We’re very excited indeed to be publishing The Corpse-Rat King in September (although US/CAN print copies and ebook editions will be available from next week). For those who don’t already know all about this terrific piece of work, it’s the debut fantasy novel by Australian writer Lee Battersby, a veteran short fictioneer who’s turned his considerable talents to the longer form with rather fabulous results (check out some of the early reviews on the book’s catalogue page for evidence of that).
By way of a general introduction, we asked Lee to give us a bit of an insight into his background as a writer, what his his most powerful sources of inspiration might be, that sort of thing. Here’s what he told us:
Not the Smashing Pumpkins song, no. The year, the actual I-lived-through-it-coz-I’m-older-than-the-rest-of-you 1979.
1979, I was eight years old. We moved from Narrogin, a wheat-belt town of 18 people and half a dog to a much larger town on the coast, where 26,000 people waited to teach me that I was different and not in a good way; that my English accent made me a target; that using two forms of cutlery in the same meal was foreign and disturbing; and that wearing glasses, being good at sport and maths, and reading without moving your lips constituted an invitation to kick the shit out of me any time they managed to bandage up their knuckles sufficiently for the task.
I’d love to say that 1979 was the year when I discovered that none of that mattered, that it was the year I discovered that being myself, unashamedly and self-sufficiently, was the only journey that counted, that I realised the only way to make myself truly happy was to walk my own individual path with footfalls as loud as I cared to make them and fuck anybody who didn’t fit in with my plan or who didn’t understand the way I saw the world. But hell, I was eight. It mattered. It mattered until it hurt.
But it was also the year my mind bent, irrevocably and for the rest of my life. It was the year when my path was diverted to go the long way round, for long stretches of my life alone, and for many more stretches in the company of people who did not understand but found themselves forced to share the path for short periods. After that year I was never in synch with those around me. Certainly not the ‘peers’ who populated the bogan-sanctuary in which I lived. (Bogan, chav, westie, Okie, call them what you will. You know who they are: the ones who wear the cheapest clothing, who keep the packet of fags under the arm of their t-shirt, who listen to mindless cock rock 24 hours a day, hoon up their moron mobiles and worship at the altar of the V8, who support your team’s greatest rivals and think the mullet never died.)
From that day to this I have never quite fit. Anywhere. Even in places I’m supposed to. University, SF conventions, family. If not for the company of other writers and finding a wife who understands (and who is, perhaps not-surprisingly, a writer herself) I might never fit.
I discovered the Goon Show in 1979, via an LP stashed at the back of my parents’ record collection. A month later, on my 9th birthday, I received my first SF anthology. I still have them both. I rescued the LP from my parents’ when they separated. The book has survived 33 years of house moves, relationship breakups, fire, termites, and children. I’ll never part with them. Because it was those two objects, or more accurately, the texts they contained, that provided the bridge between what I had understood to be the world in which I lived, and the mental plane where all angles of view are acceptable, where all subjects are up for comment, and there is nothing so sacred that it cannot be harpooned and brought to the side of your mind for flensing. Where speed and clarity of thought, and the ability to gene-splice concepts together for maximum effect, are the coin of the nation.
There have been others, since. Other artists who view the world not as it stands to the eye but as a character in a narrative of their own making. Other texts that destroy reality in order to build it up again, but this time with a better colour palette and more laughs. Other voices that prick, tickle, lance, bludgeon, cajole, persuade, entrance, and otherwise daub my eyes in shades of wonder. Douglas Adams. David Bowie. Monty Python. David Hockney. Ridley Scott. Other ‘fuck you’ merchants who watched the status quo turn gray and lifeless and raised a flag of protest against it. Alice Cooper. Rene Magritte. Harlan Ellison. Patrick McGoohan. Over the course of the intervening 33 years I have been exposed to more artists and modes of expression, and divine lunatics than I have space to list. Jackson Pollock. Brian Aldiss. William Blake. Terry Gilliam.
Imagine a world without Richard Dadd. Imagine it without They Might Be Giants. Imagine it without Salvador Dali or Brian Patten or China Miéville or Ian Dury or Howard Waldrop or Henry Moore or Adrian Henri or The Goodies or Bill Hicks or Roger Waters or Chris Foss or Kurt Vonnegut, or Madness, or… well, you understand.
These artists – and there are more than I have named, many more – have been my pathfinders: every one a Virgil leading me down a path away from simple acceptance; every discovery a tiny nudge off the path that others follow. And of course I’m not the only one who has felt this way, and of course I’m not the only one who has experienced all these artists and all these emotions, and in all probability I’m not even the only person involved in getting this little diatribe onto the net for you all to read who has experienced exactly that same level of dislocation and isolation.
But all those artists, all those wonderful, insane, delightful changers of minds, they came after – further down the years, when I was more capable of assimilating their worldviews and artistic processes and measuring them against my own desires and beliefs. It’s always your first love that you remember most fondly, the first broken heart that you come back to again and again to touch like aluminium foil against a filling.
Truth is, I’ve never wanted to be a science fiction writer. It’s not enough, just to sit within one genre, one form of work. It’s not enough to simply stare at the world through one set of eyes. To be a writer, just that: a writer, of whatever comes to me at the time, unfettered by genre or form or medium, is to be something wonderful and all-knowing. To aspire to polymathic heights, to work across media with equal aplomb, to stare out at the world from a minds-eye as fractured as a Dali painting made music and viewed through as many facets as an insect’s eye can hold: that would be something worth pursuing.
I didn’t understand that when I was eight. There are times I wonder if I understand it now, really understand everything that is required, deep down in my weaselly black soul. But I may never have received the opportunity to try, if I hadn’t dislocated my mind.
(Go on, Spike)
It’s all rather confusing, really.
Here are a few sample chapters for starters: