1/ What do readers most need to know about you?
I’m an Antipodean (born New Zealand, of Australian parentage and ancestry). I’ve got an enquiring mind, which can take me in curious but fun directions. I’m a student of the nineteenth century, its writers and crime fiction. I love to research, and make fiction from my findings. And I’m proud to be a feminist.
2/ Can you tell us something about the story you wrote for Baggage and the path you travelled in writing it?
When I lived in the South Island of New Zealand, we never went to see the glaciers. Going to Franz Josef was a new experience, especially on a day when, walking below the glacier in the middle of a storm, we were equally at risk of being drowned or struck by lightning. I had the opening paragraph of the story not long after, but had to read around to get the rest of the story. The story of Ötzi provided useful information, and I very nearly got side-tracked in another direction by the sheer inventiveness of glacial language. The writer George Turner once said that after global warming would come another ice-age. So I express the wish and belief at the end of the story that the glaciers will return.
3/ How closely do you own your work, emotionally?
Not much. I’m interested when I’m working on them, but afterwards it’s as if another person wrote them. The exception is if cack-handed editing is being inflicted upon them, because that’s when my claws come out and the fur starts flying. However, that only happened once—and I won the stoush.
4/ What writers have most influenced you? Can you tell us something of what their work has meant and why it’s important?
I think every writer I have read has influenced me, and as I’m a reviewer, that’s a lot! I love the writer Nicholas Stuart Gray, for his fantastic inventions and bloody-minded characters. I love James Tiptree Junior for her exuberance with language. The C19th writer Mary Fortune, whom I began to research when my first three books were sold, taught me how important it was that a writer should have an iron will to survive. I needed that knowledge—none of those three sales were uncomplicated, but I never gave up.
5/ What other projects do you have on? Where is your writing currently taking you?
A very long-standing project is my herstory of the mothers of crime fiction: Women Writers and Detectives in Nineteenth Century Crime Writing, out from Palgrave-Macmillan (UK) in August. That same month a delayed project, Saltwater in the Ink; Voices from the Australian Seas, will be launched at the Melbourne Writers Festival. It comprises a collection of diarists and letter-writers describing the emigration experience: shipwrecks, secret romances, births, deaths, suicide and gossip. I went for people with interesting stories to tell, and rather unexpectedly found the contributors included my great-grandmother Nancy Wardman Sussex, who was lucky to survive the first white colony in the Kimberleys, West Australia. I’m also over a third into a novel about C19th detection, shapeshifting, and quantum mechanics.
6/ Is there one style issue you’d love new writers to sort out before you read their work?
7/ What Australian writers do you think we should be reading now?
Reading Australian writing from the nineteenth century, particularly ghost stories, can tell you a lot about the national psyche. Try James Doig’s anthologies. Of the classic writers, Barbara Baynton, Henry Handel Richardson, Christina Stead (whom I met several times). John Harwood, for modern ghost stories. If you gave me more space I could come up with a very long list….
8/ Of your own work, what are your favourite pieces? Why?
‘Matricide’ was my best, but only Ellen Datlow agreed. And ‘Duchess’ was a hoot to write, because I could indulge my fashionista tendencies.