Good Reading : Febuary 2009
author profile 1 Everything went slippery in my mind, after that. We were being watched so hard! Even though it was quiet out here, the pothering wind brought crowd-mumble and scraps of music and smoke our way, so often that we couldn’t be private and ourselves. Besides, there was Ikky with the sun on her face, but the rest of her from the rib-peaks down gloved in tar, never to see sun again. Time seemed to have just gone, in big clumps, or all the day was happening at once or something. The third story in the collection is about a guerrilla war being fought ‘Margo is a born writer,’ says Jan. ‘Her incredible imagery and stories tumble out of her onto the page. She inspires us continually to go into new territory, explore the dark spaces, make up our own literary language and have faith in our unique writer’s voice.’ By contrast, Margo’s partner Steven, while very supportive of her work, is cautious about getting too close to it: ‘I read some of it. I’m not sure it’s a good idea for couples to be the audience for one another’s creative work, so I take a neutral position. That doesn’t mean I don’t like her writing!’ Steven applied his graphic-design skills to the typesetting of Tender Morsels, adjusting the ebb and flow of responded to them by driving them up into the hills and finally following them up there and slaughtering them. Thus proving their point!’ ‘So it’s the deluded people that are the survivors?’ I ask. ‘Yes. People who just have this misplaced confidence in their own beliefs.’ In Tender Morsels, Liga is lucky enough to have magical assistance for her own escape from abuse and poverty. She winds up in her own personal ‘heaven’, where for many years she raises her two daughters, living a contented if uninteresting existence. Then one of her girls seeks out the truth about their situation and plunges them back into the The third story in the collection is about a guerrilla war being fought against clowns, and things only get stranger from there. against clowns, and things only get stranger from there. Black Juice and its component stories were recognised in 17 awards internationally. Her third collection, Red Spikes, has been nearly as successful. It is a frustrating truth, however, that even critically successful short stories don’t sell very well. The market for fiction is nearly all in novels, and Margo’s fantasy novel continued to elude her. In late 2006, frustrated over yet more failed attempts, she joined a monthly writers’ group called Draftbusters, run by writer and performer Jan Cornall. Jan is a huge fan of Margo’s writing, describing her as ‘the new Angela Carter’. ‘[Margo] is very generous with feedback and critiquing,’ says Jan. ‘Her experience and expertise is appreciated by all, but she also mainly attends for what she gets for herself – the support, motivation, camaraderie of other writers. As she calls it, a “cheering squad”.’ Most of Tender Morsels was written with the assistance of Jan’s workshops. The initial concept was to retell the fairytale Snow White and Rose Red (from the Brothers’ Grimm, itself based on an older story, The Ungrateful Dwarf by Caroline Stahl), and then write each character’s perspective as if they were separate stories, hoping that they would meet up into a larger tale. Each month, she would show the group her progress. 22 goodreading i FEBRUARY 2009 the text to make it pleasing on the eye, an art that has been all but lost in the computer age. He also casts his eye over potential covers. Margo giggles as she remembers: ‘The publisher [of Tender Morsels] was talking to me before the cover was designed and she was asking what Steven would think ... she made it her project to do a cover that he would approve of. She was really nervous: “What does Steven say?!”’ I ask if her boys (Jack and Harry, 20 and 15) are taking after their parents in pursuing the creative arts. ‘Unfortunately yes,’ she says ‘I wanted them to be accountants. Still, you get good conversation out of them. They have excellent senses of humour.’ Unsurprisingly, given Margo’s struggles for commercial success, it upsets her that artists are so under-appreciated and underpaid, while vacuous celebrities get the limelight and even number- crunchers make a better living. But in the end it’s more fundamental human concerns that really interest her, and that she attempts to get to the heart of in her stories. Inspiration comes from everywhere, but particularly from the darker corners of human experience that we’d often prefer not to acknowledge. ‘I was watching a documentary the other day about the Cathars, who believed that humans were the embodiment of evil; they were always trying to overthrow God. And people maelstrom that is real life. ‘The darkness – when I think about how it works in Tender Morsels, it’s just necessary, because otherwise the heaven isn’t a heaven.’ Margo’s expression is thoughtful. ‘If you haven’t come from hell ... ’ ‘Without ugliness, you can’t have beauty?’ ‘Yeah, and it’s just going to be a bland story.’ No chance of that here. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan is published by Allen & Unwin, rrp $33.00.
December January 2009