I’m delighted to welcome Annabel Smith onto my blog this month. Annabel is the author of the digital, interactive novel/app The Ark, and the novels Whisky Charlie Foxtrot and A New Map of the Universe (shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards). Her short fiction and non-fiction has been published in Southerly,Westerly, Wheeler Dailies and Junkee.
I admire Annabel for all sorts of reasons: not only is she an extremely talented writer, she has a great work ethic, and she reads zillions of books I’ve never heard of and introduces me to them via her fantastically detailed blog! On top of all this she holds a PhD in Writing, is an Australia Council Creative Australia Fellow, and is a member of the editorial board of Margaret River Press. In summary, she’s one busy lady! Therefore, I’m very grateful she found time to visit and tell us about her new book THE ARK.
THE ARK is your latest work of fiction. Can you tell us about it, and what inspired you to write it?
The Ark is a digital interactive novel and app in which a group of scientists and their families retreat into a bunker inside Mount Kosciusko during a post-peak oil crisis, alongside a seed bank which holds the key to the future of life on earth.
I began making notes for the novel after reading Adrian Atkinson’s foreboding essay ‘Cities After Oil’, about the likely collapse of society as we know it, in a period of chaos following post-peak oil. Then, in the ‘environmental lifestyle’magazine G, I saw a snippet about the Svalbard Global Seed Bank, also known as the Doomsday vault. These two ideas came together in my mind and The Ark was born.
THE ARK plays with narrative, as the story is told through emails, news articles, blog posts, text messages and conversation transcripts. Why did you choose this structure, and were there benefits or drawbacks to it during the writing process?
Initially I thought these documents would form a supplementary thread to the main narrative, offering a different, less subjective viewpoint. But I was having so much fun writing them that they took over and eventually I decided to tell the whole story through documents. I like to give myself a new challenge with each book I write, and I’m interested in structural experiments – I wanted to see if it was possible to tell the entire story this way. There were some difficulties – how do you show a character’s inner life, for example, or an action sequence, without descriptive prose or a narrative voice. I was stimulated by overcoming these challenges.
Your published works are noticeably diverse in content and structure, much more so than those of many other writers. Do you feel that there are themes or other elements that bind your novels, or is each project unique?
I think all my novels are connected by a preoccupation with the effect of secrets or what is left unsaid. In A New Map of the Universe and Whisky Charlie Foxtrot this theme is explored through the impact of secrets on family relationships; in The Ark, it is explored more broadly in relation to access to information and how that relates to questions of power and manipulation.
Sometimes novels evolve as they are written. Now that THE ARK is finished, how does it compare to the book you envisioned when you began working on it?
I didn’t have a plan with The Ark – I wrote it organically, letting it unfold as I went along so I really had no idea where it would end up. The most surprising aspect of the process was the revelation that I was not writing a book ‘about’a seed bank, which is what I thought for the first couple of years. The seed bank was just the setting, the book was actually about the way humans behave in extreme circumstances. It took me a long time to see that.
Can you tell us one of the things you love about being a writer?
One of the things I love most is making up small and silly details, like names for businesses or products. Unlike the greater story arcs or character arcs, writing these tiny details brings instant satisfaction and allow for a little playfulness. For example, when writing The Ark, I created a fitness schedule for the bunker inhabitants and I amused myself making up names and descriptions for fitness classes which might take place twenty five years from now:
Yogatronics: Achieve perfect posture AND enlightenment via intelligent pressure pads which assist with self-correction of those tricky asanas!
TaeKwonBop: Defend your vitality! Contemporary robo-dance meets the ancient Korean martial art TaeKwonDo: be prepared to bop til you drop.
When you hit a roadblock in your writing, how do you get going again?
I go back to the last place I felt confident things were working and see where I might have made a wrong turn. Failing that, I show it to a trusted writer friend who might be able to see it with clear eyes.
What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?
I’m horrified by the way the Australian government is treating asylum seekers and plan to volunteer to ease their suffering and make them welcome and comfortable, wherever possible, or even just convey that not all Australians are heartless. On a much lighter note, I am very excited to be planning a trip to the states with my husband and son next year, to meet the US publisher of my novel Whiskey and Charlie and travel through Yosemite in a camper van, with dear friends of ours who live in Seattle.
I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book you’ve loved in the last year.
My favourite book in recent memory is Patrick Somerville’s This Bright River. It is beautifully written, funny, poignant and extraordinarily suspenseful – basically everything I look for in a book.
And now the ARK is complete, what are you working on next?
My current work-in-progress is the first in a trilogy called Monkey See; an epic quest with a speculative-fiction twist, in which a trio of unlikely heroes must unite to overthrow a sadistic cult before their city is destroyed by the mother of all tsunamis. It is wild! I am having an absolute blast writing it.
Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?
Thanks for visiting, Annabel!
Would you like to win an e-copy of The Ark? Leave us a comment telling us your favourite dystopian work of fiction, and make sure you’re signed up to my newsletter to enter the draw. Competition will close 11.59 pm on 14 November 2014, and the winner will be notified the following day. Please note this competition is to win an e-book edition of The Ark, which is downloadable for Kindle, Kobo, iPad or iPad mini.