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Working with Words: Angela Slatter

Read Sunday, 18 Dec 2016

Angela Slatter is an award-winning Brisbane-based writer specialising in dark fantasy and horror. She’s best known for short stories and is the author of collections The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, Sourdough and Other Stories, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings and Black-Winged Angels, as well as Midnight and Moonshine and The Female Factory (both co-written with Lisa L. Hannett). In 2016, she published her first novel, Vigil. We talked to Angela about career highlights, avoiding distractions and growing a thick skin.

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What was the first piece of writing you had published? 

Photograph of Angela Slatter

The first bit of fiction would have been a story called ‘The Little Match Girl’ in a US spec-fic magazine called Shimmer in 2006.

What’s the best part of your job?

I can organise my own day for maximum productivity. Working from home means minimal interruptions from anyone else … except the dogs.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Working from home, because all the best distractions are here!

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Financially: getting a three-book deal with a UK publisher. Artistically: winning a World Fantasy Award for The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

‘Write every day’. It’s a bit of advice about building a habit of writing, but it doesn’t always work because some days you are just empty creatively. Trying to write then is like grinding gears with no oil in the reserve. You need sometimes just to not write, but to go off and refill the well − not keep pushing stuff out, but pull it in − the stuff that inspires you, makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you think. Like binge-watching Midnight Sun or The Expanse, or sitting down with a book and not doing anything for a day but reading, or going for walks or lying in the pool for a few hours. Sometimes there’s action in that which appears actionless.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself? 

There’s sometimes a difference between being a great storyteller and a great stylist. Some people manage to be both.

Oh, I don’t think I can answer that because the really surprising stuff is the insulting stuff!

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Honestly, I’d probably still be working in university administration, which is not a happy thought.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I think you can teach mechanics. I think you can teach spelling and grammar and structure, but you can’t teach someone to make their words sing. You can’t teach originality in thought. You can give someone all the tools and show them how to use them, but they won’t necessarily become the next Margo Lanagan or Kelly Link. There’s sometimes a difference between being a great storyteller and a great stylist. Some people manage to be both.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Learn your craft, learn the rules before you try to break them. Don’t ever think you know everything − a good writer never stops experimenting and learning. Gather a good support group around you. Be honest in how you deal with people, but temper it with kindness. Not everyone writes for publication, some do it just for joy. Grow a thick skin!

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both. Mostly in a physical bookshop, but if I need a book quickly for research and a special order is going to cost me the same as rent money, then I’ll get it on Kindle.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? 

Oh. Azhrarn, Prince of Demons, from Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master (Book One of The Flat Earth series). We would discuss magic and how the world changes over aeons!

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

I think The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It is so beautifully written, so succinct and moving. It is writing at its finest, an example of using just the right words and nothing more.

The sequel to Vigil, Corpselight, will be out in 2017.

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