gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

Kaaron Warren - the Baggage interview

I asked Kaaron Warren some questions and her children asked her some more questions and between us we have an interview. I suspect I was hoping that the children would ask her really difficult questions that were to do with deep secrets we know not of, but they're good people and haven't betrayed their mother's deep secrets. They didn't even ask her why she has a cannibal fork.

Do you need an introduction to Kaaron? Probably not. She's well-known, after all, for her amazingly creepy horror. She's an extraordinary writer. I need a t-shirt that says "Never read anything by Kaaron Warren just before bed." Having said that, I'm now discovering her other writing, the stuff that *is* readable before bed. Just as good, and way less evil!


So many people have commented on the divide between the mother who helps in the school canteen etc and the horror writer and have said “How can she be so normal and write such stories?” I thought we could turn that astonishment on its head with this interview. Feel free to talk about the horror in your stories and how you peel off skin layer by layer until a reader’s nerves are exposed and hurting, but maybe do it in response to these rather more mundane questions…

One thing that I loved about your story was the way you played with food in it. How do you use food in your writing? Does it help link the normal with the strange, as it did in your Baggage story?
That’s exactly what it does. It draws the reader in (and the writer, too, to be honest) and normalizes the situation. We all understand hunger, and food. We can all anticipate a good meal.
I used food in Hive of Glass because I had decided I wanted the character to settle in a country town, and needed to think of a good occupation for a man of his character. Owing the local bakery seemed a good fit and I wasn’t going to have a bakery without talking about muffins and quiches!

Does it do other things?
I think it can create a visceral reaction. You talk about food that isn’t right and people have a response to that. It’s one way to create discord and discomfort, to undermine the reader’s sensibilities, so you can get into the self-conscious.

Tell me about your favourite cookbooks.
I love Stephanie Alexander’s “A Cook’s Companion”, because it has everything in there, all the small details of cooking.
I subscribe to Donna Hay’s magazine, because I don’t have to visit a specialist store to cook her food, but it tastes fabulous and makes me look like a domestic goddess.

The stuff I really love, though, is the stuff I don’t use as often. The cookbooks you pick up at fetes and second-hand book stalls. There’s so much history in these books.
Three I have right here are:
Parkwood Retirement Village Residents’ Recipe Book.
This is full of classic recipes that have fed families for decades, with wonderful asides from the cooks. “What can you do for dessert with only one apple and a sheet of ready rolled puff pastry? Read on!”
Next to the recipe for “Breakfast Jam”, the author has written “Nice Change.” Because it’s made out of carrots!

I also have
In Good Time: Fine Food in Under an Hour, the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic cookbook. Barbra was murdered in 1980; this book was a fundraiser for the clinic, which helps victims of sexual assault. It has things like Haddock in Hazelnut Sauce and Chilled Chocolate Loaf, and a previous owner has written favourite recipes in the back: Curried chicken (ugh, with chopped apple, apple juice, brown sugar, banana and pineapple pieces!), almond banana cream and Jumbuck stew.
My favourite, though is the Number 96 cookbook. Number 96 was an outrageous Australian soap opera. I was 9 years old when I used to watch it, hiding in the doorway so my parents couldn’t see me spying. It even came with a Number 96 iron on transfer, which I used on a T shirt. The worst recipe in this book is called riz a l’imperatrice. Glace fruits, brandy, rice, milk egg, sugar, vanilla essence, gelatin and cream. With raspberry sauce.
You can check out the show here: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~lindsay96/
There was a pantyhose strangler, a mad bomber and all sorts of stuff I shouldn’t have seen at 9.
Then of course there’s the serial killer one. Dorothea Puente allegedly killed quite a number of her lodgers and no one misses the irony of her having a cookbook. My sister got it for me; it’s even signed by Dorothea. I like to have a book on display on my cookbook rack. I can’t display that one; it scares the children. I have had kids ask to go home, when I’ve had it displayed.
Weak things they are.

Tell me also how food has crept into your fiction and influenced it (I’m now thinking about the title of your forthcoming anthology, and wondering).
In my novel Slights, I use golden syrup dumplings as a symbol of something Stevie is looking for. Comfort, and a memory of childhood she never experienced. I’ve never actually eaten golden syrup dumplings myself. The one time I planned to make them, I dropped the jar of golden syrup on the front step and smashed it. I could never face the idea again.
My third novel, Mistification, actually has recipes in the back. Bonus cookbook!
My collection is called Dead Sea Fruit. Schott’s Food and Drink Miscellany tells me that dead sea fruit is also known as The Apples of Sodom. Lord Byron mention the fruit in Childe Harold, saying “Like to the apples on the Dead Sea’s shore; All ashes to the taste.”

What’s your dream anthology? Whose stories would it have and what sort of stories would it be?
Seriously, I don’t think I’ll ever edit an anthology. I like critting other people’s work, especially in my role as mentor to Lee Dean, Amanda Spedding and Joanne Alderton.

I would love it if your children did the rest of the interview. I’ve always wanted to know what they’d ask if they had the chance to interview you, and how you’d respond.

Do you like writing?
I love writing! I’ve always loved writing. I’ve told this before, but when I was at school and I was bored, I’d make a story out of it. Even spelling lists can make a story!

Do you write more than one story at the same time?
I do, because I’ve always got lots of ideas at the same time. I used to try to put all the ideas into one story, but that gets too complicated and doesn’t make sense.

If you had to choose a job other than writing, what would you choose?
I always wanted to be a murder detective. I still love solving puzzles. Some of them have to do with packing the dishwasher, others with why there is so much traffic on a Wednesday morning when usually there isn’t!

Do you enjoy writing novels or short stories better or both the same?
Both the same. Writing novels takes a lot longer, but you can think harder about your characters and what might happen to them. You can think about their past and the things they might do in the future.

When did you start writing?
I wrote stories from when I was about seven years old. I always liked writing crime, mystery and ghost stories. Maybe because my favourite author was Enid Blyton and she had a lot of mysteries.

With short stories and novels, do you write about different topics to make it fit, or do you drag out a short story to make it into a novel?
One thing I really don’t like is reading a novel which should have been a short story. Sometimes you can think of good, different topics and ideas to make it fit, but sometimes those things just stretch the story out for too long.

When did you start writing your first novel?
I wrote a novel when I was 14 years old. It took about two years, I think! It’s called “Skin Deep”.

Why do you write adult books instead of kids books?
I have written a few kids stories, but mostly I like writing adult stories. When I write adult stories, I can write whatever I like, because I know that the adults will understand everything and not be too frightened by it. With children’s stories, you have to be more careful about the sorts of things you write about, and I don’t like being too careful!

Do you mix up genres when you’re writing stories?
I do! I don’t like to be kept just to one genre, so I will mix non-genre stories with horror, Science fiction, weird, maybe even romance sometimes.

Do your stories connect to real things? Do you make connections to help you write your stories?
Yes, they do. All of my stories have come from a connection I’ve made in the real world. It might be something I’ve read, or that someone has told me.

Who encouraged you the most to write your stories?
Once I started to sell my stories, it was the editors who did. When an editor tells me they love my story and can’t wait to publish it, that encourages me. Also, when they have ideas about how to make the story better, I love that as well because it means I can end up with a story I can be really proud of.
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