Clunes International Booktown – Part 4: The Art of Navigation and slipstream fiction

My final session on Sunday afternoon was serendipitous and inspiring. Expecting to hear about writing creatively as part of post-graduate studies (a goal of mine) I was pleased to meet poet Nathan Curnow whose work I have shared at ETA Writing Teacher Retreats at the old quarantine station in Manly. He created a warm atmosphere for the interview which was held in a small marquee, and allowed Rose Michael to open up about her writing process, her understanding of the publishing industry in Australia and current trends in fiction.

Federation University, based in Ballarat, is a major sponsor of Booktown, and it seems they offer a wide range of study options, including short courses in creative writing.

Rose discussed  her latest book, The Art of Navigation, which was the result of her PhD through the University of Western Australia. Exploring nature and time, and the intersection of magic and us, the manuscript began as a linear narrative – but what if time isn’t linear? The past, present and future are constructs. Rose is interested in non-realist long form writing and noted that science and magic are the same thing, particularly in previous historical eras. The Art of Navigation includes narratives from three time periods: 1987, 1587 and 2027, containing historical and speculative fiction genres. Importantly, Rose mentioned a new genre: slipstream fiction, described as literary fiction with a speculative motif – such as time travel – that is never ‘explained’ in the way that a science fiction text might seek to explain.

This notion of genre prompted Nathan’s question: is genre a ‘vessel’ for you? Rose responded by referring to Angela Carter’s quote about old vessels and new wine making the mix explode.

Read more on this idea at Angela Slatter’s blog: ‘New Wine in Old Bottles – a meditation on writing’

Rose also spoke positively about the current state of small presses in Australia, and how the publishing houses have managed to ‘take out’ many major awards in recent years, possibly because they are focused on quality literature rather than blockbuster sales and profits. This is a timely reminder to know which publisher to submit your mansuscript – know your niche. And finish the book: there’s no point writing two or three chapters and hoping to sell a manuscript, hoping for an advance to take time out and finish writing.

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