Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Interview - Jo Anderton

Hey Everyone,

I am over the moon to be able to bring you another instalment in our interview series with Australian speculative fiction writers. I had the amazing opportunity to be able to chat with Jo Anderton, an award winning writer whose books have blazed a trail in the speculative fiction world due to their unique and fascinating narratives. Jo was kind enough to take some time of her hectic schedule to chat with us about various things, including her passion for Anime! 

Jo Anderton, welcome to Smash Dragons!

Thanks for having me ☺

First up, tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Happy to! The main thing you need to know about me is I love books. I love writing them, reading them, collecting them…even my day-job is all about books. Of course, my favourite kind of books are speculative fiction. And I like them weird. Mix up your fantasy with some science fiction, sprinkle a little bit of horror in everything, and I’ll bite. Those are the kind of stories I like to tell too. I write novels and short stories and very much enjoy doing both!

Why did you become a writer? What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

I’m a writer because I love telling stories. Even as a kid I used to ramble out stories – much to the irritation of everyone around me I’m sure. When you’re a writer, you’re allowed to ramble on about stories and no one thinks you’re mad. Well, maybe they think that a little bit.

The best thing about being a writer is spending time with the invisible people in your head. Those days when the words just flow, and the imaginary world happening under your finger tips is more real than the actual world, with its boring desks and cups of tea. The worst thing? The days when the opposite happens, and every word is like pulling a tooth.

Every writer has a different creative process and method. Can you shed some light on yours? Are you an architect or a gardener?

I’m a little bit of both. My blueprints are sketchy, to say the least. But they always have a beginning, a few bits in the middle, and an end. Everything else just kind of fills in as I go. I’ve tried planning more thoroughly, but never found that worked for me. If I already know what happens in a story I just don’t enjoy writing it, because finding that out happens is part of the fun!

You stormed onto the scene with your Veiled Worlds trilogy in 2011. What challenges initially did you face in getting published?

Heh, I like the idea of storming ☺ Getting anything published is a challenge. The market is small, and so are publishers’ margins, so convincing someone to take a risk on you and your book can be hard. The best thing you can do is work hard, write lots, improve your craft and believe in your stories. And level up your luck stat too!

What inspired you to write the Veiled Worlds trilogy?

The Veiled Worlds was inspired by a lot of things, but mainly two: I wanted to write a fantasy world that had industrialised. Just because you have magic doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in the dark ages! I wanted to see what happens when you use your magic the way we use technology. And the second – my husband lost his job in nasty circumstances. He is directly responsible for what happens to Tanyana at the beginning of the book. Lucky for him, he didn’t have to fall eight hundred feet and land on glass. She wasn’t so lucky.

Tell me about the magic system in the Veiled Worlds trilogy. I am part way through Debris (I can’t believe I have never read your work before… god I am a fool!) and I am enjoying how industrialised the magic seems. Where did the idea for the pions come from?

Exactly that! Industrialised magic. I knew I wanted to create a world that had developed its magic the way we developed technology. I wanted magic that could be industrialised and mass-produced. I was doing a bit of reading into quantum physics, and it all came together into pions. Semi-sentient subatomic particles that can be called upon to recreate matter. One person can manipulate some, depending on their skill level, but a group working together can do much more. A whole factory working together? That’s how you get cities, and armies, from the sewerage system to the lighting to the potential development of weapons of mass destruction.

However, there’s a downside to all this manipulation, and that’s debris. Debris is the waste product produced from pion manipulation, and if left uncollected it can upset the systems that hold the world together. But debris might just be so much more than inconvenient pollution… And that’s pretty much what the book is about.

Who are your literary influences?

One of the biggest influences on me has to be Sara Douglass. I was addicted to her Battleaxe books in high school. I knew she was just the kind of writer I hoped I could become, one day. Then there’s Tolkien and Eddings for getting me addicted to speculative fiction in the first place. And Robin Hobb, naturally, for writing books I could lose myself in.

I have read before that you are a passionate fan of anime (as am I!). Do you have some favourites? And how has anime influenced your writing?

Oh yes, I absolutely am! I love all things Ghibli. My all time favourite anime is The Slayers mainly because I want to BE Lina Inverse. Seriously, there are some problems only a dragon slave can fix. But there are so many it’s hard to pick favourites! Sailor Moon, Ghost in the Shell, Full Metal Alchemist, Ranma ½, all the Persona/Shin Megami Tensei animes… ok seriously I could just list everything I own so I’m going to stop now.

It has definitely influenced my writing. Edward and Alphonse from Full Metal Alchemist are Kichlan and Lad from the Veiled Worlds without a doubt. The debris collectors were inspired by the space-debris collectors from an anime called Planets. And the books I’m working on now are deeply inspired by Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

Your short story collection, The Bone Chime Song and other stories, received much praise and adulation upon publication. Is there much difference between writing short stories and novels? And does it feel natural writing across different genres (SF, Horror, and Fantasy)?

I like to think of writing short stories vs novels as different kinds of exercise. Short stories are like high intensity interval training, and novels are a marathon. Ultimately, they both work to keep your writing body and brain healthy. They complement each other too. Short stories teach you about economy, in novels you can go deep into world building and magic systems. I love writing both. The story will always tell me which form it belongs to – whether it needs to be a short story, or a novel. If I could draw I’d love to write graphic novels too. But I can’t ☺

I always write across genres, so it definitely feels natural. I can’t help it. I’ll be writing something I’m sure is firmly fantasy, only to realise actually everyone arrived on spaceships. I don’t see why a story can’t be both!

You have won both an Aurealis Award and a Ditmar Award. When other writers come over for tea and biscuits do you strategically place them in view just to rub it in?

Heh. Well I never actually got my Ditmar trophy so I can’t exactly show that off! My Aurealis Award sits in my study, and if I ever need encouragement I just give it a little pat. As a kid I used to visit Galaxy bookshop in Sydney and buy every book with an Aurealis Award sticker on it. I always wanted one of those. It means a lot to me.

If you were able to host a dinner party with three other writers (dead or alive), who would they be, and why?

I’d probably just invite all my writing buddies over to drink beer. I’m not a dinner party person ☺

Worst writing habit?

Self doubt.

You have been selected as one of the first people to colonise Mars. Due to payload and weight restrictions you can only take three books on the one way journey. What titles do you take, and why?

Lord of the Rings (one of those three books in one so I can take all three!) for all the obvious reasons. The first volume of the manga Natsume’s Book of Friends because Nyanko sensei! Black Juice by Margo Lanagan, because the short stories in that book are wonderful to reread. I feel like I could read them for the rest of my life on Mars, and still learn things about writing.

What are you working on right now?

Probably too many things at once. Hopefully some of them will see the light of day.

The Australian speculative fiction scene seems to be going from strength to strength. What is your take on it, and are there any up and coming writers we should look out for?

I couldn’t agree more! I think we have a wonderful community, we’re very supportive of each other. I’ve just been reading some work from Michelle Goldsmith. She’s absolutely someone to look out for! I’ve also enjoyed the work from Aidan Walsh that I’ve read. Keep an eye on him too.

Can we expect to see you at any conventions or events in 2015?

Not sure to be honest. Usually I say ‘oh no I can’t go this year’ and end up turning up at the last minute. Will see how the year and my life / writing / day job balance goes. 

Craziest thing a fan has ever said to you?

I have fans? That’s crazy enough!

Standard cliché question… best tip for aspiring writers?

Just keep writing. Write words, polish them, send them out. Rinse and repeat. Take encouragement where you find it – whether it’s a personalised rejection letter or a pro sale. Don’t let the self doubt monster slow you down. And just keep writing.

And finally, what can we expect from Jo Anderton in the future?

Hopefully more stories! The past couple of years have been a bit shit, but I feel confident I’ve turned a corner and I hope this will mean getting back to my usual writing output. More words ahoy!

Jo Anderton, thank you taking the time to talk to Smash Dragons.

Thanks for having me!

Jo Anderson's books can found at all good bookstores and online retailers. We here at Smash Dragons are adoring her first release Debris, and we can't wait to dive into more! So check them out people!  Jo can also be found online via her website and various social media outlets. So google her! She is an incredibly nice and warm person, and she LOVES anime. So drop her a line. :)

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