Continued from Part One, this is the second half of an interview with Australian author Sylvia Kelso, whose forthcoming novel Amberlight, a feminist speculative literature, will be published by Juno Books in October 2007. The first 41 pages are available at the Juno Books website for free download.
Carole McDonnell: What societal or emotional issues are working against your character(s)?
Sylvia Kelso: If we stick to the main pair, the “impossible love affair,” she’s Head of an Amberlight House, he’s a male amnesiac mugging victim picked up off the street. In a literal matriarchy, she’s top of the power-pole, he’s right at the foot. In addition, he’s Outland. Not only are their cultures diagonally opposite, there are two strong nations and an empire outside Amberlight, and his presence, as spy or agitator, could signal a major threat from any or all of them. But since he’s lost his memory, they can’t figure out where. So any sort of relationship is a major, dangerous gamble from her side.
Plus, his society is so different that he starts showing her Amberlight from a view impossible for her to convey to her fellow Heads, let alone make the basis of any form of change. And change, in our view as well as, eventually, hers, is essential to Amberlight. But the qherrique is also in the mix, and its interventions confuse them both. So they are in effect both struggling to comprehend a new way of life, and eventually, working to try to change one as well, against opposition that ends in open war. Where they will, of course, also have divided national loyalties.
Does your book have a villain? What do you think of that person?
This one has no villain per se. The “villain” so far as there is one, is the system itself. I’m not fond of villains, because they’re too often motiveless. (*Why* does the Dark Lord always want to take over the world? What’s in it for him? Simple human greed?) Or else the villainy is far too black and white. I prefer a complex mosaic of grey.
It’s a feminist novel. Are you very political? Or are you an activist? How do you define politics or activism? How is it different from other feminist novels out there? Can men read it or will some of them feel pissed off?
Hmm. What is meant by “feminist”? There are so many shades of meaning in that word. Myself, I’d say I was either a Marxist materialist feminist, or non-aligned.
I’m political, yes. I don’t think anyone living with humans isn’t political in some sense. And yes, my books usually have a political dimension, in their world, if not commenting directly on ours. As for either/or political or an activist, I’d say the two go together. I don’t count myself a full-on activist, though I’ve done some work here for green movements and for Amnesty International, but not much lately on women’s issues. But you may hold all sorts of political beliefs, and maybe donate money to causes, and that one is certainly vital, but unless you stand up and be counted – write letters, send e-mails, go on marches or stand on picket lines, I don’t think I’d call you an activist.