Your short story Visiting Rights is in The Australian Literature Review’s Basics of Life anthology. What can readers look forward to in Visiting Rights?
It’s a slightly odd YA story about friendship and death. As with a lot of my stories, it started with an unusual premise (in this case, friendship with a comatose person) and grew from there.
You will be part of a three author book store event at Book Street Toorak on June 9th for Basics of Life, followed by being on discussion panels at Melbourn’e Continuum Convention June 10th-13th. What are some of your favourite things about the non-writing aspects of being a published fiction writer?
There are two things that I really love.
Firstly, the ability to work from home. I never liked the whole 9 to 5 office routine. I love being able to stay at home, wander around in my slippers, spend more time with my kids and fit my writing schedule in around my family life.
Secondly, I love talking about writing. I get excited about going to festivals and doing bookshop events where I get to rabbit on about how much I love writing. I especially love doing school visits — talking to students and encouraging them with their writing.
Your novel Gamers’ Quest was written as an extension of a short story. What advice do you have for new writers who want to move from writing short stories to writing novels?
Short stories and novels are two very different types of writing, requiring different skills. If you want to write novels… then start writing. You just need to do it. I found short stories to be a good start, in that they helped build my confidence — actually finishing something and sending it out, and then seeing it in print. It gave me the confidence to attempt something longer. Short stories are also a great way to build a publication history, which can help when it comes time to find a publisher for your novel.
Your published fiction so far has been primarily for children and teens. What do you think tends to be a major difference between good fiction for young readers and good fiction for adult readers?
I don’t know that there is that much of a difference. Good fiction is good fiction — full stop! It doesn’t matter who it’s aimed at. The obvious differences between adult fiction and kids’ fiction, such as age-appropriate themes and the age of the principal characters, are separate issues from what makes the fiction good. When I write fiction for adult readers, I approach it in the same way as fiction for kids and teens. I try to tell an interesting story, in an interesting way, with interesting characters.
But how do you qualify what is good fiction or bad fiction? In the end it all comes down to opinion.
What are some of your favourite fiction books you read as a child, and do they have a significant influence on your fiction writing now?
I was initially a reluctant reader as a child. Then I came across Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. This is the book that convinced me that reading could be fun, and it is the book that started my life-long love affair with science fiction.
As a teenager, my favourite set of books was John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy. I read them many times. In fact, I re-read them again last year, and still loved them just as much as the first time.
I also loved Robert Heinlein’s teen books, such as Time for the Stars and Citizen of the Galaxy. And, of course, there was The War of the Worlds by HG Wells.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, all these books are science fiction. Although I write in a variety of genres, I always seem to come back to science fiction. When writing Gamers’ Quest, I was thinking back to the excitement I felt when reading as a kid… and I’ve tried to capture that feeling. I wrote Gamers’ Quest to be the book that I would have loved reading as a young teenager.
Who are some of your favourite emerging Australian fiction writers, and what makes their fiction stand out for you?
Hmmm… depends on how you define emerging.
One of the most impressive first novels I’ve read in the last couple of years was Shirley Marr’s Fury. It’s not science fiction. It’s a YA novel about a teenage girl confessing to murder. What made this story stand out for me was the characterisation. Marr created some very real and engaging characters. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Then there’s Sue Bursztynski’s YA novel Wolfborn — an extremely well-written and unique approach to werewolf fiction. Bursztynski is known as a non-fiction children’s writer and Wolfborn in her first novel, so I guess that makes her emerging.
There are also a whole swag of talented emerging short story writers. I’ve been very impressed by the stories in the [untitled] short story magazine (http://www.untitledonline.com.au) and in anthologies such as Dead Red Heart (Ticonderoga Publications, 2011, http://ticonderogapublications.com), a collection of Australian vampire stories.
How did you come to start writing fiction professionally, and why do you keep writing fiction?
It was a gradual process. I started out writing as a hobby for amateur publications. Then I started to submit stuff to professional markets. After a few small successes, I finally sold a book — a YA short story collection called Life, Death and Detention (Margaret Hamilton Books, 1999). Slowly, over the years, more of my income was coming from writing. Not just fiction. I also write a lot of non-fiction for the primary school education market (school readers, reference books, that sort of thing). And one day, I decided I was making enough money from writing to not need a ‘day-job’. I earn less money than I did as a web development consultant (which is what I used to do), but I’m a lot happier.
I keep writing fiction because I love it! Even if I wasn’t getting paid for it, I’d still be doing it. Getting paid for it simply means that I can spend more time on it.
What is next for your fiction writing?
The next big thing for me is Gamers’ Challenge. It’s the sequel to Gamers’ Quest and it’s getting released in September. So I’m getting ready to start all the promotion for that. I’m very excited about this novel. And I will be revealing the cover on the official website very soon — http://www.gamersquestbook.com.
I’m also making notes for a new novel. And working on some short stories. And a couple of fictional school readers. Plenty to keep me busy!
The Australian Literature Review