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Interview de Karen Miller - Utopiales 2008

Par Nak, le mardi 18 novembre 2008 à 09:30:28

L'interview originale

How do you feel participating in a French convention?
It has been an enormously exciting thing for me. It's my first foreign language speaking convention. So it has been really, really exciting. Especially since it is not like any other convention I've been to. I've been to conventions in Australia, in England and in America. This is not the way we think of a convention, this is more of a festival, than a convention. But it has been fantastic, I've met some wonderful people and had some terrific conversations. I even signed a few books. So it's been wonderful.
What's the difference between Utopiales and the US/UK conventions?
Most of the conventions I've been to have had a strong writing industry focus to them. So there was a lots of talks about publishing, getting published, writing questions and all that kind of stuff. And you have far far more writers here. In the conventions I've been to, there were a couple of guests, with one main. But here there are so many writers, which is again wonderful.
Do some fan communities attend your conventions? Because in France, people do tend to come see the authors.
Yes. Although at home the conventions are very very small. Even if Australia is a big country, we don't have that many people. Australia is only 22 million people. From that 22 million, a very small percentage is speculative fiction fans. So it's very much the case of catching up with a bunch of friends every time you go to a convention. And even in America, where the scale is larger, there are groups of friends, everywhere you go. I don't know if that's the same here, it doesn't produce the same feeling. It seems to be more public oriented than community oriented, which is not at all a bad thing. It's just a different style of doing it.
Focusing our attention towards yourself now, a silly question to begin with. You've been working with horses, in a health centre, in insurances and telecommunications, and you even have you own library at some time. So what is the job that you always wanted to try but never did?
Film. Film making. I'm actually not very technically minded so in terms of being able to tell stories through films - I'm not into machinery, gadgetry, that doesn't do it for me. I now play with that style of thing in theatre; theatre I can do because there is no camera. It's just you and the actors, talking about doing a play and exploring stories.
Script writing is something I used to really think I wanted to do. But now, I've had a bit of experience knowing people in the film and TV industry. And I've seen the way they operate. Eventually I realized that I wasn't cut out to be a script writer. There is a reason why I'm a novelist. It's because I'm a control freak and I don't want anyone touching my work. When you're working in television and film you have to be very very relaxed with your writing. People come in and change your work. No, no, no. I don't like that. It was a good thing to learn because I think I've would have made myself very unhappy if I tried.
How do you think that those job experiences explain your writing now?
Every job I had showed me different aspects of human nature. And a different aspect of how people relate to the world. When I was working with horses for example, that was in Britain and I got to experience first hand the class system. The idea of I was born here, up high, so I'm by definition better and more important than you. Because you were not. Coming from Australia where we don't have that, that was very I beg your pardon. I don't think so.
And then in fact, largely, my attitude towards that kind of things infused Asher in the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books. Because it was very much That's an accident. It's what you do, not who you were born, that counts. But of course, in England, that's not necessarily the case.
In an other instance, I was working in a local government as the public relations person. And that showed me up front in person, the pettiness of personal corruption. Because my boss was corrupted. And I got to watch day and day out what power can do to people. Some persons will get in a position of authority and all they will care about is making sure that everybody is OK. And there are other people who get into a position of authority and all they can think about is How can I make this work for me, and how do I control everything and every one in sight? I got to experience on the working side that we had people who quite clearly say to themselves This is the most power I will ever have in my life and I'm gonna use it. And they used it very very badly. So, that was a very strong thing I recognised as well.
And then of course, having the book shop. That was an intense education on speculative fiction and people who love to read it. Because it was a science-fiction, fantasy, mystery book shop, my favourite genres. And every single day, six to seven days a week for those years, I talked to people about stories, what they liked, what they didn't like, what stories worked for them. I would recommend books to them to read, they would come back and say Yes, I really liked that. Not often, but sometimes they would come back and say That didn't work for me. Usually, I was good at matching stories to readers. But it really taught me that the only important person in the game is the reader. If critics like what you wrote, that's nice; if your peers like your work that's nice too. But the critics and your peers are not responsible for your sales, that's the general reading public. And those are the important people.
The first draft of the Kingmaker, Kingmaker books was written as a film script. In which way did that influences the actual books?
I made it too short for a start. The reason I did that was because I was afraid. Beforehand, I was only writing short novels for young adults. This was my first go at big proper fantasy. To this day, I have a struggle; Can I really do this? Is it good enough? I'm not as good as I want to be All those kind of thoughts afflicted me. I was just addled with self-doubt. It took me a long time to have enough faith in myself to think that I could do this. And I got to the point where the only way I could get to the end of the first draft was to write it as a film script. Then having done that, I had an entire story in front of me and then I wrote it as a book. But because film scripts are short, I had to constrain the story to fit with that, and it was way too short. This story is now a two books series. The entire version of the early draft was shorter than the first book. So I had much more story in me than I believed I could have. But it took me going through that process to find the story.
From my personal point of view, when I opened the book and started to read, I though that it was just another classical fantasy thing. But then I realized it was different: there was a strong emphasis on the characters, in particular on Asher. What motivation pushed you in this direction?
It's not a case of motivation, really, it's the case of my default settings. Every story to me is first and foremost characters. Every story I love, every TV show or drama that I watch, all the films that I have loved, have been about people. So, to me, first and foremost, if it's not about the characters, I don't see the point. Every time a new story idea comes to me, it comes to me as Here are some people, here are the problem they are facing and how they are going to solve them. And the question I ask myself is Who is this person and how is she fitting in the world? And what's her problem, and what does she want? It's all about characters for me! First, second and third.
I'm not an ideas-driven person, I'm a situation character-driven writer.
I noticed also that there was a strong predominance of male characters in this first book. Was it something conscious or not?
No, it was just how the story wanted to be told. I would argue that the two main females characters, Dathné and Veira - you haven't really met Veira, she comes more in the second book - they are also very strong. But the main events, in this story, do revolve around the two males characters.
But in other books I've written, they are more focused on women. And the men are slightly more in the background, or it's an even toss up.
Asher (one of the main male characters) has a strong accent. It's a way for him to retain where he's coming from. So why sometimes at the end of the first book, is he losing it?
Because he is attempting to fit in, without realising it. I think that whenever you take yourself out of the place where you live, and you go to somewhere else, either you consciously try to adapt or either you consciously try not to adapt. But no matter how hard you try, if you are in a new place long enough, you can't hear it necessarily but you do start to change. I lived in England for 3 years. So I went with a bit of Australian accent, but when I came back, I didn't have any trace of Australian accent. And I didn't try to sound like an English person, it just happened.
I think also for Asher, he's not stupid, he recognised that there was some times when he needed to sound more like other people. Otherwise, people would just listen to the accent and not pay attention to what he says.
You said several times that Asher was the easiest character for you to come by, on the opposite, Gar gave you a lot of trouble. Is it that your inner self is closer to Asher than Gar?
I think the way Asher sees the world is closer to my personal experience. It was easier for me to slip into his skin. The other thing with Gar is he's a quiet person and he internally struggles. Some of his difficulties are a little bit closer to some of mine, so maybe I was a bit resistent to really embracing that. I think, as writers, we just don't write carbon copies of ourselves and we shouldn't do so. But just as an actor has to find a thread of experience which is common between himself and the character they are playing, so they really can get into that skin, I think that writers do the same thing. We come across characters and there are elements, things within us that respond to things within them. Some of the troubles that Gar experienced cut across some of mine that I didn't want to face. So it took me a while to take sort of a very deep breath and really explore his pains. Whereas Asher is far less damaged. He has issues, he has problems but he's healthier psychologically than Gar for various reasons.
Concerning the map at the beginning of the books. It was not your idea and somebody keen on geography would probably regard it at nonsense. However, in a way, it follows the one place rule of classical drama. Was it a choice?
Yes, it was me. Me not trusting my ability to really tell a vast geographically located story. It's such a character-driven story and it's a character drama more than the battling epic kind of stuff. More a self-contained drama. And because it was my first major novel, I didn't want to try to do too much and get it really wrong. I wanted to stay quite comfortable with what I was doing and stay focused on what I could handle.
I'm expanding on that right now. I've taken the training wheels off a little bit. The next trilogy is far bigger in terms of geography. And the next project will be far bigger again. I'm learning to do that.
But again, to me, it was always a very intimate story, about a friendship and the impact that this friendship had on a lot of people. It was always about that small group of persons.
So the presence of the map was because you had to.
Yeah! I never took a geographic course in my life. I don't look at maps, I don't enjoy them. When I read other people's fantasy, I never look at the maps, I don't care. My feeling is Hello, I'm a writer, not a cartographer.
You also said that concerning the world building, you had a lot of trouble at the beginning. Do you think that you could have improved your work on the first book?
Oh God yes! I just re-read both books in the process of writing the first of the two-part sequel. And all the time, it was Give me a pen, let me fix this. Because it's been 5 years since I wrote it and I've improved. So you go back to your first work and think Oh no, I didn't do that as well as I wanted to. This is frustrating, but lots of people are still enjoying it so clearly they are not seeing the faults I'm seeing. Thank God!
Do you think that it's still working because your story is mostly character based?
I think it's working for the kind of story I'm telling now, but the world building I'm doing now is more complicated and bigger. Having said that, it's quite a simple world they are living in. They are living in this little ship in the bottle existence and it has been unchanged for 600 years. So it's quite static and stagnant in many ways.
It's something which is also reflected in the way that the two populations interact with each other.
Yes.
I heard that book 2 (which will be out in March 2009) will be more darker. How much?
Lots. I don't want to give away what happens at the end of book 1, but something fairly significant happens. So lots of book 2 is about the consequences of what happened previously. And also things go from bad to worse because the big bad guy gets in the position where he can get his way. And it becomes a race against time for the good guys, Asher and his people. Then all of the relationship and the friendship that have been built in book 1 start falling apart, because of the results of the events going on. There are a lot of things falling apart and not looking like they will be able to get together.
Will it keeps its conventional tone (prophecy...) ? Are we going to have a happy ending?
Yes book 2 will continue with the themes. But the end will be bitter-sweet. I'm not a happy ending girl. I recognize the impulse for humans to want everything to work out OK but in reality that doesn't happen. So let's just say that not every one will make it through. And that's the same with everything that I do. There are always people who lose, the good guys lose even when they win.
Is that the same in the Godspeaker trilogy?
Yes. The first book of that trilogy is very very dark. There is lots of blood and violence. This is a very uncomfortable, difficult culture. And the main character is not an easy person. Some persons have found her so difficult that they can't deal with her, some people have recognized that she's horrific and love her anyway. I must say that she's awful but I love her. There are other people of course, good people, but they don't stand a chance against her.
And that's a classical fantasy series as well. The second book takes us to different physical location, dealing with different characters, who are all facing similar problems, but I handle them in a very different way. And then it's about the clash of the first culture, and what they want, against what the rest of the world wants. It's a bigger culture and characters which make me push my boundaries a little bit.
So this new trilogy is more ambitious?
Yes definitely. I scared myself stupid writing it. But I think that's good, if you're not frightening yourself as a writer, with every new project, then you're getting complacent. And I don't think you're doing yourself any favours by letting yourself getting comfortable.
And the next step?
I've also got a fantasy series under a pen name that is out in Australia, and will arrive in the US/UK in January. The cultural background is slightly more modern, I'm drawing on late Victorian, early Edwardian England. It's continuous characters having stand-alone adventures. It's a bit more like a crime series, each book is complete. But some elements, some stories continue through the books. There is more comedy in them, more humour, more lightness because of the way the characters are interacting.
Plus my first Star Wars novel comes out at Christmas and I have two more to do between now and 2010.
Plus as I said, I'm doing now the two book sequel to the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books, and I'm also working on a stand-alone prequel. Finally it will make a five books series.
And then I have the plans for something else but I will not speak too much about that yet.
Do you have any idea if these will get published in France any time soon?
No, not yet. My editor has bought book 1 of Godspeaker but she hasn't decided when she will bring that out.
A more general question now. Everybody now knows in France that Australian writers are great for fantasy. Which is the Australian person who deserves the most rewards but probably doesn't receive them?
Glenda Larke. Her Isles of Glory trilogy has been published in France. Glenda is a fine writer - I'm not saying this because she's a good friend of mine - I believe she needs far more recognition than she gets now. She's lived all around the world, she's an ecologist, she's an ornithologist, she works on eco-tourism projects for the Malaysian government. And she has a very particular view of the world and writes great stuff.
I read its first book this year. And like for your books, somehow, we can define them as classical fantasy too. I hope it's getting more complex on the next books.
Yes, yes! With Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, I knew perfectly well that I was telling a conventional story. Before I get carried away, I had to make sure that I was comfortable with the basics. I felt strongly that even if it was a conventional story, the characters made it different. I think most people don't like to be abrupt on their first go. But Glenda used a lot of different things: it wasn't a medieval setting...
I was mostly thinking of the events, the plot...
Yeah that's true. This is touching on what I was saying previously. When I was talking to people in my bookshop, lots and lots of them enjoyed classical fantasy. The vast majority of the people that came into my shop bought classical fantasy because that's what they love. And I must admit I get a little bit cranky with people complaining about people writing classical fantasy. Lots of people love that, which does not say that there is no room, or that there should be no room for experimental fantasy. I think that's very important and people writing experimental fantasy should be applauded and supported. But equally, those who write classical fantasy should not be despised, criticised and looked down on for doing that because lots and lots of readers really enjoy the solid standard fantasy.
So can we expect you as an experimental author someday?
I don't know, because the stuff I like to do is so character-based and character-driven that I don't know. I love history and I love using history as a backdrop. When exploring this world's history, I like to find really cool stories and really cool things to think about. So I don't know if this will ever lead to experimental writing. If I do something experimental, it's more likely to be as a stage play.
You also said in a previous interview that there was more room for fantasy now. Do you think that your work is following the same trend, that you are pushing your limits with each new book?
Yes, I'm aiming to do something that I haven't done before. I'm aiming to complicate my story more, both interpersonally, politically and geographically. Every time I take something on, I'm trying very hard to do something that I haven't done before. Inevitably I think, a single writer has interesting themes and motives, that come back in various incarnations in their writing. I think there are stories that speak to us very personally or issues or elements of the human spectrum that we then fell compelled to investigate.
Having said that, I think there are ways of trying to look at those elements in a different way, to present them in a different light. So you're re-examining familiar territory with a different perspective.
And last but not least. According to you, what is the biggest trap that an author is facing with every new book?
I think not willing to risk something. I think if you have done a book and had some success with it then the temptation is to not rock the boat. The temptation is to go Oh, I produced this kind of story, and people like this kind of story and I want for people to keep on liking me. So I will continue to write this kind of story.
I think that leads to stillness in your work and you start feeling too comfortable. This is one reason why I jumped from Kingmaker, Kingbreaker to Godspeaker. The first book is so different, I knew it was a huge risk and I scared myself stupid. And as I suspected, some people have really embraced it while some people have been really offended. It is violent, there is an enormous amount of bloodshed, there is some crudity, a lot of anger and struggle and there is not a lot of love, plus people making poor choices that lead to a lot of pain. Thus it's very very different. And I scared myself stupid. As soon as I was scared about it, I knew that I had to do it!
Thank you very much.
Thank you too.
  1. L'interview traduite
  2. L'interview originale

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