Kirstyn McDermott was born on Halloween, an auspicious date which perhaps accounts for her lifelong attraction to all things dark, mysterious and bumpy-in-the-night-ish. She has been published in various magazines and anthologies, including Shadowed Realms, Southerly, GUD, Redsine, Southern Blood and Island. Kirstyn lives in Melbourne and is a member of the SuperNOVA writers group. Her short fiction has won Aurealis, Ditmar and Chronos Awards and her debut novel, Madigan Mine, will be published by Picador in 2010.
1) Congratulations on your contract with Pan MacMillan! I believe we'll be seeing your first novel this year. What can you tell us about it?
I'm right in the middle of the final edits, actually. The novel is called "Madigan Mine" and is scheduled for release in August this year under the Picador imprint. It's a modern gothic tale, set for the most part in contemporary Melbourne, which tells the story of a young man who may or may not be being haunted by his dead ex-lover. It's a book I've been working on, in various incarnations, for quite a while now and it's still a little weird to realise that it will be out of my head and into print in just a few short months!
2) You edited the first issue of the Australian Horror Writers' Association magazine, Midnight Echo, with Ian Mond. What surprised you most about the experience? Is editing something you'd like to do more of?
I've done some work along the same lines in the past (a very short stint fiction editor for "Bloodsongs" magazine back in the 90's) and I'm friends with a few magazine/anthology editors, so I knew roughly what to expect going in. I'm not sure that "surprising" is the right word, but what shocked me what was the number of submissions we received from people who apparently don't even know how to use a spell-checker! When you get a manuscript and there are several obvious spelling errors and typos on the first page, it's really hard to keep reading. It indicates either laziness or incompetence on the part of the writer, and it's kind of insulting as well. If you expect an editor to read through a 4000 word story, you really should -- at the very least -- run a spell-check over the document and do some basic proof-reading.
I will say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how well the issue came together. We received brilliant stories by some amazing writers and sometimes it felt like our work was being done for us in terms of the right balance and scope for the magazine. Realising the significance of the debut issue, both Ian and myself wanted to showcase the breadth and depth of the genre with a particular focus on Australian writers -- and that's exactly what happened. We prodded a few writers whose work we were particularly interested in a couple of those did submit stories, but the majority of the issue basically fell into our laps through the general slush pile.
As to whether I'd like to do more editing ... if I could avoid reading through slush piles and only work with great writers whose writing I find interesting and engaging, then sure! :-)
Really, as much as I do enjoy editing and working with other writers, I enjoy writing my own stories a lot more. (Most of the time, anyway.) Plus, when it comes right down to it, I think I'm a better writer than I am an editor. It's a constant battle when I'm editing someone else's work to recognise genuine problems that need to be fixed as opposed to something that is simply written differently to how I would have done it. Given the time I have -- or lack of it -- I'd much rather devote this energy to words of my own and let someone else wield the flensing blade.
3) What is it about horror writing that attracts you? Do you see yourself continuing in the genre, or is it not something you consciously decide?
It's definitely not something I consciously decide. I write the sorts of stories that come to me, and don't really think a lot about where they fall in the genre (or if they fall in the genre at all). It just so happens that most of what interests me, in writing and in life in general, is on the darker side. I don't think I'll ever be writing bouncy chick-lit or feel-good fiction -- it's just not the sort of stuff I have in my head. Occasionally I've come up with an idea for a story which I think will be a happy one -- or happier, at least -- but when I start writing, things always seem to take a decidedly darker turn.
I'm not sure exactly why this is, or what specifically attracts me to dark fantasy/horror/gothic type writing; it's just always been this way. This hasn't really answered your question, has it? I'm not sure I can articulate it, precisely. What interests me are those people and groups who exist on the fringes of society: the outcasts, the outsiders, the ones who are excluded and the ones who exclude themselves. I'm also fascinated by things that defy definitions and boundaries, by the liminal and the transitive, the trangressive and taboo. The darker aspects of spec fic seem to be able to talk about these ideas on their own terms, rather than the terms imposed upon them by the mainstream. I think it's this that attracts me to the genre, more than the old cliche of it being like a rollercoaster ride -- scary but safe. At its best, the horror/dark fantasy genre is anything but safe.
4) Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year?
There are so many! Margo Lanagan, Paul Haines, Cat Sparx, Kaaron Warren, to name but a few. Oh, and I believe that Angela Slatter is eligible for the Campbell Award ... she's a very, very fine writer who most assuredly deserves to be on the ballot.
5) Will you be at Aussiecon in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
Yes, I'll definitely be there! AussieCon3 was my first experience of spec-fic conventions and I'm really looking forward to attending another con of that magnitude. So many people, so many panels, so many parties! It's always fantastic to catch up with friends outside of Melbourne (and Australia) who I don't get to see that often, and many of them will be at AussieCon4. Plus, Kaaron warren, Cat Sparx and Angela Slatter have all recently announced that they will have story collections published to coincide with the convention, so there should be some fabulous launches to attend -- not to mention three very fine books to add to my collection!
This interview was conducted as part of the 2010 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We'll be blogging interviews from Monday 15 February to Sunday 22 February and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus.
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