2016 Snapshot: Kimberley Gaal

Interview by David McDonald.

Kim pic3Kimberley Gaal is a speculative fiction writer who lives in Canberra, ACT. She was accepted into the 2012 JUMP National Mentoring Program for Young and Emerging Artists and was mentored by award-winning horror and speculative fiction writer Kaaron Warren. Her first novel, Dark Soul, is the product of that mentorship. Kimberley is on the committee of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild and has participated in panels on the place of mentorship in your writing at the speculative fiction conferences Conflux and Natcon, as well as appearing on less formal panels discussing the general awesomeness of zombies.

Congratulations on your DOUBLE nomination in the Young Adult Category of the Aurealis Awards! What do you think are some of the differences between “Young Adult” and “standard” fiction? What is that attracts you to writing in that genre?

Thank you. It was a wonderful surprise and honour to be nominated.

I don’t focus on what age group I’m writing for until after an idea is pretty well baked – either I have a full synopsis of a longer work or the first draft of a short story. So in my case, the direction a story takes is pretty organic, and if it turns out to be a YA piece then so be it. I think that works because, in terms of style, there really isn’t a lot of difference between the books I love now and the books I loved when I was younger, so if I’m writing something I would enjoy reading (and how can anyone write something they wouldn’t enjoy reading themselves?) it’s probably going to be the sort of thing a teenager who is like me when I was that age will also like. Maybe that means I ‘think young’, or it  could be that teenagers and adults aren’t necessarily all that different these days. Their thoughts, opinions, sense of humour and ability to comprehend things aren’t so far removed from older adults as they once were . (Sometimes I wonder if that was ever the case, or if it was just an illusion parents used to entertain back in the days when kids were expected to be seen and not heard and spanking was a forgone conclusion.)

It’s true that in YA it’s generally best to to keep your main characters closein age to your audience, because age still has  the ability to separate people at that stage of their life and make them harder to identify with. Some themes, like identity, sexuality, independence and friendship, are also easier for younger people to relate to than, say, facing your own mortality and wondering about ‘the path not chosen’, but if I’m honest, that’s also what appeals most to me now and I’m in my thirties.

If I had to pick one secret for writing fiction for young adults it would be: don’t focus on the fact that you are writing fiction for young adults. Write a ripper story, one that carries you along and holds themes and messages you think are important. If you get to a space – in the beginning of writing, half way through, or right at the end – where you feel it’s a story young readers in particular would enjoy then sure, pay attention to the language you use, the ages and situations of your protagonists, and the word length, but don’t underestimate your readers and write boring, basic, oversimplified prose because you think teens can’t cope with the big stuff. Or, best option, write something with layers  that readers at lots of different levels can appreciate, regardless of their age. 

You’re currently working on a Young Adult novel with an alternate Earth, monsters and–perhaps scariest of all from a  writing perspective–multiple perspectives. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

You just did a pretty good summary yourself! The story takes place on an Earth where a climate catastrophe has already occurred and caused a shift in global politics, forcing countries to cooperate in order to find a solution.Following the Crisis, the world is peaceful and united until a new threat appears – deadly creatures that emerge from the water to feed on humans. Nicknamed veineys because of the lines permeating their skin, they are hard to track and almost impossible to kill, and their range is only limited by how far they can travel from water. Suddenly, any place within a day’s journey from oceans or rivers is a danger zone.

My POV characters are teens from different countries and different circumstances, all trying to stay alive in a world where water is the enemy. Pushed from their homes and torn away from the people they love, they are forced to fight for their lives against a range of monsters, and not all of them come from the deep.

Climate change, and other environmental concerns, seem to be a passion of yours. Do you feel that fiction can be a force for change in the way we approach these issues?

I do and I don’t. I want to. I think art – writing, film, graphics, any type of communication really – can get messages through to people via the ‘back door’ of their brains: their subconscious, their imagination and their feelings of empathy. Anything that allows them to connect with a subject instead of feeling one or two steps removed from it. The thing is, getting people to hear the message is only half the battle. The other half is getting them to act on it and keep acting on it even when the gut-punch feelings have worn off. I think art is a great initial motivator but not such a good ongoing one.

I believe people are, overall, pretty decent but kind of lazy. (And I totally include myself in that.) We want to do good but we get put off by discomfort or difficulty and trick ourselves into thinking things don’t matter. Real change is only going to happen when doing the ‘right thing’ becomes as easy as doing the ‘wrong thing’. I think science is going to be key to making the ‘right thing’ easier, while social pressure is key to making the ‘wrong thing’ harder. Fiction can influence both those areas: it is a great vehicle for exploring new ideas about technology and sustainability, and can help people become more willing to accept change and influence what they perceive as normal.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I just had a baby so I haven’t been reading much long-form work. I’ve been hooking into anthologies – Dimension 6 from Coeur de Lion, In Your Face from FableCroft, all the Years Bests from Ticonderoga and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild anthologies. I’ve stumbled across a few authors I will have to look up once I get enough brain power back to tackle a full novel. For instance, Kirstyn McDermott’s story in In Your Face was so…how do you spell ‘euunghh’? Which is completely the point of that anthology, and it made me realise I should look into her more.

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

A. A. Milne. He had this incredible life, wrote across multiple genres and formats and then quietly seethed that it was all eclipsed by the enormous shadow of a little bear called Pooh. The only thing more interesting than an intelligent, creative and articulate person is an intelligent, creative, articulate, bitter person.

I do love Winnie the Pooh, but I don’t think I’d be game enough to tell him that.
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