PIA VAN RAVESTEIN lives in Ellenbrook, Western Australia. She studied writing and scriptwriting at university, and has published short stories and won several poetry competitions. Recently, after several years of focusing almost exclusively on her artwork (including the cover of Juliet Marillier’s Prickle Moon), Pia has returned to hard science fiction, m/m erotica, fantasy and Australian literature writing. She is hoping to find some kind of balance between the visual and written arts, which mostly involves chaotically bouncing between the two.
Pia’s artwork gallery, under the name Pia Ravenari, can be found at deviantart.
1. Your short story, Street Dancer, published in the Ticonderoga Publications anthology Dreaming of Djinn, recently won a 2014 Tin Duck award for the best Western Australian short story. First of all, congratulations on the win. The story contains both memorable characters and gives the reader a glimpse into a fascinating world (and has the best cat ever to be written in a short story). When you’re writing, do you find that you start with characters or worldbulding first? Are you the kind of writer who tends to do a lot of research?
That cat needs a book of his own, I swear. With writing, it really depends. Street Dancer was about the characters. I really wanted to write about these two men in love, where one was a male street dancer (specifically bellydancing) and the other was in many ways his opposite. The world was incidental at first, until I realised they had a mechanical cat that needed repairing, that the sky they looked towards was constantly polluted due to exhaust fumes. But the worldbuilding definitely came second. There always comes a point for me where eventually the worldbuilding is as important and everything intertwines and becomes interdependent on each other (like any good relationship) – but until that point, I’m all about characters.
I really enjoy research, and sometimes suffer from doing so much that I can intimidate myself out of a story – I deal with that by just throwing myself in the deep end and researching as I go. I have the habit of picking up new side hobbies from research – for example, I’ve become something of an amateur meteorologist and avid cloud-watcher thanks to researching weather patterns and inclement weather for a science fiction trilogy.
2. As well as being a writer, you’re also a prolific artist, and have illustrated several book covers, with your first foray into illustrating speculative fiction being the cover for Juliet Marillier’s Ticonderoga Publications collection, Prickle Moon. How does your process work as a cover artist, creating the kind of cover that a writer and publisher, as well as you, are happy with?
I was really fortunate to work with Juliet Marillier and Ticonderoga, who were both so generous with their time and thoughts and willingness to give me a lot of creative control. Juliet and I conceived the cover together – she had an idea of what sort of feeling and energy she wanted to convey, as well as the subject matter, and I brought a sketchpad and did some very rough mock-ups for her to look at and choose what she liked most. We were in an unusual situation in that not many publishers let an author choose their cover artist, and not many authors and cover artists get to collaborate together in such an awesome way; so I suspect my process with the Prickle Moon cover might not be repeated again in the same way in the future. But it was a great way to create something that felt atmospheric and magical, using art to really communicate elements of such wonderful writing.
As for that process, I went from sketches, to a rough draft, to a more formal draft, into the actual inking / colouring – sending updates as I went. I worked in traditional mediums – ink and coloured pencil, and the detailed original took a few months to create. The original is now with Juliet, which is very humbling. Communication and making sure folks are in the loop are two important parts of how I work as an artist – it seems to work okay!
3. What can we expect from you in the future? Are you open to offers to illustrate more book covers?
I’m definitely open to internal illustration / external cover work at the moment, as long as people are happy to have my style. I have an Australian literature novel I’d like to start sending around to agents at the end of the year, and I have a science fiction trilogy that I’m still sinking my teeth into. I’m aiming to start writing more spec fic short stories in the last half of 2014 / beginning of 2015. I’ve been very busy writing LGBTQIA fantasy and erotica under a different name, and that’s been going very well and has gotten me in touch with some amazing artists and writers. After a hiatus from artwork, I’m heading back into it, especially works associated with fantasy, science fiction, horror that have a heavy thematic bent towards the natural world.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
The Ticonderoga anthology, Kisses by Clockwork, was incredible. I’ve been re-reading Cecilia Dart Thornton’s Bitterbynde Trilogy; which I always seem to do at least once a year. C. S. Pacat is releasing the third Captive Prince novel this year and I’m so excited for that I actually feel like I’m going to explode whenever I consider it (the first two novels are exquisite, and I love the thought that’s gone into the worldbuilding, and the astute characterisation).
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?
It’s funny, you know, but alongside the original fiction and the artwork, I’m actually an avid fanfiction writer and reader and really love that world of things as well. It’s becoming more accepted (slowly, painfully) amongst original content writers to sort of admit that they have affiliations with fanfiction and fanworks, and I’ve noticed a lot more interplay between fanfiction authors becoming published (not always a good thing – but sometimes it is!) and original content authors being more willing to admit they write, or wrote, fanfiction. I actually really love the fanfiction model of content release – serialised format, liberal warnings for those who are possibly triggered by content, easy accessibility and often more experimental styles of narration, and a greater willingness to include erotica in fleshed out stories. Some of the best Australian writers I’m reading this year are writing fanfiction.
That, as well as the world of self-publishing and online indie publishing, has really influenced how I look at the world of publishing and what it can do for me. The traditional model doesn’t really some of my preferred genres of writing, and I’m finding a surprising amount of success using a fanfiction model for original writing. I know authors like C.S. Pacat have found the same.
As for what I think I’ll be publishing / writing / reading, hmmm. Publishing – hopefully a mix of things! I’ve never been content to be tied down to one genre. As for writing, I have book ideas that are planned / plotted out in LGBTQIA fantasy and erotica that will see me through the next 5-7 years and an Australian literature novel that I’d like to have completed by 2020. Short stories are back on the table in spec fic, as well as a few novel ideas. As for reading, I seem to have settled between a 60 / 40 split between fanfiction and original fiction. I’m hoping to get that back to about 50 / 50 – but reading fanfiction and finding things that cater so specifically to my needs as a reader has made me a lot more discerning about what I’ll spend time reading in terms of original content work – so we’ll see!
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.