Wednesday, 25 April 2018

My SF Influences and Hopes: Part Two

Hi Everyone

Given that the Speculate Festival is on this Saturday (28 April 2018), here is the next instalment of the current series of blog posts on my interview questions. This post explains the background to the questions, while my previous post explores the first question asked during my interview:

What science fiction/fantasy first made an impression on you?

Below is the second question I was asked:

Why do you continue to write science fiction/fantasy?

An interesting question with a complicated answer that starts with a little personal history.

Image from here
As is evident from my previous post, I was an avid reader from an early age. Adventure and War stories. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Some Historical Fiction. Etc. I didn’t read much poetry, though I do remember memorising Blake’s ‘The Tyger’ for a school assignment. I didn’t, however, hanker to be a writer when I was young, unlike many of my later heroes such as W B Yeats, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, J R R Tolkien, Alan Garner, Roger Zelazny, amongst many others. I suppose I didn’t even realise such an occupation existed. Somehow I thought writers were magical beings ‘out there’ somewhere and books appeared from nowhere.

Image from a Melbourne TV Guide
Still, in my early teens, I started to write an SF spy story about aliens under Ayers Rock. The hero was prompted by a local TV show (Hunter). He rode a motorcycle called Black Bess (inspired by the Disney show The Legend of Young Dick Turpin and my father’s riding when a youth) and lived on a sailing boat (as did a favourite aunt and uncle). After four action-packed pages, during which the boat was blown up and the hero swam to shore to jump on his motorbike and chase the villain, I stopped. Not sure why, though I think it had to do with a sense of shame in doing something that would be seen as self-indulgent.

Image from here
Over the next few years, I developed an interest in music, taught myself the guitar, and tried writing song lyrics. I also started writing love poems to girlfriends, bad ones (in retrospect) based on half-remembered structures learned at school.

Image from here
After finishing a science degree, I found myself working in the research department of Telecom Australia. One day, surrounded by banks of magnetic tapes and electronic gear, I began writing, on a teleprinter, a report on some computer networking research I had completed. I suddenly had the eyes-wide, nostrils-flaring, bolt-upright epiphany that I could communicate what was inside my head to other people. That I could be a writer. Soon after, I started to write short stories, science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and I have been writing in those genres, to a greater or lesser degree, ever since. Yet, this is when things became complicated.

Several years after that moment at Telecom, I went to a workshop on putting fantasy in your writing and discovered it was being run by one of Australia’s top poets and wasn’t about fantasy writing at all. I ended up attempting to write poetry, though all I could come up with was a chant to Lovecraft’s Old Ones and something else that I don’t remember. Yet, because of that workshop, I was invited, along with other attendees, to form a critique group at the Council of Adult Education (CAE). And here I met a real-life poet and suddenly I began to develop an interest in writing poetry.

Over the next decade or so, I moved into the poetry world more and more. I wrote poetry. Studied it at university. Edited it. Published it. Read at poetry readings. Developed a profile as a poet. Yet, the narrative urge wouldn’t leave me. I wrote literary fiction along with the odd speculative story. Eventually, I did a PhD in Creative Writing, the creative component being a fantasy verse novel called The Silence Inside the World, which featured the main character from one of those early fantasy novel drafts. Full circle.

Image from here
All of the above is a roundabout way of saying that I don’t only write science fiction and fantasy, but also speculative poetry, literary fiction, and literary/mainstream poetry. And I continue to write in these areas because they enable me to cover different aspects of my life experience, especially personal relationships, science, nature, myths and the sacred, using the best option available to me. As Ted Hughes once remarked after he was made Poet Laureate and a reporter asked him what he would write during his tenure, ‘I write what the muse tells me to write’.

Image from here
So, to finally answer the second interview question, I still write science fiction and fantasy because, unlike the literary mode, I am able to explore deep imagination and different worlds from our own, and also evoke the wonder that lies within and beneath life. And because of these concerns, more and more I am looking to mythopoeic literature as the home for my own work.

If you are interested in attending Speculate, which is being held at the Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham St, Albert Park, Victoria, this Saturday, there are still tickets available. For further information, visit the website (

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, I welcome your comments. 

Best Wishes


Nadine Cresswell-Myatt said...

What a great post, Earl. It was fascinating to read about your journey as a witer and how your many interests lead you to where you are today. I enjoyed readint it very much.

Earl Livings said...

Hi Nadine, Thanks for your kind words about the post. Hope to see you soon. Cheers, Earl