Interview by Ju Landeese.
KA Bedford is a sometime writer living in Ballajura, Western Australia, with his lovely and long-suffering wife Michelle, and their dog Freckle. He’s the author of several sf novels, including Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, Eclipse, and, his most recent release, Black Light (2015). Time Machines and Eclipse won Best Novel at the Aurealis Awards in their years, and Time Machines was shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award in its year.
Your novel Black Light has been very well received and very different from your previous novels, what inspired you towrite a historical supernatural novel this time?
Thank you! I did not set out to write a historical supernatural novel “this time”. I wrote the original draft of a book that featured the original version of the Ruth Black character, the brainy but wronged wife of a mysteriously disappeared “diplomat”, in the late 80s. Then I had another go with the character, still trying to get a clear fix on her, in a book in 1996 (it was one of the two books I originally sent to the publisher in Canada (the other being my space opera/detective novel Orbital Burn; and they rejected Mrs Black but quite liked the story about the sad talking beagle)).
But in 2001, after my third book, Hydrogen Steel, was written, I found myself coming back to Mrs Black, this time with a much sharper idea of who she was and what she was about. She was a writer of science fiction novels, her husband was killed in a great war, she was independently wealthy, and burning with the suspicion that something about her late husband’s death was not as she had been informed. I wrote a complete draft, but I knew it had problems — problems I didn’t, at the time, know how to fix, so I put it aside on a floppy disk–which was then lost.
A few years ago, at a time when I was thinking about giving up on writing, I came across this ancient, dusty stack of floppies, and was going to toss them. But I wanted to just see what was on them first. I bought a USB floppy drive (my current PC doesn’t read them), and started going through them–and discovered the original Black Light draft, complete. I read it, and it was quite okay. The problems were fixable, so I fixed them. I changed the setting to Western Australia, a slightly alternate version where magic of a sort can coexist with science. Where elves who’ve found themselves here because of all the British and Irish immigrants brought them here with their cultural baggage and mythology, struggle in the savage heat and with the wrong sorts of trees, and become monstrous and angry.
Then a weird thing happened. I thought I had a decent book on my hands, but wasn’t sure. I asked very nicely if my friend Georgia Richter at Fremantle Press would mind just having a read, to see if it read okay. I knew Georgia from when Fremantle produced their edition of Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait. She said yes, and I sent it, grateful for her help.
Next thing she rings me one morning to tell me she wants to buy the book, she loves the book, and when can I come down to Fremantle to talk to them about it?
So you could say it’s been in the works a long, long, looooong time!
If you were to go to another country on an expenses paid trip to research a novel, where would you most like to go and why?
Antarctica. I’ve always wanted to go. It would most likely be very bad for emotionally, with the light and the isolation, but the place itself, the extremity of it, fascinates me the way Mars fascinates me, as if it were another planet helpfully stuck on the bottom of our own. I’ve been fascinated about Antarctica my whole life, and it is number one on my list of places to visit. I know it’s possible to do artist-in-residency gigs down there, but I have no idea what I’d actually write about. I loved Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica novel (though a bit didactic in the end), and other books about Antarctic explorers, notably Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South.
I’ve been following your candid discussion on dealing with health and mental health issues recently, your honesty has allowed insight into something not discussed so openly often. What prompted you to share your experiences so openly and have you found it to be beneficial?
Beneficial, yes, absolutely, because in writing about it, even on Facebook in front of friends, is like journaling, it allows me to think my way through what’s happening (and not happening), and how it feels. It’s a window into a situation many people would never previously have seen or experienced. It helps me process stuff.
Why do it, though, in the first place? Because it’s something happening to me. It’s my life. There’s no reason to keep it secret. In 2012 I shattered my left elbow when I fell on a concrete floor. I reported on the entire experience from the first day all the way through to the end of rehab, when I finally got full movement in my arm back. There was no shame in having a broken arm that needed fixing, and I strongly believe there is none in what’s happening to me now, as I make my way through depression and mental illness in a psychiatric hospital. It’s no different. I’m working on regaining full function in my mind, and my life. I’ve been plagued with depression all my life, since I was a kid. For most of that time I was acutely aware of the notorious stigma that surrounds mental illness. My reporting of my struggles now is my way of striking back against that stigma. No matter how personal, how private, how intense, it gets. Because there’s nothing shameful about it.
There is one weird and disturbing thing about my current situation: my mental health has been declining since late last year, culminating in what is now my second hospital stay this year. But I’ve barely written a word, and worse, have had no desire to write a word, for some time now. The writing part of my mind has, apparently, gone. As if removed. As if writing is a thing I used to do. There’s just a silence where previously there was always “radio chatter” from that part of my mind, with characters and stories and plans and ideas. Now there’s nothing. My doctors have an idea it might all be due to very low testosterone. We’ll find out.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Lee Battersby’s Magrit novel for younger readers was wonderful. I loved it very much for its mysterious sadness, for its plucky protagonist, its bony antagonist, and for the way, on every page, you could feel the author’s deep love for his own children.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Gosh, I really wouldn’t. I’d be worried about too many things, about disturbing them, or bothering them, interrupting their concentration if they were trying to work, or sleep if they were trying to rest. I wouldn’t want anybody bothering me in the reverse situation, so I wouldn’t do the same to anyone else.