Interview with Australian 2020 SF Snapshot Project

Australian 2020 SF Snapshot Project: Tell us about your recent publications/projects?

Lachlan Walter: My most recent book, which I’m incredibly proud of, is We Call It Monster. It’s a bit of a weird one, so bear with me…

We Call It Monster isn’t really a novel, but it isn’t really a short story collection either – it’s what the critics call a story-cycle/novel-in-stories, i.e. a set of interlinking short stories that form an overarching narrative. In its case, the narrative is about giant monsters of the Godzilla/King Kong kind, covering their initial appearance through humanity’s attempts to defeat them and onto our eventual acceptance that we no longer rule the world. However, there’s no need to run in horror at the prospect of a blood-and-guts story steeped in juvenilia, because We Call It Monster is quite different – it’s my attempt to treat such monsters in a serious, grounded and realistic way (something that often happens in film, but rarely in literature). It’s more concerned with people than the monsters; they really exist as a device to examine how we might react to world-changing forces beyond our control, and to illuminate the precariousness of our position as world-conquerors sitting atop the food chain. Ultimately, it’s a story of what really matters in life: community and compassion, love and family and friendship, hope and faith.

With that done and out in the world, I’m now working on my next two books – the first, a “zany” metafictional SF story, is sitting in the drawer composting, to be looked at anew once I finish the second, which is a grounded work of climate-fiction set in the near future. I like to challenge myself by attempting to write vastly different books, rather than simply writing the same kind of book over and over again – We Call It Monster is incredibly different from my first book, The Rain Never Came, which is a fast-paced post-apocalyptic story with an undeniably Australian voice and atmosphere, and I hope to continue this process of renewal and uniqueness into the future.

A2020SFSP: What has been the best publishing or SF community experience of your career so far?

LW: No argument – having We Call It Monster, which is my second book, accepted for publication.

While the moment when you receive the acceptance letter for your first book is simply incredible, once that’s done you realise that if you actually want to be a “real” writer, you have to write another one, and then another after that and another after that and so on and so on. This can be a struggle, because you might not feel like you have it in you – for most writers, myself included, our first books ares our babies, nurtured and cherished and slaved over, and the ideas behind them seem to come from nowhere, and the writing of them can take years to evolve. With a second book, you have to metaphorically fish around for the idea behind it, and consequently second-guess yourself to an excruciating degree. Should it be a sequel? Should it be something completely different? Is this idea good enough? Or how about this one? Will it keep me interested for the next 2-3 years, so that I can keep at it and actually finish it?

However, once an idea has hooked you deeply enough to see it through to the (sometimes) bitter end, and once it has been completed to your satisfaction, having it accepted for publication somehow proves that you’ve got what it takes to keep on writing – you’ve now done it twice, and that gives you the confidence to try and do it again, and that’s incredibly rewarding.

A2020SFSP: Which recent Australian/NZ work would you recommend to international fans interested in expanding their Antipodean spec fic knowledge?

LW: Rather than a single work, I would recommend that international fans instead turn their attention to Antipodean speculative fiction as whole. After all, we have an incredible diversity of voices and thematic interests in our writing community, all of which are worthy of an international fan’s time – from First Nations writers using their work to challenge the foundations of our societies, such as Alexis Wright and Claire Coleman, to humanists such as Steven Amsterdam and Rohan Wilson, to satirists such as Max Barry and Andrew McGahan, to post-apocalyptic specialists such as Peter Docker and Andrew Macrae, to everyone in between, including Meg Mundell, Vincent Silk, Deborah Biancotti, Sam Watson and Cat Sparks (to name but a few).

I could go on and on. But in the end, I’d just recommend that they do a little digging, because they never know what they’ll find.

(Originally published on Australian SF Snapshot Project, 29/6/2020)

 

Interview with Australian Authors Marketplace

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)

Interview with Last Word of the Week

Last Word of the Week: Welcome, Lachlan! Tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer.

Lachlan Walter: To me, the distinction between wanting to be a writer and actually being a writer is psychological more than anything else. Being a writer means accepting the fact that you don’t have to write a blockbuster (and probably won’t) or churn out a book a year, but instead have to put in the work and make the sacrifices needed. Lots of people who want to be writers seem to see it as some kind of glamorous calling that doesn’t actually involve any real work, whereas the truth is that it’s often a slog involving persistence and tenacity, in which a thick skin is utterly invaluable. To touch on an old chestnut: writing is about perspiration, not inspiration.

In my case, I realised that I was actually a writer when found myself unable to step away from my work-in-progress of the time. I was putting in ten and twelve-hour days, turning a simple idea into a novel (and neglecting my oh-so-forgiving family and friends), and waking up each morning dead-keen to do it all over again. There were good days and bad days, but the important thing was that they were all writing days, and ever-so-slowly my first book was coming together. By the time I’d completed the first draft, this had become a routine – wake up, have breakfast, clean up, start writing – and was the equivalent of punching a clock or reporting for duty. And thus, I considered myself a writer.

Of course, it helps to have your work affirmed through publication, positive feedback, in-depth reviews and sales, but they aren’t strictly necessary. What matters is your work ethic, getting on with the job and creating a body of work that you can be proud of.

LWOTW: That’s an interesting analysis, thank you. For your writing, do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?

LW: I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream that resulted in a good piece of writing, so let’s scratch that off the list, which leaves imagination and planning. Both are important, but planning is a skill that can be refined whereas imagination is intuitive, inspiring and seems to strike like the metaphorical lightning bolt. An example: I had the idea for my first book long before I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, which is more accurate though less poetic), but when I started writing it – and consequently started planning it – I really had no idea what I was doing. It wasn’t until a fellow writer gently pointed out that my plan was a bit long – three books long, by their estimate – that I realised how much I had to learn about this underappreciated skill.

In other words, I rely more on my imagination than anything else, but it’s the planning that really matters.

LWOTW: That sounds like a good balance of imagination and organsation. So what’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

LW: This would have to be a tie between having my first book accepted for publication, and having my second book accepted.

Having your first book accepted is an incredible feeling, as all authors would know – it’s a validation of your hard work, and confirmation that the idea behind it and the writing within it is solid and of a high quality. Everyone’s first book is a labour of love, something that’s been happily sweated over, something that contains a little bit of your heart and soul, and mine was no different. As mentioned, I had the idea for it long before I put pen to paper, and nurtured this idea like an obsessed gardener growing the fussiest plants from seed.

But once your first book has been published you realise that if you want to be a writer, you have to do it all over again from the beginning. This can be a struggle because you carry within you an expectation that your second book has to happen sooner rather than later, and you have to conceive it and work at it quickly and diligently, whereas the ideas and writing of your first book just seemed to come naturally and at its own pace. However, once it’s completed to your satisfaction, having it accepted for publication somehow proves that you’ve got what it takes to keep on writing.

LWOTW: That letter (or email) acceptance is such a joy, isn’t it? What are you most looking forward to at the moment?

LW: Finishing my third book, so that I can then get onto the next and the next after that and so on. I’m like most writers – I have more ideas than I do time to write them, and I just can’t wait to get them down and bring them to life.

LWOTW: Oh, yes, that’s the problem. Not where we get our ideas from but how to herd them! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

LW: Write, write and write some more – you can always be better, and the only way to achieve this is through dedication and work. And remember that not every piece of writing has to be a book: short stories, articles, reviews, blogs, criticism, they all help hone your talent.

LWOTW: And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?

LW: The Doctor, without a doubt. He/she possesses everything that one would want in life, and that makes a good person: kindness, intelligence, inquisitiveness, childlike wonder, loyalty, a circle of loving friends who are loved in return, and a dedication to pacifism that only falters when absolutely necessary.

LWOTW: I thought you had a bit of a Tom Baker look about you! Thanks for speaking with me, Lachlan, and more power to your writing.

(Originally published on Clare Rhoden: Author, 24/1/2019)

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)

Interview with Arvenig.it

Arvenig.it: Tell us a little about yourself and your background!

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.

A: When did you first realise you wanted to be 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.

A: Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

LW: I normally avoid outlining any kind of message that I would like readers to take away from my work – to me, the joy and beauty of literature is that the reader is the one that matters, not the writer. I might want people to read The Rain Never Came in a certain way, but I can’t force them to do so. Reading is an incredibly individual act, and the messages that we take away from what we read apply to no one but ourselves, dependent as they are on our own points of view and personal philosophies.

A: What are you working on at the moment?

LW: I don’t think writers can ever have too many projects on the go – the difficulty is in knowing which to focus on, something I’m not very good at yet. And so right now I have a completed draft of a serious book-length story cycle that looks at giant monsters of the Godzilla/King Kong kind, and I’ve also made a start on two other books: a post-apocalyptic western, and a piece of metafictional science fiction. One day, one day, they’ll all be done…

A: Any last thoughts for our readers?

LW: All I can say is that, as science fiction fans, we need to explore beyond the boundaries of the countries that produce the majority of it: Europe, the UK, the US and Japan. From Africa to South America, from the Indian Subcontinent to Eastern Europe, and from South-East Asia to the Antipodes, science fiction allows everyone to express their hopes for and fears of the future, regardless of their race or creed. All we need to do is look a little further and dig a little deeper.

(Originally published on Arvenig.it, 16/8/2017)

Interview with Cheryl Holloway

Cheryl Holloway: Please tell us in one sentence, why we should read your book.

Lachlan Walter: 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)

 

Interview with What Cathy Read Next

What Cathy Read Next: Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit about The Rain Never Came?

Lachlan Walter: In terms of plot, The Rain Never Came is about a thirsty, drought-stricken future Australia in which the eastern states have been evacuated to more appealing climates. A stubborn few resist this forced removal, hiding out in small country towns where no one would ever bother looking. But no one can hide forever…

In terms of heart, The Rain Never Came is actually about two classically ‘Australian’ mates trying to take the end of the world in their stride. And it’s about friendship and community, independence and practicality, larrikinism and egalitarianism, the things that we fight for and the things we let go of. And in the end, it’s about the ties that bind and the length that these ties will stretch.

WCRN: How did you get the idea for the book?

LW: Some years ago, I moved back to my hometown at the tail end of Australia’s Millennium Drought, a ten-year drought that devastated much of the country’s south-east. My hometown is the actual town of Newstead, the main setting of The Rain Never Came – it’s a small country town, deep in the bush, and like everywhere else it was suffering from the ravages of the dry.

Life there was strange indeed – communities were fraying as those who depended on water for their livelihood began walking off their farms, abandoning the land and moving to the city; water theft had become a common occurrence; our 20th-century technology meant nothing against nature. 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 hybrid world to me seemed like the beginning of some post-apocalyptic world from the pages of science fiction, and I knew that one day I just had to make it so.

WCRN: The Rain Never Came is your first novel. Can you tell us a bit about your writing journey?

LW: I’ve loved books and stories ever since I learned to read, but I didn’t really start writing until late high school: poems and short fiction, some of it the usual teenage dross, some of it not too bad. I kept at it through my early twenties, submitting things here and there but never taking it that seriously. One day, I just stopped.

Almost a decade later, I returned to university to finish a Bachelor’s Degree that life had interrupted. At this point, the idea for The Rain Never Came had already come to me, but turning it into a book seemed like a fantasy. However, as I progressed through my degree and into my honours year, I took more and more writing classes and rediscovered my passion and enthusiasm for writing. I practised and practised, writing a lot of crap to get to the good stuff. Then the opportunity arose to do a PhD, which would encompass 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.

Much perseverance and stubbornness has finally paid off.

WCRN: You are a reviewer and critic but what’s been your experience so far of being on the receiving end of reviews?

LW: I haven’t actually perceived that many reviews yet – The Rain Never Came hasn’t been out very long – and those I have received have been quite positive. I’m prepared for the negatives, however – nothing is perfect, especially something as personal as a story. Luckily, I’ve also got a pretty thick skin. The writer’s lot has given me this. You can’t let rejection letter after rejection letter stop you from writing. You just have to have confidence, perseverance and an honest eye, and realise that you can always get better.

It helps if you remember that taste is in the eye of the beholder. Even better is making sure that you do the best job that you can, and resisting any urges to grow complacent or lazy with your work. We write for the love of writing and literature, books and stories. There’s no point in phoning in that love.

WCRN: The focus of your PhD was post-apocalyptic fiction. What do you think makes this genre so attractive to authors, and to readers?

LW: I think that for writers and readers alike, post-apocalyptic fiction appeals to some dark part of us, a part buried deep in our reptilian brain stem, a part that longs for a life free of our contemporary distractions and problems, that relishes the idea of the symbols of our civilisation, along with its monuments and idols, reduced to wreck and ruin. It’s no coincidence that much of the iconography of post-apocalyptic fiction consists of landmarks that are globally recognisable, despite the devastation inflicted upon them: 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 live in an increasingly uncertain age, in which the end of the world feels like it just might be on the horizon, a cyclic cultural occurrence that has repeated itself numerous times throughout human history. 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 – times of great change, instability, hopelessness and anxiety – I think that some people fantasise about an enormous event that would allow society and civilisation to begin again, this time in a more fair and just way.

WCRN: It seems to me the situation envisioned in The Rain Never Came, and people’s different responses to it, support the idea of a ‘thin veneer of civilization’. Is this an idea that interests you?

LW: I think that for some people, civilisation really is only skin deep, and that these people only ‘behave’ because they have to, and that they’ll seize any opportunity and/or circumstance in which they can indulge their barbaric side. As well, I think that many people would, rightly or wrongly, give up their civilised sides when it came to life or death. But to assume that everyone would act this way is to take a very dim view of humanity, and to wallow in pessimism and misanthropy. Not all of us are bad or selfish, even when things get hard. For some people, dire straits only make their humanity shine; something history has proven time and time again.

WCRN: Did the characters of Bill Cook and Tobe Cousins change at all during the writing process or did they arrive in your mind pretty much fully formed?

LW: The core relationship between Bill and Tobe existed from the moment I had the idea for The Rain Never Came: two classically ‘Australian’ mates standing side-by-side at the end of the world. But as individuals, Bill and Tobe constantly evolved as I fleshed out their world and explored the dynamic and history between them. They changed dramatically as the story progressed, as they became more ‘real,’ and as the history between them became an essential part of the narrative.

These changes often surprised me. But then, a well-rounded character should sometimes surprise both the reader and the writer. For the writer, their personalities and psychologies should direct how they’re written; rather than being shoehorned into an action or decision for the sake of plot, the actions and decisions they make should come from within them, from their individual personalities and psychologies. For the reader, a character should be surprising because that’s what people are like – at times, we’ve all been contradictory, impulsive, unthinking, inconsistent or just acted out of character.

WCRN: Are there any Australian colloquialisms in the book you think readers in other parts of the world may struggle with?

LW: I hope not… But in all seriousness, I believe that context is key when it comes to understanding colloquialisms – we should be able to understand them without needing to refer to a glossary, something that most astute readers have a handle on. In the case of The Rain Never Came, most of the colloquialisms have either been encountered before through Australia’s internationally successful films – think of how Crocodile Dundee and the Mad Max series introduced the world to phrases like ‘she’ll be right’ and ‘fang it’ – or else they should be easily interpretable, given the context. After all, one person’s ‘g’day’ is just another person’s ‘howdy.

WCRN: Which other writers do you admire, and why?

LW: Being a fan and writer of science fiction and its subgenres, most other writers I admire tend to come from the same field. I do, however, prefer those writers who have a singular “voice” and focus on the emotional states of their characters, and on their characters’ psychological development. These kinds of writers normally use their big science fiction ideas as a frame to support an exploration of these states and developments, rather than as an end unto themselves.

I’m talking about people like JG Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut, Debra Biancotti, Steven Amsterdam and Margaret Atwood. Their work, while full of big ideas, is memorable more for the way they make us feel, rather than the way the make us think. Outside the umbrella of science fiction, I admire people 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.

WCRN: What are you working on next?

LW: I don’t think anyone creative can ever have too many projects on the go. The trick is in knowing which one to focus on, something I’m not very good at yet. And so right now I have a pretty decent second draft of a book-length story cycle that takes a serious look at giant monsters of the Godzilla/King Kong kind, and I’ve also made a start on two other books: a post-apocalyptic western, and a zany piece of metafictional science fiction. Did I really just use the word zany?

(This interview originally appeared on What Cathy Read Next, 12/8/2017)