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Author Spotlight: Angela Slatter

The culture in “Brisneyland by Night” seems to be a mix of gypsy customs and original fairy tales. What other elements influenced the culture of the story, and what drew you to write in that particular setting?

My passion is fairy tales and how they adapt across cultures and time, so I was sort of fascinated by how I could work them into an urban, very non-European, very modern Australian setting. I picked the locations in Brisbane that already are a kind of shorthand for residents and played that up so a reader not from Brisbane would still (hopefully) come away feeling as though they knew the city—or a version of it. As I wrote, I pulled creatures and motifs from my own store of knowledge from all the study I’ve done (a Master of Arts and a PhD, both in creative writing with a focus on fairy tales) and used them where I could. So the culture is kind of a patchwork of real-life Brisbane as I see and experience it and European fairy tale elements. I don’t use any Indigenous mythology or tales because those are not my stories to tell.

 In the beginning of the story, Verity thinks that she should be at Lizzie’s birthday party, pretending that she doesn’t like children. Why does she need to pretend? What is she afraid people would think if she admitted to liking children?

It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek comment—Verity’s a tough sort of a character, as evidenced by the fact that she gets called in on cases where monsters try to chew her leg off. So the idea that this tough girl actually wants to go to the birthday party and have cake amused me. I like that it speaks to the fact that, as a character, she’s got a soft core—a bit like a marshmallow hedgehog, prickly on the outside, but gooey and sweet on the inside. Well, not entirely gooey and sweet, but you get the idea. I like that she’s this kind of unwilling gumshoe who complains about getting pulled into this, but she still takes part in solving the mystery—in the novel she observes, “I’m the kind of person who compulsively pulls threads on sweaters until they unravel.”

Verity has spent her adult life trying to atone for her father’s crimes. How else has he influenced her life and her feeling of being an outsider?

I think firstly it’s in knowing she’s different—when she was a kid, she knew they weren’t like other families, but her father pitched it to her not as a bad thing, but as a special secret. Kids love secrets. It wasn’t until his crimes came to light and she started to see exactly how different her family was that she realised how much she was “other.” Going to live with her grandparents made the contrast even more striking because they went to great pains to make sure she grew up “Normal”—before she didn’t really have much to compare to and things don’t strike you as weird until you see them in opposition to other things.

Quite apart from that, she knew that her strength set her apart and something like that can’t be changed—it’s an indelible part of your make-up and you can’t ignore it. So she’s always aware of being different, even if the Normal community doesn’t know it.

Bernard Fanning provides a soundtrack to the story via the CD in the gypsy cab. Why did you choose that particular artist? What is it about his music that fits the story so well?

When I originally wrote “Brisneyland,” I had stumbled across Mr. Fanning’s solo album Tea and Sympathy and was listening to it a lot. Powderfinger, his main band, is one of Brisbane’s best known, most iconic bands of recent years so I wanted something that kind of acted as an appropriate soundtrack to a Brisbane story. Tea and Sympathy’s about the breakdown of relationships and loss and things you can’t control, and it seemed to fit with Verity’s situation at the time of the story.

There are different kinds of Weyrd. Verity’s father is a kinderfresser, but her mother was Normal—what does that make her? What other specific Weyrd do we see in the story, and what makes them all distinct from each other?

One of the things I’ve said in the novel I’m currently finishing—which is based on this short story—is that the Weyrd blood is wild, so you don’t know what abilities a pure Weyrd will get, but they will get something. When Weyrd and Normal blend, the offspring might get no power at all, or some kind of diluted power from the parent—for instance, Verity got her father’s inhuman strength, but she can’t shape-shift like he could to make himself bigger and stronger and more lethal in a fight.

As far as the Weyrd population is concerned, in some instances I used cool fairy tale monsters—for example, a kinderfresser is a child-eater from old German tales. There’s also an element of the fairy tale witch in the story and the gingerbread house; the character of Sally Crown is, to me, like an imp, and Ziggi’s just . . . Weyrd. Bela isn’t a traditional vampire, but he’s a leech of sorts, existing on energy from those around him—not feasting on it, but just from his daily interactions with humans, a bit like a plant pulls carbon dioxide from the air.

I’ve worked out the boundaries of what constitutes Weyrd a bit more in writing the novel, but I think essentially it can all fit under the banner of “things that go bump in the night.” The Weyrd are a bit like Clive Barker’s Tribes of the Moon in Cabal/Nightbreed, but on the whole the Weyrd are far more capable of blending into a society because of their abilities with glamour magic to hide what they are. I’ve tried to use things that will resonate with what readers might know from their own fairy tale reading—wings, tails, eyes in the backs of heads, shape-shifting, that sort of thing.

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Amber Barkley

Amber BarkleyAmber Barkley is a recent graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She was born in Idaho and grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Her favorite animals are cats and horses, and she considers it a great injustice that she is allergic to both—though that doesn’t stop her from being around them whenever she has the chance. Amber writes high fantasy with a dark twist, and is currently working on her first novel.