Writer turns fantasy into successful reality

Brisbane fantasy writer Angela Slatter is the first Australian to win the British Fantasy Award for her story "The Coffin-Maker's Daughter".
Brisbane fantasy writer Angela Slatter is the first Australian to win the British Fantasy Award for her story "The Coffin-Maker's Daughter".

It's called the 'wristwatch moment': that instant when you are ripped from the fantasy world a story has taken you, back to reality.

It comes from Spartacus, Ben Hur and any number of ancient Rome movies; invariably a centurion or a Caesar is spotted wearing a wristwatch under the sleeves of his toga.

In books, it might be a poorly worded turn of phrase or just something that doesn't gel within the world the author has created.

It's a big trap for fantasy writers in particular, but evading it is a skill Brisbane author Angela Slatter has mastered.

Last week, the 45-year-old became the first Australian to win the coveted British Fantasy Award, an honour which has previously been held aloft by the fantasy genre grandmasters Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Dr Slatter only gave in to her vocation in 2004. It was then she returned to Brisbane after four years in Sydney and decided to finally get serious about writing.

She enrolled in a graduate diploma in creative writing at the Queensland University of Technology, which she followed up with a masters and later a PhD on the same topic, in between publishing.

A childhood and adolescence spent reading fairy tales, fantasy, science fiction and horror meant writing within the fantasy genre was a natural choice for her.

“I was able to find authors like Angela Carter, who wrote very frightening fairy tales, but very beautifully, so I was able to see there was a lot of craft behind it,” Dr Slatter said.

“It wasn't just being a good storyteller, it was being a good writer too and that is what I strive for.”

It was Dr Slatter's story, The Coffin-Maker's Daughter, which originally appeared in A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones, that won the judges' approval at the British Fantasy Awards.

It tells the story of a coffin-maker's daughter who has to use magic in the making of her sarcophagus to stop the dead from returning, while being haunted herself by the ghost of her father.

But it wasn't the first award to Dr Slatter's name; a recent nomination in the World Fantasy Awards as well as two Aurealis awards, the Australian fantasy and science fiction awards, already marked her as a rising star in the literary field

Still, despite the runaway mainstream success of Gaiman, King, Pratchett, Tolkien, Martin (Game of Thrones) and even the Grimm Brother's before them, Dr Slatter is aware there is still a stigma attached to the fantasy genre, despite the big sales figures.

“Big-L literature likes to present itself as being of the mind and examining the inner life, but a lot of people don't find that very interesting, because not a lot necessarily happens plot wise and people want an adventure and a story, ” Dr Slatter said with a laugh.

“They don't want to necessarily spend a lot of time navel gazing. So I think fantasy gives us what we all want which is a bit of an escape and a break from the everyday and one of the other things is when money becomes involved and you become, let's face it, one of the very rare, very few authors, who become a best seller, someone is always going to be looking at you a bit green eyed.”

Dr Slatter is not supported by her writing entirely just yet – she continues to supplement her income through teaching and editing at the Queensland Writer's Centre

A collection of stories based on Norse mythology and co-written with Lisa Hannett is due for release this November and there is “also a novel, which is spread out across the table right now, being edited”, which she hopes will soon attract a publisher.

This story Writer turns fantasy into successful reality first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.