Australian Authors Marketplace: Tell us a little about yourself? Perhaps something not many people know?
Lachlan Walter: I’m a writer and a nursery-hand. Once upon a time, I was a musician and a cook. I’m a country boy living in the city, a working class intellectual, a cynical optimist, a Doctor of Literature who avoids academia, an outdoorsy bookworm, a highly-motivated daydreamer, a lover not a fighter, a hippy who eschews dreadlocks, tribal-chic, drum circles and earnestness.
I also have webbed feet (or toes, to be specific, though just a couple of them).
AAM: What made you want 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: poems and short fiction, the usual teenage stuff. I kept writing during my early twenties, submitting the odd piece of work but never taking it seriously. And then one day I just stopped.
Nearly a decade later, I returned to university to finish a Bachelor’s Degree that life had gotten in the way of. As I kept on through my degree, I took some writing classes, and rediscovered my passion for writing. I practised and practised, writing my way through a lot of crap before I got to the beginnings of the good stuff. The opportunity arose to do a PhD, which would encompass writing a novel and a piece of literary criticism. I seized it, knowing that here was the perfect environment to bring The Rain Never Came to life, and to turn myself into a writer.
AAM: What gives you inspiration for your book(s)?
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.
AAM: Now, the big question, are you working on another book?
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’m wrangling my focus and making steady progress on both an Australian-set piece of climate fiction examining the importance of family and friends, and an offbeat piece of metafictional science fiction.
Did I really just use the word offbeat?
AAM: What genres do you prefer to write in?
LW: I’ve always written within speculative fiction: typically science fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction, with the odd detour.
Like many science fiction writers who grew up during the 1980s, I was a nerdy kid surrounded by a media landscape saturated with science fiction, and living through a point in time in which the genre’s terminology and motifs were being absorbed into our cultural language. To an enquiring mind that soaked up external stimuli like a sponge – especially one obsessed with books, giant monsters, Ghostbusters and Star Wars – science fiction seemed like the logical way to express and understand the influence of this changing world.
And then there’s science fiction’s ability to make us question what we know, by reframing it as a ‘what if?’ and then digging deep. To this particular fan, the ability of science fiction to open our eyes to what is by showing us what it might become, is nothing short of genius.
AAM: Do you start a book with a definite plot, or do you just write?
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.
AAM: Are your characters based on real people or completely imagined?
LW: I think I speak for many writers in saying that I don’t so much model my characters after real people, but rather appropriate aspects of real people and attribute them to my characters. This is certainly the case with The Rain Never Came – no single character is based on a real person, but the same can’t be said for some of their behaviours, mannerisms, figures-of-speech and peculiarities, not to mention some of the character interactions.
We’re fascinating creatures with individual habits and quirks that would seem odd, if not bizarre, to anyone but ourselves. And so, to make a character more human and alive, these habits and quirks need to shine through, even if only subtly. The trouble here is that making up a quirk or habit can seem ridiculous, even if only to ourselves – which can then have a knock-on effect on our confidence and flow.
This is why it’s okay to occasionally steal things from real life and give them to your characters – sometimes the truth really is stranger, more interesting and more convincing than fiction.
AAM: Who are your favourite authors?
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.
AAM: What’s your advice to Authors? On writing? Publishing? Marketing?
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 Australian Authors Marketplace, 26/4/2020)