You have described Death Most Definite as “a love story about Death set in Brisbane. There is mystery and murder and explosions, and it’s a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale, but with talking knives and zombies.” What makes a fantasy story like this relevant and interesting to readers?
A story like this is dependent on the characters. As outlandish as the story is, it’s really about a guy falling in love, and having to deal with the obstacles that get in the way of that love.
And stories about Death have always been relevant from the Epic of Gilgamesh up. We’re all going to die. We all lose people that we love. This book just asks what it might be like if you could get that person back, and what lengths you would go to to make that possible.
I’d also like to think that by grounding the novel in contemporary Brisbane, even if it’s a slightly different Brisbane, it’s relevant. My characters use social media, they catch buses, they sometimes get sick of work, they do all the stuff that everyday people do in the city. It’s just that things get very rapidly out of hand.
And, finally, fantasy is always relevant and of its time. It can’t help but be. Whatever period, place or world a writer is writing about, they’re actually writing about the here and now – you can’t escape it.
You have said, “The book came to me in a flash. A guy looking across a crowded food court and having a love at first sight moment with a girl. Then I realised she was dead and telling him to run. After that I spent the rest of the first draft trying to work out the hows and whys.” Could you give us some more detail on the process you went through writing Death Most Definite?
Well, I’m not much of a planner, so first drafts are generally me trying things out and trying to make sense of stuff. Most of this book was written at the Toowong Library (in the local history section) in longhand. I’d walk down there every weekday, that I wasn’t working, listening to the same music to get me in the right frame of mind (mainly, for the first book Okkervil River, Gotye, and Spoon) and write until I’d filled about eight pages or so of my notebook. Then I’d go home and type them into my computer.
As far as first drafts go it was one of the smoothest I’ve ever written. Problems just resolved themselves, the characters did what I wanted them to, and when they didn’t they usually took me to more interesting places.
There were lots of serendipitous moments, but my favourite was that I’d started calling Mt Coot-tha One Tree Hill, fairly early in the book and then, while doing some research discovered that Mt Coot-tha was actually called One Tree Hill until 1863. At that stage I thought I was onto something
Death Most Definite is the first in a three novel series. You have said, “These books are very Australian, in setting, and the characters’ experience, but I think they’re accessible. Hearts beat, and things explode pretty much the same in any hemisphere.” Do you think most Australian fiction you have read is accessible and genuine or has too much focus on trying to ‘be Australian’?
Some fiction is more accessible than others, but I don’t think every story needs to try and be “accessible” – or if that’s even possible. And I don’t know any writers who ‘try and be Australian.’
My ‘Australia’ is only one of many different Australias – if that makes sense. All you can really do is write what is true to you, and for this particular story it’s a fairly Urban sensibility. But that said it’s just one of many possible Urban sensibilities. I’m certainly not saying this is what Australia’s like for everybody, just that this is what Australia is like for a certain type of person.
And when you start using the word genuine and fiction together you can start to get into trouble. Stephen King once wrote that “Fiction is the truth within the lie”. And the more truths you can have the better.
Hmm, not sure if I’ve answered the question there.
What works of fiction have had the most influence on your fiction writing, or do you most admire?
This is such a tough question to answer I love Fritz Leiber, China Mieville, Marianne de Pierres, Hope Mirrlees, Margo Lanagan, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, William Faulkner, and Harper Lee. But then this list could change on a daily basis. Right now I’m really enjoying Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift books – excellent Urban Fantasy set in London.
You can see I lean towards Spec Fic.
You have taught at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Clarion South Writer’s Workshop. What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give to new writers?
Read as much and as widely as possible. And write what you feel most passionate about. If you’re not writing what you love then you may as well go and do something more lucrative. Write what you love and it will always nourish you, and it will make the hard work even more satisfying,
What makes a great first chapter of a novel, or what is an example of a great first chapter and what makes it stand out for you?
A good hook, a moment of insight, something that challenges the reader to keep going. It can be noisy or it can be quiet. Thinking about things I’ve read recently, I’d have to say that Justin Cronin’s The Passage has an excellent first chapter. It’s quiet, almost unassuming, and utterly heartbreaking, and yet it’s the underpinning for the rest of the book. You know at once that you’re in the hands of a great storyteller – one who can take you from small town tragedy to apocalyptic epic.
What is the key to making a series of novels work well, or what made a series of novels you have read work well for you?
For me, a good series is about the characters. If they’re interesting enough I’m happy to follow them anywhere. I hope people will find Steve [from the Death series] and his friends compelling enough for follow them through the books.
The second novel in your series, Managing Death, is due to be published in December. What can you tell us about Managing Death?
It picks up a few months after Death Most Definite ends, and is really about my protagonists dealing with the implications of everything that happened in the first book. Unfortunately things don’t get any easier for Steven. There’s assassination attempts, torture and a staff Christmas party to negotiate, and all that while Managing Death.
More on Trent Jamieson and his fiction can be found at www.trentjamieson.com.
The Australian Literature Review