Kaaron Warren‘s stories have appeared in Australia, the US, China, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, and have been selected for both Ellen Datlow’s and Paula Guran’s Best of the Year Anthologies. Kaaron has lived in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Fiji. She has published five novels (Slights, Walking the Tree, Mistification, The Grief Hole and Tide of Stone) and seven short story collections, including the multi-award winning Through Splintered Walls. Her most recent short story collection is A Primer to Kaaron Warren from Dark Moon Books. Her novella “Sky” from that collection won the Shirley Jackson Award and was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. It went on to win all three of the Australian genre awards, while The Grief Hole did as well in 2017. In 2019, she has three Aurealis nominations: Tide of Stone, A Primer to Kaaron Warren, and Crisis Apparation, a novella. Kaaron was a Fellow at the Museum for Australian Democracy, where she researched prime ministers, artists and serial killers. In 2018 she was the Established Artist in Residence at Katharine Susannah Prichard House in Western Australia. She was Guest of Honour at World Fantasy Convention in 2018, New Zealand’s Geysercon in 2019, and Stokercon 2019.
Kaaron Warren has been publishing ground-breaking fiction for over twenty years. Her novels and short stories have won over 20 awards, from local literary to international genre. She writes horror steeped in awful reality, with ghosts, hauntings, guilt, loss, love, crime, punishment and a lack of hope.
This interview was hosted here in conjunction with the authors November tour arranged by publishers Meerkat Press @ https://www.meerkatpress.com.
The Interview with Kaaron Warren
Congratulations on your new work Into The Bone Like Oil.
Tell me about the seed and inspiration behind this please.
The seed for this story was sown when I was about 18. I was going out with someone who had some…strange connections. His ‘uncle’ (I’m pretty sure he wasn’t an uncle) lived in a caravan in the backyard of my boyfriend’s sister’s house. The ‘uncle’ was seriously scary. My boyfriend wouldn’t leave me alone with him, put it that way, and he had a history we didn’t discuss, all that sort of thing. None of this would have mattered so much but the sister’s house was designated a ‘Safe House’. This was a government-supported projected in the eighties in Australia. Certain houses would receive a sign saying “Safe House” and if a child felt in danger, they could run to one of these houses and be assured of a safe house. Like I said, this boyfriend’s sister had one on her house. I’ve always thought about safe places that aren’t. Refuges that don’t provide refuge.
The second element came with a stay in a rooming house in Melbourne about 25 years ago, when we were in town for a wedding. I was struck by both the transience and the sense of routine about the place, and have already written a couple of stories inspired by it. I wrote The Human Moth (which I discuss below!) and an as yet unpublished story about a woman who discovers she can take the pain from the men she sleeps with. Rooming Houses are sometimes places of last resort. Where people go when they are just hanging on. They can also hide those who are running from a past life and seek anonymity. There’s an old murder in Australia, unsolved, where two young girls were last seen ‘near a rooming house’.
The third element of the story is inspired by The Wreckers, those who apparently would sweep the shore after a shipwreck, finding belongings are treasures. I had a vision of these items washing up at a rooming house, which was not a safe haven, and the story became clearer.
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All You Can Do is Breathe
Bridge of Sighs
The Human Moth
The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall
Tell me more about these four frightening
The seed and inspiration behind them.
All You Can Do is Breathe
This story was inspired by the survivors of two burials. One was Stuart Diver, who was buried in a landslide in Thredbo and survived because he lifted himself out of water that swept in and out of the small space he had, time and time and time again. He became something of a folk hero in Australia, and I heard Henry Rollins say something like, “If only we could have some of what he’s got” at a concert, and the crowd roaring in agreemtn.
The other burial was at a mine in Tasmania. Two men survived that one, three weeks or so underground. Utterly terrifying. I loved that when they were finally rescued, they ‘bundied off’ , ie signed out of work! They must have plotted that joke to keep themselves sane.
I saw one of them at a local club a few months later. He was at the bar and completely surrounded by people wanting to talk to him, touch him. He was very patient but I could see he really just wanted to get a beer and something to eat, and that he didn’t think he was anything special. He went into the bathroom and the story appeared to me almost like a vision. I thought, “What if there’s something WORSE waiting for him in there?”
Bridge of Sighs
This story was inspired by the Victorian death photographs, where the dead loved one would be propped up as if still alive, sometimes held still by someone hiding in the curtains behind. So much of this is worth thinking about, from the idea that a photo gives us a different truth, and that a photo is a single moment, not before or after. The photographer in the story is my response to the sexual assault that seems rampant in the fashion industry as it does elsewhere. I wanted him to be awful, a person we would not want to meet.
The idea that he could capture ghosts in his camera came from a place in Canberra which is supposed to be haunted, and which is often photographed wreathed in mist.
The Human Moth
As mentioned above, I’ve written a number of stories set in a rooming house, inspired by a single one week stay! In this story, I wanted to evoke a sense of loneliness. When I think about it, one of my favourite movies is Separate Tables, about lonely people staying in a rooming house in England, and I think this fed into my response to the place we stayed at.
The story was sparked by an old English law, called The Ancient Lights Law, whereby a house or home had a right to expect a certain amount of illumination. It gave me a vision of a home that becomes built in. I wondered who might be living in such a house.
The Human Moth herself was one of those subconscious ideas that rise up and become important. I think because I was thinking about living without light, and about moths beating themselves to death sometimes to get to the light.
The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall
I wrote this story when I was living in Fiji, so it was influenced entirely by that.
(Information on these short story publications and the reviews available @ Kaaron Warren’s Quartet of Terrifying Tales)
What aspect, theme or thing, whether be personal or global, you would like to write with next that you haven’t used before?
Such a good question, and one that makes me question myself! The novel I’ve just completed is about many things, but amongst them is the idea of fleeting fame. I suppose I’ve explored this before, in All You Can Do is Breathe, but I’m looking further into it in this story. It’s another concept that has sat with me for a long time. The most vivid indicator of it was when I went to a club many years ago, and a singer was featured who has been a huge star 20 years before that. He had a song called “Yesterday’s Hero”, which propelled him into stardom, and some other hits as well. He had faded out of the public eye, though, and was here at a quiet club, singing to a disinterested audience. People wanted him to sing “Yesterday’s Hero”, but he wouldn’t, and there was an irony in that. He found a later resurgence when his music was used for a hit movie, so that’s a happy ending!
Another book I’m working on is about a group at the end of their line, the last of their families, and how this makes them behave. It’s meant in a way to be an exploration of the human race and how it can only survive if each generation considers the next.
What work can we expect next to published?
I have a story coming out in an anthology from Chasosium called Sisterhood, and two novellas from Cemetery Dance, one a reprint, one a new story.
Writing, when, where, and with what do you do it?
When: Whenever I can! Usually during the day. I’m always thinking and taking notes, though
Where: Wherever I can! I do have a small office in our house so I do most of the computer work there. If I’m writing by hand I like to move around, sometimes sitting in the backyard, or next to the cat on the couch.
With what: first draft by hand! In a series of notebooks. I have so many notebooks I think I’d be in Guiness book of Records. Second and subsequent drafts on laptop, but with extra notes often written by hand.
When you sit and create what elements are at the forefront of crafting the scene?
Such an interesting question! I’m definitely trying to immerse myself so I am a part of the scene. When I wrote my story for Unquiet Dreamers, the anthology dedicated to Harlan Ellison, I walked around and around a building site, which was the setting for the story. I picked up the smells and the sounds, the small details that can bring a scene to life.
I have often taken copious notes before I start writing a story, and will work through these, deciding as I go along which of them are relevant.
What key essential aspect of writing a writer needs to know and worked for you?
It’s a cliché to say, keep reading, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. Keep reading, be observant, be curious and interested in everything around you. Get words onto the page even if you think you have nothing to say, because starting the flow is vitally important. You can always edit later and who knows what cool stuff might come out!
Talk through a plot issue with friends. Sometimes just talking about it can help solve the problem.
Your favorite characters and stories from fiction what are they?
This is an ever changing, ever growing list! The stories I love are the ones that remain with me long after reading. The ones I want to start again the minute I’ve finished, because on the second read, everything is different.
Here are just a few:
Night Piece for Julia: Jessamyn West (short story)
Lord of the Flies: William Goldman
Haunting of Hill House: Shirley Jackson
The Sin Eater: Elizabeth Massey
Rebecca: Daphne Du Maurier
And then there were none: Agatha Christie
The Shining: Stephen King
The Stand: Stephen King
1984: George Orwell
Whimper of Whipped Dogs: Harlan Ellison (short story)
A Boy and his Dog: Harlan Ellison (novella)
Focault’s Pendulum: Umberto Eco
Headlong: Michael Frayn
Life: a User’s Manual, Georges Perec
Lanark: Alisdair Gray
One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Ken Kesey
Dr Neruda’s Cure for Evil: Rafael Yglesias
Poisonwood Bible: Barbara Kingsolver
In the Wet: Neville Shute.
Atonement: Ian McEwan
The White Hotel: DM Thomas
Which books you have liked this year and recommend?
Thank you for your precious time out from writing and chatting on writing today.