Williamstown Literary Festival: Interview with Michael Pryor
I was very fortunate to attend the Williamstown Literary Festival on Saturday June 15th with imosshelf (another Shadow judge) and Julianne from Inside a Dog.
We had an incredible experience attending the Sci-Fi vs Fantasy author debate and witnessing the Sensory Overload panel. We spoke to many different authors and incredible, inspiring writers and received much needed advice on writing stories and targeting/engaging your audience.
I even received the chance to do an Inside a Dog Twitter and Instagram takeover and spammed those accounts for a bit!
I would like to thank Julianne for her support and for giving me this incredible experience.
I was extremely lucky to receive the opportunity to interview Michael Pryor, who is an incredible writer in the fields of Science fiction, Fantasy and Humour. His books include the Ghost Town series, The Laws of Magic series, 10 Futures, Machine Wars and many, MANY others.
I would love to thank Michael for his time and for his astounding and in-depth answers he presented in our interview.
Below I have done my absolute best in undertaking the task of manually transcribing a 25 minute interview. I hope you all enjoy it!
(I = Isabella, M = Michael)
I: I’m here today with the creative genius and incredible author that is Michael Pryor. He has written books such as The Laws of Magic, 10 Futures, Machine Wars and many others. I was very excited when I found out I would be interviewing you. What an incredible author to have for my first ever one-on-one author interview! To kick-start this interview, I wanted to ask you some questions regarding the themes featured in your novels, more specifically; the theme of the future. Why do you choose to write such futuristic novels, in regards to novels like Machine Wars and 10 Futures?
M: 10 Futures is one of the projects that had been in my back-burner for ages. I’ve written about science fiction and fantasy, going backwards and forwards. I’ve probably written more fantasy over the years, but I just had this burning desire to write a classic science fiction scenario that is extrapolation: looking at trends that are happening today and pushing these trends into the future. That is science fiction bread-and-butter. I wanted to do that and 10 Futures allowed me to write 10 different science fiction stories that unite. The idea is that the novel is about 10 different futures, where artificial intelligence is incorporated in both positive and negative ways and where technology is progressive. Science fiction is an author playground, being able to imagine a changed world. Machine Wars is the same thing: it’s this notion of Artificial Intelligence. The idea is when robots and A.I get smarter, they’re essentially going to kill us all. Taking that cliche, that stereotype and putting some young people in that situation and seeing how they’re going to respond and overthrow the A.I is essentially the plot line.
I: *Jokingly said* Now are you sure you’re not a scientist? You really seem to know a lot about science and technology.
M:*Laughing* I have a science heart. In year 12 I did physics, chemistry, maths, all of that. At university I did an arts course, but I just love science. I think it’s so cool. One of the arts subjects I managed to pick up at university was ‘The History and Philosophy of Science”. It was absolutely fascinating and so interesting. Being able to do this subject gave me a whole new perspective on science, history and art. Scientists are some of my heroes. Charles Darwin- what a guy. What a guy! The scientific method is just one of the best things we’ve ever thought of in order to make sense of our universe. I love the history of science because it’s so dramatic and is full of adrenaline. Hearing cutting-edge science is lovely because science, especially medical science, is wonderful stuff making a better future.
I: In regards to your perspective on the future, where do you see the future heading for humanity? Do you agree with the way you have portrayed the future in your books or do you have a secondary or opposite opinion to the one you display? You can go as far ahead into the future as you like.
M: That’s a good question because mostly when a writer is writing about the future it is a bleak future. Now that does not necessarily mean that I think the future is going to be bleak, it’s just that there are better narrative opportunities in a bleak future. But when things are going wrong *rubs hands together* you get good stories happening. If everything is lovely, it’s a bit dull. So, yes, don’t mistake a writer’s view of a bleak future as to what they’re thinking and where they’re heading. I’m generally a techno-optimist. I actually think that technology and science are going to make the world better. If we continue [with technology] we will overcome problems and make lives better. A world with advanced technology is going to be so much fun. But that’s not to say that i’m unaware of the downsides. Dreadful things can- and already have- happened in the name of science. But in the balance, it has been far more better for humanity than it has been bad. Long may it continue.
I: Definitely. To shift the focus away from the future, there is another theme in your novels which is fantasy. I’m desperate to bring this up based on your standpoint in [Saturday 15th June’s] rather heated sci-fi vs fantasy debate. What market were you trying to push the Law’s of Magic series towards? Was it purely marketed for fantasy fans or were you trying to engage your science fiction audience?
M: In the debate we fiercely were guarding our territory while also agreeing that there is a lot of intersection between [sci-fi and fantasy]. The Laws of Magic series (a 6 book series) is a collaboration of both territories. It is fantasy but I tried to make it what i call a ‘rigorous fantasy’. It’s called The Laws of Magic because the ‘laws” that I was writing about are modeled on the laws of science so o the magicians/characters have to follow the scientific method. They are required to discover the laws that govern their world, much like physicists looking for the laws of physics. Just imagine magic essentially as a science. That was the heart of [this series] and it was this sneaky way of trying to get people to think in a scientific way, even though we are talking about magic.
I: I’m glad that we’ve brought up both fantasy and sci-fi, because my next question is based on another theme in your novels: the supernatural. I know that you have an upcoming book called Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town, which comes out early July. Tell me, and all of the hungry readers here on Inside a Dog, more about your interest in the supernatural. Have you always enjoyed the supernatural genre?
M: Oh yeah. I love a good ghost story. I enjoy horror and today I think there are two sorts of horror; there’s supernatural horror and then there’s gory horror. I’m not such a fan of the latter but i do like spooky horror. Do I believe in the supernatural? No I don’t believe in it. I;m a rationalist at heart. But it doesn’t stop me from imagining it. It’s a great playground for writing and fear is a lovely thing to play around with. If people are scared, how do they react? What do they do? Putting characters into extreme situations is a great way of exploring the behaviour of people and understanding how they would manage in scenarios such as these. This novel (which is the sequel to Gap Year in Ghost Town) features the traditional notion of ghosts, but with a few tweaks. The Ghost Town series is set in Melbourne. There is lots of local recognition in this series. In some ways, these books are a love song to this city. The series is also what I refer to as funny-scary. Funny-scary is good because when you combine the two, it makes the scary scarier and the funny funnier. The contrasts add emphasis to one another. But I do love a good joke, so my sense of humour contributes too.
I: Well I did notice this heavy use of humour in your novels, particularly within your books for younger readers. What is your take on humour and how do you think humour should be used in order to be effective and relevant? Do you believe that including humour is important, specifically for younger audiences?
M: Humour is a vital social element because it defuses situations and introduces people to people. It shows our humanity because we are a laughing species. A lot of little kids books especially are full of humour. Full of It! Children love it and I find that as we get older we become more serious and you can see this from young adult novels and more mature books. There are fewer and fewer humorous around and I think that’s a real shame. It’s almost like a book is not treated seriously if it’s funny. If you want to be considered worthy and taken seriously, it seems like you need to be deadly and bleak and your [writing] need to be sad. I think humour is a vital part of how we live our lives. Young adults and teenagers’ default mode of discourse is incorporating humour. You hear them making jokes and punning, laughing all the time. But their books are bleak and sad and humour is left out. Humour doesn’t have to be in every book, but it should be incorporated a lot more because it’s natural for us to laugh. So that’s what I’ve done with the Ghost Town series; incorporated humour. The characters are serious when they need to be, but I’ve added humour. People look up to humorous people to show it and I admire those people. I see myself as one of those role models because I believe it’s so important to laugh.
I: Speaking of role models, I wanted to talk to you about your writing influences. What sparked your creative interest in writing and what was the first written piece (published work or even school essay) that marked the beginning of your authorial career?
M: I was always as reader and I think that is how, inevitably, writers start. If you don’t like reading you might not consider writing as a career. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved reading and I easily immersed myself into books. The discovery of libraries excited me. They’re big buildings full of books that you can take home and not pay for. WOW! Who thought of this great idea?? *laughter* I read book after book after book and gradually I started thinking about how I would like to do what these writers do for their readers; I wanted to write and make people feel the way I did when I read. It took a long time before I put this dream into action. Writing wasn’t serious to me. I was good at it but it took time for me to embrace the idea of a writing career. I put it off for a bit, but it did resurface and I realised that nothing was going to happen if I didn’t do anything about it. So I sat down and started writing. My first ever published piece that I was payed for was in a gardening magazine *laughter*. I wrote this short article, that was a few hundred words long, about about the ‘Macadamia Tree’. I went to the library (libraries!!) to read up on the macadamia tree, did some research there and sent my article off to this gardening magazine. They didn’t reply. So, I thought ‘That’s it! I’m never going to be a writer!’ . Then, a few weeks later, they sent me a cheque for $25. They didn’t send me a note about my article or anything, just this cheque for $25! I was so excited! I’m pretty sure I bought a pizza with the money. After this experience I was confident that I could do something as a writer, so I wrote a few fiction articles here and there before I graduated university. I then wrote short stories because I knew that they would tell me quickly and in a shorter amount of time whether I was cut out for a writing career. It was shorter than writing a novel so I wrote these short stories and sent them to magazines and got them published. I had around 8-10 short stories published before I committed to writing a novel. It was short stories that got me into the industry. Of course, there were knock backs and rejections, but you just need to pursue. I didn’t take any writing courses, however I know there are many out there, but I know of a lot of brilliant self-taught writers.
I: Your inspirational story does tie in perfectly with my final question; Have you got any final words of wisdom fort any aspiring writers here on Inside a Dog and on the Inky Awards blog about following writing ambitions?
M: Yes I do; Finish something. That’s my number one rule for a beginning writer and even any professional writer.A lot of beginning writers, a lot of very talented people, half half finished work. They don’t see it through to the end. You’ll never get to be published if you don’t finish something. Finish something and it will show you that at least you can finish it, that you can do the physical job of sitting down and getting to the end of putting a story together. It might be rubbish, but that doesn’t matter. Take that rubbish, put it aside and tell yourself that you can do it. The second [story] will be a lot better if you commit to it and work hard. First books, a lot of the time, are almost tributes to the books and authors we love. You base them on your favourites. I did exactly the same thing. But that’s ok. You need to get it out of your system, put it aside and go with the [story] that comes genuinely from you. So, persevere and finish something. More novels have been written through perseverance than actual talent. There’s lots of talented people, but perseverance is important and it gets you through in the end.
I: That piece of advice (finishing something and persevering) is so important and I know that it definitely applies to most, if not all, of us reading this. It can be applied to not only writing and reading, but also to everyday practises of school, work, relationships, etc. Commitment and perseverance are all rounder vitalities.
I: Thank you so much for your time today, Michael. Everyone from Inside a Dog, the Inky Awards and myself wish you all the best with your writing and the new release of your book, Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town!
M: Thank you so much! You’ve been good fun 🙂
(Link to Michael Pryor’s official website: http://www.michaelpryor.com.au/)
I hope you guys all enjoyed this interview! Receiving the opportunity to interview an author face-to-face was definitely an experience I will hold on to forever.
More book reviews and blog posts on my behalf will be appearing soon, so stay tuned!
– Isabella 😊