Hi Everyone. One of today’s WiHM interviewees is Kirstyn McDermott. She’s an incredibly talented writer from Australia. When I decided to do WiHM interviews she was one of the first potential candidates who sprung to mind. Kirstyn’s short story Mary, Mary is going to be reprinted in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2016, edited by Paula Guran. How cool is that? Did I say she was a fantastic writer already?
Without further ado…
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
KM: Gosh, that’s a wide open question to start with! Let’s see . . . I’m a short story writer and novelist, mostly working in the genres of horror, dark fantasy and contemporary gothic, and for some masochistic reason I’m currently pursuing a creative doctorate as well. I also record a monthly literary discussion podcast, The Writer and the Critic, with my dear friend, Ian Mond. Which I’ve just realised will be hitting its 50th episode in March! I grew up in Newcastle (NSW), moved to Melbourne in my early twenties where I lived for almost twenty years, and now I’m based in Ballarat, a regional town northwest of Melbourne – quite the change of pace. My partner is also a horror/dark fantasy writer which does make things rather interesting at times, but it’s invaluable having a beta-reader, editor and proof-reader so close at hand.
Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where something made you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?
KM: I’ve been asked some version of this question countless times during my life and I still don’t have a definitive answer to it. Part of the attraction is aesthetic, part of it is philosophical. There’s the fascination with darkness and taboo subjects, with things that we don’t really want to look at too closely or talk about in polite company. When someone tells you not to look, really, how can you not? Even if it scares the proverbials off you. For the most part, though, I don’t write about things that scare me precisely; I write about things that intrigue, disturb, and make me think about the world in a different way. I can’t say there’s ever been a defining moment of wanting to write a horror story exactly – those are just the stories that seem to rise up and grab me. It’s how my writer brain works, I guess. For the most part, I’m just not predisposed to happy endings.
Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies?
KM: It’s hard to pinpoint an absolute favourite but “Father Father” by Paul Haines is unbelievably vile; it’s the kind of story that makes you want to take a shower after reading it. It’s just a common, everyday horror but so intimately written in the first person that the reader is made almost complicit in the narrator’s pathology. It packs a tremendous punch for such a short piece and it’s not one I’ll ever forget.
Q. What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?
KM: I’ve written quite a few short stories over the years as well as two novels, Madigan Mine (2010) and Perfections (2012) both of which have been recently re-released by Twelfth Planet Press. I also have a short story collection with them, Caution: Contains Small Parts, which includes what is probably a personal favourite – a novella called “The Home for Broken Dolls”. But I also really, really love my novel Perfections, an affection that has been a long time coming, let me say. I had such a fractious relationship to that novel during the writing of it, and for some time after. It was only during the proof-reading of the latest version for Twelfth Planet Press that I realised it actually was a damn good book. If there is anything I’d recommend for someone who hasn’t come across my work before, it would be that.
Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling? E.g Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook
KM: I adore short fiction, both as a reader and a writer, and novelette/novella lengths feel like the perfect medium for me right now. I can tell a good story, with enough space for texture and depth and “mess” as Karen Joy Fowler would put it, and without the need to extend it to novel length if the core narrative won’t readily bear it. It’s also a perfect, one-sitting reading length, which I just love. Though, having read a couple of mosaic books recently – in particular Lament for the Afterlife by Lisa L. Hannet – I’ve become fascinated by the potential of that literary form. It might even have solved the problem of how to tell this one story that I’ve been thinking about for a few years now. Maybe a post-PhD project . . .
Q. What are you working on at the minute?
KM: Right now, the PhD is occupying most of my writing time and energy for the immediate future. My research centres around contemporary re-visioned fairy tales, focusing on the relationships between female characters, and I’m writing a suite of reworked fairy-tale novelettes of my own to serve as the core of the project. It’s been fantastic to have the opportunity to immerse myself in fairy tales – a genre I’ve only come at tangentially, and with a healthy dose of side-eye, until recent years – and I’m enjoying the challenge of working with them.
Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?
KM: I can’t possibly narrow that down to just one! My list of favourites would include Caitlin R. Kiernan, Kathe Koja, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, Nicola Griffith, Helen Marshall and Catherynne M. Valente. And, closer to home, Kaaron Warren, Margot Lanagan, Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter. I could go on forever, honestly.
Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?
KM: Between the PhD research and the podcast books, I don’t get to read much else these days! My TBR pile – AKA the Shelf of Shame – has way too much on it even though I’ve slowed down my rate of acquisition dramatically in the past few years. I’ve had the last two Stephen King books waiting to be read since October, which would have been unheard of once upon a time, as well as a volume of previously unpublished stories by Shirley Jackson, and a whole bunch of an anthologies that I just haven’t had time to get to. I think once I finish my PhD I need to have a year of doing nothing but catch-up reading. Which sounds quite blissful, actually.
Q. What challenges have you encountered that are unique to being a woman in the horror genre, or can you describe some of the challenges have you faced that are complicated by your gender?
KM: I have some bland personal anecdotes – the occasional male reader who has expressed surprise that I write horror so well; people who have argued that women literally don’t have the balls to write the really dark stuff – but nothing particular egregious. It’s more the culture in which you swim. The lists of recommended authors/books which include a handful of women if you’re lucky. The great swathes of wordage that are written about male authors as opposed to female authors. The wealth of sexist tropes that feel woven into the very fabric of the genre and are so difficult to unpick. The influential editor who, when interviewed, gives his “who to be stranded on desert island with” list that includes three male writing buddies and a female author as an afterthought because, after all, the boys are bound to get sick of shooting crap after a while and will need to think about repopulating the earth. (I’m not even joking.) It’s exhausting and dispiriting, this suspicion that you’re placed a dozen yards behind the starting line simply due to your gender. So there’s that.
Q. Why is Women in Horror month important?
KM: It’s always important to highlight female writers/artists, especially those working in genres which are (still) perceived to be masculine. Just as its important to highlight writers/artists of colour, and queer writers/artists, and writers/artists from non-Western backgrounds, and others working from outside the dominant cultural perspective. Diverse perspectives, diverse approaches, diverse voices makes the genre better. On one hand, having a special month can feel tokenistic – but this just speaks to the need for it, sadly. I look forward to the day when it will genuinely seem ridiculous, because female writers/artists actually are as respected, promoted, cited, read, reviewed, awarded and lauded as much as their male counterparts.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
KM: Read. Read widely and thoughtfully. Read inside the genre you want to work in, and read outside of it as well. Think about the reasons why what you read works – or doesn’t work – and how you can adapt – or avoid – such things in your own writing. Don’t just look at it from a basic prose level either; think about structure, about how characters are built, how themes and motifs are worked into a piece of writing, how plot is revealed, how pacing is handled. Careful, critical reading is something that every writer – aspiring, emerging, or established – should incorporate as part of their practice. And hey, it’s the kind of homework that’s fun, right? Every writer worth their salt has started writing because they loved reading. Shelves of shame aside, it’s important not to lose sight of that.
Kirstyn McDermott Links
Twitter: @fearofemeralds (https://twitter.com/fearofemeralds)
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Kirstyn-McDermott/e/B00JVMU9UY
Caution: Contains Small Parts