Interview with Tasmanian fantasy author, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a prolific fantasy author. In the following interview, she talks about her writing career.

Photo of fantasy author, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Fantasy author,
Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy, can you tell me how you first came to be published?
I always feel a bit guilty about telling this story, because my path to publication is no help to anyone! I entered the George Turner Prize (which no longer exists) for an unpublished SF/F novel, and I won! Splashdance Silver was bought by Transworld in 1998 when I was just nineteen years old, and published a few months later. It was at a time when there was a very set idea in Australia about what fantasy fiction was like, and my book was very different – it was a comedy about pirates and explosive magic.

How have you developed your writing craft?
Absolutely through practice. I spent most of my teens writing novel after novel, and reading voraciously. Formal study was never much use to me because the creative writing teachers I had access to were not sympathetic at all to genre. I actually learned a lot from teaching, as well – through a stroke of luck I fell into work as a creative writing teacher at night school through my twenties, and developed several regular courses, mostly for beginner writers. There was often one or at most two writers in each class who were there because I was a fantasy writer, and I did my best to give them more genre-specific support than I ever found myself.

I actually only quit teaching back when I had a trilogy deal with HarperVoyager and realised that to get the books finished and to make them good, I needed to not be thinking about the beginner end of writing for a while – I had to push myself beyond the basics.

The most useful professional development I did over the last decade and a half or so was as part of the ROR group – a collection of SF and fantasy writers who wanted to work on our skills collaboratively, because there are so few development options available to you once you’ve sold your first novel, but still so much learning to do. Every year and a half or so, we would exchange manuscripts and then all go away together for a long weekend to exchange critiques. It was an amazing experience, though sadly we struggle to find time for those getaways any more – mostly for good reasons like publisher deadlines!

How has being a parent influenced your writing?
That’s so hard to answer! Being a parent is who I am now – nine years and counting – I hardly remember who that person was, before my first daughter came along. Most of the everyday effects of being a parent vs not a parent that I actually think about do involve time management, and all that practical stuff. But all life experiences inform my writing, and I think I’m a more interesting person in my thirties than I was when I was younger – my kids and partner and parenting experience are all part of that.

You wear many hats as a writer. You’re also an editor and have reviewed an impressive list of titles. You write in the speculative fiction and crime genres (as Livia Day), for children, and publish through different publishing houses. Was this a deliberate decision or something that comes naturally to you?

I’ve never been able to settle to just one kind of writing or work – on the one hand, I might have a more effective “author brand” (ugh) if I did. But today’s publishing industry is so scattered, it’s hard to limit yourself to one kind of opportunity. I got involved with small press publishing and editing at a time when I had been dropped as a writer from my previous publisher – and I was burned out on writing novels. That gave me amazing experience that I could feed into other writing work, and also introduced me to some wonderful people in the SF community. Reading and reviewing helped me to keep a foot in that community even when my professional side was elsewhere – studying, or working.

As for publishing across multiple houses – if you’re not a bestseller, you can’t afford not to keep moving, spreading your work across different platforms. If one publisher doesn’t like a particular book, maybe the next one will. I’m lucky at the moment to have two wonderful indie presses publishing my work – Twelfth Planet Press has published a lot of my short fiction, and now the Livia Day novels. Many of the awards I have won have been down to the work Twelfth Planet Press has published.

Meanwhile, Tehani of Fablecroft has reprinted my old Mocklore novels including my debut Splashdance Silver, and recently launched the long-unpublished third Mocklore Chronicle, Ink Black Magic. She is going to publish some collections of my essays later this year, and we collaborated together on crowdfunding the Cranky Ladies of History anthology. I rarely have time for editing these days, but a great project can occasionally lure me back…

Cover for Livia Day's A Trifle Dead

A Trifle Dead, published under Tansy’s nom-de-plume, Livia Day.

Can you tell me about using Hobart, Tasmania as a setting for your crime novels?
I live and breathe Hobart! I’ve lived here all my life. I was always a bit hesitant about writing my own city when I was younger – it seemed much more intimidating than making up a world from scratch. But I’m hooked now. My first Hobart-set longer work was the novella ‘Siren Beat’ which had a kraken invade the Derwent River. Mostly I use it for the ‘real world’ work like Livia Day’s novels – and I have occasionally paced a few streets, though I am also lazy and use Google Earth when I need a refresher on a particular area. For the second novel, Drowned Vanilla, I invented a town just south of Cygnet [also in Tasmania], because my mother lives in that area and I didn’t want to offend anyone by making the population of a real town too nasty!

Your work is published with a number of houses: Fablecroft, Twelfth Planet Press and Harper Voyager, as well as writing for children with ABC Books. Is there any particular reason for this?
Different projects, different publishers. It’s very rare for an author to stick with a single publisher for their whole career – unless you’re making millions, and even then, there are often reasons to change! Publishing houses have different priorities and modes, and of course it’s all about what a commissioning editor will buy. I’ve been lucky to work with some of the very best in recent years, whether that’s Stephanie Smith at HarperVoyager (now sadly retired!) or Alisa and Tehani with their boutique presses.

Do you have an agent?
Not currently. I have had at various stages of my career. The last one and I parted company amicably after the Voyager trilogy – we weren’t a good fit for each other. I am aiming for an American agent now, because getting my work out of Australia has been the biggest challenge – but it’s a tough time. The last book I wrote was the one I was hoping would be my breakout, but it’s only swum in circles and is still unpublished. I’m resting it right now and working on a new novel that I will shop around agents in the hope of finding the right person. It’s a tricky business, matching agent to author.

In a few days I’ll post part two of this interview, where Tansy talks about how she promotes herself as a writer.