10 Questions with Lachlan Walter
Lachlan Walter is a writer, science-fiction critic and nursery-hand (the garden kind, not the baby kind), and the author of two books: the deeply Australian post-apocalyptic tale The Rain Never Came, and the giant-monster story-cycle We Call It Monster. He writes science fiction criticism for Aurealis magazine, his short fiction can be found floating around online, and he has completed a PhD that critically and creatively explored the relationship between Australian post-apocalyptic fiction and Australian notions of national identity.
He loves all things music-related, the Australian environment, overlooked genres and playing in the garden. He hopes that you’re having a nice day.
For more information, check out www.lachlanwalter.com
1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
The short answer is that I’m a writer, critic and author, and I divide my time between Melbourne’s northern suburbs and a half-horse country town in Central Victoria. I primarily write and critique speculative fiction, and my creative writing is almost exclusively Australian-centric and focused on particularly Australian concerns—our climate, our culture, our environment, our society and so on.
My first book—The Rain Never Came—combines dystopian and post-apocalyptic elements to examine Australian masculine relationships, deconstruct notions of Australian identity and Australian society’s perception of refugees, and critique white Australia’s attitude to our unique natural environment. My second book—We Call It Monster—uses giant monsters of the Godzilla/King Kong kind as metaphors for climate change, and to examine how humanity might react to both a changing natural world and to natural disasters that nowadays so often seem too big to properly comprehend.
As a person, I’m a bit of a contradiction, mostly in the fact that while I have a doctorate in literature and can bang-on for hours about the deeper meanings of speculative fiction, I work in a nursery where I can get my hands dirty, spend my time on my feet, play with plants and spend as much time outside as possible.
2. What drew you to these particular genres?
I grew up in the 1980s, a sickly kid surrounded by a media landscape saturated with science fiction and speculative fiction, at a point in time in which their terminology and motifs were being absorbed into our cultural dialect and acquiring real-world symbolism. Being a bit of an obsessive, I soaked up these symbols and motifs and slowly found the language of these genres to be a logical way to understand the world, its rapid rate of change and our increasingly intertwined relationship with technology. As well, I increasingly became fascinated by the ability of these genres to make us question what we know by reframing it as a ‘what if?’ and then digging deep. To this particular fan, their ability to open our eyes to what is by showing us what it might become, is nothing short of genius, and has stuck with me for my entire life.
When I finally decided that I wanted to be a writer, what other choice did I have but to work within these worlds?
3. What are you currently working on? And what inspired you to write it?
I’m currently halfway through writing two new books (the completion of which Covid interrupted), and both are reasonably different from my two published works.
The first is a piece of climate fiction set in the near-future, in which I’m trying to extrapolate many of our world’s current problems to craft a family drama that takes place in a world teetering on the edge. It came about for two reasons: Firstly, because of a sense that the world is in a period of crisis which could, if left unaddressed, completely rewrite humanity’s way of life; and secondly, as a break from my other work in progress. To explain: this other work in progress is a tongue-in-cheek piece of metafiction inspired by my love/hate relationship with science fiction’s cliched tropes and cheesy elements. However, the narrative it hangs on is dependant on a number of constraints and ‘rules’ that are often frustrating and confounding, and at times grew so tiresome to work within that I considered abandoning the project entirely. To avoid doing so, I decided to turn to something that was much more freewheeling as a way to reignite my passion for writing, and suddenly found myself working on two books at the same time.
4. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, panster or somewhere in between? How do you research?
In answering this question I could go on and on, so I’ll just address the first part. So, I guess I exist somewhere in between a plotter and a pantser. I typically know how my story will start and how it’ll end and some of the scenes/events that happen in between, but part of the fun is stringing these scenes and events together, because sometimes just pantsing the journey from A-Z reveals unexpected situations or takes the story in unexpected directions.
To use an example from We Call It Monster: because it’s a story-cycle, I could get away with writing it out of order. However, this meant a fair bit of plotting beforehand, to make sure that each story would be consistent with the ones both before and after it. But once that was done, I could just pants the hell out of it. Another example comes from the metafictional book I’m working on right now—I plotted out probably the first quarter before I even started writing it, but once I was eight or nine chapters in numerous issues suddenly occurred. So problematic were these issues that I had to rethink the whole concept of the book, and so just pantsed over the top of what I’d already written in order to make it work.
It was an incredibly satisfying experience, and when the book is finally done it’ll be all the better for doing so.
5. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
In one day, I actually found myself researching the following:
How long it takes a bridge to collapse
The blast radius of a car bomb
Potential sea-level rises caused by climate change
How to brew your own beer
The dangers of tepid floodwater
Whether or not silencers actually work
How to grow your own tobacco.
6. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
To describe the most personal scene I’ve ever written would be to massively spoil part of my first book, so I think I’ll let that one go through to the keeper.
However, I can talk about my most personal story, which is basically We Call It Monster. You see, I’ve been a fan of monster movies ever since I was a little kid. This was initially because of their sheer spectacle, and then later, as my understanding of stories increased, because of their metaphorical and figurative potential—the original King Kong can be read as a story about the clash of cultures, and the negative consequences of Western imperialism; the original Godzilla, and its more serious sequels, as a response to the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima; The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them, Tarantula and their creature-feature kin from the ‘50s and ‘60s as reflections of Western society’s anxieties regarding atomic power and atomic weaponry; Cloverfield as a representation of Western society’s horror at an attack by unknown sources, and said society’s complacency in the post-Cold War period; the recent American remake of Godzilla as a critique of humanity’s tendency to view nature as a commodity to be exploited; and so on.
Now, I’ve always been a voracious reader, and sometimes an obsessive one. I’ve been known to occasionally get my nerd on for a particular sub or micro-genre, looking up ‘similar title’ and ‘you might also like’ lists online when I should be doing something better with my time. But I still keep searching, because there can’t just be one example of Mystery Sub/Micro-genre X out there. Giant monster fiction was one such obsession that carried me away, but what I discovered was sorely disappointing, as giant monster fiction broadly falls into two categories: post-modern game-play, and over-the-top action. As fun as these types can be, they failed to deliver what their cinematic progenitors did, and so disappointing was this fact that, after first writing an article bemoaning the situation, I decided to try and write the book I had so far failed to find.
I believe that I did, because despite its title, We Call It Monster is more concerned with people than monsters. It isn’t a ‘wham-bam, shoot-em-up’ but instead a serious look at how we might react to forces beyond our control, and to forces that illuminate the precariousness of our position as world-conquerors sitting atop the food chain. It might not be everyone’s cup of genre tea, but I like to think that I took the subject matter seriously and produced a giant monster novel unlike any other.
7. Who are your literary influences? In what way?
My personal philosophy is that a writer’s literary influences should only impact them on the ‘why’ of their writing and not on the ‘how’—every writer needs to find their own voice rather than try to replicate someone else’s, and while literary ventriloquism might be an interesting experiment it isn’t something to build a career upon.
For me, the ‘why’ is the way my literary influences use the tropes and themes of speculative/science fiction to examine that old chestnut: the human condition. I have zero interest in hard science fiction (the kind that actually explores the science behind the fiction), and so an analogy can easily be made using smartphones—I couldn’t care less about how they actually work, but I am absolutely fascinated by what they’ve done to society. Accordingly, those writers who have particularly influenced me—Kurt Vonnegut, Matt Haig, Margaret Atwood, Steven Amsterdam, JG Ballard, Claire G. Coleman and Andrew Kaufman, to name but a few—use the genre to examine and imagine what might happen to us if its tropes and themes were actually real. How would we react and how would our world change if faced with the arrival of aliens, or interstellar flight, or the appearance of giant monsters, or someone from the future, or an actual artificial intelligence, or a robot indistinguishable from a human, or climate change that reshaped the world, or the actual end of the world, and so on?
8. What books are on your bedside table right now?
Ugh, too many—William Kotzwinkle’s Jack in the Box, N.K. Jemisen’s The City We Became, Neil Gaiman’s entire Sandman comic series (which I’ve always wanted to read from start to finish without lengthy interruptions), and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay.
As a rule, I prefer to just read one book at a time, but lately I’ve had some trouble finding the right one to settle into so am instead flitting back and forth until one of them clicks.
9. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
To be honest, as an indie author it’s hard to get brick-and-mortar shops to stock your books—there’s only so much shelf space out there, and the major publishers tend to have the market locked up. Even so, I’ve been lucky enough to receive support from some smaller independent bookshops—particularly Brunswick Books in Melbourne and Stoneman’s Books in Central Victoria—but the reality is that the easiest way to find my books is online.
Alternatively, you can find them through my website, which is chock-a-block with information on both The Rain Never Came and We Call It Monster (and includes purchase links), and also features my published short fiction, science fiction criticism and previous interviews.
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