You wear so many hats: poet, publisher, fiction writer in both long and short forms. Is there one project that you are currently excited about that you might like to share with us?
Sean, you are evil, you know this? You list all those hats and then ask for one project.
I have just signed on for the collaborative element of Ben Walter’s digital residency, which aims to join writers from the mainland with writers from Tasmania. At this point, I think I’ve got myself a partner. What we do remains to be seen as I guess we discover where our commonalities are (I hope my partner likes dark weird shit!). I have never collaborated with a total stranger so I’m in the place I relish most of all: a little excited, a little terrified.
I’m also in the throes of getting my flash fiction collection No Need To Reply ready for publication. In true me style, I’ve decided to do something collaborative with it but at this point I’m not sure of the exact details and parameters of the participatory element. The possibility of opening my work up to reinterpretation without boundaries is a little bit exciting and a little bit terrifying. This tells me I must be in the right place!
This year I heard you talk on a panel about interactive storytelling and you mentioned the Chinese Whisperings anthologies, which allowed the respective authors to play around with shared narrative arcs. Over the last couple of years you have also experimented with epistolary fiction. The Piper's Reach narrative co-authored with Adam Byatt told a story through letters where you actually sent real letters to each other as part of the writing process. Where does this desire to play or facilitate manipulation of narrative come from?
I want to be able to point my finger and say: that one, as the one defining moment to encapsulate a neat, simple answer for you, but I can’t.
I know movies such as Sliding Doors and Run, Lola Run had a lasting impact on me even though I wasn’t writing at the time. They gave me a taste and an appreciation for non-linear narratives and the possibilities they created.
Originally I guess I wanted to create an anthology that forced readers to read every single story—a book more like a novel than a collection of short stories. And I wanted to see if it was possible for ten writers to write ten interconnected stories—because! Okay, because that’s the way my brain works.
But it was also spawned by a desire to facilitate shared creative spaces for writers. When we began working on the first Chinese Whisperings anthology in 2008/9 those collaborative opportunities were remarkably few and far between.
I’ve been lucky that with each project incarnation I’ve been able to push a little further beyond the boundaries and the authors involved have all stepped up to pull it off. I’m still awed that Chinese Whisperings: The Yin and Yang Book works (parallel airport universes that share an epilogue and prologue, characters and events, but written by 22 different authors). I’m also chuffed to have international authors such as Emma Newman, Dan Powell and Richard Parker in there.
I’m known as doing things very differently in publishing, and authors trust me, despite the wacky things I throw at them. But I’ve had to learn to trust in the authors, step back and let go. You cannot micro manage a shared space. But ret-conning is your best friend as an editor of a collaborative work, in making everything eventually fit together the way it always did.
Writing Post Marked: Piper’s Reach is as close to perfection as I think I’ll ever get in a project: literally, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
In short (now we’ve taken the scenic route): maybe I’m a frustrated explorer who in a different age might have pursued crazy adventures of a different way, like the Nellie Blys of the world did.
You surprised yourself this year by stumbling into Poetry and earning a return spot at Brisbane SpeedPoets. Will we see more poetry from Jodi Cleghorn or is your muse too hard to pin down?
Oh gosh, poetry!! I feel like an absolute imposter on the poetry scene. To win my first open mic (I’d only gone along to read and support Stacey!) was a cruel twist of fate in as much as I am now forced to write enough poems to fit an eight-minute set in November for the finals.
Poetry writing is at best erratic. Poetry likes to wait for an invitation to cosy-up whereas stories are like loud, whinging kids that turn up at the most inopportune time. I’m yet to turn my hand to speculative poetry as I’m still finding my voice. For now I’m sticking in my comfort zone: the only-slightly-more-grown-up shoes of the angsty teenage poet I once was… now with bigger words and adult concepts.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
I have no qualms in admitting I am a huge fan-girl of Kirstyn McDermott. I read Caution: Contains Small Parts on the way home from NatCon this year and it was everything (and more) of what I expected and wanted from her stories. ‘Horn’ and the title story, ‘Caution: Contains Small Parts’ were for me, Kirstyn at the top of her game. Stories that stop at all stations on the way to creepy town. Required packing: extra-large box of tissues. As always, in reading Kirstyn’s work I found ‘fixes’ I wasn’t intentionally looking for in my own work.
I met Danny O’Malley at GenreCon 2012 and this year I finally got around to reading The Rook. It’s very, very clever (but not too clever), laugh-out-loud entertainment, with a dark edge that defies classification. Can’t wait to see what Danny does in the next adventure of Myfanwy (pronounced like Tiffany rather than it’s Welsh antecedent.)
Wiki says three different nations claim Michel Faber so I’m claiming him as Australian to mention Under The Skin. Such an apt name for a book that crawls under the dermis and stays there, with it’s myriad of themes circling like sharks waiting for an unwary moment to bite you (again!) months after reading.
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
The Internet continues to make things interesting in terms of bringing ideas and people together. And while I adore what the Internet auspices in terms of opportunities, having strong roots within the local community remains imperative for me.
I began writing in 2007 and I knew one other writer in Brisbane. All my writing contacts were online and overseas. That has changed dramatically and it is shaping what happens next for publishing for me. I want to showcase and celebrate my corner of the world in a global market place. I also want to, where possible, make best use of the business opportunities (in terms of grants etc) provided locally.
The next anthology eMergent publishes will be unashamedly Brisbane in flavor and orientation. It doesn’t herald the end of what came before, more a branching out that builds on our existing ethos of supporting new voices and innovation in storytelling. In my head there are at least eight new projects waiting to be unleashed but life has taught me in the last two years that ideas don’t come with expiry dates and patience (unbelievably) has pay offs.
From an operational viewpoint, eMergent will continue to bundle paperbacks with eBooks (with no extra cost for the eBook) and I’m keen to see more publishers embrace the and/and approach to publishing rather than the predominant either/or. There’ll be new editors coming on board as I work to evolve eMergent not just as a platform for new concepts and voices but for new editors and the projects they are passionate about. And there will be projects that extend across storytelling mediums.
I’m greatly inspired by the work of IF:Books Australia (and their contemporaries in the UK and USA). I am intrigued by how other creatives push boundaries to make stories happen, and how other publishers innovate and the knock-ons from those innovations.
For example, my flash fiction collection No Need to Reply was written as part of Roast Book’s competition to launch and publicise their new publishing platform Bookimbo. Those eight stories would not have been written without that new platform.
The small press to keep an eye on is Brisbane-based Tiny Owl Workshop who are doing truly interesting mixed media projects, reshaping what it means to publish and be published. I can’t wait to see where they go in the next five years, especially with their long-term world-building project The Lane of Unusual Traders launched in the middle of the year.
In a nutshell, all I can be certain of in five years: I will still be stupidly in love with short stories, in and out of love with editing and publishing, and my to-read pile will involve me taking out another lifetime to finish it.
JODI CLEGHORN (@jodicleghorn) is an author, editor, poet, small press owner and occasional workshop facilitator with a penchant for the dark vein of humanity. Elyora/River of Bones, her debut novella, was short-listed for an Aurealis in 2012. Her current writing projects involve clockpunk, birthpunk and when she’s feeling courageous, dares from her son for stories without violence, sexual references and frequent, coarse language.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:
- Tsana Dolichva
- Stephanie Gunn
- Kathryn Linge
- Elanor Matton-Johnson
- David McDonald
- Helen Merrick
- Ben Payne
- Alex Pierce
- Tansy Rayner Roberts
- Helen Stubbs
- Katharine Stubbs
- Tehani Wessely
- Sean Wright
- Nick Evans