|Photo by David Pollitt|
Angela Slatter is an
Australian writer of dark fantasy and horror currently living in Brisbane. She
has a Master and PhD in Creative Writing and is a graduate of the Tin House
Summer Writers Workshop 2006 and Clarion South 2009. In 2010 Angela Slatter
published two collections of short stories, “Sourdough
and Other Stories”
Girl With No Hands and Other Tales”
followed in 2012 by “Midnight and Moonshine”
, the collaborative volume with Lisa L. Hannett. Her
works have been selected for various year’s best anthologies and received
numerous awards’ nominations. In 2010 Angela Slatter has won the Aurealis
Awards for the Best Fantasy Short Story, “The February Dragon” co-authored with
Lisa L. Hannett, and the Best Collection,
Girl With No Hands and Other Tales”
and in 2012 her story “The Coffin-Maker’s
won the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.
Mihai A: Thank
you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
the introduction of your short story collection “Sourdough and Other Stories”
Robert Shearman says that: “We are shaped by stories we’re told. And the first
stories we’re told are fairy tales.”Are the fairy tales of your childhood at
the root of your desire to become a writer? Did the fairy tales shape your
Angela Slatter: I don’t know if they’re at the root, but they’ve
certainly played a part. I love storytelling - I always loved to listen to
stories, and as I grew older I found myself re-telling tales in my imagination,
changing them for my own ends and amusement. Fairy tales are such a huge part
of the fabric of childhood for most people, but I guess some of us hang onto
them a bit longer!
Mihai A: Besides
the fairy tales that are an obvious influence and inspiration for your writings
what other stories, novels and writers did influence and inspire you? Is the
written word the only influence on your writings so far?
Angela Slatter: Writers whom I’ve loved over the years include Umberto
Eco, Jane Gaskell, Bram Stoker, MR James, Barbara Hambly, Charlotte Bronte,
Wilbur Smith, John Connolly, Joan Aiken, Angela Carter ... the list would go on
forever! I also love art and music (even though I totally lack talent in either
area, I’m an enthusiastic viewer and listener!), and I find a lot of
inspiration in the works of Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Goya, Bosch, Rubens. I
also love the sort of music to come out of the Middle Ages, Loreena McKennitt,
Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Dark Sanctuary, Of Monsters and Men ... again a
really eclectic collection. I think art can influence other art, no matter what
Mihai A: If
I am not mistaken you said that some of the familiar fairy tales were colonized
and influenced by the storytellers. Is this one of the reasons for your desire
to reshape and retell fairy tales?
Angela Slatter: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be part
of that process of reclaiming the storyteller’s voice and telling tales the way
we (women) want to, instead of feeling we have to conform to a particular shape
of story. It’s also about giving our female characters agency to make decisions
and act, and live with the consequences of whatever they choose to, rather than
simply being passive and waiting to be rescued by random princes.
the appearance of your collections “Sourdough and Other Stories” and “The Girl
with No Hands” there seems to be a new market for such fiction, with several
novels and anthologies of reinterpreted fairy tales. Does modern literature and
readership need such new stories? New perspectives for the old fairy tales?
AS: Again, absolutely - fairy tales are a connection
between our past and our future stories. Adapting them, allowing all of their
tellers to shape the stories to their own needs is part of their intrinsic
value. They can be for both amusement and education, and I think fairy tales
should always make us think because they speak very directly to who we have
been and who we can be. One of the utter delights for me in the writing I do is
the sense that I’m a link in a very long chain of storytellers! Marina Warner
says that old taletellers used to finish with “This is my story, I’ve
told it, and in your hands I leave it”, and I love the idea that the tale is
being passed on to the next generation of tellers, who will put their own spin
on the stories.
of perspectives, your stories benefit from the presence of strong female
characters, characters for which the readers feel sympathy although some of
them are not on their best behavior. How important is for a story to have
strong female characters? How important is the balance between various
characters of a story?
AS: As I said earlier, the idea of giving agency back to
female heroines is really important to me. Post-Perrault and Post-Grimm, the
fairy tale heroines were reduced to helpless twits who stumbled into trouble
and had to wait for a prince to rescue her (Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White,
etc) - but the earliest versions of those tales had independent heroines who
saved themselves - I’ve written about Little Red Riding Hood here and about the idea of the “Chosen Girl” here.
I think it’s also really important for telling these
stories to kids, that the little girls have good, strong, independent role
models in front of them, and that little boys see that there are little girls who
are tough and strong as well, girls they might later regard as equals and
partners instead of just the people who do the ironing and put dinner on the
As for balancing characters - I think I generally have
one main character and everyone else moves around them in a kind of complex
dance pattern, giving and taking information and advantages, or giving
handicaps to that main character. It’s important that that main character be
strong so the rest of the tale can hang off them, and their desires and their
quite a while there is a debate that despite the presence of plenty of very
powerful horror female writers they seem neglected in comparison with the male
writers. Do you believe that horror fails to acknowledge the women writers within
the genre? What makes female writers of the genre such strong storytellers?
AS: I don’t think it’s confined to Horror - I think recent
internet brawls have shown that Science Fiction, Fantasy, and all the hybrids
in between have a lot of (soon-to-be) Dead White Men in charge who don’t like
to allow girls into the treehouse. Unfortunately for them, there are so many
amazing women in Horror, past and present: Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor,
S. P. Miskowski, Lisa L. Hannett, Kirstyn McDermott, Alison Littlewood, Sarah
Pinborough, Kaaron Warren, Barbara Hambly ... and an equal number of amazing
women writers in Science Fiction and Fantasy, et al.
Why are the women in the genre such strong
storytellers? Well, we tend to be the ones rocking cradles and telling stories
to kids, and our lives are often filled with everyday horror (domestic
violence, abuse, we’re more often the victims of crime, general discrimination
- and, let’s face it, our bodies turn against us once a month for about 60
years), so I think those things all feed in to the kind of work we produce.
MA: Although of the same
language, the English market of speculative fiction seems occupied mostly by
the British or American writers. Is it difficult for an Australian author to
break into this market? Are there any particular challenges in reaching the
wider audience of this market?
AS: I think if you’ve got
an awesome story then an editor will pick it up, whether you’re an Australian
and it’s in a US or UK market. One of the problems Australian authors have
faced in the past is insularity - not bothering to send work overseas on the
assumption that no one will want to read it. In some cases, this also means
we’re just not bothering to compete outside of a very narrow Australian-focused
field - that means your work doesn’t really develop, isn’t often challenged to
stretch. I always tell new authors to make a point of sending work overseas as
it’s a great proving ground, it gets your name out there, and maybe, just maybe
you’ll make a great sale to a professional market with a lot of exposure. Size
of market is also another factor: Australia has a population of about 22.5
million people, the US has almost 314 million, and the UK 63 million - the
number of possible readers and potential markets grows - or shrinks - with the
location you’re submitting in.
In the age of the
internet, with more and more markets using online submissions systems, it’s
less of a challenge to have to go to the post office and buy international
reply coupons and send stamped, self-addressed envelopes, or, worse still,
having to bother American friends to send you stamps!
do not believe in genre labels but your fiction is categorized in general as
speculative fiction or horror. Why do you think that speculative fiction is
seen as less serious than other genres? Do you believe that some readers are
driven off your fiction because of these labels despite its literary qualities?
AS: I think there’s a long-standing bias on the part of
literary writers and publishers against anything they think is less than
“worthwhile”, that doesn’t deal with “serious” human issues. The thing is,
speculative fiction/horror deals with very visceral human concerns: fear of the
dark, the urge to live, how we react against forces that threaten us, how we
interact with other people and how our relationships lift us up or cast us
down. Games of Thrones is all about
power and relationships - very visceral, very serious, very human, whether it’s
fantasy or not.
And, of course, there is always the envy factor that
more popular fiction authors actually manage to make livings from their work -
as if they are somehow less deserving because they’ve not written a turgid,
navel-gazing account of belly-button lint collector and his addiction to
cocaine. Or some such.
MA: Even from your debut your
fiction was nominated for genre awards and won Aurealis Awards in 2010 and
British Fantasy Award in 2012. Are such awards the perfect encouragement for a
writer? Or are sales figures or popularity to be preferred?
AS: Awards are just a bonus.
You don’t know who the judges are and what their tastes are, you don’t know who
the competition is, you cannot control anything about the process except the
quality of your own story - and you know what? Maybe it’s not going to be the
best story in the competition. I’m constantly amazed by people who whine
because they haven’t won a particular award, or they think they’ve been
Awards are a nice
thing to be able to add to your marketing strategy, but winning them doesn’t
mean you’re a better writer, just as losing one doesn’t mean you’re a worse
writer! They can be a lovely surprise and a lovely encouragement, but if you’re
writing with the goal of winning an award then you’re doing it wrong.
Sales figures that
enable you to make a living out of what you do are preferable, to me anyway,
your collections of stories “Sourdough and Other Stories”, “Black-Winged
Angels” and “The Girl with No Hands” you published a volume, “Midnight and
Moonshine”, written together with Lisa Hannett with another collaboration,
“Baggage”, due to be released by Twelfth Planet Press. How did this
collaboration start? Which are the particularities and difficulties of working
together with a fellow writer?
AS: Back in 2009 we wrote a story together called “The
February Dragon”, which won an Aurealis for Best Fantasy Short Story - and we
had a ball writing together! I never thought I would collaborate with anyone
(too much of a control freak), but we just found that our styles matched so
well, and when we write together we manage a seamless third voice. It’s all a
matter of trust and we each know the other isn’t going to make a mess of our
shared vision. We do a bit of skeleton planning together, then one of us goes
off and starts the story, writes until the words run out, and then sends it to
the other to run with it.
The only real challenge is making sure we’ve got time
in our schedules to fulfill our commitments!
you like to repeat this experience in the future with a different writer? Who
would you like that author to be, if possible?
AS: Not really no. I don’t think it’s something that you
can just recreate with just anyone. And this works so well - why mess with it?
and Moonshine” is a mosaic novel, but you are no stranger to such writings
since your collections of stories share common characters or settings. Are such
novels and collections more challenging to write?
AS: I love the mosaic form because it’s an extension of
the short story form, taking it further without making it into a traditional
novel. I love writing the interconnected tales in Sourdough, as it’s a real challenge to choose which characters and
threads you follow up in new stories. I like the jigsaw puzzle nature of it
far you wrote extensively short fiction, with yet other collections on the
horizon, “The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings” and “Lemarchand’s
Dictionary of Tenuous Connections and Other Tales”, but if I am not mistaken
you also finished writing recently your first novel. Do you feel more
comfortable writing short fiction? Does a novel require another approach
entirely and a different set of writing skills?
AS: The novel, “Vigil”, was a huge challenge and very
confronting for me as an established short story writer. The form is different
and what works in a short story doesn’t necessarily work in a novel, so it’s
been a steep learning curve for me. The novel is now in a first draft form; I’m
letting it sit until after I come back from World Fantasy - hopefully I’ll have
gained some perspective on it, and my beta readers will have some helpful
believe that some of your future plans included a duopoly, “Well of Souls” and
“Gate of the Dead”, an alternative Crusaders saga and “Finbar’s Mother”, a
Norse-Irish fantasy. Are these projects still on your working table or some of
them were abandoned or postponed?
AS: The duopoly is still on the schedule, but I quickly
realised that what I wanted to write was very, very ambitious for a first time
novelist, and that I had a lot to learn about writing craft. So they are
waiting for me to come back to them - I have been writing a lot of story notes
and have worked out how I want to attack that particular part of storytelling, but
I need to clear the decks of current projects first. I’m not sure about
“Finbar’s Mother” - I need to think about it a lot more.
other future plans do you have? What are you preparing for the readers in the
near and distant future?
AS: I have a novella about Jack the Ripper and an
alternative London - and a couple of novels that use the same characters. I
also have to write the book that follows “Vigil”, which is “Corpse Light”. And
another collection, “The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales”, and another novella “The
Witch’s Scale” for Spectral Press!
you very much for your time and answers. It has been an honor and a delight.