The ebook version of The Never Never Land, CSFG’s speculative anthology of
Australian myths, yarns and campfire stories, launched on 1 July 2016.
We interviewed some of the authors to hear what inspired
their unique version of the sunburnt country.
‘Adventure Socks’ by Leife Shallcross is a heartwarming story about old age and never surrendering your sense of adventure.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Like most writers, I’ve been dreaming up stories most of my life. I’ve always loved fairy tales and folk lore, and a lot of my stories draw inspiration from these. I was a big reader as a kid and one of our family legends is that I read Charlotte’s Web all by myself when I was six. I can also remember getting the book The Ordinary Princess by M M Kaye for a gift around then (I still have it). I think that became the archetype of a perfect story for me. So I grew up loving the idea of princesses and castles and dragons and fairies and curses and..and…and, but my princesses were the kind who climbed down the wisteria vine and ran off into the forest to have adventures.
I’m a huge fan of trope characters that don’t quite fit the mould: runaway princesses with forest survival skills, criminally-minded princesses who fake curses for their own advantage, lesbian fairy godmothers, grandmothers who get annoyed when well-meaning relatives disturb their hard-earned isolation with patronising baskets of goodies. Oh dammit. Now I have another batch of short story ideas (see response to “What am I working on now”).
What was the inspiration behind your The Never Never Land story?
I had a few points of inspiration for this one. The first was a conversation I had with a friend of mine, sculptor Jacqueline Bradley. We were discussing one of her works in development, and I misheard her say “Adventure socks”. I had this instant image of a pair of homely, cosy, knitted socks complete with knitted wings. If you check out Jac’s work, you will see this is exactly the kind of whimsical, homey sort of object she creates.
My second point of inspiration was the voice of the main character, George. He embodies a particular type of Australian character who grew up in the Depression and saw WWII. He says things like “Strewth” and “Saturdee”. The inspiration for his voice comes from my father and uncle, who were these guys and spoke like this.
Finally, when I was considering exactly how to bring a sense of “Australian-ness” the story, I naturally turned to the idea of trying to capture a sense of the land. But I wanted to go with a landscape that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of attention, so I picked the mountains. The Snowy Mountains and the Kosciusko National Park are some of the most beautiful places I’ve been. I grew up reading and loving Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby books, and I can’t tell you how many times I watched The Man From Snowy River with my Dad. In Australia we don’t have the kind of soaring peaks you get in some parts of the world – Australia is an old, old country, and our mountains have been well worn down to their bare bones. But the Australian High Country has a spare beauty that is utterly unique and I wanted to try and capture some of it for my story.
Your story has a scene in it that could be seen as something of a hat-tip to a key element in Peter Pan. The submission call deliberately said No Peter Pan Stories. What’s up with that?
I swear it was an accident. I didn’t even realise until one of the editors mentioned he thought I’d been very cheeky to sneak that in.
Was there anything you found hard about writing this story?
I really wanted my story to have a whimsical, feelgood vibe, but it’s set in an aged care home and its protagonist, George, is a man in his nineties who is feeling very alone at this late stage of his life. Initially I really struggled with it getting very bleak and depressing very quickly. I’ve tried to offset the very dreary world where my main character is living, with some of his memories of his life in the High Country to bring some beauty into the early parts of the story. Hopefully this keeps it from descending into cheerless gloom until Maisie, the feisty secondary character, arrives on the scene.
Why did you decide to submit to the TNNL anthology?
I’ve had stories in the previous two CSFG anthologies – in fact my first ever published story was in Winds of Change, in 2011 – so I have a lot of affection for these anthologies. They have published some great Australian authors, and continue to provide an opportunity for new voices in speculative fiction. And the theme of The Never Never Land was a real challenge to do something I hadn’t done before and write something set in Australia. It is always such a buzz being involved in a project like this. I really wanted to be in it.
What did you learn about the writing/publication/editing process from your experience in being involved in The Never Never Land?
I probably had a bit of a different experience to many of the other authors in that I’m involved with the CSFG Committee, so I had a role to play in that capacity in getting the book out. So I was involved with things like arranging for typesetting, managing the contracts, choosing a printer. There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to get all that sorted out. There’s definitely also the basic and invaluable experience of having your work edited, which never fails to teach you how to make your writing better.
What was your favourite other story in TNNL?
Oh, tough one. I haven’t actually finished reading the whole anthology yet (guilty face), but so far Chris Large’s Rust Titan really stood out. I loved his characters, and the world he built around a big mining operation gone wrong was so convincing.
What are you working on now?
Trying to finish off the first draft of a novel! I have been focusing on that this year and trying to resist the siren call of the short story ideas that keep wafting my way. Don’t ask me when it will be done. Soon. Maybe. I hope.
Where do you want to take your writing? What are your writing goals?
Find a publisher for novel project #1. Finish novel project #3. (Novel project #2 is sitting in a folder marked “trunk” awaiting serious remedial work.) Write and publish more short stories. Have a word I made up be included in a mobile phone autocorrect dictionary. (Try typing “parseltongue” into your phone.)
Where can we find you?
I blog at leifeshallcross.com and tweet from @leioss.
The Never Never Land is available now in paperback and
launched in standard ebook formats on 1 July 2016.