Kirstyn McDermott has been working in the darker alleyways of speculative fiction for much of her career, with many critically acclaimed and award-winning short stories under her authorial belt. Her two novels, Madigan Mine (Picador, 2010) and Perfections (Xoum, 2012) both won the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel in their respective years, and a collection of short fiction, Caution: Contains Small Parts was published by Twelfth Planet Press in 2013. Both her novels are to be reissued by Twelfth Planet Press in 2014 – Perfections for the first time in print. When not wearing her writing hat, she produces and co-hosts a bimonthly literary discussion podcast, The Writer and the Critic, which generally keeps her out of trouble. After many years based in Melbourne, Kirstyn now lives in Ballarat with her husband and fellow scribbler, Jason Nahrung.
1. Congratulations on “The Home for Broken Dolls” picking up a Ditmar this year! You said at the time that it was a horrible story and seemed surprised that it won the award… how hard a story was it to write?
Thank you very much, I was so pleased with the Ditmar! Emotionally and psychologically, “The Home for Broken Dolls” was the hardest story I’ve ever written due to the nature of the research involved, and the need to stay intimately connected to all of that, to remain open and not inured to it, during the year or more I was working on the piece. Technically, it was difficult as well. The tone of the novella very much reflected the protagonist, Jane, so the writing itself needed to be calm and controlled and, to some extent, distant, almost clinical in its observations and descriptions. It was a departure in style for me from a lot of the work I’d done in the past, a commitment to a type of minimalism that was quite confronting. When you’re writing such sparse, deliberate prose, there really is nowhere to hide, artistically speaking. I actually learned a lot about myself as writer from working on “Dolls”, although, for various reasons, I didn’t actually compose another word of fiction for more than a year afterwards.
2. Twelfth Planet Press recently picked up and published Perfections, which is really exciting. What’s it like to have a book given a second outing?
Exciting is definitely the word – and it’s such a relief to see it published again, especially in print. The amount of people who asked about the availability of a paperback when it was only a digital release was heartbreaking. I’m exceedingly grateful to Alisa from Twelfth Planet Press for picking Perfections up, dusting her off, and sending her out into the world with a swank new party dress! It’s a novel I’m very proud to have written, even if it did steadfastly refuse to be the novel I thought I wanted to write for much of its creation. It’s funny, but when I was proofing the manuscript for re-publication, I started to see some precursor themes and ideas – and even stylistic notes – that would later become core elements in “The Home for Broken Dolls”. I guess my own personal obsessions and concerns are never really far from the surface . . .
3. What are you working on at the moment? Do you have lots of stories waiting impatiently to be told, or do they form an orderly queue?
I’ve started a PhD this year, so my creative work for the near future will be in that arena. I’m writing a suite of short fiction that I think of as post-fairy-tales – the stories of what happens after the fairy tale ends, when the fairy tale girls become women. And because I’m also doing oodles of research on fairy tales, I actually do have a whole bunch of stories percolating in my mind right now, some more ready to be told than others. There’s no queue as such – I only ever really work on one story at a time, so whichever one is speaking the loudest once the current work in progress is finished will get my attention. I’ve spoken in the past of how I see my creative process as akin to walking around a junkyard, finding interesting bits and pieces and putting them in my pocket for later. After a while, sometimes after many years, I’ll stumble across a piece that fits with two or three others I have and – voila! – there’s a story to be written. It’s still the same process now, I suppose, only I’m exploring a much larger junkyard at the moment, my searching is a little more targeted and I’m finding a whole lot more interesting bits and pieces!
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’ve been catching up on story collections over the past year and have been so damned impressed by the wealth of talent we have here in terms of short fiction writers. The Bride Price by Cat Sparks, The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton, The Year of Ancient Ghosts by Kim Wilkins, and Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer are all absolutely sterling books, imaginative and intelligent and exactly the kind of eclectic speculative fiction that I adore. Very recently, I read Dead Americans by Ben Peek, a collection I had been looking forward to for ages and which was well worth the wait – I’m even more keen to get my hands on his upcoming novel, The Godless, now.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be writing in five years from now?
I can’t say that any recent changes in publishing have affected how I work to any significant extent. I realised quite a few years ago that I’m not a highly commercial writer and – barring some miraculous confluence of events – the kind of writing that I do, the kind of writing that I am interested in doing, will never really be highly commercial. So I’m never going to have a writing career that will pay a mortgage but, on the other hand, I’m never going to have to rely on a writing career to pay a mortgage. Swings and roundabouts. I do find the recent developments in crowdfunding and regular patronage models fascinating, though, and I love the idea that this is where the former “midlist” might find a home, with a direct connection to a readership. That would be a model I might be tempted to consider in the future, if I had the right project for it.
As to what I see myself writing in five years from now, I haven’t really thought about it. Barring incident, I’ll be finished my story suite and PhD by then so who knows? There is a quasi-SF novel that’s been loitering about in the junkyard for a while now and I might have found enough pieces to start putting it together by then. Or the Dolls might have finally convinced me to write their novel, or else I might have stumbled across some other compelling idea that I can’t put down. Five years is such a long time. As long as I’m still writing, and developing as a writer, I’ll be happy.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: