Interview with the australian speculative fiction writer K.J. Bishop – Gillian Polack (Australia)

    Gillian Polack : Do you know EUROPA SF (, the pan-european portal of SF&F ? Please have a look and share your opinion with us !

    K.J. Bishop : I didn’t know it before, but I do now! It looks great, especially the breadth of coverage — that there’s info on books, films, conventions, exhibitions. It’s terrific to have all that in one place, available on the other side of the world.

    Gillian Polack : What is your opinion on european SF&F ?

    K.J. Bishop : As far as continental Europe goes, unfortunately I can only read in English, so my exposure to European writing is limited to translated works, and not a lot of genre fiction gets translated. I have a taste for books that are strange or fantastical without being necessarily full-throttle SF & F, and a lot of the writing in that vein that I’ve found and enjoyed has been from Europe. Fantastical writing published as mainstream literature is more likely to get translated, too. My impression has always been that Europe (including Britain) has so much history and folklore for writers to draw on, and such rich settings to use, which helps to create an immersive reading experience and a plausible sense of wonder. There’s a feeling of foundation to the fantasy. I’ve also noticed a vein of black comedy and the absurd running through the European fantastical fiction I’ve read, a kind of acknowledgement that reality is strange — that’s my impression as a foreigner, anyway.

    Gillian Polack : What are your favourite european SF&F writers and works ?

    K.J. Bishop : Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita”, Calvino’s “Invisible Cities@, and Milorad Pavić’s “Dictionary of the Khazars”, all made big impressions on me. I’ve read quite a few of Zoran Živković’s books, and I admire his writing a lot. I’d also like to mention Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s film “The City of Lost Children” — it’s one of my favourite movies, a fantasy that’s so compellingly strange and emotionally affecting. It influenced my writing and my thinking about what fantasy narrative can do. And if I can duck into European computer games, Machinarium by Amanita Design, The Tiny Bang Story by Colibri Games, and Syberia by Benoît Sokal all wowed me. I guess I’m always looking for something to take me into a wonderful other world, and the artistic sensibility in those games did that in spades.

    Gillian Polack : Would you participate in an european SF&F convention or festival ? Why ?

    K.J. Bishop : Absolutely! I’ve been to two, in Nantes and Prague, and I’ve also met people in the SF & F scene in Romania. It’s always fun to hang out with people with similar interests, and I have great memories of Europe. My publishers and other people I met were incredibly kind and hospitable, taking me out and showing me wonderful places. I’d love to go back again.

    Gillian Polack : Some of the stories in your new book (“That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote”) are set in the same world as your novel. Can you tell us something about the evolution of this world?

    K.J. Bishop : Where does an imaginary world start? It’s a lovely memory lane to go down, and I suppose the beginning is lost in childhood. I can’t really remember when it began, but somewhere in my teens I started imagining a kind of urban fantasy world. The main character who went with the setting was a guy who evolved into Gwynn, the ne’er-do-well who appears in the story The Art of Dying. After writing that story, I wanted to develop both the character and the world. Unconsciously it ended up reflecting Australia — a lot of desert, with the urban element separated — literally, in the book, by being on top of a huge plateau. The desert landscape is probably my mental link from Australia to other places and mythic scenarios — the Wild West, the post-war and grail myth wasteland, the Biblical desert. It really is a world of muddled fictions and memories and echoes. Things have fallen apart and are probably still disintegrating. Still, life goes on there.

    Gillian Polack : “Vision Splendid” is entirely different to your other stories. Tell us more about it.

    K.J. Bishop : It was written in an entirely different way to my other stories, or from a very different kind of beginning, anyhow. Gillian Polack invited me to contribute a story to Baggage, a speculative fiction anthology with the theme of Australian cultural baggage. When I write I tend to follow characters, who bring their own themes, and this was my first attempt at writing specifically to address a social theme. So it was a challenge to fit the writing to the topic. It was also the first time I’d used a real-world setting, so I found out what it’s like to be constrained by that (though having fewer options, rather than “anything goes”, can also make choices easier!)

    Gillian Polack : Do your art and your writing work together, at all, or do they tug at each other and pull you in different directions, or do they ignore each other entirely and pretend not to be on speaking terms?

    K.J. Bishop : Sometimes they do. Whatever’s on my mind, it can turn up in art or writing. There is a tug in different directions, but it’s not so much from my own art per se, just from the impulse to halt the movement of time. I like writing static scenes where characters don’t do much, as if they were in a painting or a veeeeery slow film. Which can be therapeutic to write, but may try the reader’s patience. I sort of fiddle with art — I don’t have the skill to produce most of the images in my head. So writing is handy, beause you can make anything out of words! On the other hand, writing asks for something to happen; with art, the image or object only has to exist, though of course there can be a sense of narrative. Other people’s art has often given me ideas and inspired scenes.

    Gillian Polack : Thank you, Kirsten !

    © Gillian Polack & K.J. Bishop

    Kirsten J. Bishop is an Australian speculative fiction writer and artist. In 2004, her first book, “The Etched City”, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in the Best Novel category. Her novels are “The Etched City” (2003), “Black Dog” (forthcoming), “The Floating World” (forthcoming collaboration with Preston Grassmann) and she’s the author of a short stories collection, “That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote” (e-book publication in 2012).
    Awards : 2012 Aurealis Award, 2004 William L. Crawford Award for Best First Novel, 2004 Ditmar Award for Best Novel, 2004 Ditmar Award for Best New Talent.

    Gillian Polack is an Europa SF’s contributor and correspondent for Australia and New Zealand.
    Gillian is an Australian writer and editor working mainly in the field of speculative fiction. She has published two novels, numerous short stories and nonfiction articles, and is the creator of the New Ceres universe. She attended Melbourne University and was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (First Class Honours) in History, with the Margaret Kiddle and Felix Raab Prizes. She did her Master of Arts at the Centre for Medieval Studies (University of Toronto) and submitted her thesis for Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. She later took out teaching qualifications at the University of New England. She currently lives in Canberra, ACT, Australia.


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