Accomplishment: Australian writer, and winner of the prestigious British Fantasy Award 2012
I gave my speech another look-over. It took me all of a minute. Then it was time. The chairman was making his introductions, welcoming me to Australia when some punk bawled: "You ain't no professor?" He had a voice that could grate parmesan.
"And you ain't no human," I snarled, "not for any time long."
Someone began shaking my shoulder.
A different kind of voice, one that turned my bowels to water. Sheri. Sheri Lamour...what was she doing here?
"Wake up, Clay. We have another guest in the cellar."
Every writer has a weakness, what is yours?
Ah, a tendency to finish a story too quickly – at least in the first draft. If I know what I want to do and where I want the story to go, I will write a very straightforward, linear tale that finishes far too quickly. So a fair bit of time in the second and third and sometimes fourth drafts is spent adding in what I like to think of as ‘corners’ – basically, little mysteries and diversions that keep the reader interested, and hopefully stop them from working out the ending too quickly! Half the battle is knowing what your faults are and figuring out ways to fix them.
To agent or not to agent? Why or why not?
Well, a good agent is an essential part of a writer’s business team – and yes, writing is a business if you want to be a professional – a bad agent is someone who just takes money from you. In Australia, we’ve got something like 650,000 people identifying themselves as ‘writers’, and they all think they want/need an agent. The problem is that there are perhaps twenty or so literary agents in the country – and not all of them are A-listers. So, there’s a huge imbalance between supply and demand as far as available agents are concerned.
Do you need an agent? No, you don’t. The advantage of having one (a good one) is that you have someone to negotiate your contracts, possibly make you new deals for things you hadn’t thought of (games, films, etc.), and also be there to help you plot-noodle when the book is sagging in the middle. But if you can’t get a good agent, then no agent is better than a bad agent who tries to charge you a ‘reading fee’ or take money from you before they’ve done any deals for you. Without an agent, you just need to be extra-involved in the business side of your career – making contacts with publishers, being able to read and understand your contracts, being able to negotiate the best possible deals for your writing career. If you don’t want to become an expert on contract law, then access the services of a group like Alex Adsett Publishing Services – they will look at your contract, tell you what’s right and wrong with it, and suggest amendments that are in your best interests.
Is there an over-arching moral theme in your work, if so what?
I don’t think there’s a “moral” theme as such, but I definitely have themes to which I return: the power of religion to warp lives, love gone wrong, the unsafe domestic (making the heimlich distinctly unheimlich), and the possibility of redemption. And, of course, fairy tale themes about plucky young heroines making their way in the world in spite of all the forces of chaotic evil being rallied against them!
Will we still be reading fairy tales in a hundred years time and what is the darkest fairy tale you’ve read?
I see no reason why we won’t – we’ve been retelling them for thousands of years, why would we suddenly stop? They are so open to adaptation and everyone loves to add their own take on a tale – everyone owns the fairy tale. I think we have them hardwired into our storytelling make-up.
The darkest fairy tale I’ve ever read? I think the creepiest one is probably ‘Donkeyskin’ (or ‘Catskin’ or ‘All-fur’, depending on which version you’re reading). The king promises his dying wife that he won’t marry again unless he can find a woman as beautiful as she is – and in the end it’s his own daughter. Euw.
What was the first book or story that truly frightened you?
Ah, the old classic: Dracula. I was about fourteen and it was an old paperback copy from the 80s, with a castle atop a rocky cliff and the full moon shining over it all. A friend had borrowed it from the library, but I took it from her hands and read the blurb, and then, errr, took it home to read. I can still remember waking in a cold sweat, the vivid dreams that sent me to that very castle, under that very moon. I still remember being utterly convinced I was there and not in the bedroom I shared with my sister in a nice, safe suburban house.
Which other contemporary writers of speculative fiction do you enjoy, or alternatively not enjoy?
I think I’ll just answer the ‘enjoy’ part of that question: China Miéville, Jeff VanderMeer, Catherynne M. Valente, John Connolly, Lisa L. Hannett, Margo Lanagan, M. R. James, Peter M. Ball, Clive Barker, John Arjvide Lindqvist, Karen Slaughter, Neil Gaiman.
Is horror another name for a dark fairy tale?
Perhaps. ‘Horror’ is named for the effect it’s meant to have on the reader and although fairy tales aren’t necessarily meant to horrify – they started out as ways to warn people about the dangers of life – we’re certainly pulling elements from fairy tales and using them to enrich our horror stories. I think horror sprang from the tradition of ghost stories and Gothic tales that came a bit later (penny dreadfuls, etc.). A few years back, I saw John Arjvide Lindqvist at the Brisbane Writers Festival and he made the observation that humans are the only creatures who go out of their way to scare themselves – you don’t see dolphins swimming close to sharks for a frisson of fear. So, I think we try to extract whatever elements of fear we can from whatever source in order to remake our stories, especially our scary stories.
The lady made sense and she said it with a voice that could melt bone. Kinda limey with an Alabama twang. One hell of a cocktail.
"Where's she from?" I whispered it from the side of mouth, the other side smiling so she didn't catch on.
Sweat popped like acne. The dream had been a warning of some kind - or was it a message?
"Message," said Sheri.
Goddamnit she reads minds. But cute as hell.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?"
"We need more Australians," she said.
I wasn't thinking that. But she was right.
Dr Angela Slatter’s stories have appeared in publications such as Dreaming Again, Strange Tales II and III, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and 2011 and 2012 Australian and US Year’s Best collections. The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales won an Aurealis Award, as did “The February Dragon” (with Lisa Hannett), and Sourdough and Other Stories was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award. In 2012 “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter” won a British Fantasy Award. Midnight and Moonshine, with Lisa Hannett, is due November 2012. She writes, teaches and edits, and blogs at www.angelaslatter.com.