Interview by Helen Stubbs.
Leife Shallcross lives at the foot of Mount Ainslie in Canberra, with her family and a small, scruffy creature that snores. She reads fairy tales to her children at night, and then lies awake listening to trolls (or maybe possums) galloping over her tin roof. Her work has appeared in Aurealis and several Australian and international anthologies, including The End Has Come, edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. She is actively involved in the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild and is the current president. She also helps organise Canberra’s science fiction convention, Conflux. She can be found online at leifeshallcross.com and on Twitter @leioss.
What are you working on at the moment, both in your writing and for the upcoming speculative fiction convention, Conflux?
I’ve spent most of the last year focussing on writing the first draft of my current novel project, a paranormal crime thriller set in an 18th Century London where angels and demons roam the streets in the service of a handful of human adepts. This is the first time I’ve really invested in planning a novel before writing it (I’m an inveterate pantser) and it’s been a hugely educational experience. I’m really hoping to have it finished in the next couple of months. I’m also participating in the ACT Writers Centre’s 2016 HARDCOPY program, which has been fascinating and intense, so far. The first three-day workshop was run by Nadine Davidoff, an editor who has worked for the likes of Random House Australia and Black Inc. Participating in a writing workshop led by an editor, rather than a writer, has been eye-opening.
I’ve also been helping to organise this year’s Conflux convention in Canberra (30 September-3 October). My main job is doing the program, which is huge fun. This year’s theme is Red Fire Monkey, as it is the Chinese Year of the Monkey. So we’ve programmed a bunch of stuff around this theme, in amongst all the usual – and unusual – spec fic crazy goodness. I’m really passionate about making sure we have content that appeals to and includes a diverse audience, so I’m particularly keen to hear from people who have diverse perspectives to offer up for our panel discussions. We put up the draft program in July, so now I’ve got to start wrangling panellists and moderators and workshop convenors and guests of honour… Phew.
Can you tell me about a recent publication? Also, as a writer, what advice would you give past you?
My short story Pretty Jennie Greenteeth was published in the anthology Strange Little Girls that came out from Belladonna Publishing in March this year. It’s a nasty story about how little girls deal with monsters and I’m really happy with how I captured the voice of the Strange Little Girl who is telling the story. Jennie Greenteeth is a figure from British folklore that lives in ponds and waterways and eats children, and I’ve been fascinated with her and wanted to write a story about her for a long time. Interestingly, however, while she is certainly a monster, she’s not really The Monster in this story. In fact, you could argue there are a couple of contenders for that title.
I’m also really pleased to be sharing the Strange Little Girls TOC with the bewitching Angela Rega, whose writing I love.
It’s not only OK, but totally f****g necessary to write what you love.
I’ve always loved writing, and when I was in high school all I wanted to be was a writer. But I spent a long time waiting to grow up and stop writing fairy tales and start writing “real fiction”. I only figured out in my late thirties that wasn’t going to happen and started to embrace the idea of myself as a fantasy writer. Dear God, so much wasted time. Sigh.
Also: Don’t write what you know. Write what you want to know.
This one is courtesy of Cat Sparks, who was speaking about research for writing at the Aurealis Awards Writer’s Day in Canberra a couple of years ago. This resonates so much with me. Firstly because I have the kind of imagination that lives Anywhere But Here. So writing about what I “know” is terminally tedious. Secondly, I have no experience of wandering the streets of London in 1765, but I love finding out about it by reading books (fiction and non-fiction) and looking at old maps and old engravings and paintings. Write what you want to know opens up so many possibilities for exploration and discovery and wonder.
What do you plan to work on next?
I’ve got a couple of projects lined up for after I finish the first draft of my current novel project. I have started planning a suite of colour-themed short stories using fairy tales that I’m looking forward to getting into. I’ve always loved fairy tales and they’ve always been a big source of inspiration for my writing, so my next novel project (which I’ll try and complete the first draft of over 2017) is a steampunk action adventure YA version of Cinderella. I have visions of her engaged in moonlit rooftop swordfights and rappelling through shattered skylights into abandoned steampunk science labs. We’ll see.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
I read Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club recently and really enjoyed it. It satisfied multiple categories of Stories I Love including: Regency Romance With Brooding Byronic Hero, Rebellious Heroine Who Kicks Arse Despite Crippling Social Constraints, and Anything Set In Period London.
Next on my pile is Angela Slatter’s Vigil, which I’ve heard great things about, so I’m really looking forward to that. A villain that makes wine from the tears of children? Hell yeah.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
I can’t tell you how long I spent scanning my bookshelves trying to narrow this down. Can I choose two?
First, Diana Wynne-Jones, because Howl’s Moving Castle may be the most wonderful book ever written. Possibly she may have been quite a bossy person (rather like Sophie, perhaps), but I’d love to talk to her and see what quirky gems of imagination find their way into the conversation.
Then, maybe also Meredith Anne Pierce, because The Dark Angel is also intoxicatingly weirdly wonderful. I’d love to talk to her about what nourishes her imagination. Also, I’d like to find out exactly how she manages all that hair (it’s about six feet long).
On the return journey, I’d like to be seated with Joan Aiken, Tanith Lee and Robin McKinley, please.