Interview by David McDonald.
Michael Pryor has published more than twenty-five fantasy books and over forty short stories, from literary fiction to science fiction to slapstick humour. Michael has been shortlisted six times for the Aurealis Awards, has been nominated for a Ditmar award, and six of his books have been CBCA Notable Books, including three books in the Laws of Magic series. Michael’s most recent books include The Chronicles of Krangor series for younger readers, The Laws of Magic series and The Extraordinaires series for older readers, as well as 10 Futures, a collection of interlinked stories imagining what our next 100 years might be like, and middle grade technothriller Machine Wars.
You’ve recently written an excellent article (that I’d recommend writers checking out) on the importance of writers being able to handle public speaking and presentation. It’s obviously a strength of yours, but has this always been the case? How did you develop your skills in this area, and do you have any embarrassing stories to share?
I had a head start in speaking in front of people as I’d been a teacher for more than ten years when I first started writing. Some of the tricks I learned there about structuring a presentation, keeping audience interest etc still hold good. I believe that some people are natural public speakers – but I also believe that everyone can achieve a reasonable level of competency. My biggest tip is that preparation is the key. Embarrassing stories? I once made two girls faint in one of my talks … Perhaps I was a little too graphic in describing a self-inflicted knife injury …
I’m a big fan of the Alternative History sub genre, so I’ve enjoyed your posts on the subject. Can you tell us a bit about what your first exposure to the sub genre was, and about your writing in that field?
I can remember, very early on, reading a number of ‘If Germany won WWII’ stories, like ‘The Sound of His Horn’ by Sarban, but one that still lingers is one of the best, ‘Pavane’ by Keith Roberts, which explores a world where the Reformation didn’t happen and the Catholic church reigns. Lyrical, despondent, moving, and very, very British. My writing in this area really underlies my Laws of Magic series, which is really an alternate Edwardian world where the rules of magic have long been experimented with.
Are there any writers (or other artists) that you consider formative influences on your own work? If you could write like anyone for a day, who would it be?
Tolkien is an obvious influence, but not, perhaps, in the way I write but more in a general ‘Fantasy can be deep, profound and stirring’ kind of way. Other early reading also influenced, of course – Andre Norton, CS Lewis, Robert Heinlein. If I could write like anyone for a day, who would it be? Hmm … Neal Stephenson, for polymathic depth of research and reach?
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Radical Melbourne, by Jeff Sparrow. An eye-opening non-fiction work exploring the societies, clans, associations and organisations, left, right and anarchist, that kept Melbourne bubbling in all directions in its history. Great stuff.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Bill Bryson. A great storyteller, and a great traveller – so he’d know when to talk and when to shut up.