2020 Snapshot: Tamsyn Muir

Tamsyn Muir was born in Australia and has lived most of her life to date in Howick, New Zealand, with spells in Waiuku and in central Wellington. Her first published short story was “The House That Made The Sixteen Loops Of Time”,for Fantasy magazine in 2010. Her lesbian cosmic horror novelette The Deepwater Bride(2015) was nominated for the Nebula, Shirley Jackson, Eugie Foster, and World Fantasy awards. The Locked Tomb trilogy of science fantasy novels began with Gideon the Ninth(2019) and will end with Alecto the Ninthin 2021. Tamsyn currently lives and works in Oxford, UK.

1. Tell us about your recent publications/projects?

My debut novel, Gideon the Ninth, came out with the US publisher Tor.com in September 2019. I’m never sure how to sum it up in a snappy way — it’s been called ‘dark science fantasy’, but I think of it as being basically Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast meets Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, only with swordfights. It’s about two girls who don’t like each other but have to go and do the world’s worst exam in a ruined palace full of skeletons. The second book of the trilogy, Harrow the Ninth, is coming out at the start of August — it was meant to be out in June, but coronavirus — and then Book 3, Alecto the Ninth, is scheduled for summer 2021, though I haven’t actually… finished writing it yet. I’ve also got a novella coming out in December with Subterranean Press, which hasn’t been properly announced yet so I don’t think I can talk about it, but it’s a fairy story about a beautiful princess in a tower. It’s very E. Nesbit, by way of, err, The Revenant.

2. What has been the best publishing experience of your career so far?

This is difficult because I have been lucky enough to have a string of good publishing experiences, ever since my very first short story back in 2010, and I’m grateful to a lot of different people. Getting picked up by Tor.com was obviously a big moment — I sent them the manuscript of Gideon because a friend suggested I should, and I was pretty sure it would be miles out of their wheelhouse and they’d send me a polite ‘not what we’re looking for, good luck’, and then in fact they said ‘yes, we will publish well over 100k of you going into too much detail about bones’. And ever since then their whole team has just been incredibly supportive and cool to work with. So I really feel I landed on my feet there! More recently, though, I had a lovely moment where I got approached by a New Zealand anthology to see if I had any Kiwi stories gathering dust, and I gave them one which had actually appeared in a US magazine a few years ago and got very little attention. I’d always been a bit sad about that because I thought it was a solid SF story, and a couple of reviews had said they couldn’t follow the language, and I’d thought glumly that this was my deserved punishment for being Too Kiwi In Public. So I tentatively pushed it in the direction of this antho, and they immediately said ‘ooh yes, very Kiwi, perfect, we want it’. It was weirdly soothing to feel like my decision to write a SF story and use words like ‘munted’ and ‘spading’ hadn’t actually crippled it beyond repair. I realise my use of the word ‘spading’ maybe dates me.

Also, I don’t think I actually use the words ‘munted’ or ‘spading’ in that story. So in that respect I have in fact let New Zealand down.

3. Which recent Australian/NZ work would you recommend to international fans interested in expanding their Antipodean spec fic knowledge?

I’m always griefstricken when I meet any SFF fans who haven’t read any Elizabeth Knox. Thinking specifically of very recent work, though, I’ve gone on record before with my admiration for Sascha Stronach’s The Dawnhounds, which is mystical and nasty and queer and just extremely weird in a way we need a lot more of. That would be my Antipodean Spec Fic Hot Tip of 2020, for all the hundreds of people I fondly imagine coming up to me and begging for such forbidden jewels (no-one has ever asked me this question before today).


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