Thursday, June 17, 2010

Podcast here:Doctor of Fantasy, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Last Tuesday Tansy Rayner Roberts came in to the studio. She is author of a number of books, most recently 'Power and Majesty' which is the first of three in the Creature Court Series (Harper Voyager, 2010). Tansy is a Doctor of Classics, a mother, a prodigy, somewhat of a cause celebre when she was first published at age 19 and she makes for a good interviewee with her knowledge of the writing, the world and her passion for the Romans.
'Power and Majesty' is "effectively a superhero story or urban fantasy," firmly placed in the genre of fantasy. Tansy identifies as a writer of fantasy "(it) is a particular kind of escapism," she said, and while there is the argument that all writing is escapism, fantasy takes you further, allows you escape more - because it is often set in other worlds. It is literary tourism and readers experience a world completely other than their own. She mused on the seeming decline in popularity of science fiction as compared to fantasy - speculating that "the reason sci fi has retreated so much - space ships and computers - is because our world is already sci fi and what fantasy offers is a world that is not already there, a dip into a world that is different without giving up our creature comfort, our twitter and our microwaves."
Tansy was has been known to me for many years - when she was 19 (11 years ago) she was feted as a prodigious new talent. She had her first novel published at that tender age - in an industry that was as difficult to gain a foothold in then, as it is now. Describing the publication of her first novel as "a bolt of luck" (she won a competition by a publisher looking to increase their science fiction and fantasy titles), she acknowledges that it's not every 19 year old who has a completed fantasy novel in their bottom drawer.
She says it's "not one of those things where you pay your dues, it was bang! and get your book published." While she suggests "it is tempting when you're a teenager to write fantasy because you don't know very much about the real world, so making it up from scratch seems easy," it is a rare bird who has the novel, submits it, is published once - and then published again and again and again.
And it is fantasy that she has returned to, and that she still draws a lot of satisfaction from - the possibility of redesigning a world from the bottom up. It has, she believes, a lot of elements in common with the historical novel; the need to provide the reader the the background experience as well as the narrative of the story.
Tansy started young - reading full length novels by age five, planning her first 20 volume fantasy epic at age 12.
Her process of writing has evolved from precious to practical. When she began to write seriously for publication she could have no one else in the house, only one spot she could sit in and no sound whatsoever. That has all changed since she has had children - and she squeezes in squirts of writing between naps and drop offs and pick ups - "I just write, I have a lap top, write anywhere, have learnt to write with music, even if there are lyrics."
Her characters keep her entertained "I have definatley been surprised," she says - "it's more like having pets - you think you know what your cats get up to when you're out of the house but you come back and they surprise you."
'Power and Majesty' is volume one of three, involving many characters each with their own back stories, connections and passions. "spreadsheets are my friend," says Tansy. This way she knows what happened to her characters five to ten years before, and what the other characters were doing at that time. "I want to write about them as adults and because of that, even in adult fantasy, most people start the story with the young farm boy when he's 15 - they have character, ex lovers and baggage."
She is in the process of editing volume two of the Creature Court Trilogy - and has just received the edit letter "it's hard, I think that the freaking out is part of the process. You read through, you flail your arms 'how can they misunderstand my genius?' then you get over it and have a cup of tea and then you say "yeah, they have a point." The edit process is obviously crucial to publication - and writer, editor and publisher want the best book they can make. "Writers who can't take criticism at all are never going to improve never going to become better writers and develop their craft."
Tansy has a PhD in Classics - and she sees parallels in contemporary fantasy writing and in some classical writing "there are definately a lot of elements of classical stories that we now recognise as fantasy, a lot of stories that were treated as history but they had Gods walking in - as modern readers we think 'now, hang on, that was Aphrodite walking past, should I suspend my disbelief now?' mythology didn't seem quite as obsessed as pinning down what was real and there was not as strong a line between history and mythology as we draw now."
"Look at 'The Odyssey,' a marvellous work of fantasy full of Cyclops and sorceresses and amazing magical adventures."

The full interview is available for podcast by clicking on the title above.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Julian Burnside, doublespeak and city crushes

I have a crush on Melbourne, a big, exhilarating crush. Last week when I popped over, ostensibly to visit my darling friends J and E and see their new house and cat, I also wanted to touch on some of the things that make Melbourne a UNESCO International City of Literature.
This status was accorded the black garbed city in August 2008 for reasons as described by UNESCO "a city of extraordinary diversity in literary activity, Melbourne is a vibrant arena for the creation of literary works, home to diverse publishers and publications and populated with an disarming number of diverse thinkers. It hums with wordiness, from low to high. Edinburgh is the only other UNESCO-deemed City of Literature. (see. link below)
Not strangely, my endeavour to savour the city of literature involved books and words. So one morning I stayed in my pyjamas and read the latest Australian Literary Review. In the evening, we drank feisty red and debated the merits of twitter and reading in digital form.

The next day I visited Polyester Books on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. Polyester's subtitle is 'some weird shit' - and it certainly has had some weird shit on its shelves. Instead of the bookshop's standard biography, fiction, art, health, etc sections Polyester's shelving system runs something like 'drugs, sex and rock and roll, subversive fiction and the banned-do-not-tell-the-federal-police-section'
I was pleased to see both The Anarchists Cookbook and Hightimes displayed, as both of these have been banned at various times in our recent history. I didn't see any snuff films, though did see Hunter S, erotica and street art in abundance.
Polyester is a mutinous hub but there's nothing there that's more outrageous than you'll find on the shelves of a well versed indie elsewhere - there is just more of it. Polyester, may you continue to serve your subversive, slightly titillating role well into the future. Oh, and dust your shelves darlings, the dust is not edgy.
And - the highlight of my visit to my biggest crush city, was to hear Julian Burnside speak as part of the Lunchtime/Soapbox series at the Wheeler Centre.
The Wheeler Centre is the hub of Melbourne's lit-cit status. It is subtitled 'Books, Writing, Ideas' and it is, in their words, "a new kind of cultural institution. The Wheeler Centre. A centre dedicated to the discussion and practice of writing and ideas."

Train, tram and a couple of footsteps got us to the door at the Little Lonsdale entrance, which is on the side of the State Library. We were greeted in the foyer, with a smile, that included the eyes; genuine and lovely, and ushered in to a large, packed room. We nuzzled our way in to a corner and listened to a humourous and incisive talk by Julian Burnside titled 'Mind Your Language'.
Julian Burnside is known to many as a defender of the powerless - notably, asylum seekers under a Howard government. He is a wise, well spoken barrister who has spoken loudly, acted profoundly and caused change for the better in contemporary Australian society.
He talked about the "plague of doublespeak," and how it's not the misuse or erred use of language or grammar that riles him, it is the deliberate obfuscation of meaning that results from doublespeak. Some examples he gave were from the Vietnam war, "energetic disassembly" meaning an explosion and "incontinent ordinance" instead of bombs that hit schools by mistake.
"Doublespeak means that you can smuggle uncomfortable ideas in to comfortable minds," and it is "language covered with an ambiguous figleaf," he suggested, potently. Examples he gave of language used powerfully and honestly included Rebecca West, in her essay 'Greenhouses for Cyclamens" where she wrote about the Nuremburg trials and Patrick Leigh Fermour's "dazzling use of metaphor." "Language like this speaks with force and clarity - the message remains long after the words have faded."

Thanks for having me Melbourne, I am looking forward to seeing you again soon.

UNESCO City of Literature:

Video of Julian Burnside's talk at The Wheeler Centre

Podcast: Iain McIntyre - How to make Trouble and Influence People

This is an interview I did with Iain McIntyre, author of 'How To Make Trouble and Influence People' (Breakdown Press 2009). It's a ripper of a book featuring collection of exactly what the title suggests, making trouble and influencing people - in varied and creative ways. It also contains interviews with some of Australia's better known trouble makers, including Pauline Pantsdown, John Safran and some of the Chaser crew.

The interview was broadcast on Edge Radio's Book Show in April this year.

Paige Turner November

  Edging towards the end of the year and towards summer, towards Christmas and all it allows us to manifest. Good luck and good sleeps to ...