Interview by David McDonald.
Raymond Gates is an Aboriginal Australian author of horror and dark fiction currently residing in the United States. He has published a number of short fiction works and is currently working on his first novel. He has also authored a number of non-fiction pieces primarily related to Indigenous health issues. Writer is only one of a number of hats he wears – discover them all through his blog, http://raygates.me
Your blog is subtitled “One Man. Many Hats.”, which is somewhat of an understatement! Could you tell us a little about your current roles?
My blog is attached to most of the aspects of my life, not just my writing. Last year I moved to the USA and am still working as a physiotherapist (that’s what pays the bills). Between the move and the new job I haven’t had a lot to do much else! I’m still writing, though probably putting more words down in my head than I am onto the screen. My work on my writing has been more around promoting and negotiating ideas around my existing work than anything new, which is useful but also needs to change. I’ve also been focussed on taking my new skill as a Tai Chi instructor and establishing a class here in the US. I’m still very much an advocate for Indigenous issues, and while I try to remain informed and involved from half way around the world in Aboriginal issues, I’ve also been trying to connect to local Indigenous groups to see if my knowledge and skills can be utilised here. I still consider myself an entrepreneur and have a myriad of ideas just waiting for the right opportunity to present themselves. All of that happens in between the times I’m being a Dad!
You also talk about being a great believer in Reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Does this have an impact on your writing and, if so, how does this manifest in your stories?
To me, the Reconciliation movement is really about Unity. To achieve Unity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, we need to reconcile our differences and accept one another. Not just ‘tolerance’, but acceptance. That does impact both my writing and my desire to write. Aboriginal peoples are storytellers by nature, and there is so much in Aboriginal culture, history, and culture that lends itself to telling great stories. There’s also so much about Aboriginal peoples that non-Aboriginal peoples have no clue about. Through my writing, I’ve got an opportunity to bridge the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples by including elements of Aboriginal Australia – the people, the culture, the historical and current context – within the story, and thus offer some insight (dare I say even some education) about Aboriginal peoples and our culture.
However, that doesn’t mean that all my stories are going to feature Aboriginal characters or culture or issues; in fact only a few of my published short stories do. There is somewhat of a – what should I call it: myth, stereotype, expectation – that an Aboriginal writer will write Aboriginal content. As if, being Aboriginal, that’s all we know about, or all that’s important or interests us. I’m an Aboriginal fiction writer, not an Aboriginal fiction writer. I want my writing to be recognised and appreciated for what it is, not for what I am, and in doing so hope that I will be read by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal persons alike.
Despite all the other hats, you have still managed to have a number of stories released this year—congrats! What are you currently working on, and what does the rest of the year hold for you as a writer?
This last year or so has imposed somewhat of a mandatory break for me from my fiction writing, though I have still managed the occasional blog article. I have had a few short stories published, and also been involved in negotiations to have The Little Red Man, (featured in the anthology, Dead Red Heart) produced for television (which unfortunately fell through, however I’m always happy to be approached!). For the rest of this year I’m expecting to finish (and hopefully publish) several short stories, as well as make considerable progress towards my first novel. I’m also considering the possibility of finding myself an agent, and should I achieve my goals for my novel, I expect to start investigating that more seriously towards the end of this year or early into next.
Being in the US now I’m a little out of touch with Australian work! However I have to say that I have been impressed on a number of levels with Cleverman. Not just because of its Aboriginal content and themes, but because it achieves the things I alluded to earlier: Aboriginal characters that have depth beyond their Aboriginality, relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal characters, the integration of ancient culture and beliefs with the modern day world, and that fact that it is speculative fiction rather than historical drama. It can be enjoyed by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples alike, whether just for its surface story, or for the ideas and ideals within its depths. It’s a pioneering work that I hope will achieve the recognition it deserves, and pave the way for the rest of us!
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Well, I’d have to say I’d be pretty happy to be stuck in the middle seat between Stephen King and Clive Barker, but given the chance I’d love to spend some time with Ryan Griffen. I admire his achievement with Cleverman and both appreciate and can relate to his motivation for running with it. I reckon a long plane trip with him would result in some great story ideas. Plus I might be able to con him into producing some of my stories!