The 5-question interview: Kirstyn McDermott

Kirstyn McDermott is the author of  Madigan Mine (Picador, 2010) and the new novel Perfection (XOUM). You can visit her online here.

1. Can you remember the first story you ever wrote and, if so, what was it?

I’ve been making up and telling myself stories for as long as I can remember, but I don’t think I started actually writing them down until late primary school and there’s not many of those that I can recall. The stories that stayed in my head seemed so much brighter, probably because they were ongoing. For me, once a story is written down then it’s … well, not precisely dead, but preserved? Like insects behind glass or flowers pressed into a book. They’re finished at least, and I don’t really think about them anymore.

That said, one very early story that I do remember — mainly because I still have my handwritten copy of it — dates from age 10 or 11. It’s about a Phoenix that wakes up from centuries of slumber, hunts down and eats some sheep to fill its starving belly and is consequently fatally shot by the farmer. It was told from the poor Phoenix’s point of view, and so is a rather sad and confused ending. Seems I could be a somewhat grim child.

2. How many novels did you write before your ‘first novel’ was published?

I wrote one novel-length manuscript before MADIGAN MINE (my first published novel). If you count sub-50K words as “novel length”. That one, thankfully, shall never see the light of day, although I may still cannibalise parts of it.

3. What sorts of books do you love to read?

All sorts of books, really, as long as they’re well-written, engaging and have something interesting to tell me. Fiction and non-fiction, across all sorts of genres and veins of literature. I’m a very eclectic reader, but I do find myself becoming increasingly intolerant when it comes to bad writing or dull stories. I don’t perservere anywhere near as much as I used to — there’s simply not enough time in the world. I do have a definite preference for fiction that explores darker themes and subject matter with intelligence and emotional honesty, and I really love reading short stories. Some of my very favourite books of the past couple of years have been collections of short fiction by very, very accomplished writers — Kaaron Warren, Rob Shearman, Paul Haines, Caitlin Kiernan, Kelly Link, Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter, to name but a few.

4. If you were forced to co-write a novel with someone (as we’re not presuming that you’d want to co-write with anyone necessarily) who would it be?

Funnily enough, my husband, Jason Nahrung, and I have been casually tossing around the idea of co-writing a novel for the past couple of years. It’s something that might never happen, as we’re both too caught up with our own projects much of the time, but he’s a writer I could easily imagine collaborating with. We have fairly complementary skills sets and would probably work quite well together. If we didn’t spend half the time sulking or glaring at each other from respective ends of the house …

5. What are you working on now and next?

Right now, I’m wrapping up final proofs of PERFECTIONS, my next novel which is due out very soon from XOUM, and I’m also finishing up a novella to round out my short fiction collection, CAUTION: CONTAINS SMALL PARTS, which will be published by Twelfth Planet Press early next year. After that, I have a couple of promised stories to get done and then I’m hoping to start work on a new novel that I’ve had knocking about in my head for a couple of years. It’s a strange one, and I can’t say a lot about it, but I think it will be somewhat different to a lot of the fiction I’ve had published thus far. I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in that one!


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