Lisa L Hannett has had over 55 short stories appear in venues including Clarkesworld, Fantasy, Weird Tales, ChiZine, the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror (2010, 2011 & 2012), and Imaginarium: Best Canadian Speculative Writing (2012 & 2013). She has won three Aurealis Awards, including Best Collection 2011 for her first book, Bluegrass Symphony, which was also nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Her first novel,Lament for the Afterlife, is being published by CZP in 2015. You can find her online at http://lisahannett.com and on Twitter @LisaLHannett.
1. The collection co-authored by you and Angela Slatter, The Female Factory, is due out this year from Twelfth Planet Press (as part of the Twelve Planets series). This is the second collection that you and Angela Slatter have co-authored (the first being Midnight and Moonshine, from Ticonderoga Press). Can you tell us something about how you and Angela Slatter came to collaborate (and to do so very successfully), and how the process of collaboration works for you both?
The first and most important step in our collaboration process, I’d say, is that Angela and I already knew each other, and knew each other’s work intimately, before we decided to try writing something together. We’d spent six weeks critiquing each other’s stories at Clarion South in 2009, so we knew that we could give and take criticism from each other — and, more crucially, that the feedback we gave each other was usually helpful (or, indeed, spot-on). So before we put our minds together on a co-authored work, we already trusted each other immensely. That trust is what has kept us working together since our first story, ‘The February Dragon’, came out in 2010. (An added bonus, of course, is that this first collaboration won ‘Best Fantasy Short Story’ at the Aurealis Awards! That was certainly encouraging!)
As for the nuts and bolts of how we collaborate: we usually start with an idea sparking an excited What if? discussion; an image or concept that leads to a flurry of questions like, “what if this happened” and “what if she does this” and “what if they do this because of that — oooh, and then that…” Since we live on opposite sides of the country, this is done via email, text messages, Skype and over the phone. With Midnight and Moonshine, we spent a productive day at a convention one year, holed up in our hotel room, plotting the story arc for the book as a whole, roughly planning how each story would lead into the next, and so on. It was great fun getting to brainstorm in person!
Next, we usually compile our scribbles and brainstormed thoughts and share them to make sure we’re both on the same page. From there, one of us will start a draft of the story — and how far we go with each draft changes from story to story. If we’re feeling inspired, we might scribble down a whole draft before we send it back; if not, we write until the words run out, then hand it over with a rough “This is where I think the story’s going…” note attached. Sometimes the story comes out chronologically, but sometimes we’ll build it all out of sequence, jumping between early scenes and later ones, until the whole thing comes together. The story flies back and forth until it’s done — and with two of us working on it, this usually means there are way more drafts than if I’m working on a piece solo. Meanwhile, we use track changes and comments until the document is multi-coloured and the margins riddled with bubbles; so we ‘talk’ to each other throughout the writing and editing process, making it perfectly clear why we’ve made the changes we’ve made, added the things we have, deleted or rearranged scenes the way we have, etc.
Good communication + bearing in mind that you are sharing this work / it is not yours alone + not being precious about changes + being willing to compromise = continued and happy collaborations.
2. Your short stories have garnered an impressive number of awards, reprints in Year’s Best anthologies and honourable mentions in several of Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror anthologies. How much do you feel that awards and recognitions feed into the strength of the speculative fiction community in Australia? Do you feel that we value our awards enough?
This is a tough question (also: thank you!) and one I’ve thought about a lot in the past, so please excuse me if I blab at length.
I love to see people win awards. I love going to awards shows. I love seeing shortlists and longlists and honourable mentions lists and lists of winners. I think awards are valuable inasmuch as they (a) make a few writers feel pretty darned chuffed every now and again, and (b) they have the potential to generate interest in a given work and/or publisher, for a little while. (This is why I like lists of all kinds: they’re handy reference points for seeking out authors or new works I haven’t read yet.) But at the same time, awards shouldn’t be seen as the be-all and end-all of writing.
Don’t get me wrong: I was super-excited when Bluegrass Symphony was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. (Writer = CHUFFED!) And I have no doubt that the shortlisting brought my work to the attention of some folks that otherwise wouldn’t have seen it. Winning two Aurealis Awards for Bluegrass was also wonderful because it felt like a shining moment of recognition by my peers in Australia. So in that sense, the “chuffed” factor does help to strengthen the speculative fiction community here in Australia; telling other people in an industry that you love that you think their work is special is good for morale, it is encouraging, and it helps to perpetuate great writing. But that doesn’t mean that the writers whose works haven’t been nominated aren’t awesome, that their work isn’t worth spruiking, or that their stories aren’t as good (or better) than the ones that happened to appear on awards lists that year.
There are so many factors that affect how awards are given that, really, you only have to give them as much or as little value as you see fit. In recent years, the Aurealis Awards have seemed to become really respected in our community. Authors and publishers alike pay attention to the AA shortlists because they’ve tended to get more “right” (according to popular opinion) than “wrong”. But having said that, I think the concept of “right” and “wrong” when it comes to awards is a skewed one. After all, the whole process is so subjective. They’re basically like reviews on a grander scale (but with far fewer words).
Awards panels are made up of people, with biases and unique tastes, which may or may not have a liking for your particular flavour of fiction. That doesn’t necessarily mean your flavour of fiction is horrible. Same thing applies to editors of Best of anthologies: these people are readers, with likes and dislikes, just like the rest of us. One editor might hate your story while another one loves it to pieces. Fan-decided awards may have a small pool of voters that all love certain authors that year; that doesn’t mean they are “better” or “worse” than up-and-comers who haven’t yet burst onto the scene. There may have been a dozen absolutely brilliant novels published the same year yours came out; some will win awards, others will be overlooked. The long and short of it, to quote Vonnegut, is: “So it goes.”
3. What can we expect from you in the future? Do you have any plans to move into longer form work?
Yes, absolutely. My first novel, Lament for the Afterlife, is being published by ChiZine Publications next year (keep an eye out for it around August). Lament (as the title suggests) is a dark book; it’s a speculation on war, following the story of one young soldier, Peytr Borysson, as he tries to cope with things he’s done on the battlefield. Think Platoon meets Pan’s Labyrinth; fantasy and war all mixed together.
At the moment I’m working on a second novel, an historical speculative fiction about one of the first settlers of Iceland, a woman named Unnr the Deep-Minded who lived in the late 10th century. I did my PhD in medieval Icelandic literature, so this novel is built on previous research and is also a labour of love: Unnr is a fascinating character, and the sagas have so much magic in them, that the lure of writing her story was impossible to resist. Finally, I also have another novel in draft form, which is percolating in my desk drawer for a while. It’s called The Familiar and it revolves around witches and shapeshifting lunatics, and is the first book in a possible series of three.
In the meantime, I’m also working on short stories because I love writing short so much!
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Although I’ve read them recently, these aren’t all necessarily new works, but I’ll mention them all anyway. I love Kirstyn McDermott’s writing, so I have thoroughly enjoyed her latest novel Perfections as well as her Twelve Planets collection, Caution: Contains Small Parts. An older pair of books I had a blast reading was Juliet Marillier’s ‘Light Isles’ duology, Wolfskin and Foxmask (Vikings and fantasy! Right up my alley.) I was also delighted to get a copy of Jo Anderton’s Guardian — which I’ve only just started, but love being back in the world she built in Debris and Suited (which I have read, and have loved!) — and I’ve been dipping in and out of her Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, too. Another great book I’ve been savouring is Anna Tambour’s Crandolin — such a delicious work! I’m very much looking forward to seeing Angela Slatter’s Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings in print later this year (I’ve had a sneak peek at it, and it is MARVELLOUS) and it will also be great to see Black-Winged Angels come out — complete with gorgeous illustrations by Kathleen Jennings. Last but not least, I picked up a copy of Alan Baxter’s Bound the other day and I can’t wait to get stuck into it.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
They haven’t affected the way I work, but certainly have the way I read. In terms of writing, the only time I’d bear different platforms in mind was when submitting to a magazine that only publishes online — few people want to read 10,000 words on a computer screen. Having said that, with so many e-platforms available (iPads, etc) even that isn’t a huge concern anymore. In terms of reading, though, changes in publishing have seen me buying a lot more books, full stop. I still buy paper books, and now also buy heaps of e-books. I do a lot more impulse buying on my Kindle than I ever did on Book Depository… and I buy a lot more novellas because they are so affordable and so easy to get on the Kindle than ever before.
As for the five year prediction? I imagine I’ll still be reading widely (I read a lot more Lit fiction than anything else nowadays, but get as much SpecFic in there as possible!) and I’ll probably happily embrace whatever wacky book-related technology gets thrown my way. Reading addicts, like me, will read whatever, whenever, howsoever it gets presented to them; I can’t imagine I’ll change much in that respect in the next five years. Ditto with what I’ll be writing: I am always drawn to stories with speculative elements, so whether I’m writing secondary world stuff or historical fiction, it will have a supernatural twist. Also, I’ve got another collection of interconnected short stories on the boil (tales of fantastical foods), and would love to see that come to life within the next few years.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.