JENNY Blackford gave up her day job in 2001, and has been writing ever since, in between spoiling the cat, cooking and gardening. With husband Russell, she lived 30 years in Melbourne before returning to her hometown of Newcastle in 2009. In the same year, she was a judge for the World Fantasy Awards. She has had 20 stories published: eight for adults and 12 for children, and four poems, plus the historical novella The Priestess and the Slave.
Her latest publication is ‘The Dragon in the Tent’, a magical circus story, in The School Magazine, which has also recently accepted a cat poem, ‘Soft silk sack’.
You’ve had some poetry published recently, after a long hiatus, and one ventures the new stuff is quite different to your first piece in Dolly all those years ago: what do you think has inspired you to not only return to poetry, but poetry of a decidedly darker (?) nature?
As to what has inspired me to return to poetry -– the real question is why I ever stopped writing it. Apparently, I just gave up quietly in my final dispiriting years of high school. The poetry writing asserted itself naturally a few years ago and took a while to nose its way out into the world.
And as to the alleged new darkness: not all my recent poems are dark. My poem forthcoming from The School Magazine is a fairly sweet little thing about a cat (though some might think ‘soft silk sack of bones’ has a slightly sinister edge). And my most recent poetry publication (in Star*Line 35.1 is another sweetish cat poem (though it does start with the potentially sinister ‘Gravity is stern as death’, and does ascribe uncanny powers to cats.) Hmmm…
I wish I could find my copy of ‘Ti-trees Rising’, the poem that was printed in Dolly back in the ’70s, but it seems to have disappeared from my filing system. It’s about ti-tree scrub, but I do distinctly remember the words ‘reptilian silver’ and ‘the cold moon in the dark’, so there’s at least a smidge of a sinister edge there as well.
Getting deeper: it’s true that the definitely dark ‘Mirror’ was my first poem for decades, but it’s based on memories from my teens. I was totally convinced that I saw someone else’s eyes looking back at me in the mirror, and I was terrified. Back then, I’m sure family and friends would have been horrified if I’d put all that fear and darkness into a poem. Now that I’m grown up, I’m allowed to.
What is your approach to reinvigorating the age-old story of Medea? Is that what made you pick it?
Modern people don’t tend to take Medea seriously as a Bronze Age priestess of Hekate, as a powerful sorceress, or as a goddess, grand-daughter of Helios, the Sun, but the ancient Greeks certainly did. She’s an amazing character, and the Bronze Age –- the era of the Mycenaean Greeks -– is my absolute favourite. Just imagine a glowing, golden-haired goddess-princess sitting on a throne carved out of rock crystal with golden monkeys inlaid on the back.
I’d loved the story ever since I studied the 5th century BC Euripides play Medea (in Ancient Greek) as part of my degree in Classics. After all the modern retellings that concentrate on how ‘heroic’ Jason was, and what a monster Medea was to kill her brother and her children, I was astonished to see Euripides rip into him so cuttingly, and so appallingly accurately. Jason could never have brought the Golden Fleece back to Greece without Medea’s help -– but a few years later, he wanted to trade her in for a younger, better-connected princess (not foreign witch), and expected Medea to be happy about him providing a better future for their children! Euripides converted me to Medea’s side, and I want to convert everyone else.
When you wrote The Priestess and the Slave, was your inner fantasist crying out to add fantasy elements or was 5BC fantastical enough?
When Eric Reynolds (the editor/publisher of Hadley Rille Books) asked me to write him a strictly historically accurate novella set in ancient Greece, my first two questions were whether I could use Bronze Age Greece (no – it had to be Classical Greece, 5th century BC), and whether I could add fantasy elements (no — it had to be purely historical).
I shrugged and got on with it. Once I started to write, it didn’t matter. Living inside the head of a slave girl in the plague years of Athens, or a Pythia in Delphi, was a strange and intense experience in its own right. And the characters believed totally in their gods, who are almost characters in their own right.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
So much -– but a few that come to mind are Tansy Rayner Roberts‘ Creature Court trilogy, Alison Goodman‘s Eon/Eona duology, Kim Wilkins‘ novella (‘Crown of Rowan: A Tale of Thrysland’) in Jack Dann and Jonathan Strahan’s Legends anthology.
What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Aussiecon 4 seems hardly any time ago! Wasn’t it only yesterday? One very sad change, though, is the deaths of Sara Douglass and Paul Haines, both from cancer. Valete.
THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:
- Tehani Wessely
- Kathryn Linge
- Helen Merrick
- Sean Wright
- David McDonald
- Tansy Rayner Roberts
- Alisa Krasnostein
- Alex Pierce
- Ian Mond