More Questions . . .

Life caught up with me in the past week, as it so often does, and this is the first chance I’ve had to sit back down with this little blog of mine. Anyway, here are a few more questions from the Book Lover’s Club competition, along with my answers. I’ll try to post the rest a little more frequently!

First, Sue Bell asked: What gives you the inspiration to write your book? ‘Madigan Mine’ is about Envy so will your next novel be based on one of the other deadly sins?

My inspiration comes from everything. People I know or have never met, places I’ve been to, things I’ve read or overheard, art, music, silly jokes — almost anything can become grist for the mill. I’m a junk collector of sorts, and carry a whole lot of weird stuff around in my metaphorical pockets until I realise that this piece actually belongs with that piece which goes together with this piece over there, and . . . hey, there’s a story to tell.

I suppose “envy” is a theme in Madigan Mine, although it’s not one that was at the forefront of my mind when writing the novel. Madigan is certainly selfish, and possessive, but I’m not certain whether these character traits stem from envy as much. In any case, my next novel is not based on any particular “deadly sin”. I actually have an unfinished series of short stories (or perhaps it is a mosaic novella) that revolve around the seven sins and seven virtues. It’s unresolved and I’m not sure where the ending is, but I’d like to return to it one day. When I’m not so busy. “Sloth” is certainly not a problem I’m having, these days!

This is from Emma Mercer: What is the biggest impact writing your book has had on you life? Has something you have thought of or written changed your outlook on the world around you?

The writing of the book didn’t really have much of an impact on my life, as I have tended to order my spare time around writing for as long as I can remember. Once the book was sold, and the wheels of publication began, that’s when the real impact kicked in. I’ve had to learn to prioritise my time around my writing to a great extent. Before publication, my writing was — not a “hobby”, I never thought of it as that, but it was something that was positioned somewhere near the middle of my priority list. Study, work, social obligations, family, friends . . . these parts of my life generally had more “weight” when it came to demands on my time. Possibly because I had no official deadline, no formal contract, nothing I could point to and say to myself: “Look, this is really important, you need to say no to all the other stuff people want you to do!” Having sold a book changes that. Having a contract for a second book changes that again. Time management is still not my strongest suit, but I’m getting better.

As to the second part of the question, I think that flows in the opposite direction. A change in my outlook on the world is far more likely to influence my writing, than the other way around. A new discovery, observation, or way of thinking seems to be processed by my brain as “Hey, that would make a good story!”. Writing is often a way to work through ideas and thoughts about the world, or at least that’s how it works for me.

Lastly (for today) Vina Pb wants to know:  What would be her can’t live without desert island books? If she had to choose 3 what would they be?

Which is an awful, awful question. 🙂 Desert Island Books. Hmm. They’d have to be books I would be happy to read again and again and again without getting bored with. Which does actually shorten the list somewhat, as there aren’t a lot of books that I love but which I think would stand up to ten or more readings. So, let’s go with:

  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories by Shirley Jackson
  • The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology edited by Arthur Cotterell & Rachel Storm

These are not necessarily my favourite books in the whole world — although something by Shirley Jackson would be on that list — but for today it’s a selection I’m happy with. And I’m so, so sorry to all my beloved books that are being left behind. 😦

Truly, that was an awful question. I need to go and lie down now.

If you’re on Facebook,  please take a minute check out Book Lover’s Club — a site dedicated to the discussion of books of all genres, for book-lovers right across the globe.

Questions, so many questions . . .

Book Lover's Club

The competition that Book Lover’s Club ran on Facebook last week has ended and I’ve both chosen a winner and answered her question over on Facebook. There were so many excellent entries and it was a difficult decision to make. So much so that I’ve decided to answer all ten questions that were asked here on my blog. I’ll post a new question and answer every few days over the next couple of weeks.

Let’s start with the winner, Karen Chisholm, who asked the following:

I’d love to know how Kirstyn feels about her own characters . . . do they stay with her / nag at her with more stories to tell?

I love my characters. All of them, even the not-so-nice ones. I think writers almost have to love their characters in order to create them, and to make them feel real enough that readers care about what happens to them. Bear in mind that “love” doesn’t necessarily mean “like” or “approve of”! But you need to understand them as people, and usually to know a lot more about their background, personality and motives than you necessarily reveal on paper.

Madigan is one of my favourite characters, possibly because I lived with her inside my head for a very long time. I talked to her, asked her opinions of things, though about how she would react to certain people, situations, obstacles or opportunities. So it was really hard — and remains difficult — to put her aside and work on something new. In a sense, she is still there inside my head, making the occasional comment, but mostly just sulking about being ignored in favour of the new kids. I might, and it’s a very small “might”, write about her again some day but at the moment I have no real plans.

I have had characters pop up in my writing more than once, usually playing minor roles in stories which are not their own. Once I find a character’s real story, and tell it, that will usually be it for them. (Unless, of course, I need them for another bit part somewhere or other along the line.) There are too many other stories and other characters to write about. Too many voices demanding to be heard. I do miss most of them, when their story is finished. I don’t think I would want it any other way.

If you’re on Facebook,  please take a minute check out Book Lover’s Club — a site dedicated to the discussion of books of all genres, for book-lovers right across the globe.

Aurealis #44 Review

Aurealis No.44

Mark Smith-Briggs has posted a lengthy review of Aurealis No.44 over at HorrorScope. The issue includes my story, “We All Fall Down”, of which Mark has some very nice things to say:

Fresh from the publication of her debut novel, Kirstyn McDermott shows she hasn’t lost touch with the shorter side of fiction with We All Fall Down – a creepy ghost story about a pair of car crash victims forced to spend the night in a strange house. McDermott puts an old troupe to good use, breathing life into a familiar story with vibrant characters and a well paced narrative. Readers may pick up on the ending well before it arrives, but such is the richness of Emma and Holly that it doesn’t really matter.

I love this story. It started life as a very, very different beast to what it eventually became and changed forms in my head many times before I finally knew enough to put fingers to keyboard. But the characters of Emma and Holly remained constant. I love them both and this made “We All Fall Down” a wrenching story to write … once I realised what the story was.

Aurealis is available at $14.95 an issue or as a four-issue subscription for $46. Issues are printed twice a year.

I have my cranky pants on today

Yes, someone is wrong on the internet. Yes, I should simply ignore it and go about my day. Most of time, this is just what I do, which is why this blog isn’t filled with ranty angst. But sometimes I put on my cranky pants.

In this appalling article from the Courier Mail yesterday, Dr David van Gend, a Toowoomba GP and member of the  Family Council of Queensland, attacks the legalisation of gay marriage on the grounds that gay marriage = gay parenting = damaged kids. What upsets me most is the conservative assumptions about marriage and child-rearing that underlie his argument, an argument he is disingenuously trying to frame around the concept of child welfare when really it’s just dyed-in-the-wool homophobia. I’d love to get the chance to cross-examine Dr van Gend on some of these assumptions but I don’t see that happening. Or do I? ***

KMcD: Dr van Gend, you seem to be implying that homophobia and discrimination against the gay community are not driving forces behind your anti-gay marriage stance. I note that you even observe that “two lesbian women may be model citizens” — which is very progressive of you indeed. I bet you even have some gay friends. So, in your opinion, what is the central issue of the gay marriage debate?

DvG: The gay marriage debate, at its heart, is not about the rights and needs of the adults, but of the child.

KMcD: Oh, I see. You’re not actually anti-gay, you’re pro-child. That makes all the difference. So what “rights of the child” are we talking about specifically?

DvG: A child needs at least the chance of a mum and a dad in his or her life and same-sex marriage makes that impossible. The violation of this fundamental right and profound emotional need of a child means – from the child’s perspective – that gay marriage is deprivation, not liberation.

KMcD: You’re saying that a biologically male and a biologically female parenting figure are both necessary to bring up a child. That having either two “dads” or two “mums” — or only one of either, for that matter — is necessarily harmful?

DvG: The “marriage” of two women would deprive an adopted boy of his role model for being a man, and the “marriage” of two men would deprive a growing girl of a mother to learn from and confide in.

KMcD: I see — wait, no I don’t. Boys need fathers as role models but girls need mothers as teachers and confidants? Don’t girls need role models too? Don’t boys need someone to confide in, to learn from? Isn’t either gender appropriate for any of these roles? You can’t actually be implying that girls don’t need fathers and boys don’t need mothers, or that intra-family relationships should be segregated according to gender. I’m sure I must have misheard you.

DvG: Gay parenting means depriving a child of either his mother or his father.

KMcD: All right, moving on. Can you outline your perception of marriage as a social and legal institution?

DvG: Marriage is a compound right and includes the legal right to children. The normalising of same-sex marriage would mean that gay couples would have equal standing with male-female couples for adopting children.

KMcD: Do you mean to say that marriage is just about having kids? Because I’m married and I don’t intend to have children. Ever. But I consider my marriage to be just as valid and important and affirming to myself and my husband as the marriages of couples with children. Marriage is about love and commitment to another person, a commitment which may include starting a family but which equally may not. I would imagine that there are a lot of gay couples out there who wish to marry but do not plan to have children either — doesn’t this complicate the idea of gay marriage being about the rights of (yet, possibly never, to be born) children?

DvG: The sentimental claptrap that passes for debate on gay marriage would have disgusted even that old atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell.

KMcD: Excuse me? What does Bertrand Russell have to do with this?

DvG: Russell understood that society has no interest in passing laws about people’s private affairs and that the primary reason for the public contract of marriage is to bind the man to the woman for the long task of rearing their children.

KMcD: Surely you don’t agree with Russell that men have to be legally bound to their wives in order to be forced to share the child-rearing? There are a lot of families in which the parents are in a healthy defacto relationship, or divorced and still sharing the responsibilities for their kids.

DvG: The legal institution of marriage buttresses a biological phenomenon for the sake of social stability. It is society’s way of binding a feral-by-nature male to his mate and his child, in order that a child can benefit from the complementary nurture of both a mother and father.

KMcD: Feral-by-nature? Yikes!

DvG: As Russell wrote in Marriage and Morals: “It is through children alone that sexual relations become of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognisance of by a legal institution.” Homosexual relations do not give rise to children, so such relations are of no institutional importance to society.

KMcD: Okay, since we’re quoting Bertrand Bloody Russell, he also said stuff in that book like “marriage is for woman the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution”. Not to mention advocating that men — but only men — be liberated from the quaint old notion of sexual fidelity within marriage.  So perhaps we can leave Russell the hell out of contemporary marriage debates, and you can tell me — in your own words — what you think marriage really is.

DvG: The biological triple-bond of man and woman and child is nature’s foundation for human life, not a social fad to be cut to shape according to political whim.

KMcD: Right. And people who advocate gay marriage are?

DvG: So out of touch with nature that they think that abolishing a mother will be of no consequence.

KMcD: Or a father, one assumes.

DvG: Think from the child’s perspective. A little girl should not have to look up and see two erotically involved men posing as her “parents”. No matter how competent and caring a lesbian partner may be, she can never be a Dad to a young boy. Little children must not be subjected, by the law of the land, to a prolonged and uncontrolled experiment on their emotional development.

KMcD: I agree, no little girl should have to see two “erotically involved” men (or women) “posing” as her parents. Sounds kind of freaky to me. But that’s not what’s going in, is it? She is looking up and seeing two loving people who are her parents and who also happen to be two men (or two women). Your suggestion that a gay couple can only ever “pretend” or “pose” as parents is actually a different argument to your comments about role models. You seem to be saying that gay people are actually incapable of parenting and that it is their homosexuality (along with their presumably rampant obsession with sex and erotica) that is damaging to a child in their care. That’s just a tad more extreme than what you published in the Courier Mail, isn’t it?

DvG: For the sake of all children yet to be born we must despise threats of “hate speech” and say out loud that every child needs the love of a father and a mother.

KMcD: Um, okay. To sum up, you think that a) marriage is all about child-rearing and that without the child-rearing component, there is no need for marriage; b) children should all have both a mother and a father in their life, as those brought up without either or both such parental figures are disadvantaged and perhaps harmed; c) because gay couples are by definition single gender relationships, such couples should not be allowed to have children who would then suffer the nebulous and undocumented disadvantages of which you speak; and therefore d) because they shouldn’t have children, gay people don’t need to get married. Have I pretty much covered it?

DvG: Bertrand Russell.

KMcD: Oh yes, and you think that a book on marriage written in 1929 by a man who was had no less than three marriages that ended in divorce, should serve as some sort of a moral compass on the issue. Anything else you’d like to add?

DvG: 86 per cent of Australians, according to a 2009 Galaxy poll, affirming that children should be raised by their own mother and father.

KMcD: You know, I’ve tried to find that Galaxy Poll but to no avail. The closest I’ve come is this press release from the Australian Family Association in November 2009 which states the same 86% figure but reports the exact question that respondents were asked as being, “Ideally, wherever possible, should children be raised by their biological mother and their biological father?” Hmm. Doesn’t say anything there about same-sex parenting. In fact, “yes” seems a very reasonable response to the question and I kinda wonder about the 14% who said “no”. Because if you’re talking about “ideally” and “wherever possible” then I think most people would agree that the parents who make the babies should raise the babies. It makes good social sense for everyone.

But you’re using this response (which the AFA doesn’t contextualise within the full Galaxy poll either) as meaning we don’t want gay people to raise children. Really, though, you could make it mean anything, including evidence of opposition to all forms of adoptions, or child-rearing by step-parents, grandparents, siblings, foster parents and so on. Of course, I’m sure you don’t consider these types of family structures to be inherently “harmful” to children. So why the special attention to a family structure where the parents happen to be of the same sex?

DvG: There are already tragic situations where a child is deprived of a mother or a father – such as the death or desertion of a parent. Some broken families reform as a homosexual household and nothing can or should be done about that, but such tragedy and brokenness should not be wilfully inflicted on a child by the law of the land.

KMcD: I’m going to presume you were referring to “death or desertion” when you speak of “tragedy and brokenness”, and not a “homosexual household”. But talking about the law of the land, this October 2010 Galaxy Poll found that 62% of respondents answered yes to the question, “Do you agree or disagree that same sex couples should be able to marry in Australia?” Isn’t this the sort of data that politicians should be considering more seriously when debating changes to the Marriage Act?

DvG: Inner-city Greens and muddled MPs are wrong and any such legislation would be moral vandalism.

KMcD: You don’t think it’s a kind of moral vandalism to undermine and devalue human relationships, and to refuse to acknowledge that there are, and always have been in human society and in nature, many different kinds of healthy, functional and positive family structures?

DvG: A baby needs the love of both her mother and her father! How can anyone with normal experience of life question that?

KMcD: A normal experience of life?

DvG: No politicians have the authority to so violate the primal needs of a child or mess with the deep sanity of nature.

KMcD: The deep sanity of . . . oh dear.

DvG: Anger with such governmental child abuse is entirely consistent with neighbourly friendliness to those fellow citizens afflicted with same-sex attraction.

KMcD: Allowing same-sex couples to raise children is governmental child abuse? Well, at least you’re being nice and neighbourly about it! After all, those stubborn gay people could be cured of their pitiable affliction if they really wanted to be and then presumably they could enter into heterosexual marriages and have kids the natural way. I don’t suppose you’ve ever entertained the notion that if there is any harm or disadvantage in being raised by two parents in a same-sex marriage, then maybe this is due to the thinly-disguised homophobia of supposedly compassionate people such as yourself who refuse to acknowledge the validity of same-sex relationships and thereby allow anti-gay sentiment, action and inaction to continue in our society, our schools and our workplaces?

DvG: A little child needs both a mother and a father. The judgment of anyone who cannot see this as a self-evident fact of life, as the most commonsense and necessary condition of a child’s wellbeing, is suspect.

KMcD: I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

*** David van Gend’s opinion piece in the Courier Mail was previously published on 15/11/10 in the conservative quasi-Catholic webzine Mercator.net. He published a similar but more blatantly vicious article on 13/9/09 on the same site (where some of the comments are quite vile). I have taken quotes from both sources to construct my mock interview, as well as linking to other articles Dr van Gend has published online.

Aurealis Awards Signed Spec Fic Auctions!

Some of the biggest names in Australian speculative fiction have cleared out their cupboards and the contents are being sold on eBay!

Where else can you buy an original print from Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld or a bundle of autographed fantasy, science fiction or horror novels from a huge list of Aussie authors including; Sara Douglass, Ian Irvine, Sean Williams and Shane Dix, Traci Harding, Karen Miller, Stephen Irwin, Nathan Burrage, Richard Harland, Marianne De Pierres, Angela Slatter, Kate Forsyth, Isabel Merlin, Sophie Masson, Jack Dann, Kaaron Warren, Shane Jiraiya Cummings and Kirstyn McDermott?

The autographed books are being auctioned off in five book bundles. For a complete description of the contents of each bundle or to bid on one of these great items refer to the list of eBay item numbers below and make sure you place your bid by 25 November 2010, when the auctions end.

Aurealis Awards

The auction is being held by SpecFaction NSW Inc., hosts of the 2010 Aurealis Awards. Funds raised will go towards holding the awards night and helping create a range of NSW based events and activities for readers and writers of speculative fiction. SpecFaction NSW is a not for profit group. For more information on the 2010 Aurealis Awards go to www.aurealisawards.com.

A podcast is born . . .

The Writer and the Critic

My dear old friend, Ian Mond, has been twisting my arm for the best part of this year in an effort to enlist me in the podcast revolution. I finally succumbed and this week we recorded the first episode of The Writer and the Critic. It will be a monthly podcast wherein Ian and myself discuss (mostly) speculative fiction books, reviews and the odd bit of idle gossip. The basic premise behind the show is that each of us will recommend a book for the other to read, which we will then review (and possibly, given our mutual reading history, argue about). There will also be much silliness.

Despite my initial trepidations, it was actually a lot of fun to record and not an entirely painful listening experience either — although if I did pick up on a few verbal tics I will need to stop myself saying. It’s a little raggedy, and we probably spent far too much time at the start justifying talking about why we are sending yet another podcast into the world, but I think we’ll only get better from here on in.

In the first episode we discuss Deathless by Catherynne M Valente (which Ian recommended to me) and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (my recommendation for Ian). Two excellent books, now beloved by us both, as it turns out.

We’re still in the process of making the podcast available on iTunes, but you can stream or download the MP3 right now from The Writer and the Critic website. If you enjoy it, please spread the word. Oh, and feel more than free to leave feedback in the comments section of each episode or to send us an email. We’d love to hear what you think!

A Lovely Review and a Facebook Competition

Is it Friday already? I’ve been meaning to post about this wonderful review that Madigan Mine received from Kylie Fox and Amanda Wrangles over at Book Lover’s Club on Facebook. If you don’t have a Facebook account, I don’t think you’ll be able to read it, so I’ll post the review in full at the end of this entry.

Book Lover’s Club are also running a competition to win a personally signed copy of Madigan Mine. You will need to be on Facebook to enter, so if you are please toddle along and have a look at their page. All you need to do is come up with a question you’d like to ask me about my life, my work or about Madigan Mine. The most interesting and original question wins the book. I’ll be choosing the winner and also answering the question, so make sure it’s a good one!

Entries close 18 November 2010.

And now, here’s that review:

Once in a while a book comes along that is so beautifully written, so perfectly crafted that it leaves you with a serious case of envy – word envy that is.

Such is the case with Kirstyn McDermott’s “Madigan Mine”. The characters are so rich and believable, the world you are transported into so whole and multi-dimensional and the very mood of the book so tangible that, as a reader, there is never a moment, from start to glorious finish, that you are taken out of the story, reminded that you are simply a spectator to it. No, from the first page it grips the reader by the throat and doesn’t let them go.

Madigan Mine is difficult to outline briefly – every line, every word is a new discovery and to tell of one thing, hints at the next.

Alex Bishop loves Madigan Sargood, has always loved her, so when, after twelve years apart, a chance meeting with her is like a dream come true. But it soon becomes clear that Madigan, though beautiful, is also something far more dangerous.

When she commits suicide, Alex’s troubles should be over. The danger and impending doom that Madigan bought into his life should be gone. But it’s not. It’s only just the beginning.

Alex can’t get Madigan out of his head. She haunts his every waking moment but is it all in his mind? Is he crazy with grief? Or is it something more sinister?

Alex must delve into Madigan’s past to uncover her reasons for committing suicide and to discover why she won’t, even now, leave him alone. His life – and the lives of those he cares about – depend on it.

Madigan Mine is deliciously dark but never gratuitous in its use of violence. The sinister feeling that underlies every line, even seemingly innocent exchanges, never waivers.

McDermott has created a cast of characters that are real. They have flaws, they have motivations that aren’t always pure and, they make mistakes. Not one is a cliché, not one sounds like the “every” character that we so often read, who can belong in any book, any story. Each is unique and each is complete. This is their story, and we never doubt it.

McDermott doesn’t shy away from making the tough calls. For every twist and turn that Madigan Mine takes us on, there are two options for McDermott – and in every one she opts for the harder, the more heart-breaking, the more surprising.

Madigan Mine was read by both the administrators of Book Lover’s Club, and the hardest thing about it was not slipping up and telling the other what was coming next. We  both seriously loved and recommend this book.

~ Kylie Fox and Amanda Wrangles.