Questions with Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts is an award-winning writer of science fiction, fantasy, feminist essays, and humour. She lives in Tasmania, Australia, with her family.

Tansy is a co-host of Galactic Suburbia and the Verity! Podcast, and has her own weekly fiction podcast, Sheep Might Fly, where you can listen to her reading fiction serials for free.

She has a PhD in Classics, and still obsesses about ancient literature when she isn’t busy obsessing about superheroes, musketeers and fictional hockey. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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I’m so, so thrilled to have the beautiful Tansy on my blog! Tansy is another person I am amazed I can call a friend. She is so talented, so well-regarded, so freaking award-winning and incredible AND she is a gorgeous soul, brimming with vivacious energy and generous with her time and wisdom. I’m excited to share her answers with you. As always, she’s produced a very entertaining read! If you haven’t discovered Tansy’s books yet, what are you waiting for? Do a Molly Meldrum and get to it, now!

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Tell us a bit about your latest book.

I have an entire trilogy that will be released next month. The Creature Court is an epic urban fantasy series with a 1920’s twist. It was originally published by HarperCollins between 2010-12, and last year I ran a Kickstarter to raise the funds to bring it back into print with some beautiful new cover art by Brisbane artist Kathleen Jennings. I’m so proud of this series, and it got a lot of attention when originally published (including Ditmar and Aurealis awards for Best Novel and Best Fantasy Novel) so I’m excited to be able to make this available for readers new and old.

The books are: 1) Power and Majesty, 2) The Shattered City and 3) Reign of Beasts.

(My alter ego Livia Day also has a Hobart-set murder mystery coming out this year, Keep Calm and Kill the Chef!)

What was the inspiration for the story?

So many different inspirations crushed together for the Creature Court! The month I spent in Rome and my obsession with the Ancient Roman calendar were one key aspect to the worldbuilding, along with the Edwardian and 1920s costume dramas I grew up with like Upstairs Downstairs and the House of Eliot. I wanted flappers running around a city with a sword in each hand, that’s the central image! I was also in love with the idea of shapeshifting into a number of animals at once — a mischief of mice, a flock of ravens, a clutter of cats.

Tell us about your main character. Why should we fall in love with them?

My favourite characters always end up being practical women, and broken men. I don’t know why! Velody, my hero, is a talented dressmaker and a loyal friend whose life is turned upside down when she learns about the dark side of the city and a secret destiny she was always meant to take up. It’s really hard to be the Chosen One when you have a daylight life and a job you love — it’s like being forced to choose between a life you’re completely invested in, and a dream job you would be *great* at — if you could only find the time. Velody’s deadpan sense of practicality and her love of making clothes are part of what I like so much about her.

Then there’s Ashiol, who I don’t expect anyone to like at all! My other hero is beautiful, damaged, and has spent five years in hiding after losing everything he loved. Slowly, he starts to put himself together, and finally (ten years later than most people) starts figuring out what kind of man he wants to be.

Have you always written, or is writing something you’ve come to in adulthood?

My whole life! I was planning novels before I could manage more than a page at a time, and designing cover art for my planned twelve book series (I can’t even blame epic fantasy for this, Anne of Green Gables programmed me to think all books should have a dozen sequels). I spent my teen years typing, pretty solidly, working through my million words of crap nice and early.

What was your favourite book as a child?

There were so many I read over and over. I think Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson is one of the most iconic that still lives inside my head. I re-read it recently and there are so many aspects of that book that programmed my sense of humour and my idea of how books work

Can you recommend another female author we should read?

JUST THE ONE? Right now I’m rediscovering Lindsey Davis, whose Roman mystery novels have kept me company since I was a teenager. Her new(ish) Albia Flavia series is wonderful, much sharper and more political than the Falco books were, which makes sense because they’re set in the knife-edge atmosphere of Domitian’s reign instead of the comparatively cozy Emperor Vespasian.

What was the last book you read and loved?

I don’t think of myself as a poetry reader but I recently read Who Is Mary Sue by Sophie Collins and it was wonderful, blew my mind wide open. It’s full of thoughts about being a woman who creates, lots of crunchy ideas mixed into poetry and short anecdotes. It made me think a lot about how I write, and how to cut my words down more tightly.

Do you have a favourite quote by a female author?

Joanna Russ wrote a brilliant treatise on the many ways in which women are told that our writing doesn’t count, and isn’t good enough — she wrote it, but look what she wrote about, and so on. “She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist and it isn’t really art.” There’s no single pithy quote, but I hear her in my head and my heart a lot.

Tell us three fun facts about yourself, that other people might not know?

I have been banned from making gingerbread houses. I read the novelisation of Star Wars before I saw the movie. My favourite DC superhero is Blue Beetle.

Do you have a favourite illustrator of children’s books? Why?

Arthur Rackham, thanks to a colouring book I had as a child! I never thought about who did the drawings, before that. I am also deeply entranced by anything drawn by Brian Froud. The visual magic of fairy tales suckered me from a very early age.

What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?

All of Heinlein’s famous advice is pretty terrible when applied universally. Write every day, finish everything you write, and so on. I had a writing teacher who told me that fantasy fiction was only for big books and there was no point in trying to write it as short stories, which is such unbelievably terrible advice that I’m still cross about it.

My favourite writing hack comes from Elizabeth Bear. She wrote about getting stuck trying to get characters out of a room, and just ended up putting [They left the room] in square brackets, then came back to it the next day, took the square brackets away, and was done! I always write instructions to myself in square brackets now if I get stuck, and come back to that part later. Often the solution is easier than you think, but not until you have some distance from it.

What is your favourite song by a female singer, and why?

Regina Spektor’s Edit. I love the rhythm and the sound of the song, and I love the fact that she’s personally calling me out with the lyrics… it was legit on a playlist I used to have running WHILE WRITING.

Editing is harder than writing, that’s my truth!

What is your favourite thing about living and working in Tasmania?

I’ve never lived or worked anywhere else for more than a few months, so it’s a hard one to answer. Don’t tell them all how great it is here, Kate, they’ll all want to move here! I like the people and the pretty scenery. I like that our cities are small. It’s a lot easier to live here now you can order literally anything from any other country (missing out on TV or books that didn’t come here used to wear on me when I was younger). I love that I live somewhere that’s between a mountain and the ocean. I belong here.

Can you recommend another Tasmanian writer?

Reading Nan Chauncy was a big part of my childhood and I’m always surprised she isn’t more widely known or remembered outside Tasmania. The Huon Valley Theatre company did a fantastic adaptation of They Found a Cave recently. And for a more up-to-date rec, Lian Tanner is writing some great stuff in fantasy adventure for kids.

What is your favourite secret place in Tasmania?

A dear friend of mine recently started running the shop and cafe at the Shot Tower overlooking the river at Taroona. It’s such a gorgeous little spot, all leafy green with glorious views. I never even knew it existed before she took an interest, and I’ve lived in Hobart my whole life! (the scones are pretty fab too)

What’s something about Tasmania that people might not know?

We were a thriving community of artists and creatives and coffee-drinkers long before the arrival of MONA made this obvious to outsiders.

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If you love what Tansy does, check out her Patreon campaign! Pledges go towards a lot of the free content that she makes available online, like the Sheep Might Fly fiction podcast. You can also receive exciting rewards such as ebooks, exclusive stories, personalised post, and access to the Galactic Suburbia chat forum on Slack.

More information about Tansy’s work can be found at http://tansyrr.com/tansywp/

 

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