National Short Story Week: Margo Lanagan
This week is National Short Story Week. In celebration of it, we sat down for a chat with critically acclaimed young adult author, Margo Lanagan. She shares a few thoughts about her short story collections. For any teen or adult reader who hasn’t read any short stories for a while (or ever), I’d highly recommend trying Lanagan. She combines play, observation and provocation beautifully.
WSD: All of your short story collections are named after colours. Does each colour have a special significance to each book: either in its contents, to her when she was writing it, or any other way?
Margo Lanagan (ML):
Short answer, no. The first collection, White Time, had a story called "White Time" in it, but I chose Black Juice simply because I wanted a title with Black in it. Then with later collections I thought I'd just move on to the primary colours: Red Spikes, Yellowcake. Blue is next. It's easier to have a naming scheme than to try to capture the essence of each collection, particularly as the stories within each collection are so varied.
I also have a fifth (mini-)collection, Cracklescape, which came out from Twelfth Planet Press last year. That one's title came from a kind of firework - there's a firework display in one of the stories, but mainly I just liked the word. The -scape part of it also pointed to the fact that all the stories were set in Australian landscapes, so they were united by that.
WSD: Do you have a favourite (or a few) short story/ies in your collections and why?
Let me think.
In White Time, I think my favourite story is "The Night Lily", because it still remains slightly mysterious to me; I kind of coughed it up rather than putting it together from ingredients I chose.
In Black Juice, "Singing My Sister Down" and "My Lord's Man" are my favourites because they came out the neatest and best formed; "Sweet Pippit" I like because I grew very fond of those elephants in the telling.
In Red Spikes, I like "Winkie", because it's so creepy, and in Yellowcake I'm torn between "A Fine Magic" and "Ferryman", again for their neatness, but also because I enjoyed the characters in them.
In Cracklescape, probably my favourite is "Significant Dust", because I enjoyed going back to that stark Nullarbor Plain setting.
WSD: Your writing, though fantastical, is often literally and symbolically visceral as it unpacks anatomies and life's inequalities. At times, this is a delight and also a discomfort to the reader. Does it have the same effect on you as a writer?
I think I'm always looking for what Kelly Link calls a "pleasurable" experience in the writing, but this doesn't necessarily translate to the writing of a joyful story or a story about people experiencing pleasure. Generally it means that I've got hold of a story and some solid, interesting characters to drive it (or some interesting characters, with a plot to drive them to reveal themselves) and if everything's working well I will be totally absorbed in the adventure of creating it.
Delights and discomforts for the characters are equally challenging to write; I wouldn't say that I get more distressed writing one than the other. Sometimes if I've been delving in dark stuff there's a certain relief in walking away from it; sometimes I make myself cry - although I try not to have characters cry, as it usually indicates a weak point in the story construction. And my tears are usually momentary things; we're not talking floods of tears and loud sobbing here, just one nose-blow and some eye-dabbing.
The experience of putting together a scene that I'm hoping will affect readers one way or another generally involves one layer of character's actions and emotions and one layer of technical preoccupation with evoking particular emotions (not always the same as the characters') in the reader; there's very little room in that mixture for me to indulge my own emotions.
Thank you, Margo. Having read Yellowcake, I think the Ferryman story was one of my favourites too. I'll look out for your favourites when I start White Time and Red Spikes too.
Read my Yellowcake review.