Did you have a chance to read Graeme's short story, Street Life? This was originally posted as part of the 2008 spring anthology, and it's an emotional journey of surprisingly short length but with great impact. Make sure you share your thoughts below, but of course, first we have my interview with Graeme!
What’s the best part of living in Australia?
Checks to see if Tourism Australia has sent me a cheque for advertising. Hmm…nothing so far…
Definitely the people and culture. While Australia is by no means perfect, I’ve generally found people across the country to be friendly and helpful (though there are always exceptions). Culturally, Australians are very diverse and generally tolerant (though, again, there are exceptions). As a result, while there is definitely racism, homophobia and religious intolerance here, I find it to be much less than it could be. As an example, it’s rare for the media to report the sexual orientation of a person, even when that person is a public figure (such as the head of a political party, or the president of a major professional body). In Australia, the sexual orientation of a person isn’t a big deal (unless you’re trying to date them).
Oh, and would this be a good time to let everyone know that Melbourne has been name as the world’s most livable city by the Economist magazine for the seventh time in a row? Not that I’m boasting....
You’re very busy. How do you find time to write?
At times, I struggle. If I’m working from home, I can sometimes squeeze in an hour or two of writing during my working day, but if I’m travelling it can be a chore. I work best first thing in the morning, but if I’m not working from home I lose that time. I generally don’t write at night as I often struggle with motivation at that time of the day.
Do you plot out a story or write as it comes to you?
It’s a little of both. For many years now, I won’t start a story unless I know roughly how it’ll end. That gives me a goal to write to, and I then fill in the gap with a number of possible events along the way. Once I have done that, I start writing and often find new things along the way that I didn’t original plan. I like my characters to drive the story, rather than have them being puppets to the plot, so while there is some control over what happens to ensure I get to the ending I’ve planned, I give the characters a lot of leeway. As an example, in Leopard Spots, one of the characters shows up unexpectedly at someone’s house. That had been planned from the beginning, but when I first plotted the story, it was a different person’s house to what appeared in the final story. The character interactions that arose during the writing changed the details of whose house it would be from what was originally planned.
If you have 30 minutes of free time, what do you like to do?
Read. Either on my tablet, browsing the Internet, or I’ll pick up one of my print novels and start re-reading a story. It’s always re-reading, though, because if I have a new novel, the reading time is never just 30 minutes….
Is there a literary character you’ve read (in all fiction) that you really identified with?
That’s a tough one. I always like to put myself into a story when I’m reading, imagining what it would be like to be part of that universe. Since I like reading science fiction and fantasy, that means I’m often putting myself in the shoes of someone with special abilities, which is always fun. So, I don’t have a specific character I identify with, but I like to associate myself with lots of characters in different worlds.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently re-reading some of L.E.Modesitt Jr’s Recluce series. The exact one I’m reading at the moment is Magi’i of Cyador. I’ve always liked the complex worlds that L.E.Modesitt Jr creates, and how he doesn’t make groups black or white. In the book that started the series, it was easy for the reader to think that those who followed Chaos were always going to be the bad guys, but then he wrote several stories, including the one I’m currently reading, where a Chaos-wielder is the champion of the story.
You’re not shy about delving into serious topics in your writing, but do you remember what prompted you to write Street Life?
Absolutely. Most people who have read both Street Life and New Brother will be aware that Street Life is a spin-off of the scene at the end of chapter 8 of New Brother. What’s less well known, though I’ve mentioned it before, is that scene is the very first scene I wrote before I decided to start posting my works online. I wrote that scene to see if I could portray the emotions I wanted. I was sufficiently happy with the result that I wrote New Brother. During the early stages, whenever I got stuck, I would go back to that first scene I wrote and tweak it, until it was time to drop it into the story. That is why it’s one of the strongest scenes in the story; it had a lot of work put into it!
Since I had put some much effort into that scene, I always wanted to write Craig’s tale as its own story. That task languished for a long time, partly-written but not completed, until the Living in the Shadows anthology came along. That theme fitted the Street Life so well that it motivated me to complete the story and post it online.
As for the original inspiration, the basic setup was from newspaper reports from that era. That area of St. Kilda was well known at the time for street sex workers, though most were female. However, I read an article in one of Melbourne’s newspapers about some streets where the sex workers were young men. That article also mentioned how the locals gave what support they could to the kids living on the streets and surviving by selling their bodies, and that was how Mrs. K ended up in the story.
AIDS has changed so much since the years this story is set in. Have you written about someone facing the disease in more modern years in your works?
Just one other short story: Bad News. I still don’t know for sure but I suspect I wrote that story as a warning to myself about the dangers of straying. As most readers will be aware, I’m a married man who came out to his wife over ten years ago. She stayed with me, and I’ve stayed with her…but I know that I can’t afford to do what the protagonist in Bad News did.
I have AIDS as a major part of another story which was originally written as a Valentine’s Day story, but that’s more about how love doesn’t care about things like AIDS, rather than someone facing the disease in more recent years.
Despite the tough scenes readers experience in Street Life, you managed to end the story on a note of hope. How important was it to show that scene rather than just let readers imagine it?
It was important because the story summary had already been published in New Brother. I had to get from where I started to a place where the events told in New Brother were a logical extension. That, plus the fact that I don’t generally prefer dark endings, meant I couldn’t leave things with Craig in despair. I’m happier if a story ends on an up note, even if life isn’t perfect, and that’s what I did here.
How about you share something readers might like to know about your current or upcoming work?
I’m currently working on a fourth novel in the Leopards series that follows on from the end of Leopards Leap. Unfortunately, the work has been going slowly (I’ve been working on it for over a year and haven’t gotten very far) but I’m still hopeful that I’ll be able to finish it. Originally, the story was going to concentrate on the group in Sydney, but I’ve expanded it so the story will encompass both the Sydney and Melbourne groups. I hope I haven’t bitten off too much with what I’m attempting....