CH: Please tell us in one sentence, why we should read your book.
LW: Told in an unmistakably and undeniably Australian voice, The Rain Never Came will show you a different end of the world, one of thirst and drought and baked earth, of mateship and laconicism and black humor.
CH: Since this book is about a drought in Australia, was it hard creating believable situations and issues or did you take them from real life and elaborate?
LW: A great deal of The Rain Never Came is extrapolated from real life. Almost a decade ago, I moved back to my hometown at the tail end of a ten-year drought that devastated much of Australia’s south-east. My hometown is a tiny country town, deep in the bush—at that time, it was suffering from the effects of this drought. Life was strange: communities were fraying; some people who depended on water for their livelihood began abandoning the land and moving to the city; and water theft had become common.
It seemed as if the past had returned—a world of hard work, dust and thirst. And yet, we were surrounded by the trappings of 21st Century life. More than anything else, this world of old and new seemed like the beginning of some post-apocalyptic world you would find in science fiction. From there, based on my own experience, it was easy to imagine the parched land only a handful of years hence. And so The Rain Never Came was born.
CH: What made you decide to write this book?
LW: I returned to university in my late twenties, to finish a Bachelor’s Degree that life had interrupted. I’d already had the idea for The Rain Never Came, but turning it into a book seemed like a fantasy. However, during my degree and my honors year, I took quite a few writing classes, and rediscovered a passion and enthusiasm for writing that I thought had disappeared.
I practiced a lot, trying to find a voice and point-of-view all my own. I finished my studies and returned to real life, writing as much as I could, whenever I could. And then one day, the opportunity arose to do a PhD, which would involve writing both a novel and a piece of literary criticism. I seized it, realizing that it would be the perfect environment to bring The Rain Never Came to life.
CH: Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole concept?
LW: Like most writers of science fiction/speculative fiction, the big ideas at the heart of my stories are really just frameworks upon which I can hang explorations of the ways in which people might react to their new situations and new worlds. After all, an idea isn’t a story—it’s more like a spark—a spark that ignites a fire. As I want my fires to contain what-ifs and maybes (that nonetheless still connect to the world we live in), I’m always on the lookout for real-life stories that seem to point towards our future—changes in technology, politics, culture, the environment, medical science, communication devices, interpersonal relationships, infrastructure systems, and organizational, learning and teaching methods.
And then it’s just a matter of extrapolating a new idea from any particular real-life stories that grab me, and working out how this new idea might affect everyday people. To do this, I rely on every writer’s trick: observing and eavesdropping, creating characters and situations by recombining the people I know and see and the minutiae of life around me. Once I’ve got the first inklings of my characters and a plot, I then tend to just spend time with them and let them reveal themselves through the process of writing—their formation should be a bottom-up process, based on attempts at realistic actions and reactions, rather than a top-down process, whereby the stricture of a predetermined plot guides them with an unwavering hand.
CH: Did you have to do any special research to write this book?
LW: Most of the way of life portrayed in The Rain Never Came was based on observation, guesswork and my own prior knowledge—the only real research that was necessary was on the effects of dehydration. And even then, we’ve all been thirsty at some time.
CH: Who was your favorite character to write? And which character was hardest to write?
LW: I didn’t have a favorite character to write, or a least favorite. Likewise I didn’t find any one particular character harder to write than any other. What I did find was that there were some character moments I thoroughly enjoyed, and some that I didn’t enjoy much at all. Funnily enough, these two disparate moments both involved the same characters: Bill and Tobe.
Even though Bill and Tobe are almost entirely fictional creations, there is one part of their relationship that is steeped in reality: the shit-stirring, knockabout sense of mateship that they share. Here, I drew upon the same kind of Australian-style trash-talk that exists between some of my own friends and I, and thoroughly enjoyed the process – the roughness and dismissiveness that they show towards each other, which masks genuine concern and compassion, never failed to make me smile. And so, without giving things away, I found writing the flip-side of their relationship to be a difficult and sometimes enjoyment-free process, so invested was I in the light-hearted and affectionately derogatory vibe that exists between them.
CH: Is there a message in this book that you want readers to grasp?
LW: I don’t really like highlighting particular messages that I want readers to take from my work—I feel that the beauty and the joy of literature is that the act of reading is all about the reader, rather than the writer. I might want people to find specific messages in The Rain Never Came, but I can’t force them to do so. Reading is the most individual of individual acts; whatever messages we take away apply only to ourselves, as they’re solely dependent on our own points of view and personal philosophies.
CH: What is different and exciting that you bring to your readers through your writing style?
LW: First and foremost, I want people to be excited by an Australian voice that is steeped in Australian-isms—this is something that I’ve tried hard to achieve, as we have some fascinating terms and colloquialisms that are as interesting as those of anywhere else, and what might be called our stereotypically ‘Australian’ way of looking at the world can provide a refreshing perspective.
As well, I hope that readers will find my style both straightforward enough to avoid affectation, and literary enough to avoid being boring or seen as riding the coattails of the bare-bone sparseness common to so-called literary science fiction/speculative fiction. I’ve always been an admirer of both types: the straightforward science fiction voice that simply gets the job done, and the literary voice that flaunts a love of words, language and story. But above all, I’ve always preferred those writers who can walk the fine line between the two.
That’s not to say that I want my ‘voice’ to sound like any of theirs. What I do want, though, is for mine to affect people in the same way as theirs do, and to straddle the same kind of line as they do. And lastly, I hope that readers find it to be unique without being precious, earthy without being coarse, learned without being pretentious.
CH: What can non-Australians understand by reading this book?
LW: I hope that The Rain Never Came will open the eyes of non-Australian readers to the uniqueness of Australian science fiction/speculative fiction, and I hope that these readers see The Rain Never Came as a deliberate addition to this subgenre/offshoot/micro-genre/call-it-what-you-will. Of course, every nationality has a different way of telling stories, both in general and about themselves; no two national perspectives are the same, nor are any two senses of national identity or foundational myths. But being Australian, in my book I want Australian-ness to shine through.
As well, I hope that in The Rain Never Came readers will see how the inherent potential and unreal nature of science fiction/speculative fiction allows for a creative exploration of what it means to be ‘Australian,’ a device used by many other Australian authors operating in the same genre. I also hope that after reading it, readers will imagine the Australian bush in much the same way as they imagined the Australian desert after seeing Mad Max—as a place of desolate beauty and ancient stillness, that doesn’t need dressing up to resemble a world after the apocalypse.
CH: What type of feedback are you receiving from readers?
LW: Most of the feedback I’ve received so far has been positive, or at least encouraging. I’m more than ready for anything negative, though nothing creative is ever perfect, and nor should it be. Luckily, I’ve got pretty thick skin. The writer’s lot has given me this ‘you can’t let rejection letter after rejection letter stop you from persevering,’ you just have to have confidence, determination and an honest eye, and realize that you can always get better.
Remembering that taste is in the eye of the beholder also helps. Even better is doing the best job that you can, and resisting the urge to grow complacent or lazy with your work. We write because we love writing and literature, books and stories. There’s no point in phoning that love in.
CH: Who are some of your writing influences?
LW: I like those writers who have a singular ‘voice’ and focus on the emotional states of their characters, and on their characters’ psychological development. Within science fiction/speculative fiction, these kinds of writers normally use their science fiction ideas as a framework to support an exploration of these states and developments, rather than as an end unto themselves: people like J. G. Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut, Debra Biancotti, Steven Amsterdam and Margaret Atwood. Their work, while full of ideas, is truly memorable for the way it makes us feel, rather than the way they make us think.
Outside the umbrella of science fiction, I like writers who do the same kind of thing, and possess a similarly singular voice and focus on the emotional and psychological states of their characters: Charles Bukowski, William Kotzwinkle, Katherine Dunn, Franz Kafka and Peter Carey.
CH: What has been the most exciting thing to happen on your publishing journey?
LW: The Rain Never Came hasn’t been out for that long, so I’m only really taking my first steps as a published author. But I don’t think that many writing accomplishments will ever feel as good as the first time I saw my book as an actual book, something I’m sure most published writers will agree with.
CH: What is your next writing project?
LW: I like to have a lot of projects on the go at once—the trick is knowing which one to focus on first, something I’m not that good at. And so right now, I have a decent second draft of a book-length story cycle, which looks at giant monsters with serious eyes, and have also made a start on two other books: a post-apocalyptic western, and an offbeat piece of metafictional science fiction. Did I really just use the word offbeat?
CH: For my audience, where is your book sold?
LW: You can find The Rain Never Came at all the usual places: Amazon, the Book Depository, Booktopia, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and Odyssey Books’ website.
CH: Any closing remarks?
LW: I’ve banged this drum previously, but I’m going to beat it some more: as fans of science fiction/speculative fiction, we must ensure that we make an effort to explore beyond the boundaries of those countries that produce the majority of it: Europe, the UK, the US and Japan.
From South-East Asia to the Antipodes, from the Indian Subcontinent to Eastern Europe, and from Africa to South America, science fiction/speculative fiction allows all of us to express our hopes for the future and our fears of it, regardless of our nationality or background. All we need to do is look a little further and dig a little deeper. Cheryl, thanks for the opportunity to be on your blog.
(This interview originally appeared on Cheryl Holloway’s Blog, 11/9/2017)