I am delighted to be able to bring you yet another instalment in our ongoing interview series here at Smash Dragons. I had the amazing privilege this week to chat with one of Australia's most talented kleptomani.. err.. writers.. in Trent Jamieson. Trent kindly took time out of his busy schedule to chat (and measure my throne of skulls to see if it would fit in his loungeroom) with me here in the lair.
Trent Jamieson, welcome to Smash Dragons!
Thank you. I like the furniture, particularly the throne made out of skulls, and that obsidian hatstand.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Trent Jamieson?
I'm a bookseller at Avid Reader in West End (and I have worked as a bookseller for about twenty years), I am in charge of the returns in the store - that is the books that we don't sell within a certain period and can send back to suppliers - so I am writer of books who is well aware of the limited window that books have to find readers. I have also taught creative writing at Clarion South and QUT, something I always find very satisfying. I was born in Gunnedah in North West NSW, but I live in Brisbane, and Brisbane is where I will probably live until the day I die - I adore this city.
Why did you start writing? Is it something you always wanted to pursue?
I started writing as soon as I could put words together. And it was always spec fic. Firstly Doctor Who fan fiction (this was in the seventies, so it would have been Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker) and then my year three primary school teacher, Mr Hill, told me I could actually write my OWN stories. I haven't stopped.
Also, I was kid that lived in the school library, and loved our family's bi-weekly town library visits. I read everything I could get my hands on.
Everything from the Muddle-Headed Wombat to the Hobbit and the Wizard of Earthsea, and Asimov's Foundation series, and Star Wars put a fire in my pre-teen belly.
You have recently released a new book entitled Day Boy. Tell me, where did the inspiration for this book come from? What challenges did you face whilst writing it?
The inspiration came from a very strong initial image of two boys in a crypt flicking cigarettes at the sleeping body of their Master.
I knew he was a Vampire, but the boys were so cocky flicking their ciggies, that I wanted to explore what they were like.
Most of my challenges are self-doubt. Then, obviously, like everyone else, finding the space and time in my life to write another world, while this one always pushes in. Pretty common writerly impediments, I reckon.
Self doubt seems to be a common emotion that is experienced by writers. How did you manage to stay on top of it?
By trying to avoid dwelling on it. Trying to make the process as much a game as possible. And by forcing yourself to just sit down and write. You can write yourself out of most doubt - as long as it's coming from the writing rather than something outside the writing.
Day Boy seems to turn the vampire trope on its head by focusing instead on the guardians (day boys) of the vampires when they are at their weakest. What was it about this idea that attracted you in the first place?
Vampires get written about all the time but their servants not so often. Interesting stories come at the juncture of power and powerlessness. The Vampires are pure power, the boys are pure bluster. My Day Boy's rule through piss and wind and ruthlessness, but also by keeping to the courtesies of the town in which they live.
I could see so many stories coming out of the idea. One of the challenges was reining them all in.
Why do you think people find the vampire myth so alluring and fascinating?
Vampires like zombies are open to so many interpretations. They are the ultimate monster. They are us, and they are not. They are power and weakness. My vampires are scary, monstrous and weirdly honorable - but it is a twisted honour.
Who was your favourite character to write in Day Boy? Why?
Mark. His voice pulled me through the story. He tries so hard, and he is so oblivious. He's the kind of character that with the best of intentions can destroy a town. He was the gift that my subconscious mind threw me, and I went with it. And his central choice: man or monster? That's up to the reader to decide what he becomes.
Day Boy is not your first book. You have also published five others (Death Works and Nightbound Land novels). Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Death Works is a series about Australia's Regional Incarnation of Death and the organisation that the world's Deaths are a party to. It's a comedy, a romance, and a Lovecraftian romp. I have two more stories to write (well, one is mostly written, and the other is a bit of monster) and that one will be put to bed.
The Nightbound Land is a secondary world Steampunk Series about a monster-filled darkness consuming a world. It's a bit bleak, but filled with rage and defiance and living airships, and, hopefully, adventure. It's about as close as I am ever going to get at having a stab at Tolkienesque Fantasy.
I’m curious, how do you feel you have grown as a writer from your first novel up until now?
I think I've gotten a better control of narrative than I had before. I am also more confident in myself and my editors. I trust that relationship much more. Give me a good editor and I will rise to the challenge (I hope). I've learnt that I need to be pushed and I delight in that.
What is your best writing skill? Worst?
I'm not sure that I have a best or worst. What can be a strength in one novel may be a weakness in another. I am often so filled with self-doubt that every thing seems to be my worst. Also, I am terrible with commas.
You mentioned teaching at Clarion South and QUT. I'm curious, what did you learn about your own craft whilst you were teaching?
I think initially it can make you feel self-conscious. You're teaching it so you have to be producing it at a high quality, and I think going into a story demanding that it must be good kills it at the vine. But then you learn to let go of that. Writing needs to be as much a source of comfort to the writer as a challenge.
Also, every writer approaches their writing differently. All of my students have taught me things not just in what they get wrong, but what they do right. Enthusiasm is infectious.
Hypothetical question. If there is an afterlife, and you were only allowed to take one book with you when dying, what would you pick? Why?
Little Big by John Crowley. Because it is full of multitudes. And it's the sort of book that might just let you cheat death a little.
You have dabbled in a variety of subgenres as a writer (urban fantasy, steampunk, fantasy). Do you have a favourite?
No, I love them all. I love the way you can squeeze them and push them up against each other. Most of my books have more than one thing going on, which is a strength and weakness, I guess.
If you could spend the day with one other author to pick their brain who would it be and why?
Ursula K. Le Guin. She is still the best of us. I don't even know if I would want to talk writing, because, honestly, most advice falls away when you're at the keyboard. But, of the fantasists that define my approach: Tolkien, Mirrlees, Lewis, Peake, Leiber and Le Guin, she's the last one alive and, perhaps the most lyrical and assured. I'd just like to share a tea or a coffee with her and let her talk. She is a treasure.
Complete the following statements:
The best thing about being a vampire would be…
Defined sleeping time.
If I had to hunt vampires for a living my weapon of choice would be…
Thermonuclear weapons, then a stake, though I wouldn't last a minute in the presence of a vampire.
The best thing about working in a bookshop is…
Talking about books, and books in general. But the staff and customers are utterly wonderful too (particularly at Avid Reader).
I'm curious, what has been the most ridiculous book order you've ever had to place at Avid Reader?
I can't think of something off the top of my head. But I know the most ridiculous thing I have ever wrapped for someone. A customer came in and bought a book then asked me to wrap this weird chopping board and knife set. It was a nightmare of angles. I felt like I was wrapping something out an HP Lovecraft story.
What is your take on the state of speculative fiction here in Australia in comparison to the rest of the world? Are there any local writers who may have slipped under the radar that we should check out?
We have a vibrant and wonderful writing community, it is fluid and mixes wonderfully with the mainstream lit community - well, the writers do at any rate. I actually know so many wonderful Australian writers on the up that I am scared of missing any of them - we are a vengeful people.
I have read that you were working on a sword and sorcery novel. Is that still in the pipeline?
Shh! Yes it is: it is in the queue. I started it ages ago wrote a draft and then so many wonderful S&S writers appeared that I got a bit gun shy - particularly when Richard Morgan started writing. My projects always take a while to build momentum, but this one is definitely sitting there, and its big and ridiculous and bloody - very, very bloody. And it has one of my favourite female characters, so for that alone, I do need to get along and finish it.
At your recent book launch your friend Gary Kemble sent you a haunted doll from Scotland. I’m curious, at his next book launch what will you send in return?
I don't want to spoil the surprise; but it will be damned. Also, Gary's new book is excellent! Whatever evil haunted thing I could muster would do nothing to destroy the potential juggernaut that is that book - I would be so surprised if his novel Skin Deep didn't become some sort of awesome mini-series.
What’s next now that Day Boy has been released?
A very personal fantasy story that features me and my wife Diana as characters. I'm still working out what voice works best, but it's starting to take shape.
Standard clichéd question… best writing tip?
Honestly, be patient, work hard, and see writing as just part of your life. Friends and family are why we are here, as much as if not more than the impulse to put words on the page.
Finally, can we expect to see you at any events or conventions in the near future?
Yes, but I am not allowed to say what they are - how mysterious!
Trent Jamieson, thank you for chatting with Smash Dragons!
Thank you for the wonderful questions, can I take this skull throne home?
Err... I kinda need it to sit on! Hey! Come back here with the throne!
You can find Day Boy at all good book retailers around Australia, and online at places like Booktopia and Amazon. And if you happen to find Trent in your travels... get my damn throne back!!! (or you could just check out his wonderful website for more details on Day Boy and his other published work)
Thanks to Paul Brandon too for the creepy photo of Trent with his haunted doll... just looking at it gives me chills (Trent, not the doll).
Until next time, be nice to each other and keep on reading!