Sean Williams

What’s in the water down here?

posted on 12 May 2006 at 12:08 pm

This Wednesday saw the launch of David Cornish’s Foundling, the first book of his Monster Blood Tattoo kids’ fantasy series, here in volatile Adelaide. It’s a great book, and I was honoured to launch it in front of a packed crowd at the SA Writers’ Centre. Here are a couple of excerpts from the speech. (You can assume I said many nice things about David’s book. Read it. He’s a star.) I was talking to a fairly mainstream crowd, hence me putting the boot into realist fiction, just a little, and reminding people that Adelaide is home to more than just its popular, prestigious and very proper writers’ week.

Excerpt #1:
South Australia has more fantasy writers per capita than any other state or territory in Australia–possibly the world. They include Fiona McIntosh, Tony Shillitoe, former SAWC Chair John Fletcher, Joel Shepherd, and Gillian Rubinstein (aka Lian Hearn). The list becomes even speccier if we include Sara Douglass, who came from SA, and Jennifer Fallon in Alice Springs. We’re an imaginative lot, and I’m sure it’s not because we habitually imagine ourselves somewhere more interesting, like Sydney or Melbourne, or Europe. We live in a liminal place, we South Australians, and I prefer to think that this gives us a unique perspective on ourselves and the rest of the world. A perspective that makes us the speculative fiction capital of Australia.

Excerpt #2:
What makes a good fantasy novel? Or, rather, what makes a fantasy novel good? Fantasy writers are, in many ways, no different to writers of any genre; we struggle just as much with characters, dialogue, style, settings, and the like. But we have an extra burden as well. Perhaps I’m overstating the obvious by saying that a novel isn’t a fantasy novel unless it has something fantastic at its heart, and that’s a slippery, wriggly notion to pin down. Fantasy writers are constantly called on to make the outlandish seem perfectly ordinary, and the ordinary seem perfectly outlandish, something writers of realist fiction may never be asked to do. This unusual skill is brought forth to stimulate the much lauded “sense of wonder”, a sense readers of speculative fiction employ every day but which cannot be explained to someone who doesn’t have it, much as you can’t explain a joke to someone with no sense of humour (thanks, Justine Larbalestier). Personally, I think that everyone has it–to greater or lesser degrees, of course. It’s a fundamental part of what makes us human, and alive. And sane.