Author Interview: Tansy Rayner Roberts

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Tasmanian author Tansy Rayner Roberts has just released a new book called ‘Reign of Beasts’, which is the final book of the Creature Court Trilogy, and we took the opportunity recently to ask her about her writing and some of the other exciting things going on in her life.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t know if I ever knew otherwise. I was writing and planning stories from such an early age. The question was always about what else I would do – I never questioned that writing would be a big part of my future!

What is the first story you remember sharing with another person and what was their reaction?

This is  a tricky one.  I remember early stories, but not other people’s reactions.  My first real public response was a play I wrote for a children’s theatre company when I was twelve or so, and I remember being mildly outraged when the (adult) director took over and started changing things. I did learn how to take editorial feedback better later in life!

Can you tell us a little about the very first thing you had published?

Splashdance Silver, a comic fantasy novel about a red-haired pirate wench heroine having magical adventures.  I was 20 when the novel was published, and it was a defining moment of my life!

Your new book Reign of Beasts is released on the 1st of February, what can you tell us about the book? 

It’s the third and final book of the Creature Court trilogy –  a dark fantasy story which mashes up 1920’s fashions with dark magic, and tells the story of a dressmaker who is pulled into a secret war.  I wanted to look at what might happen if the only people with the magic necessary to save the world were so badly corrupted and damaged by that magic that… well, they’re exactly the kind of people you don’t want in charge of saving the world!  The third book is the one where everything goes to hell, my heroes are all trying to kill each other, and the worst possible person has taken power.  I’m so excited that people finally get to read it!

tansy rayner roberts

The launch for Reign of Beasts is being held in Hobart, what fabulous launch plans are in place? 

The Hobart Bookshop always puts on a great book launch, and in this case it’s going to be a double launch, on the 2nd February, with Richard Harland launching Margo Lanagan’s new book Sea Hearts, while Rowena Cory Daniells launches mine.  It should be a fantastic occasion, coming right at the end of our week long writer’s retreat – which was my sneaky way of getting a bunch of my mainland writer friends  down to Tasmania just in time for a launch!

You are also speaking at the Stranger With My Face horror film festival, can you tell us a little about the festival?

The festival is the brainchild of Australian filmmakers Briony Kidd and Rebecca Thomson and will take place in Hobart, Tasmania, from 17-19 February 2012.  February is Women in Horror month, and Briony and Rebecca were keen to do something to celebrate work by women or featuring interesting female characters, because female empowerment is not one of those things generally associated with the popular horror genre, and they are trying to do something about that.  I’m proud to be part of a diverse and interesting line up of programming – seminars, talks and workshops as well as screenings of indie films that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.  It’s going to be a blast!

Can you share a little with us about your talk?

The title is Genre and gender in our own landscape: From Australian ‘dark weird’ to Tasmanian Gothic. I wanted to talk about female writers of horror and dark fantasy who use the Australian landscape to great and creepy effect – people like Kaaron Warren, Margo Lanagan, Kirstyn McDermott and Deb Biancotti, especially short story writers whose work might be of interest to the indie horror film producers and directors.  Something I have learned recently is how keen filmmakers are to find good material to adapt!  I’m also going to talk about my own work, and writing Australian or Tasmanian settings for fantasy stories.  I think there are a lot of people out there who love fantasy or horror fiction, but still assume all the good stuff is set in America or the UK, and written by authors from those countries!  It can be tricky and confrontational at times to write fantasy with gum trees instead of majestic oaks, but some of our best writers do exactly that.

I read that you have also published a children’s book. Do you find there is any audience that is easier to write for than others?

I don’t think any audience is easy to write for – the difficult thing is turning off any idea of ‘audience’ and writing a book that is as authentic as possible!  Some books come easily and others are like pulling teeth – and of course, the readers can never tell at the end which were the hard ones to write!  Sometimes the story you dashed off in an afternoon turns out to be the best thing you’ve ever written, and sometimes the story that you’ve agonised over for seven years simply isn’t publishable.  It’s amazing writers sleep at night, really!  I do love writing for younger audiences though, I have to say, and it’s something I want to do more of in future.

As well as juggling writing and family life you also work with dolls, can you tell us a bit about that?

My mother and I run a business called the Deepings Dolls, which has a long history to it.  She has been painting these hand-turned wooden figurines for twenty five years, and when the original woodturner who devised the dolls retired, we took over the business because we didn’t want to see it finish.  Each piece is individual, and we supply the dolls to a selection of galleries as well as selling them online.  Our catalogue includes historical figures like Captain Cook, Ned Kelly, Jane Austen and Henry VIII, but also wedding dolls, nativities and costumes based on old fashion plates.  It keeps us very busy – I run the office while my mother continues with the creative side of it.

And how do you fit it all in?

One day at a time, of course!  If I think too much about it all, it collapses in a heap.  But you know what they say – if you need something done, give it to a busy person.  If I don’t have three things on the go at once, I tend to get nothing done at all.  Though I can’t say I’m not looking forward to my youngest daughter being at school so I have the bliss of five mornings a week to get things done in!

What do you like to do in your spare time, if you manage to find some?

The traditional response is to laugh hollowly at this point, isn’t it?  Most of my hobbies or leisure activities are tied into my writing work or my parenting, so it’s hard to separate them.  I do love to make quilts, which requires very different creative skills than writing does – playing with colours and fabrics makes me happy.  But really, there’s never a piece of spare time so big that it can’t be filled with a book or a conversation!

What’s next for Tansy Rayner Roberts?

I’m writing an urban fantasy novel set in Hobart, basically like a private detective who has to deal with mermaids and kraken – and instead of having a sexy werewolf or vampire in her life, it’s a sexy sea pony (well, a bloke who turns into a sea pony).  I love this book to bits, and hope it finds a publisher.  I’m also working on a bunch of other projects, including a new fantasy series set in Shakespeare’s Verona – if Verona was a tropical island – and some young adult and children’s books.  I’m desperate to get some time to work on a girl superheroes series that I want to get written before my daughters are too old to appreciate it.  I’m hoping this will be a very exciting and rewarding year.

What does being a woman mean to you?

Thinking about and talking about gender issues are a big part of my life.  I went from studying the public image of women in Ancient Rome at university to writing and reviewing fantasy novels with a particular interest in female protagonists.  I’m a huge advocate for women’s work, and it constantly surprises and disappoints me that it still needs advocacy, that we’re still having the conversation about ways that women and their work gets a raw deal.  Probably my main outlet for these conversations now is the Galactic Suburbia podcast, in which three women (including me!) talk about science fiction, publishing news and gender issues.  I’ve learned so much from having those conversations in a public forum, and we get so many amazing comments from our listeners.

Being a woman has been a huge part of my identity and the way I see the world, though I have to say that now, as the mother of two daughters, I’m often thinking more about them, and their position as the women of the future.  I look forward to watching them discover their own feminism, redefining it as the new generation always does, and figuring out what they can do.  But mostly I hope they’re still talking to me and their Dad when they’re teenagers!  I have a great relationship with my mother and I can only hope that I can have a positive influence on my girls, the way my Mum did with me.

Thank you so much for your time and good luck at the Film festival.

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