1. Your book ‘The Museum of Mary Child’ can be described as both elegant and sinister, and also had the feel of an age-old fairy tale. I loved reading it, but did think it to be written in a very different style to a lot of YA literature around at the moment. Were you striving for a particular feel when you were writing, or does this style just come naturally? Were you writing specifically for the YA market?
Yes, yes and no! I was certainly striving for a particular effect when I was writing -- I'm a tremendous fan of Charles Dickens and 19th century literature generally, and The Museum of Mary Child was written from within the imaginative universe of Bleak House, Little Dorrit and Les Miserables. That style comes naturally partly because I am so immersed in these influences -- as well as the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde and the books of Elizabeth Goudge. The Russian folktale Vasilisa and the Wise Doll, and the story of Mirabai, the 16th century Indian princess-poet-mystic were also important. I am a writer Under The Influence -- ever since I was a child I have been trying to make new stories out combinations of the things I loved. And I'm a fan at heart -- when I love things I really love them. I should also mention two filmic influences which I tried to combine with the literary ones -- the mystery/thrillers Identity and the rather notorious Angelheart (based on the novel Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg). I love stories with twists, particularly if the twist is connected with the identity of a character.
Having said all that though, it's also true that the heart of the novel was a nightmare I once had. In fact I basically dreamed the ninth chapter -- that is, Heloise's first visit to the museum. So I can truly say that The Museum of Mary Child comes from the place that nightmares come from -- and that is a place too deep for influences.
2. I’ve noticed that the American and Australian covers for ‘Mary’ are quite different. What do you think of these different interpretations? Has the response to the book been different in different countries?
I am a tremendous fan of the artist Sonia Kretshmar, who did the original cover of my book Clair-de-Lune as well as The Museum of Mary Child, and I feel extremely fortunate that Penguin Australia brought us together! I love the Australian cover -- to me it looks a little like Russian folk art, and gives the reader the expectation of a once-upon-a-time story. The US cover seems to be anticipating a YA audience, and emphasises the gothic mystery. The response has been different in the two countries. This may be partly because the US is so big and there are just so many publications and blogs and people writing about children's and YA literature. But my own sense of it is that the US response to the novel seems to have been a good deal more enthusiastic. Some of the US reviews have quite overwhelmed me!
3. I understand you next book is called ‘The Three Loves of Persimmon’. Are you able to tell us a about it? What else have you got planned for 2010?
Yes -- The Three Loves of Persimmon is a romantic comedy/fantasy with two heroines: a young florist whose best friend is a talking ornamental cabbage, and a mouse who lives underneath the railway line on the deepest level of a vast underground railway station. It's due out in September this year and will have a beautiful cover by Sonia Kretshmar. I'm also in the early stages of a contemporary YA novel based on the Arthurian legend of Sir Galahad.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year?
I really haven't read widely enough to give an educated answer here. I'm not very good on keeping up with contemporary literature -- too immersed in the nineteenth century!
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
I won't be there in the flesh but I will certainly be there in spirit -- and in cyberspace, on Twitter and Facebook!
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. You can read interviews at:
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