Have you found there to be any distinct advantages or disadvantages to being a writer living in southern Tasmania?
I’ve always lived here, I really don’t see myself living anywhere else, and it is a lovely place to live, so that’s an advantage! The main disadvantage has been isolation – there aren’t that many professionally-published fantasy writers here in Tasmania, and many of my peers and best writing buddies live so very far away. The internet makes this less of a problem, though, and while I can’t travel to cons as much as I’d like to, I have now gathered a gang of writers around me, which makes me happy.
Many Australians are not familiar with any Australian sci fi and fantasy fiction. What are some of your favourite works of sci fi and fantasy fiction from Australia and what makes them stand out for you?
So many to choose from! I think Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan is one of the most important fantasy novels published in years. Anyone with an interest in original takes on epic fantasy needs to be reading Glenda Larke, and Karen Miller. One of the books I’m most excited about this year is Trent Jamieson’s Death Most Definite, first in an urban fantasy series set in Brisbane, based around the slacker son of a corporate family in the Grim Reaper business. I read it in manuscript form and I can’t wait to see people reading it!
What are the most exciting or interesting ideas you’ve come across in sci fi and fantasy fiction?
I know an idea is exciting when it makes me want to write something with it, and you can get ideas from the strangest of places. Most recently I’ve been both excited and repelled by the idea of mashing up classic literature with B Movie horror tropes. I love seeing a new literary movement or trend crashing over the horizon, swallowing up authors and spitting out books. I fully support the idea that kraken should be the new vampire. Science fiction and fantasy are particularly marvellous because they can take you to such extraordinary places and worlds, and posit really out-there concepts, but ultimately I’m more interested in how extraordinary events affect character.
How do you develop the initial idea for a story?
I bounce it around in my head for a while, sometimes take notes, and wait for a gap to open up in my schedule. I find I can’t start writing for real until I have the character name right. It cooks away in the back of my head and when the story is ready, I can really get into putting it on the page. Sometimes it involves lots of research, but I tend to research during rather than before the writing process – or I’d never get started!
Could you give us an overview of the process you went through in writing one of your novels?
Power and Majesty, the book I have just had published, took about 6 years to get to publication. The first year I got three quarters of it written, then had to stop to finish my thesis and have a baby. That was pretty much the second year. I managed to get back to it eventually and finished a draft to be workshopped with ROR, my long distance novel writing group. Then the rewrite took another year. The main problem was that I had started it too late in the story and had to add more in front. The reworked version caught the interest of a publisher and by the end of the fifth year they had committed to buy it. Then there was another year just on editing, getting it ready for publication, and working on the sequels while I waited for the publishing wheels to turn.
In contrast, the process for the second book in that trilogy was “write for six months, take 3 month break to have baby, write for two months, submit book”. The process for book three was “write a huge amount in one month, take 2 month break to work on edits of book 2, write for 3 months,” which takes me up to now. It becomes a more linear process once the tricky first book is done, because so much is already established.
I’m a faster writer now, and less precious about my process than before I had kids. I write rawer, crazier first drafts, and need to allow myself a good 6 weeks or so after that to knock the draft into respectable shape enough to share with other people. Each book is easier and harder at the same time.
Some writers have an aversion to writing fiction set in their local area because they think it is not interesting enough. What advice would you like to give to fiction writers on writing fiction set in their local area?
I know this fear, I have felt it myself! I think the best thing is just to relax. I wasn’t ready to write about my backyard in my teens, was uncomfortable but intrigued in my 20’s and now I really enjoy it. You need to have confidence in yourself. I do suggest that it’s worth trying to see your home through the eyes of a tourist and not just assume you will convey setting without working at it. You don’t know what you take for granted until you challenge your own assumptions. But don’t be afraid to get it wrong, either, especially in the first draft.
What is next for your fiction writing?
As soon as book 3 is done, I get to start a new book or trilogy! I have two planned, and it depends on which attracts grant money or publisher interest. One develops the Hobart-based urban fantasy world of immortals and seamonsters I set up in my novelette “Siren Beat”, and the other is my weird tropical tale of Shakespearian tragedy and necromancy.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of Power and Majesty, Book One of the Creature Court. She lives in Kingston, Tasmania, with her partner and two daughters, and blogs at tansyrr.com. She also contributes to podcasts at www.galacticsuburbia.com
The Australian Literature Review