A new set of questions via the 5-questions meme, this time from the lovely Satima Flavell, although I get a little more ranty than usual on this one:
1. When I first met you, back in about 2002, you had just received recognition in the Writers of the Future contest. Since then, you’ve had many more short stories published, including your collection “Through Soft Air”; you’ve been a tutor at Clarion South and you’ve written one or two novels as well. Of all your achievements since WOTF, which one stands out for you?
Probably being invited to tutor at Clarion South. Most of the things I’ve done as a writer have been at the small press level, but Clarion was the first (and to date, only) time I was really ranked amongst the big boys by someone, which I think was a massive show of faith by the organisers. I’d like to think I didn’t let them down, but, to me, if you look at the names of tutors over the years I do stand out like a sore thumb as the “Who?” guy amongst them. My entire career seems to have been a case of stepping above my station on one occasion and then working my arse off not to have that step be a one-off. To date, that Clarion appearance is my biggest step, and my biggest one-off.
2. Which of your own stories do you love the best?
I don’t have a favourite. Once the stories are written and published, they’re yesterday’s news. I don’t have a huge amount of reprints because I rarely look backwards. It’s more important to be working on the next thing, the new project, than to think about what I’ve already done. (As Michael Keaton said about playing Batman: I don’t want to find myself at a car show in twenty years, still in the suit, with a kid on my knee, saying “Is that your Mom? Tell her to meet me after the show.”) I have several stories that stand out, because of awards, or because they’re good to use at readings so I use them more than once, but there’s no real star of the litter. I’d much rather hear that a reader has a particular favourite than have one myself.
3. Your wife Lyn is also a writer of no mean repute. Which one of Lyn’s stories do you love the best?
Ah, see, now this is easier 🙂 Lyn’s best story is called ‘A Whisper In The House of Angels’- to date, it’s unpublished, because it’s a very hard sell: it’s subtle, disturbing, and gives the reader very little in the way of sure footing. It just needs the right editor, and when it finds publication, it’s going to win everything. Of her published stuff, I have a real soft spot for ‘Of Woman Born’, in Daikaju II. It’s very short, only 600 words or so, but it’s everything Lyn is capable of: feminine, mature, imaginative, unique, all the elements that make up a Lyn Battersby story, plus it manages to be more than a little twisted and giggle-inducingly funny into the bargain. I think it’s been sadly ignored, and vastly underrated.
4. You’ve made it clear on many occasions that traditional fantasy is not your favourite genre. What do you think of some of the current drop of writers, such as Margo Lanagan, who are putting new, darker spins on some of the old tropes?
Actually, I’m not a fan of Lanagan’s writing. I find it contrived and soulless. I’m also aware that I’m in a tiny minority on this issue. I am going to raise issue with your statement, though: the thing is, I am a fan of traditional fantasy. What drives me to such public distraction is the sheer amount of bad trad-fantasy we see served up to us. It’s precisely because I love the good stuff that I rail against the Eddings’ and Brooks’ of the genre. Despite all his flaws, Tolkein’s work was incredible, as was Dunsany’s, and Stephen Donaldson’s original Thomas Covenant trilogy was amazing. It’s just that trad-fantasy seems to be the logical extension of Sturgeon’s Law, and nobody seems to say “Stop! The good stuff is over here!”
I also don’t see the usurpation of standard fantasy tropes as a new thing, although I’m a fan of writers such as Mieville and KJ Bishop who are spinning it out in new directions. You don’t have to go too far back to see Tim Powers doing wonderful things within ‘standard’ settings (witness ‘Anubis Gate’ and ‘Drawing Of The Dark’) and you can go back even further to writers like Wolfe, Vance, Moorcock, Le Guin and Poul Anderson to see some astonishingly wonderful ‘non-traditional’ fantasy stories.
It’s writers like these who point out how well you can do epic fantasy (Trad-fantasy, high fantasy, call it what you like), which makes it all the more annoying to me to see readers settling for the latest installement in whichever pale ‘Witches Guild of the Wheel of Shannara’ Tolkein-shadow you care to name.
5. And finally, what are your ambitions for the next five years, both personally and writing-wise?
I’m 38 years old. I want to be supporting my family through my writing by the time I turn 45. I want to make a concerted effort to move away from the short story/small press/horror story niche I seem to have been tarred with, and move into a wider publishing base– novels, more in the line of guys like Chuck Palahniuk and Jonathon Lethem, who are writing genre, to all intents and purposes, but who seem to have avoided being hemmed in by the label. If I get a chance to write another screenplay, or work outside my current boundaries, I’ll be eager to do so. I didn’t start out wanting to be an SF writer: I wanted to be a writer, non-specific, one thereof. I’ve become distracted, rather, since I started selling– small press SF is a bit of a honey trap, psychologically. I really want to go back to my original, pure desire– to write, and publish, whatever I choose, without thought of genre, or form, or purpose. I love writing poetry, and comedy sketches, and plays, and screenplays, and short stories, and cartoons. And I’ve published all of them over the years. That’s what I want.
Of course, what I’d like to do is really push towards achieving a significant artistic and commercial impact over an extended period of time. People like Spike Milligan, David Bowie, Stephen Fry, Alice Cooper, and David Hockney are my template: multi- form artists who can move from medium to medium as the need arises. It’s a very British way of thinking, to me- defining the artist by themself, rather than what they produce. Nobody over there tells Stephen Fry he can’t write a novel because he’s an actor, but over here we tend to look down on people who try to cross boundaries, as if they should be glad to work in one form. I’d like to break past that.
Either that, or I’d like to dress up as a bat and fight criminals. I’m still undecided.