Day Boy by Trent Jamieson: this is vampire fiction

day boy vampire novel by trent jamiesonThis is Day Boy (Text, 2015), by Brisbane writer Trent Jamieson. Hot off the press. A hot read, too.

Set in an isolated Australian country town, the story is told by adolescent Mark, entering his final period as Day Boy to the vampire Master Dain. This is in the time after the war, when the vampires rule what’s left of humanity: the Council of Teeth lurks in the bowels of a mountain fortress, casting a long, terrible shadow over Masters and humans alike. There are elements of Trent’s Roil in this, in the flitting, elemental vampires, the evocative descriptions of this place of light and dark and intrigue. Against this backdrop, what comes next for Mark as his tenure as Day Boy approaches its end?

(T)ime is running down. There’s a city calling me, and I’ll see it if I’m lucky but I’m feeling my luck run thin, feeling old too. Choices heaped ahead of me, and I feel so ill-equipped to make them.

From these eternal power brokers to their worship of the Sun to their love of music, the culture is beautifully realised. So too is the town of Midfield, modelled we’re told in the acknowledgement’s on Jamieson’s former rural home town of Gunnedah. Life in the dust and heat and storms goes on, despite the toll of blood and obedience.

But it is Mark’s relationship with Dain that is key here, a paternal exploration, a coming of age story. It is affecting stuff. There are women here, but a few, primarily Mary and her daughter Anne, but this a book about boys and men, their rivalries and cruelties, and the love of fathers and sons. (As the Wheeler Centre on Monday night, Jamieson said he had an idea for a story showing this side of this world. Fingers crossed it might one day see the light.)

The Night Train comes and goes, its cargo unladen, its whistle calling out, and I’m still awake. Still thinking. Thinking. Thinking.

When I tumble to sleep, it’s a lean sort of thing, no meat or fat to the bones, just a gristle of drinks not drunk, of girls not kissed, and a tall man, with a taste for civility who’s disappointed with what he raised.

The larger story unfolds through episodic chapters — ‘nothing happening until it does’ — with some events feeling almost as asides, others showing Mark’s maturation, all illustrating life under vampire rule, the wildness outside of town, that favourite Aussie trope of dangers lurking in the bush.

The structure and format are intriguing: three sections, short chapters, folios restricted to page numbering and even then not on the opening pages of chapters. As though the typography is kept as dry and spare as the land around Midfield.

The story is interrupted by five excerpts, each in the voice of a Midfield Day Boy talking about his Master, just short drops of back story and character, bolstered by equally short and pointed italicised drop-ins from Mark, adding texture to the world.

Jamieson’s prose is not so spartan; it is considered, poetical but not verbose or purple. It is a joy. Day Boy is a joy.

Bush, bitumen and the horror: Bundy WriteFest

bundaberg writefest logoBundaberg inquisitor Mouse and I had an email chat the other day, ahead of my heading to Bundy for WriteFest on 16-17 May — my second visit! This is a wonderful event, very welcoming and easy going, and the Bundy Writers know how to make a guest feel welcome, yes indeed.

So I’ll be talking about writing horror and running some wee small exercises in creepiness — there’s more than 10 of us on the program, including Graeme Simsion and my old Brissie mate Peter Ball (both getting their screenplay mojo on, but in different ways), and you really should check out Kat Apel’s hat in her profile picture!

The Mouse chat can be read here. It was a pretty thoughtful exchange, and I waffled. Sorry.

SQ Mag: here be nagas

sq magazine issue 19A little while ago I mentioned nagas here and flashed a pair of cobra fangs for inspiration — well, the first story in this paranormal mythos has struck, over at SQ Mag.

Will this be the last ‘vampire’ story I write for a while? Probably. Kind of. The next I’m working on in this Make Believe Brisbane has a mermaid front and centre. I’ve got plans to develop these characters, and the world, through a series of shorts, culminating in a longer piece centred on Manasa’s quest to recover the SITI. Anyway, here’s to the first step!

And the good thing is, if this yarn has you recoiling (sorry, Michelle) in horror, there is a bunch of other yarns in the mag — and it’s free!

WIP: Fangs for the inspiration

cobra fangsThese are cobra fangs. They were a Valentine’s gift from my beloved, specifically because I’m writing nagas. They’re slippery suckers.

I had the idea for these stories years ago, when Amanda Pillar was calling for submissions for her first ‘blood’-themed anthology for Ticonderoga. She’s done two of them now (Bloodlines is due in August), and it has taken me this long — and a lot of reading/research, a lot of note making and scene revising, some brainstorming — to come to grips with the story world. Maybe I’ll finally have something in time for No.3!

The fact is, I’m still grappling, exploring the urban fantasy’s world and its characters through the stories. And attempting to air these explorations as I go, a little morale boost, with an end result: hopefully, a cohesive novella, perhaps fleshed our or simply complemented with revised, definitive versions of these formative, transformative yarns. I’m lumping them under a banner of BLOODRUNNER, both a nod to that inspiration from Amanda, and to my old mate Shayne Hall who introduced me to the term in a different context.

I just hope this project doesn’t end up biting me on the asp.

Snapshot 2014: Maria Lewis

maria lewisMARIA LEWIS is an authority on film and pop culture. Currently a showbusiness reporter at The Daily Mail Australia, she has also written her debut novel Who’s Afraid? which is represented by the Alex Adsett Literary Agency. She currently hosts Gaggle Of Geeks and TV Talk on 2SER 107.3FM. You can visit her website at marialewis.com.au
 
1. What led you to get involved in pop culture podcasting, and what have you enjoyed most about doing them?

The great thing about podcasting is no matter how specific or weird your niche, there’s always an audience for it. For my co-host Blake Howard and I, we would have these hour-long rambling conversations about new releases that would lead into vintage film comparisons and weird trivia inserts, and it occurred to us one day that we should record it. Pod Save Our Screen is less a movie review show – although we do review weekly releases – and more a pop culture lifestyle podcast, where we talk comics, movies news, share anecdotes about celebrity encounters and relevant interviews. The strange, specific places we go to is what I love about it and it’s the same thing that has seen me fall for Kevin Smith’s Fatman On Batman (a weekly podcast about The Dark Knight) and The Ladyist (where females discuss female centric pop culture). I also love the opportunities we’ve had to do it in a live setting, like when we got to pick the brain of Star Wars and Alien concept artist Ron Cobb – who conveniently lived just around the corner – in front of a packed cinema, which was a dream come true.

 
2. How has your journalism experience affected or influenced your creative work?

It’s influenced every aspect, undoubtedly. Mostly I think being a professional journalist for almost a decade has trained me to be an aggressive researcher (HULK GOOGLE!). An internet search is never sufficient enough and knowing that there are other routes to take – randomly calling professors, hunting down people on social media, face-to-face interviews, going through public records – helps inform my writing in a way that it wouldn’t necessarily if I didn’t come from a press background. Also, I’ve mentioned this before, but it really does make you grow ladyballs and teach you to be fearless in terms of hunting down the story – which is endlessly helpful when trying to construct a world of your own.

 
3. You have an agent shopping around your debut novel, Who’s Afraid?, about werewolves. What is the attraction or theme or shapechangers that attracted you to write this story?

I’ve always been fascinated by werewolves as I grew up in a small town in New Zealand where you were able to see snow-capped mountains from the windows, and my grandfather used to tell me werewolf tales at night when he put me to be. So really it’s his fault I’ve developed this weird obsession. But much as the idea of two identities existing within the same person has fascinated me in the superhero universe with secret identities and pseudonyms, etc.; the darker side of that coin always seemed much more interesting. The idea that someone could exist with a monster inside of them (metaphorical or otherwise) and how they can either learn to embrace or control that is infinitely fascinating to me. It’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde syndrome.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I have loved Michael Adams‘ young adult series (The Last Girl) even though I’m technically too old to be in the target market (don’t judge me). It’s one of the rare high-concept stories that I’ve read which is actually set in Australia, the last probably being the Tomorrow, When The War Began series (by John Marsden). He’s a brilliant writer and has a great female voice. I loved his first book Showgirls, Teen Wolves And Astro Zombies: One Man’s Quest To Find The Worst Film Ever Made and it’s interesting to see the transition from his non-fiction work to something like The Last Girl and The Last Shot.

 
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Not for me personally. There seems to be a strong need from publishers to constantly tell you that ‘it’s all about E and not about P’ which although I think there has been a significant growth in e-publishing, print will ever be defunct. I also don’t understand this obsession with one or the other. Like the girl in the Old El Paso add says, why not both? I still buy books, I still love the feel of a book in my hand and building a personal library, but there’s a beauty to the convenience of an e-reader that can’t be beat. It doesn’t bother me whether people are turning the page or an ‘on’ switch, as long as people are still reading stories, still engaging in make-believe, I don’t care how they do it.

In five years… what will I be reading? I’m a genre loyalist, and I have always grown up on and read horror, fantasy and urban fantasy titles. I don’t see my love of that changing anytime soon. In the same way Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games have brought a lot of first-time genre readers into the equation, I’ve been reading a lot more crime purely thanks to novels like Gone Girl and Jeffrey Deaver’s return with The Skin Collector drawing me in. I’m not a genre snob, I just trot over to wherever there’s a tale that intrigues me: whether that’s Pride and Prejudice or Pride, Prejudice and Zombies.

 
2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2014: Stephen M Irwin

stephen m irwinSTEPHEN M IRWIN is a screenwriter and novelist. His career began with broadcast television documentaries, and broadened to include award-winning short drama films and short stories. Stephen’s debut novel, supernatural thriller The Dead Path, was published in Australia by Hachette and subsequently around the world, being named Top Horror Novel 2011 in the American Library Association’s RUSA Reading List. Stephen’s second novel, The Broken Ones, was released by Hachette and DoubleDay to exceptional reviews, including being named among the 100 Best Fiction of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews. Stephen was writer and creator of a six-part crime drama Secrets & Lies (2014) produced by Hoodlum Active, which has screened around the world and is being remade for American audiences by Kapital Entertainment for ABC (USA). He is currently developing several feature film and television projects for Australian and international audiences, and is writing his third novel. Find out more at www.stephenmirwin.com

 

1. Since the last Snapshot two years ago, you’ve added to your oeuvre of supernatural horror with a story, ’24/7′, in last year’s A Killer Among Demons anthology. What is it about folklore and legends such as the Green Man, ghost and demons that draws you to write about them?

Writers write for different reasons. For some, it’s catharsis; for others it’s simply a job; for yet others it’s a compulsion to express. For me, writing for pleasure presents a chance to go exploring, to go play. And my favourite sandpit is not necessarily this world, or this world as I’ve experienced it in the day-to-day, but a world like ours where fantastical things are possible. The fact that I enjoy my stories to be both well grounded in reality yet to have otherworldly shadows lends me to write about ghosts, spirits, unseen or barely seen forces … so, those stories begin in the ordinary and take that weird side-step into the extraordinary.

One of the things I like about these stories is that they come with a suggestion that the protagonist doubts his or her own perception of reality – wonders, even, if they are mad or heading that way. In this era of social media and instant news, when everything is laid bare, it’s nice to think that some people (even if they are just fictional characters) are forced to keep secrets for fear of condemnation … and try to soldier on in silence … although this usually sows the seeds of peril. Great fun.

 
2. Secrets & Lies is, possibly, your biggest screen project to date, enjoying a US rendition. How have you enjoyed the translation of your Australian story to the United States? In fact most of your written stories have been set here – have you ever felt any pressure to perhaps set them overseas or keep the ocker quotient low to enhance foreign market appeal?

secrets and lies tv showI didn’t have a lot of time to writing the six hours of television that was Secrets & Lies – the preproduction was so charged with urgency that I didn’t really get time to enjoy the process. Now the series is done, and it’s screened here and in the UK, Canada, Scandinavia … I’ve had the chance to look back more fondly on the experience of writing the show. I don’t have any real input in the US version, but on a recent trip to Los Angeles I did get to meet some of the cast, and that was enormously fun – they’ve attracted some great talent, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

Right now, I’m working on an Australian telemovie for a national TV broadcaster, and a supernatural crime show for an American network. The former is set firmly in Australia, the latter firmly in the USA. I’m a big believer in universality of story, but specificity of setting. We humans are territorial creatures – we like to know well our little nests and hunting grounds, our comfort zones. So, I think it’s important to write with respect for that – because people act differently when they are in their own territory, or taken from it, or threatened with removal from it, or discover it is not as safe and comfy as they thought it was. To that extent, character and place are inseparable.

But I haven’t felt any pressure ever to heighten or lower the local tone of stories, either in books or in television – I think if it feels real, it works. The only changes that I’ve needed to be make are in terms of accessibility, so that readers or viewers aren’t jolted from the story because they don’t simply understand what a word means.

 
3. There’s mention on your blog of adapting The Broken Ones for the screen, and a possible novel on the way. How are those projects coming? What’s next for you?

the broken ones by stephen m irwinI was fortunate enough to see The Broken Ones receive the Chauvel Award (Screen Queensland), and I was asked by the producers who optioned the work to also write the screenplay adaptation. That was a strange experience – interrogating my own work, ripping it to component parts, and putting it back together in a different media (a screenplay). But it seems to have worked out well, and the producers are now shopping The Broken Ones around to potential directors. I hope it gets made; it would be fun to meet Oscar Mariani in the flesh!

My third novel is progressing at, sadly, a much slower pace than I wish – my television commitments seem to always be grabbing at my heels like cattle dogs. I am hoping (perhaps foolishly!) to finish the draft by the end of the year.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I adore Sonya Hartnett’s writing, and enjoyed her Children of the King (yes, it’s for younger readers, but that is no impediment to either great writing or enjoyable reading). I was captivated by Kári Gíslason’s The Promise of Iceland – and knowing the lovely Kári personally made the journey through the book so much richer. And being a contributor to A Killer Among Demons gave me the perfect excuse to read the other authors’ works – and there were some crackers. I’m a fan of Angela Slatter’s and Alan Baxter’s work, and enjoyed enormously reading their stories and the others, too.

 
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I think my forays into feature and television writing have come at a good time for me. Since The Broken Ones was published, I’ve got a strong sense that publishers are being increasingly discerning about where (and in what kind of writers) they invest their money. Since I have no other appreciable skills beyond writing, I am grateful that I can derive an income from film and television as well as book writing to help pay the mortgage. But the moving picture media are every bit as volatile as publishing; more and more viewers are consuming content at home and on demand, rather than going to a cinema or waiting for a show to screen on a free-to-air broadcaster.

And I’m as guilty as anyone of this: I consume books, television shows, and movies on my iPad Mini, and I’m the first to grow irritated if I can’t get what I want RIGHT NOW! That’s unhealthy, and light-years from the person I used to be, who could order a book from suburban bookseller and patiently wait weeks for the phonecall announcing that it had arrived.

I think in five years’ time, things will have shifted subtly (but scarily) to a place where there is even more choice of things to consume, but with an ever-widening gap between the ‘big’ studio and publishing house projects, and the indie publications and productions. I hope that I’ll be able to do the splits enough to make a satisfying income from commercial works while still indulging in the free flights of fancy that smaller publishers allow and encourage. As long as I’m writing, I’ll be happy.

 
2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2014: John Harwood

john harwood pic by peter whyteJOHN HARWOOD was born in Hobart and educated in Tasmania and at Cambridge University. He went on to become Head of the School of English and Drama at Flinders University in Adelaide before leaving to write full time. His novel The Ghost Writer, first published by Jonathan Cape in 2004, won the International Horror Guild’s First Novel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Horror and Dark Fantasy. The Séance, a dark mystery set in Victorian England, won the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel of 2008. The Asylum (Random House) was published earlier this year.
 

1. What elements of the Gothic have attracted you to write in that mode – and to set your stories, predominantly, in England in the Victorian era?

I first read the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was nine or ten, and as much as anything it was the atmosphere I loved: the fogs, the gaslight, the hansom cabs, the labyrinthine streets of London, the way the stories flirt with the supernatural: until the rational explanation at the end, ‘The Speckled Band’ is classic Gothic horror. At around the same time I discovered the ghost stories of MR James and again I loved the sinister old houses and churches and libraries, the gradual, indirect approach by way of hints and glimpses, leaving as much as possible to the reader’s imagination.

So when I began writing fiction full-time it was only natural that my childhood reading would come back to haunt me. I’d written and discarded a couple of novels with contemporary settings before I stumbled on the idea for The Ghost Writer, and as soon as I started writing ghost stories in that late Victorian idiom I knew – paradoxical as it sounds – that I’d found a voice of my own.

The Victorian era attracts me because it’s very different from our own, but not so remote that the language becomes a barrier. And because it’s a darker, more elemental setting, without any of the technological insulation we take for granted. Once inside that crumbling Gothic mansion, you’re utterly alone with whatever may be lurking there …

 
2. Your writing has been acknowledged in both literary and genre awards. What is your feeling about the tension or rivalry between these two camps?

It strikes me as an artificial and fairly recent distinction – some of the greatest 19th century novels would now be classified as genre fiction – largely driven by the demands of marketing, and perhaps by a degree of prejudice. I’ve met readers who pride themselves on only reading literary fiction, and tried to explain to them how much they’re missing out on, but sometimes the prejudice is too deeply embedded. Whereas all that ultimately matters is the quality of the writing, in the fullest sense of that phrase.

The best books across all the genres – SF, crime, YA, fantasy, literary – have far more in common with each other than they do with formula-driven, boilerplate fiction. And the best work, regardless of how it’s labelled, often defies classification, like Russell Hoban’s masterpiece, Riddley Walker. Or a book like China Miéville’s The City and the City, which tends to be shelved as SF because that’s mostly what he writes. But when you’ve finished it you still don’t know – at least I didn’t – whether you’ve actually crossed the boundaries of realism or not.

 
3. The Ghost Writer had supernatural tales embedded within the text; The Séance took a Radcliffe approach to offering rational explanations for the mysterious events; and you play with lost or stolen identity in an asylum on the delightful Bodmin Moor in The Asylum. Where, and when, to next?

the asylum by john harwoodI’m not sure yet. The Séance grew out of the original version of The Ghost Writer, which included a novella about a sinister mansion festooned with lightning rods, and then The Asylum grew out of material which didn’t make it into the finished Séance. Could be something quite different this time. For me, beginning a novel is like being a dog trying to follow a scent through a pitch-dark forest, falling down holes and bumping into tree-trunks until he picks it up again: you don’t really know what you’re pursuing until you get through that forest.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Most of my reading in recent months has been about the looming reality of catastrophic climate change, and so the Australian work that comes first to mind is Morrie Schwartz’s invaluable review, The Monthly, with its superb coverage of all sides of politics as well as environmental issues. Which is not to minimise the work that Fairfax journalists are doing under extraordinarily difficult conditions. But with a government dominated by Tea Party lookalikes and climate change deniers, and most of the commercial media acting as their cheer squad, The Monthly is a source of light in a very dark landscape.

 
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Changes like the emergence of e-books and the ever-increasing power of Amazon haven’t really affected me as much as the exponential growth of the internet itself. When I began work on The Ghost Writer the internet was still relatively slow and clunky, whereas now it’s ubiquitous. The internet is a very mixed blessing, so far as writing is concerned; it speeds up research enormously, but it’s also a terrible distraction, and disruptive of precisely those long stretches of meditative concentration that writing fiction requires.

Like many people, I’ve just kept adding new technologies to existing ones, so that I now have a Kindle as well as a paper library. I assume that the proportion of e-books sold relative to paper will continue to increase, like the proportion of books that will be available only in e-form. Environmentally speaking, I suppose it would be better if we all bought nothing but e-books from here on, but I’d very sorry to see that happen. When the survivors – if there are any – of the Great Anthopocene Extinction are picking over the ruins in a few hundred years’ time, a few printed books in deep cellars or caves may be all that remain of our vast output of words.

 

2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

* * *

THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: