2016 Snapshot: Kirstyn McDermott

Interview by Alexandra Pierce.

Kirstyn McDermott has been working in the darker alleyways of speculative fiction for much of her career. Her two novels, Madigan Mine and Perfections, each won an Aurealis Award and her most recent book is Caution: Contains Small Parts, a collection of short fiction published by Twelfth Planet Press. When not wearing her writing hat, she produces and co-hosts a literary discussion podcast, The Writer and the Critic, which generally keeps her out of trouble. After many years based in Melbourne, Kirstyn now lives in Ballarat where she is currently pursuing a creative PhD at Federation University with a research focus on re-visioned fairy tales. She can be found online (usually far too often) at www.kirstynmcdermott.com.

You recently hit 50 episodes of your podcast The Writer and the Critic – congratulations! You sounded quite surprised, in the episode, that you had got there. Was that because you didn’t think you’d put up with Mondy for that long? How are you feeling about the podcast at the moment? 

Thanks! I’m feeling pretty good about the podcast right now. We made some minor adjustments to the format so that we can be a bit more curatorial about the books we choose to pair together, rather than each of us simply recommending a book we like. Also, no longer constraining ourselves to picking books we have already read has been kind of liberating … especially for my To Be Read pile! It’s a little daunting as well, in that neither really want to spend half an hour bitching about a book we ended up hating, but we do make our selections in good faith, choosing books we are genuinely interested in reading and think we will enjoy. Of course, as with our latest episode, it doesn’t always work out that way! I also love the interaction we have with listeners and being on Patreon this year has been great for that. Our next episode is “Patron’s Choice” where some of our supporters on Patreon have nominated and voted for the books they’d like us to read. I’m really looking forward to that one.

And I see I’ve somewhat dodged your original question – ha! The only reason I didn’t think we’d make it to 50 episodes was that it covered such a long time period. We started recording eleven times a year, then only every second month for a while, so Episode 50 seemed a lifetime away. I wasn’t sure how long I’d have the stamina, especially once I started a PhD, but I’m glad we’re still recording. Ian, to his credit, seems indefatigable! I love chatting with with every month and coming across books I might not otherwise have thought to pick up. Having intelligent, in-depth conversations about books (whether I loved or loathed them) really is one of my favourite things to do in the world, and getting to have those conversations with a dear friend on a regular basis is brilliant. It’s like my own personal book club. Plus it makes me read non-PhD stuff and that’s a good thing.

Your novels Madigan Mine and Perfections recently got re-released by Twelfth Planet Press. How does it feel to see your older works (well, they’re not THAT old!) released back into the world? 

Yes, Madigan Mine was published in 2010 so not that old really! But it does feel a long time ago. I’m stoked that Twelfth Planet was able republish them both digitally as well as giving Perfections its first life as a physical book. I’m particularly grateful for the latter – Perfections had a troubled road to publication and was originally only available as an ebook with limited exposure, so it’s great to see it get a second chance, so to speak. That doesn’t come along too often in publishing.

You’re currently working on a PhD. You may be sick of answering this question, but what’s it on and have you been surprised yet by any of your research? 

It’s a creative PhD, so the core of it is a collection of re-visioned fairy tales which, as it happens, are all turning into novelettes. Research wise, I’m focusing on collaborative female relationships within narratives and I guess the surprise – though that word connotes delight, so perhaps it’s not quite the one I would use – is realising how pervasive the absence of these types of relationships really is, not just in fairy tales but in broader cultural narratives about real and fictional women. We don’t tend to tell a lot of stories where women (who might not even necessarily be friends) help one another or band together for a common purpose without animosity or acrimony –especially in a relationship which is defined in some way other than by a connection to a male character. Or else, when we do tell those stories, they tend not to be valued very highly or taken seriously by the larger culture. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love the remake of Ghostbusters. For all its flaws, the collaborative relationship between those four women is the beating heart of that movie and it’s found an permanent place in mine. And Holtzmann. Oh my god, Holtzmann.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Two novels spring immediately to mind: Lament for the Afterlife by Lisa Hannett and A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay. I adored both of them on all levels – intellectual, emotional and visceral – and think they’re both incredibly important and engaging books that should be widely read. Honestly, I’m still stunned by how damn good Lament is from a craft point of view; it’s one of those books that make me … not wish that I had written it precisely … but wish that I had written something like it. And Single Stone, well, I still tear up thinking about certain aspects of it. Highly, highly recommend them both.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Oh my goodness, what an opportunity that would be. I cannot choose a living author as that would feel way too much like stalking, so I’m going to nominate Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter. I’d tell Shirley that she has written the best opening paragraph to a novel EVER (The Haunting of Hill House). I’d tell Angela how her versions of fairy tales have edged me along the same fascinating path. All three of us would drink pre-mixed G&Ts and chat about ghosts and the gothic and fairy tales and feminism and the magic of words until we were completely sozzled and cackling like wise old crones while flagging down flight attendants to bring us more cheese and crackers. Can it be a flight all the way to Europe? Please?
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