Interview by David McDonald.
Liz Barr co-edited Companion Piece: Celebrating the humans, aliens and tin dogs of Doctor Who (Mad Norwegian Press, 2015 and chaired Continuum 11: Southern Skies (Melbourne, 2015). She co-blogs with Stephanie Lai at No Award and has a lot of feelings about boarding school novels for children.
Last year you had a story appear in the most excellent anthology, Cranky Ladies of History – congratulations! Not only is your story in it, but I believe you might have had something to do with the anthology happening in the first place? Who does your story feature, and why did you pick them?
Really, all I did for the anthology was create a blog post about an interesting woman I found via Wikipedia hopping – Tansy and Tehani did all the hard work! But it was wonderful to see it all come together and know that I had a very small part to play in planting the seed.
My story, “Queenside”, was about Mary I of England, aka Bloody Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. She doesn’t have a great reputation as a monarch, partially because she made a series of questionable political choices, from her marriage to her abandonment of religious tolerance in favour of burning Protestants at the stake, and also because she’s overshadowed by her much more iconic and longer-lived half-sister, Elizabeth I. But I’ve always found her quite interesting – she went from a happy, healthy, highly intelligent, talented and educated little girl to a neurotic adult plagued by chronic ill health, probably due to the stress of her parents’ divorce and her father’s frankly abusive treatment.
She’s not a feminist icon like Elizabeth I – again, burning people at the stake is problematic on a number of levels, plus her insistence on handing power over to her foreign husband – but in a lot of ways, her precedent made Elizabeth’s reign easier. And, for example, she overruled her advisors and insisted on choosing her own husband, which turned out to be a terrible decision, but was still A+ feminism 101.
All this is to say that I find Mary quite interesting – but it was difficult to pack all of that into one short story. I wound up writing a short, wholly fictional encounter between Mary and Anne Boleyn in the days before Anne’s execution.
I am huge fan of the blog you co-run, No Award. What was the inspiration for launching the site, and what are you hoping to achieve?
Well, first we had the name – the Chronos Awards at Continuum 9 were so dominated by No Award that Stephanie Lai and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny to create a blog with that title and then get nominated for stuff?”
And just a couple of days later, as the con wound up, we got to talking about the UScentricity of social justice is. We had particularly noticed it because we were on a couple of diversity and social justice panels, and a lot of the language and examples we used were American, because people just weren’t talking about Australian issues. So we decided that No Award The Blog should focus on media, pop culture and social justice from an Australian POV – but we quickly expanded into hilarious (“hilarious”) listicles and reviews of museum shops.
Aside from No Award, what projects are you currently working on? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the coming year?
I’m co-programming Continuum 13 with Julia Svaganovic next year, which we’re pretty excited about! (Think: black cats, urban legends and nail art.)
But my other projects are outside of the SFF realm – I’m polishing the manuscript of my contemporary Australian boarding school novel (target audience: kids who have outgrown Enid Blyton but aren’t ready for Melina Marchetta) ahead of finding a couple of Indigenous sensitivity readers (one of the heroines is a Koorie girl) and querying agents. And while I’m doing that, I’m also researching the daily lives of Chinese Australians in the 1920s for a YA mystery I’m attempting to draft – stay tuned for a fun No Award post about “prohibited immigrants” under the White Australia policy.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff just blew me away. Space ships, plagues and dysfunctional AIs: some of my favourite tropes right there, and I adored the found document format. And I really liked “Brisneyland by Night” by Angela Slatter, and plan to buy Vigil as soon as I make a dent in my ridiculous to-read pile.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
I kind of want to say J K Rowling, because I just read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and immediately had to reread the original series (stop looking at me like that, to-read pile!). I’d just pester her with questions for the whole flight – how on earth did Vernon get that gun? Did the Dursleys vote for the Brexit? What’s Draco’s Patronus? (I hope it’s a ferret.) What’s her favourite boarding school series? Is it true that she was two-thirds through writing Philosopher’s Stone before she realised it was fantasy?
Also, she’s super-wealthy, so if I’m sitting next to her, we’re definitely not in economy class. (The downside is that I guess she could afford to buy a whole plane to get away from me.)
And on my other side, I’d like Mary Shelley – mostly so I can introduce her to the concept of grief counselling in the hope that, rather than dedicating most of her life and talent to preserving Shelley’s memory, she can move on and write more proto-SF.