LEE’S TOP WRITING TIPS: Live. Travel. Take millions of photos. Go out at night. Visit museums, art galleries, botanical gardens, zoos. Drink. Dance. Have sex as often as you possibly can, and if you’re single, with as many people as you can. Read. Watch movies, plays, TV. Learn to juggle. Go to the circus. Play a musical instrument, badly and loudly. Ride a horse. Sing out loud as often as possible. Fire a gun. Argue. Take courses in history, criminology, art theory, whatever, it doesn’t matter, but take courses. Have hobbies. Do stupid things. Do brilliant things that are going to make you look completely cool. Try out different jobs. Milk a cow. Crack a whip. Feed lambs. Ride an elephant. Ignore the critics, the naysayers and the fools. Be a fool. Eat all different kinds of food. Get drunk. Try everything that comes across your path and then find other paths to try everything that crosses them.
By the time I published my first short story I’d been a tennis coach, stand-up comedian, watch salesman, graduate student, public servant and cartoonist. By the time I’d published my third I was a widower and single father—not that I recommend it. But if all you know is your day job, writing and reading, then what the *hell* have you got to talk about? Writers are interesting not because we write—anyone can do that—but because of what we write about, and the way we write about it. And that comes from experience: of the world, of our fellow human beings, and of the spaces in between everything that we notice but everybody else walks past without seeing. And enjoy the sex.
Lee Battersby is the author of the novels The Corpse-Rat King and The Marching Dead (Angry Robot Books) and the collection Through Soft Air (Prime Books) as well as more than 70 short stories in the US, Europe and Australia. Winner of the Aurealis, Australian Shadows and Writers of the Future awards, his next novel, a work for children entitled Magit and Bugrat will be released by Walker Books in early 2015. He lives in Mandurah with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby, two insane children, and an ongoing sense of doom. He lives online at www.leebattersby.com and blogs at http://battersblog.blogspot.com.
Why do you write? Every time I run a writing workshop I start with an exercise I smurched from my friend Dr Stephen Dedman (link: http://www.stephendedman.com/), wherein I ask participants to note down, as truthfully as possible, the five reasons they write. I did it myself for a workshop I ran at this year’s Perth Writers Festival, and these were my five reasons:
- Critical Acclaim
- To hang out with other writers
- To leave something behind when I die
One out of five ain’t bad….
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d be stuck working in the bowels of the ATO, suffering from suicidal depression and clouded in misery so thick I’d probably have ruined my marriage and my life by now. My writing career played a large part in landing my current day job in arts administration—not to mention putting me in the path of my wife– as well as providing me with a refuge whenever Real Life ™ has left me feeling under siege, so contemplating life without it isn’t a pretty thought.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Patience. It’s still my biggest obstacle. I wrote for a lot of media before I focused on writing narrative fiction, so I had a good education in the written form: stand-up comedy, short plays, poetry, cartooning, legislation, business letters, and on and on. It took me just on two years between writing my first story for publication and my first sale, and my wife at the time wasn’t really attuned to what I was attempting to do with my artistic ambitions, which led to conflict. It’s very difficult to explain to someone why you want to come in from a day at work, spend a short period of time with them, and then disappear into your own worlds for the rest of the evening, if they’re not absolutely simpatico with your goals. There was a strong desire to justify what I was doing, and to achieve something I’d set up as a pretty major life-goal. Every week without a breakthrough made it harder to justify the sacrifice.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? That moment, when you’re in the midst of creation and nothing else in the world is as pleasurable as the sheer joy of skating along on the thin edge of your creative powers, and all the words are laying themselves down in front of you and suddenly, out of nowhere, all those years of research and mental filing and subconscious connections just bubble up and go POW! And you realise that you’ve just said something in a way that nobody, ever, has said it, and now that you’ve seen things in this particular way they can never be unseen, and that once your readers read it, they’ll never be able to see it the same way again, that you have created something genuinely new that will, without a shadow of a doubt, change the way other people view the world. The awards and contracts and payments are nice, but they’re not as visceral as that moment, not as powerful. The rewards are wonderful, but that moment, that white-hot moment, that’s crack J
—the worst? The worst point for me came a couple of years ago when I realised that I’d done my best work as a short story writer over the previous two or three years and yet the stories I’d produced had pretty much disappeared without any sort of notice. I felt like I’d gone as far as I could with that form, and didn’t want to continue working on something for months for a token payment and no critical or commercial attention. Writing is the way I communicate my worldview, and if there’s nobody at the other end of the communication then what’s the point? I came very close to quitting altogether at that point: my Real Life ™ is quite stressful, and I need an outlet that rewards me, not adds more stress to the pile. I was fortunate in that a novel I’d submitted made it through the slush pile shortly thereafter and gave me new impetus and new direction, but that was the worst moment: the feeling that nobody was reading, nobody was listening, and all I was really doing was shouting into the mirror.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I wouldn’t spend so long writing short stories without moving into novels. It was 11 years between my first short story publication and my first novel publication, and looking back, I don’t think I learned anything in the last five or six years that merits sticking solely to that form for so long. I’d have been better off establishing my novel career much earlier. I’d have avoided sticking so closely to one genre for so long. I want to be known for my variety.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? “It’s sad, because I’d absorbed this advice and still managed to ignore it: don’t get tied to one form or genre. Don’t get typecast. All I wanted to be when I started out was a writer. Not an SF writer or a horror writer or a poet or any other badge that gives people a chance to pigeonhole your work. And yet, somehow, once I tasted a bit of success in one genre I focused on that single area of my work to the detriment of my full range. It’s only recently that I’ve worked to branch out again and move away from the speculative fiction field. I’ve always sold poetry throughout my career, but with a children’s novel under my belt now I feel I’m slowly establishing myself across numerous forms again.
Work as widely as you can. Wish I’d paid attention. ”
What’s the best advice you were ever given? The best advice I ever received came when I was studying writing at Curtin University. I had a student interview with Elizabeth Jolley, who was my tutor at the time, and while she was explaining why she was failing me advised me to give up: I lacked a basic understanding of fiction, had little facility for constructing a believable narrative, and would simply never make it. I should save myself a lot of heartache and be better off pursuing some other goal. Frankly, she said, even if I sold an occasional story, I’d never be known for it and never be read. I’ve always been grateful for her honesty. I always work best with a “f- you” at my back.
The best bit of positive advice came from a brilliant book called Booklife by the American writer Jeff Vandermeer. It’s a manual on how to be a writer, rather than an instruction manual on writing. He talks about managing your career arc, in particular how to have a clear view of your goals and how to analyse every opportunity in light of those goals. One thing he stresses in the book is the need to be unafraid in turning down opportunities because they don’t lead you towards those goals, even if they seem attractive. I’ve felt much more in control of my career since reading that: I tend to be a serial accepter, so being empowered to say ‘no’ is a good feeling.
The Corpse Rat King
Marius don Hellespont and his apprentice, Gerd, are professional looters of battlefields. When they stumble upon the corpse of the King of Scorby and Gerd is killed, Marius is mistaken for the monarch by one of the dead soldiers and is transported down to the Kingdom of the Dead. Just like the living citizens, the dead need a King — after all, the King is God’s representative, and someone needs to remind God where they are.
And so it comes to pass that Marius is banished to the surface with one message: if he wants to recover his life he must find the dead a King. Which he fully intends to do. Just as soon as he stops running away.
Available from Amazon.com