Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From the archives: 2009 interview with Sara Douglass

Q. Fantasy seems to be going from strength to strength while other speculative fiction genres (with the exception of supernatural romance) still 'struggle' - what's the appeal of fantasy?

I have to come at this by saying I don't read fantasy myself and haven't for about 15 years (if I write in a genre I can't possibly read it) but from things my readers have said, it provides a sense of adventure and romance that simply isn't readily available in real life.

Q. Can you tell me a bit about your latest book, The Infinity Gate?

Dear heavens - I wrote that when I was feeling really ill and then my world fell apart entirely, so I am trying to remember back through the fog of pain and illness! It is the conclusion of the Darkglass Mountain series. I am not too sure what I can say without revealing the plot, but we get an appearance by Axis' long-dead (or so he thought) half-brother Borneheld, even more Icarii get killed off, and Ravenna (almost) redeems herself. But the major surprise in this book is the Skraelings - they finally reveal who and what they really are and <em>do</em> redeem themselves!

Q. In late 2008 you were diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. How has this affected both your approach to writing and how you feel about the writing itself?

I was pretty stressed writing The Infinity Gate and was thinking I needed a whole heap of time off but how can I do it - then I got the cancer diagnosis and realised that if I didn't take a year or more off then I would die. Fortunately a couple of years earlier I had taken out income protection (I cannot recommend this highly enough) and I received a huge payout - so now I am free at last! Free at last! I can escape writing for at least a year! I needed a break so badly and the best thing that the cancer did was a) force me to take it and b) give me the money to do so. So I am taking off for as long a I can - writing was getting too stressful and I need a big-time break from it.

Q. I've heard from other fantasy writers that making a career out of it really can be like 'stepping on the treadmill'. Was this what it was like for you and, from the point of view of unpublished writers, do you think it's a cautionary tale (not getting the cancer, of course - more about being careful what you wish for)?

Yes for me taking on writing as a career was definitely stepping onto the treadmill. When I was writing for fun and working elsewhere, writing was my escape from work. It was enormous fun! Then I began writing as a career and it became 'work', and yes it becomes as stressful as other careers. It was no longer fun. I really, really needed a break. I'm not too sure how to escape that treadmill - I really admire any writer who maintains the level of fun for their writing as they did when it was a hobby and not a means of living.

I also found writing fantasy peculiarly stressful as you are so often trapped into writing trilogies - instead of being able to embrace new ideas each year for a new book you're trapped into the same project for years on end - I have grown very, very tired of that. I am reading a series of crime novels at the moment - they've gone on for 20 years and I really admire that author for being able to stay with the same characters for 20-odd years and still maintain interest and verve and freshness in both characters and writing.

Q. Could you see yourself just giving up writing entirely? Or, at least, when you get back into writing, doing it more on your own terms?

Yes, I can see giving up writing - writing does not define me, so I don't 'need' to actually write. But on the other hand I can just as easily see myself producing the odd book occasionally and really enjoying it. I don't think I will ever, under any circumstances, do a trilogy or series of books again. I just don't have it left in me, and I don't want to commit to that level of writing (and stress) again, but I can see myself doing stand alones every so often. I am also keen to try different genres - I would love to be able to slip into historical romance at some point. But going back into writing will be more on my own terms rather than on other people's - be they publishers or readers. I think I want to do what I want to do, now. And who knows what that will be? :) Overall, however, I am going to give other areas of my life much more attention and time. Writing will take a third or fourth seat.

You can join Sara Douglass for a live chat from 8am (AEDT) today. Go to the Flycon home for more details.

I thought I'd post this in case anyone would like to read it. I didn't know Sara but she seemed to have her priorities straight.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11


When the September 11 attacks happened I was living in the UK. I was at HTML training course that day. The trainer said, 'Okay, now open a browser window and go to the BBC website'. There was a screengrab of the twin towers, smoke billowing out of them. At first it seemed like a sick joke. And then we continued our training. No-one really understood the enormity of it. I don't think anyone could really believe it.

My (now) wife and I were booked to fly to New York the following week. (We ended up going in October. It was the first time I'd ever been scared of flying, and that fear persists to some degree even today. There were US flags in virtually every window. Lower Manhattan stank. I was surprised at how up-beat New Yorkers were -- they were getting on with their lives).

We came home to the share flat we were living in that evening and the TV was on, and those same pieces of vision playing over and over again. The second plane hitting. The towers falling. I still think no-one could believe it.

I was part of an online writing group back then. I'd entered a short story competition and I won. On September 10 I posted in the forum. Topic: 'Has the world gone mad?' The words had a slightly different meaning a day later.

The events of September 11 had a lot of us questioning what we were doing with our writing. People (including myself) wondered whether we should be writing such dark stories, when the world seemed so dark, all of a sudden.

When I told that story when I was on a horror writing panel at Conjure in 2006, someone in the audience said -- I can't remember her exact words, but the gist was that the lives lost in the September 11 attacks paled into insignificance compared with lives lost in the third world (or maybe she was referring specifically to the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). And I couldn't answer her. I couldn't articulate what it was about September 11 that made it different to all that other death and suffering.

Over the past could of weeks I've been working on the ABC's '9/11 Remembered' coverage. And I think that this is the first time I've really reflected on the events of September 11.

The thing that really gets me is 'Day before the storm: photos from September 10, 2001'. The photo I've used above, by Mike Horan, is a perfect example. On September 10, 2001, people were just going about their lives. Mike, like probably thousands of people that day, posed for a photo in front of the twin towers.

"...the date has the appearance of a timer counting down the dying moments of an old world since replaced by the tense and paranoid world we live in today"

Who would have thought that those towers would be gone less than 24 hours later? There's so much melancholy in those photos. They raise the question of 'what if?' over and over again.

That resonates with me because I'm fascinated by stories about the small choices people make, and the impact those choices have on their lives.

The other reason September 11 had such a massive impact because it was carnage on an untold scale, live on TV... and it was spectacular. The second plane hit when cameras were trained on the twin towers due to the first impact.

Anyway, it's been quite a rough seven days, to be honest. I keep thinking about all those people who died. People who just got up to go to work and never came home again. People who were faced with the choice of being burnt to death or jumping out a window. And I also think about the terrorists who carried out the attacks, and what sort of lives they had, that they decided that's what they had to do to make a difference.

I keep seeing the twin towers in my mind. Thinking, 'what it?'.


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Thursday, September 08, 2011

The day before the storm: Photos of Sept 10, 2001


Here's a poignant look at the events of Sept 11, 2001. The photos and stories of people who were there the day before.

There's also a Flickr group: http://www.flickr.com/groups/daybeforethestorm/

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Grant year, week 35: tunnel vision

Tunnel vision is what I wished I had. It's what I'm aiming for. Not quite achieving.

I've been working on some prep work for the ABC's '9/11 Remembered' coverage. It has been really engrossing work. It has also affected me emotionally. Reading first-hand accounts of people who were in New York City and Washington DC on 9/11. Also reading some background published in the years after 2001. Like 'the jumpers', which I'd somehow forgotten about (or maybe blocked from my memory).

Towards the end of last week I was feeling a bit freaked out. I decided that I probably need to vent, by writing a short story. Which I can't do at the moment because I need to stay focussed. Now that the grant is over, I don't have that safety net that allowed me to follow (writing-related) diversions. The only time I have is in the evenings, after the kids are asleep, and maybe a bit of time on the weekends.

There are things I'd like to do. I'd like to enter another manuscript into Pan Mac's Manuscript Monday.

I need to critique the last act of a friend's manuscript.

I've also got a growing urge to start work on a totally unrelated MS. This thing would be deadly to get into. It's alt-history, set in the 80s, and would require a lot of research.

It's probably the worst possible thing I could do at the moment.

Sounds like I'm having a whinge! I know pretty much all writers face the same issue, daily. Finding time to write. And dealing with the fact that no matter how much time they can find, it's never enough!

Anyway, that's where I am. Now, back to work on the 2nd draft.

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