PODCAST SHOW NOTES
In this episode hosts Veronica and Darren bring you some latest news from the website and from the Australian publishing industry, discuss the upcoming special panel edition of the podcast featuring some amazing romance writers, delve into whether redemption plays a role in dystopian settings or if hope has a place within dark literature, and we enjoy a deep and thought provoking interview from author Thomas Heffernan.
Of course, there's also some great author Cameo's, a book review, and a almost successful attempt at our closing tagline....
When did you first admit that you were a writer?
It might be better to say when did I first ‘know’ I was a writer. I’ve always been drawn to storytelling, in any form. I always knew I was creative, and from a young age experimented with drawing, writing, painting. I decided pretty early on that writing and reading were the things I enjoyed the most so those were what I focused on. I suspected I was a writer when I found myself working on a novel while I supposed to be paying attention in maths class, I knew I was a writer when the characters in that novel began writing themselves, and I felt like I was simply taking dictation while they went about their adventures (and often struggling to keep up with them, which didn’t bother them at all).
What inspired you to write/this book/these books?
My first novel, Fabel, was pretty epic, it jumped around various timelines, places, and was told from the perspective of many different characters. My second book, The Interior People, I wanted to be a little more focused, so the narrative is all seen from the eyes of the protagonist, and the story takes place over a few weeks, as opposed to almost a decade as in my first book.
I also wanted to get a little more personal. The Interior People was inspired in part by actual events from my life, namely the loss of two people very close to me. Writing this book was an intensely personal experience, so the process of putting it out into the world for others to read and judge has been especially daunting. That said, the book is by no means an autobiography, it’s absolutely a work of fiction. But I wanted to show that each of the main characters in The Interior People are dealing with loss, and they each represent different aspects, different points along the curve, so to speak – they are all coping with it in their own way.
And that’s what I love about fiction, you can embed your own experiences into what is, essentially, a work of pure fantasy. I think it takes talent to be able to do that, and it’s something I’ll continue to try to master for as long as I can wield a pen.
For The Interior People, I was also inspired by the work of an Australian artist, Megan Haering. My partner Jess introduced me to Megan’s work, and I took one look at her character designs and immediately knew I wanted to work with her to illustrate the book. Thankfully, she was available and keen to do it, and the process was amazing: I didn’t give her any real directions to follow, I simply let her read the book and come up with character portraits, so the finished designs are as much about her interpretation of the characters as they are mine. Megan really understood the characters, and her designs bring them to life in a unique way, I love all of them.
Why do you think listeners should read your book/s?
I think a lot of readers may respond positively to my style: I try to write books that can be finished in a single sitting. My books are very fast-paced, and I would compare them to films in this respect - my characters say and do things rather than thinking about them. I spend very little time in my characters’ heads, there are no extended internal monologues. As a reader I don’t like it, I tend to tune out when a character sits around pondering something for pages. So as an author I made a decision early on to not have that in my books. I don’t want to spell everything out for the reader, I want them to wonder a little about what is motivating a character’s behaviour and draw their own conclusions rather than have me tell them what to think. I write in a very visual way; I’m a visual thinker and my writing style reflects that.
When writing, but especially when editing, I try to keep in mind Hemingway’s “iceberg” principle, that is, you don’t need to put every word that’s in your head down on the page. You just need to choose the rightwords, and just enough of them, and if you get that part right, the reader will be able to fill in the rest.
Are there any passages you’d like to read on air to give listeners a sample of your writing?
One or more of these:
He had not known she was unhappy. Before the darkness, when unhappiness was not only unsurprising but expected, he had not sensed that behind her smile lay a sadness of such tremendous weight it seemed impossible her small frame could sustain it.
He thought about that a moment and realised that in fact he probably had known, deep down.
I didn’t want to accept that she was unhappy, because I didn’t know how to help her.
The thought left him with a vacuum in his chest, like his lungs had suddenly vaporised and left him gasping for air with nothing to fill with it. The stark selfishness of the realisation hit him and he clenched his teeth and felt a sadness he knew well, one that never went away but rather hid inside and emerged every once in a while, just to remind him that he hated himself. He felt it most often when looking in the mirror, not soulfully searching his own reflection but doing something mundane, like brushing his teeth. He would feel it, acute, sudden and visceral, like a punch to the stomach, and he would turn from the mirror and snap off the bathroom light and quickly finish cleaning his teeth in the dark.
She never needed me to help her, he thought. She just needed me to be there. Help was an intangible abstract concept rooted in the passing of time. I was the wind and the oxygen in her lungs, the sunlight and the water, the earth beneath her feet, her comfort, her home. Without that, help could not exist but in the vacuum of space, as unreachable as the moon and the stars.
As he slipped slowly into sleep, he realised that if he could say one thing to her now he had not said then it would not be I’m sorry. It would be I am not going anywhere.
‘You know what I think?’ Byrd said, and stared at the late afternoon sunlight as it rippled on the brown water. ‘I think for most people, true sadness is like a long-haul flight that never lands. You’re up there, circling, you stow your tray table and watch the fasten seat belt sign you know will never come on. Real loss is something that can’t be measured and doesn’t end. It’s not just noticing the absence of something you should have paid attention to in the first place. And the truth about loss is, you don’t feel it about things that don’t matter, so you’re never prepared when you feel it about the things that matter the most.’
Magnus tried to blink it away but from a pinpoint of light behind his pupils a vision became a blinding glare as if staring into the sun. He saw a great bird with a tail made of stars lifted by the heat from a volcano and he watched as it circled up into a black sky. When it beat its wings, the clouds parted as if cut by a storm wind and the bird called to the earth with the cry of a million plucked strings, and as it reached the thinnest air its wings spanned continents and oceans and from the middle of its brow shone a singular eye the size of a city, glimmering and sparkling like a jewel in the night. It took to the stars and cast itself out among them as a million brighter points of light to shine upon the world until the end of time, until the end of all things.
He told her of Molly, but not everything. Not yet. But he told her of a night, a hot night, June or perhaps July, during a brief reprieve from the killing in a place the other guys called home but that he barely recognised. He had sat on a stool and sipped a beer in a bar full of denim women and leather men playing pool and darts and drinking bourbon and speaking what may as well have been another language. A girl had leaned across the bar beside him and accidentally brushed his upper arm with her hair. She had said excuse me and he had said no problem and looked into her big blue eyes. The rest was unimportant because the rest was just the time from that moment until she had said I love you.
Is there a message in your book/books/writing? / What’s the main message you’d like readers to take away after reading your book/books?
A strong theme in all my work is the duality of nature. I’ve always loved storms, the ocean, nature. We build enormous structures, massive cities. We monitor the climate, predict the weather and have air conditioning. We think we have such control over the elements but then nature throws an earthquake or a tsunami or a cyclone at us and these things are destroyed in seconds, wiped away like they are nothing, and we realise we actually have very little control over anything. Storms, to me, represent the brutal beauty of nature – they look amazing, humbling, awe-inspiring, but they are also incredibly dangerous and need to be respected. But I also love the concept of regrowth – like after a fire wipes out an entire forest, it’s not gone forever, trees grow back, greenery eventually returns and within a short time there’s no evidence a fire ever happened. In The Interior People this theme is strongly represented, there is even a creation myth woven into the narrative.
Another theme in my work is sacrifice. I’ve always been fascinated and humbled by the thought of sacrifice, like the way a firefighter will willingly put his or her life at risk to save a total stranger. In my first novel, Fabel, I thought it would be really interesting to explore this notion using immortal beings. The immortals in that story, the Legen, could quite easily just go about their own business. They choose to put themselves in harm’s way to save humanity, and a lot of them pay the ultimate price, so for them, the sacrifice is that much greater because if they didn’t put themselves in harm’s way they would just live forever.
So in turn I wanted readers to ask themselves, what would you sacrifice to save a loved one? And in a broader sense, what would you sacrifice to save the human race? To save the Earth?
What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
It would have to be when a college student contacted me about my first book to tell me how inspired she was by the strong female characters in it. It affected me mainly because I hadn’t set out with the intention of writing strong female characters, they just ended up that way in the story, I’d inadvertently made the female characters much more level-headed and heroic under fire than any of their male counterparts (it was perhaps a Freudian slip). To hear that a complete stranger had responded in such a magnificent way to this was very inspiring to me as a writer.
Of course, it was also nice to hear that the parts of my first novel, Fabel, that were supposed to be scary, genuinely terrified a friend of mine, so much so that she couldn’t finish the book in one go, she had to take a rest! That was satisfying, because to me, I’d read it so many times myself that I wasn’t sure if it still all worked. It was nice to know it had.
What genre/s do you mostly read?
Interestingly, for a writer of fiction, I read a lot of non-fiction, in particular, history. I love being transported back in time to places and people that actually existed. Also, I admire the vast amounts of research it takes to write these kinds of books, as research is something I’m pretty hopeless at myself.
I try to not limit myself to one type of book though, or one genre. Some of the best books I’ve ever read have been when I’ve taken myself outside my comfort zone, and taken a chance on a book, or an author, I’ve never heard of.
What’s the most useful writing advice you’ve been given?
This came from the editor of my first book, who after reading my somewhat bloated first draft, told me to ask myself a question: what is the one main idea or thought you are trying to get across to the reader? She then said something no self-indulgent first-time author wants to hear: if a single word or paragraph or even whole chapter does not serve that one end goal, consider deleting it. The second draft of that book was almost a full 5,000 words shorter, and it’s a much better book because of it.
What is the biggest challenge/obstacle you find being an independent author as opposed to a ‘mainstream’ author?
It would have to be the challenges involved in marketing your work. There are hundreds, thousands, of great books out there that will go mostly undiscovered not because their authors lack talent, but simply because no-one ever hears about them. Independent authors rely a lot on word-of-mouth, and that can only go so far. With a limited budget for marketing and promotion, it can be disheartening when sales don’t meet your expectations. There are loads of websites out there offering advice on how to sell yourself as an independent author, but they vary a lot in how useful and/or practical their advice is, and there a lot of scams out there that will ask authors to fork over money by promising the world and then delivering nothing. For me, writing has never been about the money, it’s about having as many people as possible read my work. I’m not looking to be the next Stephen King, for me, my goal is to have just one reader out there, when asked ‘what is your favourite book?’ answer with the title of one of mine!