Lisa L. Hannett has had over 60 short stories appear in venues including Clarkesworld, Fantasy, Weird Tales, Apex, the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror, and Imaginarium: Best Canadian Speculative Writing. She has won four Aurealis Awards, including Best Collection for her first book, Bluegrass Symphony, which was also nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Her first novel, Lament for the Afterlife, was published in 2015. You can find her online at http://lisahannett.com and on Twitter @LisaLHannett
You recently won the Ditmar Award for Best Novel for Lament for the Afterlife – congratulations! What’s the response been like to this novel, and what was it like to write?
Thanks! I was (and continue to be) so chuffed that Lament won a Ditmar for Best Novel; it was a wonderful and surreal experience hosting the awards ceremony at Natcon this year, having no idea who the winners would be, and then announcing my own name in that category! More importantly, though, it felt really special to receive this nod from my peers, especially since Lament is my first novel.
Writing this book was a fascinating challenge, to be honest. At one of the launches, I mentioned that Lament was a complicated response to my perhaps naïve question: “Why war?” and that’s still how I think of it. I am perpetually interested in war stories — particularly wars that seem futile, or that drag on endlessly, or that seem hopeless — and I’m also constantly attracted to narratives exploring ideas of masculinity and/or what it means to “be a man”, which is no doubt also one of the reasons I’m so hooked on researching and writing about the Viking Age. I’m always wondering what happens to the regular folks when they’re confronted with huge social upheavals, and I’m also interested in the power of language to effect change (for better or worse). So, bearing all this in mind, working on Lament meant I was immersed in a bunch of topics that I find so absorbing, which made writing it — well, I won’t say fun because it was sometimes really hard, especially when dealing with such harrowing material. (The footage I watched of WWI soldiers suffering from shellshock while researching this story will be burned into my memory forever.) But it was engrossing, and putting this story together certainly made me grow as a writer. The book’s unconventional structure meant that I could write Peytr’s life narrative out of sequence, which I’d never attempted before, and that also opened up a lot of possibilities in terms of characterisation, plot, and world building. It also meant I avoided the mid-novel slump, since I wrote the middle of the novel after writing everything but the final chapter. It’s a bleak story, so people who are after a cheerful escape won’t necessarily find it’s up their alley, but I couldn’t in good conscience write this story in any other way.
One of the best responses I got was from my editor at ChiZine, who said she was bawling her eyes out at the end, which was the perfect reaction in my opinion. Another brilliant surprise I got was listening to the Writer & The Critic’s “Fab 50” episode and hearing Kirstyn McDermott (whose writing I admire immensely) pick it as her #1! That was pretty exciting. Of course, it was so great seeing Lament get positive reviews on Kirkus, i09, Publishers Weekly, SF Signal and to see it longlisted for the Sunburst Award in Canada. But probably the very best responses have been from soldiers who’ve read the book, given it five stars, then said I’d nailed the guys’ sweary voices, the overall tone, the confusion and dread and boredom of being on the frontlines, and so on. Man, that was as much an honour as it was a relief.
You and Angela Slatter have collaborated on a number of collections in Australia, such as The Female Factory, and these works are quite different for you both. How do you go about writing those stories?
In many ways, Angela and I have such different interests in reading and writing — she’s an enormous crime buff, for instance, and can write a cracking mystery tale, whereas I love reading and watching crime stories but don’t know if I’d ever write one; she’s got such a strong commercial voice, whereas I love veering off into experimental narrative structures; she’s often drawn to writing strong female characters, which I also love doing, but I find myself often depicting vulnerable men — but we have so very many interests in common (mythology, history, fairy tales, etc etc etc) there’s always a place where our styles and ideas can overlap.
When it came to writing The Female Factory, Alisa had given us the challenge of creating Science Fiction pieces (which neither of us do overly much) so it was fantastic having two minds on the job! We brainstormed as much for that collection, I’d say, as we did when writing Midnight and Moonshine, even though that book was about three times longer. No matter what we’re working on together — whether it’s stories about raven-women and Norse gods or about kids cobbling a mother together out of stolen body parts — we always discuss the main ideas, character arcs and plot points together before starting a project. Then, usually, one of us writes the opening, or a key scene, or something crucial to kick things off. Once there are words on the page, we pass the document back and forth between us — adding bits, deleting bits, editing each other’s paragraphs, building on them — until we’ve got the whole thing drafted. This process sometimes takes up to ten drafts, which is many more than we do when working on stories individually. Mostly this is because we’re perfectionists, but also because we’re communicating so clearly and extensively throughout the drafting process; we add loads of comment bubbles explaining the changes we’ve made, and why, so that we’re both on the same page and aiming for the same narrative goals. Also, by the time we’ve gone through this many drafts, the “voice” of the piece no longer seems to be either just Angela’s or just mine. Instead, it’s a third voice that you won’t find in our individual projects — and I think that’s an important feature of our collaborations. Most of all, our partnership works because we’re so open to discussion, we’re not precious about being edited, and because we trust each other implicitly.
You often seem to have a lot of projects on the go at the same time. What’s the most exciting one you’re working on at the moment?
I’ll narrow it down to two because I’m equally excited about them! I’m a whisker away from finishing the edits on my next collection, The Homesteaders, which is a sort of follow-up book to Bluegrass Symphony. Backwoods witches, immortal soothsayers, bear-shaped child-stealers, raven-shaped miners, and lots of ghosts appear in these short stories, and they’re all tinged with a down-home country twang. I’m also doing rewrites on my next novel, Ketill’s Daughter, which is the first in a two-book series called The Invisible Woman. Set in Viking Age Norway, this first book tells the early story of Unn the Deep-Minded — wife of one king, mother to a second, and eventually a famous Viking herself — as she struggles to find her own fame and fate in this warrior world, all while her shape-shifting time-travelling fylgja (a kind of spirit guide) keeps butting in to mess things up for her… The second book in the series (called Deep-Minded) will follow Unn out of Norway into medieval Ireland, Scotland, and finally Iceland.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen / The Dark Days Club is such a rollicking read! I enjoyed it so much, I’m dying to read the next book in the series. James Bradley’s Clade was an astounding work of speculative fiction, and though I read it last year, I still think about it frequently. Another Book One I devoured last year was Kim Wilkins’ Daughters of the Storm; I’m hanging out for Sisters of the Fire! And of course, Angela Slatter’s Vigil: it’s a really fun urban fantasy set in Brisbane, and I gulped it down almost whole.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Well, they’d have to be outgoing enough to kick off the conversation because, usually, I’m one of those people on planes who’s like, I don’t care how close together our seats are: please don’t talk to me I just want to read my book and watch a crappy movie and hopefully fall asleep. BUT, assuming I was in a chatty mood … and excluding any writers who are currently my friends (because how to choose only one?!) … I’m going to go with the first name that pops into my mind, and that’s David Malouf. I’ve recently re-read Ransom, which is an incredible reimagining of the story of King Priam, Hector, and Achilles, and good lord it’s a brilliant book — as brilliant as An Imaginary Life, really — and I’d love to have a long talk with him about it, antiquity, poetry, myths, short stories, the libretti he’s written, the great breadth of his knowledge about language, life, the universe, and everything — and I’d also like to ask him where he’s stashed the painting that’s ageing on his behalf (because, seriously, how is it possible that he’s 82? He looks at least twenty years younger. Witchcraft, I say! Or a supernatural portrait.)
Crossposted to the Snapshot blog, along with all the other interviews.
This book was sent to me by the author.
Lament for the Afterlife is not an easy book to read. Here are some times when you should not try to read it:
- When you want a straightforward, linear narrative.
- When you want likeable characters.
- When you don’t feel like reading about war and/or death.
- When you want to read about long-term, meaningful and loving relationships.
- When you don’t want to work at reading.
- When you just want clarity.
If you don’t fall into these categories, then you may want to approach Lament. Here are some things you need to be ready for:
- A mosaic novel. Chapters do not follow one another linearly: they are more like snapshots, or vignettes, of different points in time for different characters. Overall the story follows the experiences of Peytr, a young man conscripted for war, and almost half the story I would guess is focussed specifically on him over quite a stretch of time. But other chapters are connected to Peyt only tangentially, and some not at all.
- Unhappiness. Pretty much every character is unhappy. There’s a variety of reasons, and a variety of expressions, and a variety of consequences. Not a whole lot of resolution, though.
- Death. There’s a lot. The first half or so is firmly set within the context of war – and war that civilians actually experience; this is Sarajevo or Kabul for its inhabitants, not for the foreign soldiers. And then the second half is focussed on the aftermath of war, which isn’t much more pleasant.
- Uncertainty. Every single character experiences uncertainty, to a greater or lesser extent (will my son come home? Will I die today? Will I be safe at work?), and this is shared with the reader. The reader also gets their own share of uncertainty because Hannett leaves an enormous amount out. “Our side” are fighting the greys, and have been for ages, but… why? And who even are they? Our side also have things called wordwinds, clouds of words and fragments of thought that circle individuals’ heads… somehow? and they can be physically manipulated sometimes? Those are the big questions; there’s a lot of other tantalising questions that just don’t get addressed. I don’t require spoon-feeding from my books but I did sometimes feel a bit frustrated by the opacity of the world – partly because it made me feel like I’d missed something at some point.
- Lovely language. Hannett constructs simply beautiful sentences. Her prose is elegant and evocative and creates vibrant images – some of which are unpleasant, but they’re nonetheless powerful.
Lament for the Afterlife is set in a secondary world, but you really only know this thanks to the wordwinds; it could as easily be a post-apocalyptic world, actually, where these ‘winds have somehow developed. It’s one of those stories that feels science fictional, but aside from its setting I’m not sure I can pinpoint quite how, or why. Not that it matters – this is not a novel that is bound by generic conventions, or even playing with them. It just is. It’s not an easy novel to read; it’s not a particularly nice novel to read. It’s challenging and disturbing and sad. It’s very good.
It took me a while to read this one. I read “Vox” and “Baggage” and then had to have a metaphorical lie down for a week, to catch my breath, then read the last two stories.
Seriously. These two ladies. THEY DO THINGS TO MY BRAIN.
The no-spoilers version is: this collection is about being a woman, and children, and social expectations, and identity.
Now go read it. No, seriously.
“Vox” is incredibly chilling, probably the most of the four stories, and on two laters. Kate’s obsession with the voices of inanimate objects is kooky but not that strange; her despair at not being able to have children is a familiar one. The further despair at having to choose just one child cuts deep… but the fact of what happens to the children she doesn’t choose? I had to reread the sections about the electronics’ voices a couple of time to check whether HannSlatt really had gone there. And yes, they really really had. Plus, Kate’s attitude towards her existing child… says some hard things about maternity. Confronting, in fact.
“Baggage” is a nasty little piece of baggage, with a central character lacking pretty much any redeeming personality features and a quite unpleasant world for her to feature in. Her particular ‘gift’ is never clearly explained, which I liked, given how supremely weird it is. There are definite overtones of The Handmaid’s Tale, although obviously it’s very different, and also perhaps Children of Men? Once again with maternity, although I imagine Kate would be horrified by Robyn’s attitude towards her own fertility, and the cubs she produces.
I loved “All the Other Revivals.” Well, I… hmm. Maybe I didn’t love all of them, but it’s not to say I didn’t love the others…. Oh anyway, it was interesting to come across a male voice, after the first two strong female voices. Not that Baron would see himself as a particularly strong <i>male</i> voice, I suspect. Once again the central conceit – the car in the billabong – isn’t explained at all; it just does what it does. And Baron is who he is, whoever that is – and will be. Once again the nature of motherhood is really strong here, although in a very different way from the first two stories; this time it’s a matter of absence, and one that’s never explained. I guess the billabong can be seen as a sort of mother, too, now that I think about it.
Finally, the titular “Female Factory” – named for a real place, I discover, in Tasmania OH MY BRAIN again. Again with the absence of motherhood (so it was a wise thing to do, to read the first two together and then the second two) – this time the story is from the perspective of young children – orphans no less – influenced by daring medical science in the early nineteenth century and their proximity to two cadaver-obsessed adults. Somehow this story, while creepy, felt perhaps the most comfortable of the lot; perhaps because its ideas are a bit familiar? Which isn’t to say it’s not an excellent story, which it is.
Overall this is an excellent #11 for the Twelve Planets, and once again Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter have well broken me. You can get it from Twelfth Planet Press.
Soooo this anthology came out in 2013 aaaand I’ve only just got around to reading it. Um. Oops. I have no excuse for this. It just didn’t happen.
The subtitle is “An Anthology of Discoveries” and what’s really interesting is that this is such a broad anthology but yes, the theme of discovery – of place, or self, or strangers – is the unifying factor. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s subtle; sometimes there are world-shattering consequences and sometimes not so much.
The other superbly interesting thing about this anthology is that it’s all women. From memory of Tehani discussing the process, pretty much accidentally so. And it’s not all just dresses and kissing! (Sorry; /sarcasm.) It’s basically a who’s who of established and emerging Australian writers, too, which is a total delight.
Some of these stories really, really worked for me. Michelle Marquardt’s “Always Greener” is a lovely SF story that ended up being simultaneously darker and more hopeful thanI expected (yes that’s a contradiction, too bad). And then to have it contrasted with the fantasy of Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter’s “By Blood and Incantation” – which is not my favourite HannSlatt but is still quite good – neatly skewered expectations that it was going to be an SF anthology, pointing out that ‘discovery’ is a mighty broad concept. And then “Indigo Gold” by Deborah Biancotti! Detective Palmer!!! and !!! The Cat Sparks story is awesome (it feels like ages since I read a Cat Sparks story), Penelope Love is quietly sinister in “Original,” Faith Mudge does fairy tale things beautifully in “Winter’s Heart.” And the final story, “Morning Star” by DK Mok, is a magnificent SF bookend to match Marquardt but on a much grander, more extravagant scale.
This is a really fun anthology and I’m sorry it took me more than a year to read it. You can get it right here.
This book. Oh, this book.
It took me a few months to read this collection, this mosaic novel. This is no reflection on the quality of the book. Well, actually it is, but not the way you might think. See, I’d read a story, and then I’d be forced to close the book, sigh, and stare into space in order to wallow in the beauty of the prose. And then I’d have to go read something else, because (like with me and Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love series) sometimes too much beauty is painful and you need a break.
First off, look at that cover. Is she not glorious? are the colours not soothing and enticing? Created by the awesome Kathleen Jennings (who chronicles the saga of its production on her blog), I would absolutely have this on my wall. LOVE.
Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett created the contents. Writers who collaborate are even more of a mystery to me than authors who work alone, and to produce this sort of magic has to be just that – occult somehow. And they haven’t been content to just a straightforward story. Instead, as suggested above, this could be seen as a collection or a mosaic novel. A collection because it is made up of short stories that can basically stand by themselves. You could take one and put it in an anthology and it would still work ok. However – and here’s a metaphor I’m very pleased with – that’s like taking a candle out of a chandelier. Yes, it still sheds light. But when you put it with its fellow candles and they’re ringed with crystal, the whole effect is so much more just a few candles in one place. These thirteen stories, read together and in sequence (and wrapped in that art), are far more than the sum of their parts. Together, they create a history of an entire people: their origins, their interactions with humanity, their crises and triumphs, and the ongoing impact of a few families and their heirlooms. Thus, a mosaic novel – there is continuity, but it’s thematic and genetic; there’s only one character appears in or influences lots of the stories. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Edward Rutherford (London, Sarum) and James A Michener (The Source) following multiple generations in one place in order to fictively illustrate local history. Slatter and Hannett do just that… with magic. And Norse gods. Same amount of revenge though.
The premise, as set out in “Seeds,” is of Odin’s raven Munin (memory, here called Mymnir) surviving Ragnarok and setting out for Vinland (thought to be somewhere on the north-eastern corner of North America) with a few followers. Once she gets there, she creates an enclave and peoples it with servants, and sets out to rule it I guess like she learned from the Aesir she’s observed for however many centuries. Of course this does not go entirely well either for her or for her people. There’s love and betrayal, selflessness and vindictiveness; people get beaten up, rescued, married off, wooed… and some people even manage to make their own destinies. My estimate is that the stories take place over roughly a millennium, but that’s based entirely on the fact that that’s about how long ago it’s posited that Vikings did historically head off for Vinland and settle for a short span. The early stories take place in a sort of timeless, medieval-ish zone; from memory there are no dates in the first seven stories, and it feels like that sort of myth/fantasy where time itself is important but recording it is less so. Then, with “Midnight,” suddenly the external world exists and thrusts itself onto this dreamy place. From then on, time is relentless, and within 5 or 6 stories it’s the modern world. This development works mostly because although the stories do stand alone, there is continuity within families. Sometimes the names give them away, sometimes it’s an heirloom appearing, occasionally a reference to a past event. This often means that rather than having to struggle for a new emotional connection every time, the reader can build on the investment already made in the character’s family, from an earlier story. It’s the same reason Rutherford and Michener’s works can be successful.
And on top of all of this, the sheer beauty of the prose. I do not have the words to explain how delightful the words in this book are. It just all works.
Did I mention it’s an Australian production? Produced by Ticonderoga, in Perth.
You can get Midnight and Moonshine over at Fishpond. (Although it does ship from a US supplier.)