I recently had a chance to interview Sylvia Kelso, a writer of speculative fiction. Her book, Amberlight, is due to be published by Juno books in October. I've read the forty-one page sampler which is downloadable from the Juno website. Anyone who is interested in feminism and speculative literature should definitely go check it out. One warning, though, the book is very literate high fantasy. Don't expect Harry Potter.
Carole McDonnell: Where were you born? And what major aspects of your culture affect your writing?
Sylvia Kelso: I was born in a relatively small then-town, now almost-city, in North Queensland in Australia (at the base of the finger bit that sticks up on the right hand side of the map).
Being born in North Queensland, and moving back after a grad degree in the state capital, 1500 km south, then going overseas to research a historical novel, has probably been the biggest geographic and cultural influence on my published work. Everything I've published so far has been in the fantasy genre, where I started writing when I came back from overseas. So I saw Australia anew, almost with an outsider's eye. My novels have the traditional bards and kings and dragons, but among the sugar-cane fields, there are the bush-fires, the possums, and the ant-beds of "bush" North Queensland.
They also have the symbolic landscape, so to speak, of Australia. The Map of Rihannar, the fantasy continent, is similar — a desert in the middle, almost separate civilizations to west and east — but there's no northern sea border. Because, I realized when I started writing an academic paper on the novels, in the Australian psyche, there IS no northern sea border. We feel as if we're hooked straight on to Asia, and that impression has produced a very large amount of national paranoia, for example, the White Australia policy of the earlier 20th Century. It goes back to the goldfield days and the influx of Chinese immigrants, but it wasn't helped by the threat of Japanese invasion in WWII. (When, incidentally, the plan was to fall back to Brisbane and leave the entire state north of that, where I live, to be taken over by the enemy. It's a memory older North Queenslanders haven't lost.)
The aspects that matter more subtly, perhaps, are first, being a settler nation — uneasiness about race relations in particular — and second, being born in North Queensland, and therefore marginalized in white culture. In US terms, North Queensland is read by Australia as a cross between Hawaii and Texas. They consider it a nest of rednecks and eccentrics in a tropical wonderland. There's a modern half-joking myth that we all go "troppo" when the mango trees flower. I would think that that background, however unconsciously absorbed, has had quite a lot to do with the emphasis on outsiders, of one sort or another, in my fantasy novels.