an Aurealis interview by Dan Allan
Jason Nahrung is an award winning Australian dark-fantasy author. His stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and have been nominated for Ditmar and Australian Shadows awards. As well as working on his own writing, Jason is the editor of the Queensland Writers Centre’s magazine Writing Queensland and does freelance editing and manuscript appraisal. His story, ‘Breaking the Wire’, appeared in issue #47 of Aurealis – Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Without giving too much away, what is ‘Breaking the Wire’ about?
On the face of it, it’s a story set in a fractured rural Australia where magic barriers keep predators away from the stock. But it’s also a coming of age story and the wrongness that can fester inside a family.
Have you lived in rural Australia? Did that inform your writing of the story?
I drew on my childhood growing up on a cattle property on the Queensland coast for this story. Fencing was something we did a lot of! That sense of isolation — not necessarily an enemy, by the way — particularly for a young fella was something that definitely underpinned this story, that and the social nexus that is the country dance.
Wild dogs were something we combated but obviously our packs of dingoes and ferals weren’t quite as vicious as the ones in Breaking the Wire. I’d also add that my family life was somewhat more cheerful than the one depicted in this yarn, though that idea of having a new generation to hand the farm to ran strong out our way.
There’s a pressure on the land these days, even back then: making a living as a producer is ever harder and pursuing that in a world of career and lifestyle choice is perhaps less attractive than it once was. I don’t think the love of the land ever goes away, though, which just makes the protagonist’s choices in Breaking the Wire all the more difficult.
With a story like ‘Breaking the Wire’ do you begin writing a fantasy story, or a coming of age/ family story or do both elements present themselves simultaneously?
I’m still not sure where this story came from. I know I had a certain voice in mind when I sat down to right it, and the fence came first, that idea of the warding wire — warding against what? By whom? The family saga rose up out of the world building and the character of the son, faced with an uncomfortable decision, his loyalties tested, although the nature of the family construct perhaps meant, at the end of the day, it was more a matter of courage than choice. I guess the fantasy came first, but the family was the portal through which to access the fantastic.
When you’re writing a scary story, are you trying to scare yourself? Is that the measure of a terrifying tale well told?
When you feel yourself reacting to a story as you’re writing it, well, that’s a pretty good indication you’re onto something. The kind of moment where you’re actually interested in what happens next, or you find yourself saying, ‘I can’t believe I just killed Jo-Jo’. You’ve got to be a little careful that what you’re feeling is actually presented effectively on the page, however, and isn’t just happening in your head; that’s when the editing kicks in.
But I don’t really sit down to write a scary story, per se; that mood comes out of the interaction of plot, characters, setting, theme. In fact, I’m not sure that my stories are actually that scary. I’ve had stories — short stories — that’ve gone into icky places; places where I would never, in reality, want to go, with people I’d never want to meet. So I guess there’s a touch of scary there.
I much prefer suspense to scares; maybe creepy rather than scary, if I can make that distinction. The kind of stuff where you want to have a bath afterwards rather than just a giggle and a good lie down.
Regardless of the effect you’re looking to evoke in the reader, you’re always trying to tap into their experience, to write something that they can relate to on an emotional level. Make ’em laugh, make ’em scream, but make ’em feel *something*.
What are some authors you feel walk this tight rope especially well?
I enjoy John Hardwood’s Gothic novels for his treatment of that genre, one I *love*, ever since getting the chills from Bram Stoker’s Dracula way back when. Kim Wilkins’ early Gothic works, pretty much anything by Kirstyn McDermott (my wife, but as I say, I loved her writing before I loved her!), Stephen King’s The Shining … Kaaron Warren is another Aussie who deals in the dysfunction of reality very well. Stephen M Irwin… Oh my, so many good writers in Oz at the moment are hitting this mode: Richard Harland, Terry Dowling, Angela Slatter, Lisa L Hannett, Felicity Dowker … they’ve all written yarns I’ve read recently that have left a shadow. I’ve undoubtedly missed some, but that’s a start for anyone looking for short and long fiction that delves into the dark side.
What are you enjoying reading at the moment?
My most recent reads:
An awesome novel, one of the best I’ve read this year, was Luther: The Calling. It’s a prequel to the British television show written by the screenwriter, Neil Cross. It ticked so many boxes: brilliantly drawn, complex, understandable characters; a narrative that made sense; crafted, deft prose.
I just finished yesterday re-reading Day of the Jackal, to see how Freddy Forsyth worked that tense manhunt, and enjoyed that element of it just as much as I did in my teens. A lovely feel of creative non-fiction, and a denouement to die for.
I’m now into Hunter’s Run, an SF adventure from George RR Martin (damn, but his Fevre Dream is an awesome vampire novel), Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham: an unpleasant antagonist has just been given his mission and there’s some lovely description in it, some lovely turns of phrase. I like to read widely when I can, expose myself to different prose and narrative techniques.
Do you watch much TV/ film? Do you find these stories are less/more inspirational to you, as an author, than prose fiction?
We don’t tend to watch much live to air in our house (due to annoying ads, unfortunate timing), and we rely largely on recommendations from friends to guide our DVD and film viewing. But I do enjoy film and television — they have avenues of storytelling that simply are not available to prose. With or without visual spectacle and auditory splendor, they can provide compelling narrative. In fact, and as much as I love a great panorama, it’s the narratives and the characters that make films and television shows memorable. Look at all the one-liners that people like to recite, that have made their way into our culture. I would say that dialogue is king, but silence also carries its weight: a look between two characters, the body language, the lighting, the subtle construction of subtext through visual cues … yeah, I love a good motion picture! As someone enamored of mood and setting, how could I not? I love a good story in whatever form it arrives, and draw on them all, fairly equally I should think, in my own storytelling. For example, in Salvage, I drew on Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’, and also Colin Eggleston’s film Long Weekend, which I saw at a drive-in when I was a kid. Long Weekend was the support and I don’t remember the movie we actually went to see. In Blood and Dust, there’s a touch of Mad Max and Near Dark, two other movies that have made big impressions on me.
In 5 five words or less (correct syntax not necessary), what is Blood and Dust about?
Outback vampires going the distance.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve got three very rough first drafts on my hard drive at the moment and I hope desperately to get my act together and finish them all by this time next year. Wish me luck! But the first cab off the rank is a sequel to my outback vampire novel Blood and Dust, tentatively titled The Big Smoke.
Do you have anything coming out soon?
I don’t! This year I wrote/finished only one short story after having had quite the purple patch (for me) in the previous two years, and it has been printed in Midnight Echo 8. A lot of the year has been taken up with finalising and publicising Salvage, a Gothic novella that came out in June, and Blood and Dust, which has been released in time for Christmas. Because you need some vampires on motorcycles for Christmas! And working in an ad hoc fashion on Big Smoke.
To find out more about Jason and his work check out his blog: http://jasonnahrung.com/
Jason’s novel, Blood and Dust, is available as an ebook download.