Interview with Andromeda Spaceways

AS: Can you tell us a little about your writing style and favoured themes?

LW: I’m a bit of a hodgepodge writer in terms of my style, in that I try not to restrict myself to one particular style/voice (of course, my “voice” still comes through as somewhat recognisable across all my work, but not in the way of someone like JG Ballard or Kurt Vonnegut etc.). When it comes to the technical stuff, I once again try to mix it up rather than restrict myself to a particular set of types. And then there are the sorts of things I like to write about…

When it comes to my style, I’m sometimes wordy, sometimes short and to the point, sometimes formal, sometimes informal, often a mix of all four – it all depends on the mood I’m in and the dictates of whatever I’m working on at the time. The only constant that I guess I do have is a deliberate Australian-ness: speech, colloquialisms, settings and so on.

I also like to mix up the techniques I use, depending on the mood I’m in and the dictates of whatever I’m working on at the time. First person perspective, third person and sometimes even second person (though that’s pretty hard); present tense, past tense and sometimes even future tense (though that’s also pretty hard); long chapters and short chapters, long paragraphs and short paragraphs, concrete language and metaphorical language, and sometimes a blend of all of them.

I like to try my hand at many different forms: Novels, story-cycles, short stories, flash fiction, easy-to-understand science fiction criticism. But I do have a number of consistent themes that I like to focus on: Hope, community, human nature, climate change and human adaptability, human behaviour in the face of adversity and/or rapid change, ordinary people in extraordinary situations, the end of the world as a positive (i.e. as the beginning of a new one), kindness in dark times.

AS: Where is your writing space?

LW: I like to spend as much time outdoors as I can, so whenever that’s possible I’m hunched over a weather-beaten table in my backyard – and sometimes even under a tree at my local park – tapping away at my laptop or jotting things down in a notebook. But if it’s raining or crazy-hot or blowing a gale, then I usually relocate to my kitchen table. That way, I can at least see the outside world and all its beauty.

AS: Who is your writerly crush?

LW: Hmm, it’s tricky to choose just one. But seeing as though you’ve asked me to, I’d have to say Kurt Vonnegut. Not once has his writing failed to move me deeply – indeed, it’s often left me in tears – because it’s so incredibly hopeful and so incredibly human.

In fact, I believe that many of his lines and aphorisms are really lessons we can live by, and can help us to be better people. There are far too many to list, but perhaps just one will do: I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’

AS: Do you have a writing ritual?

LW: To answer this question properly, I’ve got to go all the way back to when I’d just finished high school and moved out of the family home. Back then, aside from living my life as a young man to the fullest and trying to get through university, I had two main concerns: trying to make it as a musician, and trying to make it as a writer. Being a bit of a hippie kid who believed in free time over an income large enough to enable gratuitous materialism, I made an oath to myself: to only work part-time, so that I could have the freedom to focus on the things that I loved.

Twenty-something years later I still subscribe to that oath, and so nowadays I find myself alone at home at least one or two every days every week, with all the freedom I need to focus on my writing – I still dabble in music, but as I said earlier I gave up on the idea of trying to make it as a musician almost a decade ago.

And so a definite ritual has arisen: I get up with my significant other, help her get ready for work, see her off, and then plough through that day’s domestic duties and figuratively clear the decks for the writing day to ahead. And then I get stuck into it, with a cup of coffee and some music my constant companions. It doesn’t matter if my coffee goes cold, because I’ll just reheat it or pour it out and make a fresh cup; it just has to be there, like some kind of black and bitter talisman. And as for the music, it doesn’t really matter what I’m listening to as long as it’s to my tastes – it could be the radio, it could be whatever artist or album or genre I’m into that week, or it could be a specific playlist assembled to create an atmosphere for a specific story. No matter what it is, it’s exactly like my ever-present cup of coffee: it just has to be there.

AS: Are you a pantser, a plotter, or somewhere in between?

LW: I guess I exist somewhere in between, and that always depends on where I’m at in whatever I’m working on – I typically know how my story will start, how it’ll end and some of the scenes/events that happen in between. But for me, part of the fun is stringing these scenes and events together, because sometimes just pantsing the journey from A-B reveals unexpected situations or takes the story in unexpected directions.

To use an example from We Call It Monster: because it’s a story-cycle, I could get away with writing it out of order. However, this meant a fair bit of plotting beforehand, to make sure that each story would be consistent with the ones both before and after it. But once that was done, I could just pants the hell out of it. Another example comes from one of the books I’m working on right now – a metafictional science fiction story about science fiction characters, settings and technology coming into existence in the real world. I plotted out probably the first quarter before I even started writing it, but once I was eight or nine chapters in the issue of copyright occurred to me. I then had to rethink the whole concept, and so just pantsed over the top of what I’d already written in order to make it work with this new concept.

The only other thing I’d like to say, going by discussions and conversations with other authors, is that it’s really-really-really hard to just pants a novel. They’re long, time consuming and need to be consistent from beginning to end, and so trying to just pants it means lots of re-editing and re-reading and graph-charting and so on and so on and so on, rather than actual writing. 

AS: What draws you to writing speculative fiction?

LW: I’m on the cusp of Gen-X and Gen-Y, and so like many folk of my age I grew up in 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, inexplicable phenomena and Doctor Who – science fiction seemed like the logical way to express and understand this changing world. And so when I “decided” to become a writer, science fiction simply seemed like the right genre to work in.

Aside from growing up steeped in it, I’m also drawn to writing science fiction because of its ability to make us question what we know by reframing it as a ‘what if?’ and then digging deep. The ability of science fiction to open our eyes to what is by showing us what it might become – or by disguising what is in metaphor and symbolism in order to increase its immediacy – is nothing short of genius.

I’ll use my most recent work as an example of this “increase of immediacy.” We Call It Monster is the story of the sudden worldwide appearance of giant monsters of the Godzilla/King Kong kind, and how humanity reacts to them and their immediate destructive potential. Now, if you substitute “giant monsters” for “climate change” and “sudden appearance/immediate destructive potential” for “slow and inexorable destruction that will change the world irrevocably,” the realisation that we need to do something about climate change right now quickly becomes apparent.    

AS: What do you do when you’re not writing?

LW: Aside from reading, which is to be expected, I spend my time listening to music and playing music, walking around my neighbourhood and parks and bushland just for the hell of it, playing in the garden, cooking food for the Zen-like joy of it, enjoying time with just my thoughts for company, soaking up political news like the political junkie I am, talking books and genre and story and literary theory with my significant other, and restraining myself from watching too many weird/cult/classic movies and TV shows.

And like most writers, I have a day job – it’s obviously a necessity for the vast majority of us. However, while many writers tend to gravitate towards something similar to writing in order to pay the bills and rent or mortgage – academia, copywriting, teaching and the like – I decided that I wanted to work in an occupation at the other end of the spectrum. And so I became a nursery-hand, which allowed me to be outside all day, play with plants, get my hands dirty, exercise my body, and soak up the sun and get drenched in the rain.

AS: What would you like to improve about your writing? (This can be anything. It can be something to do with writing itself, or something more along the lines of finding more time to set aside for it, or feeling more confident about it, etc.)

LW: I can’t honestly think of much that I’d like to improve, besides those generalities that every writer craves: learn to write more skilfully, more quickly and more confidently. However, there is one specific thing that I’d like to improve: my tendency to get easily distracted and to quickly get bored.

Often I’ll get a bit bored with whatever I’m working on at the time and so start something new to reboot my interest, or get distracted by a new idea that seems promising fuel for a new story, with the consequence that I then have a number of different projects on the go, and when they’re done I suddenly have a number of different stories or books to shop around simultaneously while also working out which project to tackle next.

AS: What is your favourite film?

LW: Wow, that’s a tough one – I am and always have been a film lover, with quite eclectic tastes, and to choose a favourite would depend on what type of film we’re talking about. As this is a science fiction magazine and I’m answering these questions from the perspective of a science fiction writer, I would have to break it down into my absolute favourites from a number of different science fiction subgenres.

When it comes to slow/thoughtful examples, nothing beats Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker from 1979 – its glacial pace, eerie mise-en-scene, incredible scenery and cinematography, and thought provoking nature are all truly unique.

When it comes to tension, suspense and atmosphere, I can’t go past John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982 – it’s the very definition of “white knuckle,” and even though I’ve watched it literally dozens of times it literally has me on the edge of my seat every time.

And when it comes to bombast and spectacle, nothing beats Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers from 1997 – it’s filled with incredible action sequences that blend practical effects and CGI in a seamless way that feels unmatched to this day, and is also the most tongue-in-cheek of tongue-in-cheek satires.

However, if I had to choose an absolute favourite, it would be a tie between Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim from 2013 and George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road from 2015. To me, they’re supreme examples of their types: gleeful, kinetic, beautifully shot and edited, obviously made by fans in love with the genres they’re working with, and the perfect blend of cinematic brains and brawn. 

AS: What are you reading right now?

LW: I tend to have a couple of books on the go at the same time – like I said earlier, I tend to get bored easily, and so find that that helps – so right now I’m working through Emma Newman’s Planetfall (in which she does an incredible job of simplifying insanely complex future-tech and integrating it into an all-too-human story of secrets and anxiety), as well as Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide (a work of Chinese climate fiction, which blends science fiction and traditional Chinese belief systems in surprising and mind blowing ways) and Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country (a story of American Jim Crow-era racism fused with Lovecraftian horror, which acts as a kind-of critique of Lovecraft himself).  

AS: Do you have any writing advice for new (or old) writers?

LW: In reality, there is as much advice for aspiring authors out there as there are aspiring authors, but I’ll share two pieces of advice that work for me.

Firstly, if you want to be a writer, all you need to do is write and write and write – like every other creative art, no-one is born with talent bar the odd savant, so you need to practise and practise and practise. And always keep in mind that there are no real “rules” when it comes to writing; what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, and so finding your own systems and rituals is incredibly important.

Secondly, you’ll need to develop discipline and routines. Writing anything – especially a book – takes a lot of time, which means making some kind of sacrifice. Maybe you’ll need to get up an hour earlier than usual to squeeze in a session before going to work, or stay up an hour later than usual after you get home in order to do the same. Maybe you’ll need to work part-time, and trade income for time in order to gain a dedicated writing day. Maybe you’ll need to write all through your lunch break. Maybe you’ll need to give up a Saturday or Sunday, no matter how much that might hurt.

If you want to take your writing seriously and hone your craft, you can’t be half-arsed about it.

(Originally published in Andromeda Spaceways #80, October 2020)

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