Interview with A Page to Turn

A Page to Turn: Give us an insight into your main character. What makes he/she so special

Lachlan Walter: The Rain Never Came is concerned with the lives of ordinary people at the end of the world, and so Bill, who tells the story, is a pretty ordinary person – he isn’t a solider or an action-hero, nor is he a scientist or saviour or any of the othjer stereotypical post-apocalyptic main characters. This, along with his typically laaiback ‘Australian’ point of view, adds a fresh voice and unique perspective on the end of the world, especially when viewed in conjuction with the more volatile and action-oriented Tobe.

APTT: Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from The Rain Never Came?

LW: As The Rain Never Came is a deliberatly Australian book, Australian actors would obviously have to play Bill and Tobe, the book’s main characters. Making it difficult is the fact that many of Bill and Tobe’s physical traits are loosely based on real people, making it hard for me to see them embodied any other way.

However, if I had to make a choice, and if they were slightly younger men, I would say that Ben Mendehlson and Guy Pearce would make a great Bill and Tobe, respectively. Mendehlson’s shaggy-dog dolefulness is the epitome of Bill’s laidback yet resigned personality; Pearce’s tightly-wound intensity and edgy vibe is a perfect fit for the sometimes unstable Tobe.

APTT: What genre is your most current release?

 LW: The Rain Never Came is a tricky book to pigeonhole – you could call it dystopian, you could call it post-apocalyptic, you could call it climate fiction. But more than anything, I suppose you could call it ‘Australian’ through-and-through.

APTT: What draws you to this genre?

LW: For many of us, post-apocalyptic fiction appeals what you could call our lizard-brain, a sometimes dark part of us that longs for a simpler life, free of our contemporary distractions and problems, and that relishes seeing our civilisation’s monuments and idols reduced to rubble. It’s no coincidence in a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, the landmarks we see destroyed consist of those that are recognised around the world: the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Giza, the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

And then there’s the fact that we right now the end of the world feels like it’s just around the corner. Right now, the heralds of the apocalypse are many: climate change, overpopulation, fundamentalism, isolationist tribalism, vast inequality, terrorism, delusional zealots controlling nuclear-armed countries. At times like these, I think that many of us fantasise about an enormous event that would allow society and civilisation to begin again, this time in a more fair and just way.

APTT: Who designed your book cover/s?

LW: I have a friend who is a lapsed graphic designer, and that I call my ‘brother in science fiction’ – we have similar tastes in the genre, and similar ideas about science fiction’s fundamental philosophies and the successes and failures of its tropes in any given story.

This friend was one of my sounding-boards during the writing of The Rain Never Came, back when it was part of my PhD. When it came time to submit said PhD, I asked him if he was interested in making a ‘mock’ cover. He accepted, supplying two different and equally fantastic images. Afew years later, when Odyssey Books picked up The Rain Never Came, I showed them these covers as a way of conveying the type of vibe I was after. Odyssey Books liked one of these images so much that they decided to base the real cover on it.

APTT: Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process? What’s the purpose behind your cover images?

 LW: I believe that the cover is an undeniably important part of the buying process, but more so in terms of informing the reader as to the ‘type’ of book it is, rather than the quality. For example, the covers for space operas typically feature spaceships and alien planets; those for cyberpunk typically feature minimalist design elements; those for post-apocalyptic fiction typicallly feature washed-out vistas and bleak terrain. These kinds of covers allow us to quickly categorise the books, so that we can either further investiagte them or ignore them dependent on the sub-genre that they belong to. That’s the purpose of the cover for The Rain Never Came – it is set in a drought-stricken future Australia, a land that is almost a character unto itself, something that the cover makes clear.

APTT: What book/s are you reading at present?

LW: I have a bit of a magpie-mind when it comes to my reading – I’ve usually got three or four books on the go, which normally cover a number of different genres, styles and topics. Right now, I’m reading some unsettling science fiction (Michel Faber’s Under the Skin); a wide-ranging history and analysis of classical and popular music, written by the New Yorker’s music critic (Listen to This by Alex Ross); Charles Bukwoski’s Post Office, which I’m rereading for maybe the fifteenth time; and I’m just about to finish Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last, which has rocketted to my favouyrite’s pile.

APTT: Which writers inspire you?

LW: I’m inspired by those writers who possess a singular ‘voice’ and focus on the emotional states of their characters, and on their characters’ psychological development. Within the same genres I work in, these kinds of writers normally use their science fiction ideas to further an exploration of those states and feelings that unite us all as people, rather than as an end unto themselves. These are writers like JG Ballard, Michel Faber, Frank Kafka, Katherine Dunn, Kurt Vonnegut, William Kotzwinkle, Debra Biancotti, Steven Amsterdam and Margaret Atwood – their work is truly memorable for the way it makes us feel, rather than the way the make us think, something only made people by these deep humanistic explorations.

APTT: When did you decide to become a writer?

LW: I’ve loved books and stories ever since I was a little kid, but I didn’t start writing until late high school. I kept at it through my early twenties, submitting short stories and poems to magaiznes and journals, but never taking it that seriously. One day, I stopped. Almost a decade later, I returned to university to finish a Bachelor’s Degree that life had interrupted. At this point, I had already had the idea for The Rain Never Came, but turning it into a book seemed like a dream. However, during my resumed degree, I took more and more writing classes, rediscovering my passion and enthusiasm. I practised and practised, writing a lot of rubbish on my way to glimmers of the good stuff. Then the opportunity arose to do a PhD, which would involve writing a novel and a piece of literary criticism. I leapt at it, realising that here was the perfect environment to bring The Rain Never Came to life and turn myself into a proper writer.

APTT: Do you write full-time or part-time? Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

LW: I currently write part-time, and work part-time at my ‘real’ job. I enjoy this balance, as my real job is as a nurseryhand and is very physical – I spend the whole day on my feet walking-walking-walking, and do a lot of lifting and lugging. It’s a great way to shake off the stiffness and soreness that inevitably settles in after a day spent sitting in front of a computer or hunched over a notebook. What it means, though, is that my writing routine is flexible dependant on deadlines that are due and the mood I’m in – I always start early, but what I start is a different story, as is how I structure the day. If I’ve decided to focus on creative writing – rather than, say, one dedicated to admin or book publicity or research – I’ll set the whole day aside and aim to just produce a good amount of content, rather than set myself a specific target. It’s easier that way, and you can run free more rather than get locked down.

APTT: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you? What’s your basic process?

LW: I use the big ideas at the heart of my stories to allow me to explore the ways in which people might react to their new situations and new worlds, which have been caused by these ideas. After all, an idea isn’t a story, it’s just an idea. And it’s only useful in a story as a nifty thought-experiment that allows a hitherto unseen exploration of our own lives and what us human. To do this, I rely on every writer’s trick: observing and eavesdropping, creating characters and situations based on people I know and see, and on the minutiae of life around me. Once I’ve got a loose grip on my characters and a plot, I then spend some time with them, letting reveal themselves through the process of writing – their formation should be a bottoms-up process, based on attempts at the way people really would behave in any given situation, rather than a top-down process in which a predetermined plot guides them with an unwavering hand.

APTT: What is the hardest thing about writing? What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book? What is the easiest thing about writing?

LW: I don’t really find writing hard or easy, at least not in the conventonal sense – it’s just something that I do now, and I have good writing days and bad writing days. The only thing that I do find particularly hard, is when I hit a plateau on the way to getting better. We’ve all been there; every writier only has to gio back and look at work from years past to see how much they’ve changed. But for me, that change comes in fits and starts surrounded by periods where I churn out words no better than those written months ago. This is a slog, to be sure, and was the hardest part of writing The Rain Never Came. But you just have to shake your head, try and laugh it off, and endure it with a smile.

APTT: If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

LW: The only book I’ve ever really wished I had written is JG Ballard’s High Rise. This was a formative read when I was a teenager, teaching me that science fiction and specultiave iction need not only concern bug-eyed monsters and UFOs, but could extend to an exploratiomn of universal emotions and states of being.

This is soemthing that has guided me as a writer – sicence fiction and speculative fiction should be all about the characters, and how they pshychologically and emoptionally react to the big idea at the stry’s core, rather than focussing on the idea itself. Ballard, true psychological science fiction writer that he is, does this so well in High Rise, making me sometimes wishj that it was my own.

APTT: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

LW: If you want to write, all you need to do is keep at it. No-one is born a great writer, bar the odd savant – like all creative arts, writing is something you need to practise and practise and practise. By writing as much as you can whenever you can, and keeping your chin up as you wade through the shit, you’ll eventually get there.

But remember, despite what some people say, there are no real rules when it comes to writing. Everyone has their own methods and means, their own rituals and routines; what works for some doesn’t work for others. Finding your own system is what’s important, and probably the only thing that I hazard all writers would agree upon, alongside the necessity of practise and perseverance.

(Originally published on A Page to Turn, 11/10/2017)


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