In the seminal novel that launched a genre, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote, “There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.” With this single sentence, Shelley cuts at the reason that so many of us embrace dark fiction. And it is with this notion in mind that I am showcasing some of the dark souls who contributed their twisted and chilling creations to the 2020 edition of the AHWA's annual magazine Midnight Echo. Today, my guest is Joanne Anderton. Welcome Jo!
Who are you and where do you write from?
You know, it took me a long time to be able to answer that question with, ‘I’m an author.’ For ages I’d say things like, ‘oh well I work in publishing’ and then eventually get around to ‘also I write my own stuff.’ But now my answer is, ‘I’m an author. I write horror, science fiction and fantasy, and have published novels and short stories in Australian and all over the world. But also, I write children’s books now. And creative nonfiction. Oh, and I’ve won awards. Also, I do editing.’ Apparently I’m still getting the hang of it :)
Where do I write from right now? A place of deep existential dread. Also Sydney. Not long ago, I was living in a small town in Japan and writing from there. Before that, I wrote from places like Finland, Antarctica, Alaska…Japan again. In case you can’t tell, I’m not thrilled with being stuck in one place at the moment.
Please comment on your involvement in the AHWA and its importance to you.
I’ve been a member of the AHWA from its early days, and proudly so. It has long provided essential resources and support to authors like me, such as the mentoring program and Midnight Echo itself. I think it also helps by fostering the horror writing community in Australasia. That connection to community is so important to us as writers, as fans of the genre, and just as people, you know.
Why does the short story format appeal to you?
I think short stories provide more of a space to experiment in than novels do. I enjoy both mediums very much, but I like the way short stories force you into a tighter writing style while also giving you more flexibility in terms of structure and voice.
Can you tell us what inspired your contribution to Midnight Echo #15?
Hideous Armature is me dealing with something deeply personal, by tangling it up with taxidermy and Faustian themes and poking it with a stick. I think speculative fiction – and horror in particular – has power because it gives us permission to confront things we would otherwise shy away from. When we take something real and twist it, that doesn’t make it ‘unreal’, rather it allows us to take a step back and view it in a way that might even be more honest than if we tried to keep it ‘true’.
Why did you have to be so dark? 2020 has had its share of darkness. Do you think horror is more or less important in these very turbulent times?
Horror is definitely more important, at least to me. For some of us, the best way to deal with the darkness is to ride the turbulence, confront the fear, walk through the shadows. And come out on the other side. This is what horror is, this is what it does. And for me, it is how I cope.
The Marie Kondo challenge: in an effort to de-clutter, you’re only allowed to keep three books on your nightstand. Which three would you choose and why?
Oh, I’m a KonMari fan from way back and I can be ruthless in my decisions. But I only get rid of things that no longer bring me joy, and I can tell you there are far more than three books remaining on my shelves – although you probably don’t want to know how many I have discarded. If I had to choose three: The Lord of the Rings (counts as one for these purposes, thank you. Because I love them so much, and reread them often). Black Juice (because any story from Margo Lanagan is a masterclass, and I am still learning from the stories in this book), and … and… nope, I’m not getting rid of any more! Fight me!
Poe, Straub, King & Co aside, can you name any lesser known but deserving writers of horror fiction whose work has resonated for you recently?
I’ve been reading a lot of Japanese literature (in translation) recently, and will shout out to two works that might not look like horror on the surface, but certainly felt like it to me. The Memory Police from Yoko Ogawa and The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada are gentle and surreal but absolutely terrifying because they both felt so real. So… possible.
Midnight Echo #15 is being offered in both print and ebook versions this year. Did the offer of print make a difference to you? Are you seduced by the waft of vanilla and printer’s ink?
Not at all! While I love a beautiful book with high production values, ebooks are a great way to read work from interesting writers I might not otherwise have access to. In my own reading habits, I mix and match between the two.
What are you working on right now?
Epic novel rewrite. So close. SO. CLOSE.
Joanne Anderton is an award-winning Australian author who, until recently, was living and working in Japan. She usually writes science fiction, fantasy and horror, but has started branching out into children's books and non-fiction too. Her speculative fiction includes the novels Debris, Suited (Angry Robot Books) and Guardian, and the short story collection The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories (Fablecroft Publishing). She has won multiple awards for her speculative fiction, including the Aurealis, Ditmar and Australian Shadows Award. Her children's picture book The Flying Optometrist was a CBCA notable book, and her non-fiction has been published in Island Magazine, Meanjin and The Japan News. She recently completed a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing at UTS.