Ambelin was kind enough to find some time to to do a five question interview with us. If you enjoy reading it, come see Ambelin speak at our convention this weekend!
1. For those who haven’t come across your work before, how would you describe your stories?
You know what, it’s super difficult to describe your own work, or at least, it’s difficult to do it without sounding like an idiot. Before too long you find yourself using melded words like ‘genre-defying’ and realise that you sound – well, stupid, obviously; also pretentious. Besides which, only half the story is on the page; the other half is in how it’s read. Some people are firmly of the view that The Tribe series is fantasy while others say sci-fi; some think it’s an adventure, others a thriller, others still a political narrative on human rights – or refugees – or race … take your pick. All views are equally valid. I think readers have a right to find in a book what they will, and each of those elements are definitely there to be found. The Tribe series is dystopian, and as is the case with most dystopian books, the imperfections of the future are drawn from the imperfections of the past and the present. So too are the solutions – one of the things I’ve always loved about speculative fiction is the way it deals with the best and worst of humanity.
2. Characters in The Tribe series are bonded with an animal, and on your new website visitors can find out what kind of animal they relate to. What animal do you think you’d be bonded to?
A wolf, because Ashala is, and Ash is the character who I am most like. Plus I write from her perspective which means I live as Ash when I am writing. That’s not easy … especially not for my family … basically I’m awful to live with when I’m working on one of the books. Ashala’s fears and worries are mine (as are her triumphs, but I don’t usually get to those to very end). There is a moment in the first book, when Ashala is gazing into the eyes of the man trying to destroy her and realises for the first time the extent of his corruption – yeah, that was hard to write. I felt physically cold when I was writing it, chilled all the way to the bone. In fact, I had to go away and have a cup of tea and give myself a reassuring talking to before I could go on with the scene.
3. You’ve written and illustrated several picture books and are in the middle of a series of YA novels, what are the different challenges of writing a 4 book story compared to telling a story with pictures and limited text?
There’s a degree to which writing is writing. Words are hard, it’s just that there’s less of them in picture books, although that can make things more difficult too. There’s no ‘explaining things later’ in a picture book, every word has to earn it’s place in the narrative. And I suspect being an illustrator has helped me with the novels. Most people talk about my writing as being visual, I think that comes from working in two mediums; as an author/illustrator I’m used to immediately thinking about how every scene will look in picture form.
4. As an Aboriginal speculative fiction author, what influence has Palyku storytellers had on the way you craft stories?
You know, I’m going to be talking a bit about this in my Continuum Guest of Honour speech, so I don’t want to say too much here for fear of being left with no material that people haven’t heard (or read) before. But one of the interesting things I’ve discovered since the books have been released is that some of the elements that people identify as fantasy (eg, the ancestral serpent) are part of my reality as an Indigenous person … and it never even occurred to me to think of them as fantasy. So I can identify some of the ways in which my culture has shaped the story but there’s probably a lot of others that I’m not even consciously aware of.
5.If you had a TARDIS where and when would you go and who would be your companion?
One hundred years into the future, to see if our species does survive, and if we manage to do it without compromising the ability of every other species to exist or further widening the existing inequities among human beings.
And companion? David Tennant. (got a bit of a crush…)