I (virtually) met Margo in one of the first calls for Authors. She agreed promptly but told me that I would have to wait a while, as she was a bit busy. I prompted her a couple of weeks later and her reply was basically ‘we have plenty of time’. When I did send her the questions, Margo had them back to me quickly. Almost before I had sent the email it felt like.
I have found Margo very funny as well. When I tweeted about meeting Jack Dann for the first time, she tweeted back saying you had better watch out, he’s a nasty man. When you meet Jack, you realise this is so far from the truth.
Margo has been writing for many years. I hesitate to say it but her first novel came out in 1991, and became an instant classic. If you do not know the name Margo Lanagan, that is due to the fact that she has released books under five (5!) different names so far. I will post a link to Wikipedia here, so you can check out the list – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margo_Lanagan.
So, heeeeeerrrrrreeee’s Margo.
What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?
It’s been a long time since I wrote any junior fiction, and I have a feeling I’d write quite different junior fiction than I used to, so I wouldn’t mind having another go at that, although I’ve no particular idea I’d like to pursue right now. Does that count?
Also, I trained as a historian. I can’t help thinking there’s a small, specific corner of history somewhere that has my name on it to explore.
Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?
Ideas are flying past all the time. Some I write down and pick up again later; some I just grab and start working on straight away. Things I see on television, things I overhear people talking about, odd news stories, other people’s stories that I want to remake differently, it’s all grist for the mill.
I try not to be formulaic, although of course it’s easiest to fall into patterns you’ve used before. Sometimes I can see exactly how a story’s going to play out, right from the beginning, and sometimes I just have to blunder around for a while before I find somewhere worthwhile to take it.
When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?
Occasionally I have a title to start with, but mostly I don’t. But at some stage during the writing it’s very important to work out a title; it helps me decide what the story’s centrally about.
Do you see the future of fantasy and science fiction as bright? If so, which authors are driving it?
Oh, fantasy and science fiction are very bright, particularly as the movie industry is becoming capable of reproducing our stories on-screen so much better now.
Who’s driving it? Well, the huge sellers, Rowling and Meyer, are kicking the market along nicely. I wouldn’t say there were particular authors who were leading either genre in new directions; we’re all following our own obsessions, and we move the thing along (and in a thousand different directions at once!) collectively rather than individually.
What themes are being overused?
Any theme that’s being picked up because the author thinks it’s trendy, rather than because it’s something they want in their heart to explore. I think if you’ve got a burning desire to write YOUR vampire or mermaid novel, you shouldn’t be put off by people saying that that horse has bolted.
Are movies of books ruining the book?
Sometimes they are; sometimes they’re doing absolutely staggeringly wonderful things for the book. The movie of The Hunger Games, for example!
I know, you don’t quite mean that. But no, movies and novels are two different experiences, and a novel continues existing, with its own integrity, even after a movie’s been made of it, whether that movie reduced or insulted the book or whether it extended and enriched our experience of the story. Books have nothing to fear.
Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?
Not threatening, just adding a whole array of new challenges. I’ve no doubt that the best and most flexible publishers will survive the onslaught of epublishing and go on to great things.
Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?
I like to read both; if I have a long run of new authors, though, at the end of it I do tend to fall with some relief into the pages of a book by an experienced writer who really knows what they’re doing. It’s nice to hit an author who silences that nagging editorial voice. Recently, Jo Walton’s Among Others and Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz have done this for me.
What is it about fantasy that appeals to you?
I like to feel that my brain’s being stretched into new shapes by being forced to imagine impossible things. With good fantasy, I get that exercise.
Can I get an autographed book? (lol)
I’d be happy to sign one for you. Watch my blog for occasions when I’ll be signing!
Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?
I have a couple of workshops that I attend irregularly. The ROR workshop is a group of established genre novelists with whom I talk whole novels, every 18 months to 2 years if we can synchronise our projects—since we’ve all become so madly successful this synchronisation has been harder to achieve than it used to be!
I also regularly went to Jan Cornall’s Draftbusters workshops when I was writing my novel Tender Morsels, and I still go there a couple of times a year, just to counter the loneliness of the long-distance writer.
Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?
I generally have a rough idea how long a novel will be—and then it surprises me. And then I have to rewrite on editorial advice, and the size changes again. It’s important to find the right length for a story, but often it’s hard to tell until you’ve written it a couple of times how long it needs to be.
Do you have a target each day?
Yes, I generally have a rough target of ten long-hand (A4) pages, when I’m at drafting stage.
Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?
Oh, I have breaks. I have so many breaks. I work a dayjob as well, although at the moment that’s part-time, and every now and then when a book comes out there is so much promotional work to be done that it’s not possible for me to keep my head together to write. At the moment I’m still in recovery from a long spell of too many short-story deadlines, and brewing a new novel; the next three months of various commitments won’t allow me much writing time, but 2013 is looking good and clear.
Do you have characters running around your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?
They’re never so active. No, it’s all dark in there. Occasionally I hear someone murmuring, and I reach out in the dark and prod them and hope they say more—and sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. But they never dictate; they make me do all the work, the ratbags.
After so many books, how do you keep them unique?
I like to feel that I’m embarking on a different adventure every time, so I do try to strike off in a new direction with a new novel. Often I find myself veering quite close to themes I’ve explored before, though; you can’t help what interests you! But I’m writing each story at a particular stage of life; if I were to go back and recreate a story I wrote last year, I would bring a slightly different perspective to it from having lived through the intervening year, and probably push it into a new shape.
What is your biggest (self-imposed) time waster?
Oh, the Internet and its many wonders. I have to wrench myself away from social media and remind myself to read BOOKS.
Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?
Actually, no. It would have been around 1990; that time is lost in a blur of new motherhood. I don’t know whether I first saw my junior fantasy WildGame in a shop, or one of the teenage romances I wrote for the Bantam Wildflowers series. I do know that whenever I do see a book of mine on a bookshop shelf I feel that it’s there by mistake, that I’ve just been lucky that no one’s spotted that it’s not a Real Book, and snatched it away, tut-tutting.
Do you read other people’s writing? Would you read mine?
Margo’s novel is called Sea Hearts (published in the UK and, recently, in the US as The Brides of Rollrock Island).
Her blog is www.amongamidwhile.blogspot.com, and she can be found on Twitter as @margolanagan.