Wednesday, 1 July 2009

INTERVIEW: Kaaron Warren

Discovering at an early age that writing was a way to escape behind endless possibilities, it probably came as no surprise when Kaaron took to writing as a career, now well established over a number of years with numerous short stories, her debut full length novel, Slights is one of the premiere releases by Harper Collins new Imprint, Angry Robot. We thought we'd take the chance to chat and find out a bit more about this antipodean author...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Kaaron Warren: I’ve always felt it was a gift rather than an affliction. I love writing and writing makes my life easier.
It is often something I have to do. I get edgy if I don’t write for a few days, and ideas present themselves to me all the time.
I also ‘want’ to do it, which helps motivate me when I need to meet deadlines.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

KW: I was five. Every sent
ence I ever wrote at school was a mini story. A list of spelling words presented endless possibilities!

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

KW: Well, I’ve written both short stories and novels and all lengths in between but I’m not sure that the ability to write the novels came from being able to write short stories. One of my pet hates is reading a novel which is clearly stretched from a short story. The idea isn’t big enough to last a whole novel so they pad with descriptions and unnecessary plot developments. Leave it as a short story and wait till a novel idea comes along!
“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes is what I would consider a perfect short story. The novel, while still good, didn’t really add anything.
A short story is different from all other forms. I’m no good at poetry so I can’t write songs. I’m not much good a joke writing, either.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

KW: I hate selling my own books! I feel embarrassed. I guess I should get over that. But I hate selling anything!

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

KW: “Who’s waiting for you in the afterlife?”

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshop’s doorstep waiting for it to open?

KW: Must haves are Martin Amis, Daphne Du Maurier, Suzy McKee Charnas, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Nevil Shute, William Vollman.

I’d queue overnight at the bookshop for Harlan Ellison, Penelope Rowe and Murray Bail.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

KW: Sometimes, I know the whole story. “Walking the Tree”, the third novel Angry Robot will publish was that way. The idea came to me full with character, setting and plot. Then I had three tough years putting it all onto paper!. Others I brainstorm with paper and pen, scribbling ideas and random thoughts until something formats.
I don’t usually outline, but almost always backstory my characters. It helps keep them consistent and clear.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

KW: Computer games especially the Lego Batman, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and the kids and I really love playing the Nancy Drew mysteries together.

I watch TV. Faves are The Wire, Entourage, Larry David and In the Thick of It.
At the moment I’m reading “Like Being Killed”, by Ellen Miller. In Suva, Fiji, we have only a couple of bookshops, but there are lots of little places where they have a pile of books, often stacked behind water-damaged shoes or Chinese toiletries. I found this book in one of them. Apparently Miller died in December, at the age of 42, making this book even more disturbing than it already was.
I’m also reading Canterbury 2100, a retelling of the Canterbury Tales. I have a story in that one. It’s a fab book. Also Ellen Datlow’s Poe, wonderfully diverse and chilling and James Herbert’s “The Ghosts of Sleath”.
Non-fiction wise I’m reading “Curry” by Lizzie Collingham, “Colour” by Victoria Finlay, “Myths and Legends of Fiji and Rotuma” by A.W. Reed and Inez Hames, “The Curse of the Narrows” by Laura M. MacDonald and Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”. With the kids, I’m reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. We love it. Lots of word play.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

KW: Mad magazine and jelly
beans. Don’t really feel guilty about either, though!

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

KW: I have cats! We had a wonderful cat in Australia who lived to about 20. He had a great sense of humour. He even made a fart joke once! He was pretty aggressive and would bite your ankles if you sat in his chair.
Here in Fiji we’re the current carers for a cat called Fat Tuesday, or Tusiti Levu, in Fijian. We’re the fifth Australian family who have cared for her. She doesn’t have a whole lot of personality because she eats and sleeps a lot.
I rarely use animals in my fiction. I’m not sure why. Maybe I don’t want anything bad to happen to them?

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

KW: Maria, who is my main character’s sister –in-law. Sanctimonious and always right, I had fun making her so irritating. Also Maria’s brother Adrian who become’s my character’s lover. Enjoyed making him sexy yet detached.
The character of Steve wasn’t fun to create, but it was all-engrossing.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

KW: Not at all! I worked really hard to make sure my preferences for food, music etc didn’t sneak in. She really is the antithesis of who I am, I think. Perhaps she’s who I imagine I could have been, given a very different life.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

KW: Cooking. Sharing m
eals with friends. Kids. Reading. Sewing and crochet in front of the TV. Garage sales and trash and treasure, because I love to pick up obscure items and books. Stories come that way!
I’m influenced by food, because I often use food in my stories, to make them real. Anything I read can influence what I’m writing.

FT: Where do you get your ideas from?

KW: I thought I’d be specific here, because most of us get our ideas in the same way!
“Slights” The idea came from thinking about the different kinds of hell waiting for people. The Hare Krisnas believe this.

“Mistification” began with an image of a boy kept in a secret room between the walls of a large hotel.

“Walking the Tree” came fully formed as I was watching a documentary about ancient things. I thought about the time which had passed in the existence of these things, which led me to think about the Californian Redwood trees, which led me to the Tree in this novel. In a way it’s a novel which has been brewing forever, because I’ve always had a great interest in ancient trees.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

KW: I don’t really get it, in that I can always write something. But if I’m stuck on a plot point and don’t know where to go next, I will often do some character back story to see if that helps. Think about how the character grew up and what their attitudes to life are can sometimes help form the story.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

KW: I’ve trained myself to
be very organised. Sure, sometimes I scribble notes at three in the morning, but mostly I work specific hours. The kids are at school from 8 till 3, so that’s when I work. I like being there for them after school, with afternoon tea, stories, help with homework, all that stuff. Plus I’m usually tired by then and need a break. I usually draft new stuff from 8 till about 10 or 11, then computer work and emails (that’s work too!) till lunch time, then dabble in whatever after that.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

KW: I don’t use music within the novel. I like to write with music, to help me get in a certain mood, but when I’m editing I like silence.
Muse, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Holst, to name just a few of my inspirations.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

KW: I didn’t have any preconceived ideas. I’ve always just placed one foot in front of another, without any expectations.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

KW: Writing is the tonic to the gin of life. Life can be bitter and hard to swallow, but with writing it turns into something wonderful and warming!

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

KW: In ‘Mistification’, Marvo learns all he knows from the stories people tell him. He grew up in a small room, hiding with his grandmother to avoid capture and death.
His first memory is of being silenced by his grandmother. Then gun shots and screams. There is a TV in the room with no sound, and when he runs he must do so in slow motion. Most nights he sneaks out to scavenge food and playthings; socks, pencils, condoms. One night he steals magic books and it is here his love for magic begins. He has no formal schooling. All he has is the mythology he gains from strangers and friends he meets once he is outside the room.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

KW: Angry Robot
What Not to Crochet, http://whatnottocrochet.wordpress
Undead Backbrain,
Blog of Death,
Richard Harland’s Writing Tips

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

KW: I did one adult education class but didn’t get a lot out of it. That’s not to say that others didn’t. I think critiquing groups are good.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

KW: I didn’t! Criticism still hurts and makes me doubt myself! But I suppose I’ve learnt to move on more quickly, through necessity.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

KW: The only really bad part about it is the rejection element. The fear of failure.
The best parts are many! I’m doing what I love, I’m entertaining people, and it’s a career people find interesting, so there’s always a chance to talk about myself!

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