novel, which is with my agent (Ian Drury). I’ve also sold a novella, A Dynasty of Dragons, to PS Publishing. I’m currently working on extending the novella into a full length novel- starring a dynasty of shape-changing dragons who have been passing for human for some centuries, causing a predictable amount of chaos. It’s great fun.
But what’s pulling me most is collaborating on a major counter-factual project. Academic habits die hard, and I’m enjoying researching what I hope will be a trilogy of alternative nineteenth century Australian history: a work in which the facts are true, there are no changes to scientific knowledge or technology, but the outcomes are very different. It’s a history we could have had. Stay tuned.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
That’s always a hard question – so many wonderful things appear all the time. The 2015 publication I enjoyed most is Anna Tambour’s short story collection, The Finest Ass in the Universe – it’s a fabulously eclectic collection of phantasmagorical, idiosyncratic tales that leave me wondering how she does it. I love the sheer, exuberant originality of this book.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Such a delicious prospect! I hardly know how to answer this one: there are so many questions I’d like to ask of so many authors. But today I’m opting for William Morris – I think he’d enjoy his first plane trip. I’ve always loved his romances, especially The Well at the World’s End and The Water of the Wondrous Isles, but there are so many aspects to the man: craftsman, poet, socialist. I’d like to know more about the Kelmscott Press and those gorgeous editions, about the pre-Raphaelites, about working with Rossetti and Burne-Jones; I’d like to ask about Morris & Co designs, furniture, fabrics and so on. And if I could just get him to tell me where he left that last, unfinished manuscript… It had better be a very long trip!