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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Interview Of Ambelin Kwaymullina: On Dystopian YA And The Tribe

Today I'd like to welcome the amazing Ambelin Kwaymullina to my blog. I had read both her wonderful novels and heard her speak at Reading Matters before actually meeting her at Continuum X. I'm just a bit envious of her multiple skills - writing, art, craft... And managing to do all that while holding down a full time teaching job! She's also a terrific person. 

If you haven't read any of her fiction, here's my review of The Disappearance Of Ember Crow, but go and read both books NOW!

 I'll let Ambelin speak for herself.

You have said that you started The Interrogation Of Ashala Wolf with the title, given to you by your brother. How did you decide what it was to be about?

The story told itself. I heard the first sentence in my head – ‘he was taking me to the machine’ – and everything unwound from there. So I discovered the story in the same way that the reader does.

How long did the novel take to write, given that you have a full time day job to keep you busy?

Hmmm. It’s all a coffee-fuelled blur. 100 years? No, that can’t be right. 12 months. I think. 

Was it always intended as part of a series or did you ever consider it as a standalone?

Nah, I always knew there were four books in the story. I didn’t know quite what was in them – but I knew there were four. 

You feel you have an important story to tell in your Tribe series - why did you decide to use the YA format to tell it?

Because I am writing about someone who will save the world – and at this point in human history, evidence strongly suggests it’s not a grown up who will do it. The collective adults of this earth just don’t seem to be doing a very good job of leaving those who will come after us a better world than the one we inherited. I see the hope of the future in the young. 

How much scientific research did you need to do to build your particular world, in which all the continents are back to Pangaia status? And how did you do it?

I worked in environmental law for quite a few years – so while I did do some research, it was relatively easy because I was building on things I already knew. 

In my novels the world ends in an environmental cataclysm that the survivors refer to as ‘the Reckoning’. The Reckoning was inspired by the 1992 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity (which was issued by 1700 of the world’s leading scientists, including most of the world's Nobel Laureates in the Sciences). It includes this passage:

“Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life -- coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change -- could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand.”

You can read the rest of it online at:  

Did you build your world first or as you went along? 

The world revealed itself to me as I wrote. Of course, I’m seeing it through Ashala’s eyes, and her understandings (especially of political processes) is sometimes imperfect. Plus as it turns out there’s this whole secret history which is known only to a few. As Ashala herself thinks in The Disappearance of Ember Crow, there are layers and layers to the world.

How much revision did you do? Were there any major changes you made before submitting your manuscript?

I went through a lot of drafts – I can’t remember how many – and I made major changes at almost every stage. The overall shape of the story didn’t change, but ALL of the details did!

Do you have any favourite stories? Tell us about them!

Yeah, I’ve got lots and lots and lots…but actually my very favourite story at the moment is written by my brother Zeke. I think as a creator you always most admire the things you can’t do yourself, and (while I can string a rhyme together) I am not a poet. But my brother Zeke writes picture books that are poetry – he’s got one called Dreamers, which includes the following: 

“We are the dream and the dreamers
the rain jumpers and the cloud fliers
the sky sleepers and the earth swimmers
we are children wild and hope bright.”

I love those words. 

How much of the story of your series set in the future is inspired by the past?

So much of it is inspired by the past and, unfortunately, the present. I say unfortunately because I am writing of a world where children and teenagers are disempowered and disenfranchised. I drew a lot of the ‘feel’ of that from the experiences of my ancestors under Stolen Generations law and policy. But since the series has come out I’ve found that teenagers of all different backgrounds relate to a sense of powerlessness and injustice. Too many of them relate to it. I am glad that my books are speaking to my readers, but I want a better world for all of them than the one some of them are living in.  

You still have two more books in this series, but any ideas for what might be next after The Tribe?

I have a book in mind - in fact I've written a plan for it. It's YA speculative fiction but very different from the Tribe series. Although like the Tribe it tells a larger story through the individual struggles of the characters, this time about class and privilege. 

What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing?

I’m so rarely not writing! But I like to bead. In fact, I love my beads with their shiny surfaces and pretty colours and different shapes…I have literally thousands of them (in my defence some are very small, so its really not that many, they fit in quite a little container…okay, several little containers…okay, a cupboard full. But it’s not a big cupboard. Well, not that big.)

 What was your first sale and how did you celebrate it?

The first book I ever published was a picture book called Crow and the Waterhole, and I went out to lunch at a fancy restaurant. As it turned out it wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had because all the food had names I didn’t understand. Plus there was too much cutlery on the table and I didn’t know what fork to use (pretty sure I got it wrong). To this day I have no idea what I ordered, but I didn’t like it very much.

When my next book was published I went out for a burger.

Thanks for visiting The Great Raven, Ambelin!

 I really do recommend Ambelin's The Tribe series for anyone who loves some difference in their dystopian adventure.


Satima Flavell said...

I went to buy the first two books at Continuum and just missed the last copy of book one - so I'k holding off reading book two until I find a copy of book one! Amberlin is an incredibly clever lady. I loved her GOH speech and all her panels!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, it really is best to buy the first one before reading the second. It shouldn't be too hard to get a copy in the shops. Meanwhile, if you'd like to read her GOzh speech again, here it is:

Or you can find my post about it on this blog and follow the link directly. :-)


Sue, thanks very much for introducing me to this author and this interview. BRAVO. -- dan in Taiwan