Meg Mundell’s first novel BLACK GLASS (Scribe, 2011) was shortlisted for the 2011 Aurealis Awards (in two categories), the 2012 Norma K Hemming Award, the 2012 Chronos Award (Best Long Fiction), and the 2010 Scribe-CAL Fiction Prize; it was also highly commended in the 2012 Barbara Jefferis Award. Meg’s short stories have appeared in Best Australian Stories, New Australian Stories, Australian Book Review, Eureka Street, Meanjin, Harvest, The Big Issue and Sleepers Almanac. Her journalism has been published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Financial Review, The Big Issue and The Monthly. A Kiwi by birth and a Melburnian by location, Meg is currently working on a second novel, writing a creative non-fiction book about trucking culture, and doing a PhD on how authors research “sense of place”. Website: www.megmundell.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/megmundell.writer
“Black Glass” has picked up a slew of nominations for some of Australia’s most prestigious awards, and has been recognised in both YA and Adult categories. What is about the book that you think resonates with so many people and across so many different demographics?
Thanks for making it sound appealing! (: It’s hard to say, because every reader will take so many different things from a book. BLACK GLASS is set in a dystopian world, but I tried to infuse it with a sense of hope. Maybe that combination was kind of appealing – sinister, but not entirely bleak?
But I suspect it’s the characters that have helped the novel resonate with so many different readers – especially the main character, Tally. She seems to have won people over. I know I love her to bits, although she drove me crazy at times too! Little nutter. So yes, I hope it’s the diverse characters: their motives, their obsessions, and the ways in which they struggle to survive in a tough, sometimes heartless world. That struggle is an old theme, and a universal one.
Maybe the book’s focus on surveillance resonates at the moment too. Our lives are so heavily surveilled these days, both via CCTV and the more insidious and shady realm of dataveillance (case in point: Facebook). While we’re not always consciously aware of this, I think it filters through at some level. So maybe the book tapped into that feeling too – the sense that we’re living in a world of constant scrutiny, where we trail behind us these great, dark, ever-expanding towers of personal data.
Looking at your background in journalism, do you feel that this has informed or influenced your fiction, and if so, how?
Journalism trained me to be practical about my craft: to write to deadlines, to churn out words every day, without waiting for some mysterious muse to descend and wave a magic wand. (Although sometimes I wish she’d do that…just turn up and waggle the wand on cue!) Journalism probably also trained me to look at things from a multitude of perspectives – and I think you can see that in the novel, that idea that your take on reality depends on your point of view, your position in the world.
My time at THE BIG ISSUE magazine, where I spent five delightful years as staff writer and deputy editor, opened my eyes to stories and perspectives that I would otherwise have missed. The experiences of the homeless characters in BLACK GLASS – all of that was heavily influenced by my journo training at THE BIG ISSUE, and my many conversations with the magazine’s amazing vendors.
The journalist character in my novel, poor old Damon Spark, was clearly influenced by my own experiences as a freelance journalist. Although there’s a huge dose of satire there – both in my portrait of Damon, and in the way I’ve painted/twisted the dodgy alliances between journalism, big business and government, within the world of the book. Despite that sardonic take on it, I have the highest respect for quality journalism. I don’t think we value it enough, and if we lose it, we’re really going to be up shit creek.
Browsing your website’s “In Progress” section, you seem to be moving in a slightly different direction, with a “based on a true story” novel and a non-fiction memoir. Do you have any plans for a return to the world of “Black Glass”, or any more speculative fiction pieces in the pipeline?
I’ve always run in several different directions at once. I wish I could channel things more neatly into one stream, but I seem to need the variety. I love writing in all sorts of genres, across lots of different themes. The non-fiction memoir is about outback trucking, and the mythology and romance of roads and highways. But the “based on a true story” book is set in the future! So that’s a speculative project, for sure.
I’d love to dive back into the world of BLACK GLASS. I miss those characters and want to find out what happens to them next. But I’ll have to wait and see. I’m doing a PhD at the moment too, so I need to polish off a few big projects first.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
Right now I’m reading a spec fic novel, WHEN WE HAVE WINGS, by Claire Corbett, and I’m absolutely loving it. As someone who can’t get enough of those flying dreams, it’s really firing up my imagination. I met Claire when we were both on a panel with Michael Pryor recently, at the Gloucester Writers’ Festival. We all just clicked, so I’m both happy and relieved to be really engrossed in her first novel. Michael’s latest book TEN FUTURES is now firmly on my to-read list, too.
I try to read really widely. This year I’ve also loved Tony Birch’s brilliant realist novel BLOOD, which is deservedly shortlisted for the Miles Franklin. For my PhD I’m re-reading one of my favourite non-fiction books, SEVEN VERSIONS OF AN AUSTRALIAN BADLAND, by Ross Gibson. Set along Queensland’s famous Horror Stretch, it’s an astounding piece of work: part murder mystery, part road movie, part dreamscape, part detective story. Damn good.
Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
I think I’m too much of a newbie to be able to answer this question. I didn’t even realise there was a spec fic scene, until I published a book that apparently fell into that genre! It’s been great to discover this whole friendly, intelligent, diverse community of people who are passionate about the possibilities of spec fic. If I can offer a future hope/prediction, rather than a retrospective reflection, it would be a wish that good spec fic would continue to push through the genre snobberies and gatekeepers’ biases to plant itself more firmly in the “literary” and “mainstream” realms. Good stories are good stories, and readers deserve to hear about them, minus the genre caveats that too often frame or limit the write-ups that make it into lit journals and book pages. Too many assumptions get made on this front. Grandmas love spec fic too!
This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to Continuum 8 in Melbourne, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2012 conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from June 1 to June 7, 2012.