Talking Writing and Vigil with Angela Slatter

If you’ve been following me for any length of time longer than a week, you don’t need me to tell you who Angela Slatter is and why she’s awesome. She’s a friend, write-club buddy, and force of nature.

For everyone else, here’s what you need to know: Angela Slatter is one of the smartest writers I know. Which would hurt less, were she not also one of the most talented and goddamnned hard-working authors you’re ever likely to come across. She’s one of those writers who pulled off the neat trick of having multiple books out before her first novel, courtesy of multiple short-story collections.  She’s won a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, a Ditmar, and five Aurealis Awards, and one can’t help but feel like that haul is just the warm-up.

Her first novel, Vigil, was released a few weeks back. It’s outstanding, and you should buy it. Naturally, when I heard it was coming out, I jumped at the chance to sit down with Angela and pick her brain.

Dr Angela Slatter

So, this writing gig: what first attracted you to scribbling stories as a career?

I always loved hearing stories as a kid. Being told a tale was like having a kind of magic happen to you. The voice of the person telling you the tale took on special significance; there was just something special about the act of storytelling, of hearing the tale, and of then going to bed with things to feed your dreams. When I got older, I started re-working stories in my head, giving them endings I preferred. Eventually I took up the pen. I love making up worlds, making up magic. Now I’m in a position where I get paid for it, it’s even better!

Vigil v4 2Tell us something no-one else knows about Verity Fassbinder.

Aaawww, giving away secrets?  She secretly loves her job but would rather grumble about it. Maybe that’s not such a secret … Okay, how about this? In Corpselight, you find out she’s got a hell of a lot more family than she thought.

What prompted you start writing this book? What kept you going until you finally typed THE END?

Well, Jonathan Strahan read the short story “Brisneyland by Night” in Sprawl (on which Vigil is based) and said ‘That would make a really good novel.’ So I started writing a novel; it took about five years. What kept me going was that I liked the characters and wanted to see what they’d do, I loved writing about Brisbane and seeing how strange I could make it in amongst the everyday stuff, and I had good friends cheering me on. I also knew that doing a full-length work was the next step in my career; it’s very hard to make a living out of short story collections, no matter how much I love them.

What is the worst business advice you’ve ever been given as a writer?

That a writer needs to have a day job, that they shouldn’t be full-time writers. Bullshit, man! Every writer is different. There are so many different ways of writing, of being a writer, of managing your day, and everyone needs a different set-up to make their writing life work. I personally hated having a day job that kept me away from the writing; I resented it. Being a full-time writer doesn’t mean I write every day − sometimes I just do admin all day, or I’m plotting the next move in my career, or working out a pitch for a new series of books, or I’m answering emails and interview questions, some days I’m teaching or mentoring − but I have the freedom to concentrate on doing the job I love, that feeds my soul and my imagination.   

What is the key to your success as a writer, thus far?

Dogged determination coupled with an ability to spell most of the time? Probably that I’ve spent my time practising my craft so I’m writing the best stories I can. I always try to keep learning. I’m really big on networking with other writers and helping out where and when you can. And I’m really big on writers being informed about their industry, which doesn’t mean just knowing how to spell or use grammar correctly, it means knowing about what happens when your story leaves your hands. How to format your manuscript correctly; how to participate in the editing process; how to help promote your book (hint: it’s not by friending other writers on Facebook and then asking them to Like your page − other writers are generally not your audience); how to negotiate the sea of publishers and figured out who’s dodgy; how to know when to be stubborn about something and when to let something go because it doesn’t count in the bigger scheme of things. It’s about knowing that your job as a writer doesn’t finish when you’ve written The End.

I remind myself that I don’t know everything, that I will never know everything, and I do my best to keep learning.

Tell us about the three books you think everyone should read. 

Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase − for the evocation of time and place.

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time − for a great place to start reading science fiction.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula − for the sheer breadth of its ambition; where it falls short you can still see what he was reaching for and that’s a good lesson for a writer − as Jeff VanderMeer is fond of saying “My reach should exceed my grasp.”

What’s next for Angela Slatter? 

Ah, writing Restoration, which is the third book in the Verity Fassbinder trilogy for Jo Fletcher Books; working out what my next series is going to be; writing the five short stories I’ve been commissioned to do before the end of the year; doing the editing for Corpselight, which is the second Verity book; working on a new picture book with Kathleen Jennings, called Skin; being the Established Writer-in-Residence at KSP in Perth over June-July; going to the UK in August for the Nine Worlds Con and the inaugural Dublin Ghost Story Festival! That’s enough, right?

(Peter’s Note: I asked this back before Vigil was launched – apologies to Perth and UK readers who missed out on Angela due to delay in getting this online)

Finally, finish this sentence: when the creatures of myth get tired of hiding, and make themselves known to the world, I will…

… buy them all a drink and make sure there are enough cupcakes to go around.

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