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Lucy and Phil an Interview With Lucy Sussex

Lucy and Phil an Interview With Lucy Sussex

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Published by Frank Bertrand

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Published by: Frank Bertrand on Aug 19, 2011
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Lucy and Phil: An Interview with Lucy Sussex
 by Frank C. Bertrand
NOTE:
Lucy Sussex is an Australian/New Zealand writer, editor and researcher, who works in theareas of science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and children's literature. She has written twonovels for younger readers,
The Penguin Friend (1997)
and
The Peace Garden (1989)
, two foryoung adults,
Black Ice (1996)
and
Deersnake (1995)
, and the adult novel
The Scarlet Rider (1996)
. Her short fiction has appeared widely, and was collected as
My Lady Tongue (1990)
. Shehas edited four anthologies, of which
She ’s Fantastical (1996)
was short listed for the WorldFantasy Award.Her short story "Kay and Phil" has been published in
Alien Shores 
, edited by Margaret Winch andPeter McNamara (Aphelion Publications, 1994), and in
The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women 
, edited by A. Susan Williams and Richard Glyn-Jones (Viking-Penguin, 1997). An articleshe wrote about the experience of writing this story is titled, "The Anxiety of Influence.”
 
What is/was the genesis/impetus for your story "Kay and Phil"? 
 Noting that two very different writers had had the same idea of a future dystopia ruled by theNazis, Dick's
The Man in the High Castle 
and Burdekin's
Swastika Night 
, originally published in1937, I thought there was some possibility that Phil might have read Kay's (Katharine Burdekin's)novel, which was published under the pseudonym Murray Constantine by Victor Gollancz. Iwondered what he might have thought of it had he done so. He couldn't have known it waswritten by a woman, something he might have found problematic, given his troubles with hiswives and particularly his mother. In addition descriptions of Kay put me in mind vaguely of PKD'sown mother. I thought it would be interesting to throw the two writers together in a fictional formatand see what happened. Of course, the most interesting time for them to meet would be when hewas writing
The Man in the High Castle 
, but at that time Kay was bedridden. I let my fancy takeover from then on.
Just when did this first germinate? 
 In the early 1990s, when we had just moved to Brunswick, which is a suburb of Melbourne, a verypolyglot Australian city, with one of the biggest concentrations of expatriate Greeks and alsoholocaust survivors. Brunswick in particular is a real melting pot, with a high Muslim population.Seeing the women in headscarves, it was hard not to think of Burdekin. Seeing a (very small)upsurge of neo-Nazism in the suburbs, in fact they got run out of town and have not returned, itwas hard not to think of both PKD and Burdekin. From memory I had the story idea and then putit down in words only when I got asked to contribute to a German sf anthology. THEYABSOLUTELY HATED IT! And wanted to know why I hadn't written about Australian instead ofGerman racism. Well I have, repeatedly, in novels such as
The Scarlet Rider 
and
Black Ice 
but itwouldn't have seemed appropriate for the story, which was in fact less about the Nazis than itwas Kay and Phil, and the writing process.The story in fact sold on the third attempt, to an Australian market. How it ended up in
The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women 
is complex. It was A. Susan Williams who contactedme initially about using another story of mine, "My Lady Tongue". I said, fine. The problem wasthat the anthology was arranged chronologically, and she wondered if I had a slightly laternarrative, to be the final story (which is a huge compliment, as the intro and extro stories of ananthology are as important as the closing and opening bars of a symphony). This wholeexchange was conducted by fax, between Australia and England, by the way. I asked her if sheknew who Burdekin was. Yes, she said, she had
Swastika Night 
on her shelves. That meant shewas an informed and possibly ideal reader. So I faxed her "Kay and Phil" and in the fax the nextmorning was her acceptance.
 
What niche and/or reading audience was it projected to fill/satisfy? 
 I never used to think of audiences when I'm writing, until I got asked to write for younger readers.Now, quite a few kid's books down the track, I know that certain ideas are going to resonate withcertain age groups, for instance that actually having a penguin as a pet would be a disgusting andsmelly business, which struck a chord with 5-7 year olds (
The Penguin Friend 
). A story about Kayand Phil was obviously for people who know about them, which means discerning readers of sf.Greg Egan liked it, and recommended it in the
NYRSF 
.Most sf fans would know who Phil was, but I included the quotation at the beginning, that she hadthe character of a visitant, to make quite clear that Kay was a real person (and also because itfitted the theme of the story). I've yet to meet anyone who didn't know who they were, but sincethe story was reprinted in
The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women 
, it's possible thereare such readers. Ultimately, though, I wrote it for myself: I wanted to know what was going tohappen. The joke is that the second market I sent it to (a very prestigious sf market too) thoughttheir readers wouldn't be interested in PKD!
Were/are you a fan of SF? 
 Yes and proud of it (which is what I say when people ask me if I'm a feminist).
At the time you started to write it, were you already a PKD fan/reader? 
 I'd been reading him for what seems like forever. A lot of my sf education was the MonashSecondhand bookshop. You could walk in there, buy a secondhand paperback mostinexpensively, and if you didn't like it, sell it back to them the next week. That's how I amassedquite a collection of PKD, most of which is now falling to pieces.For many years the Melbourne sf scene has had an interest in PKD. Bruce Gillespiepublished
Electric Shepherd 
, an early book of PKD criticism. I didn't know much about him,personally, except that those in the know said he was weird. Then I read the biographies, andrealized he had this terrific mother complex, which was quite repellent, and was also a maritaldisaster area. "Kay and Phil" was one way of reconciling the disparity between the writer and hiswritings, on a personal level, I suppose. Phil is quite a benevolent figure, in the end.
How would you describe the actual writing process for "Kay and Phil"? 
 Do a page, revise it, do the next page, until you've come to the final full stop, my usual process.Not particularly memorable in this instance. Nothing like the time I rewrote the last chapterof
Scarlet Rider 
(my first US novel) instead of going to dinner with the most appalling man inMelbourne.
How much reading/research did you end up doing? 
 I had written the entry for Burdekin in
The St James Guide to Science Fiction Writers 
, and been inletter contact with Daphne Patai, who discovered the Burdekin/Constantine connection, and hadwritten introductions to reprints of her novels. I didn't know too much about her, perhaps ablessing, although I wrote with a copy of
Swastika Night 
handy, in case of mistakes. For Phil,everything there is from the biographies. All I needed to know specifically was his personalsituation while writing
The Man in the High Castle 
. However, at that time the only copies of thebios in Melbourne were in Bruce Gillespie's living room, and he wouldn't let them out of thehouse. I brought Julian Warner along to talk to Bruce & bother his cats while I sat and read, andfrantically made notes.
About how long did it take you from start to finish? 
 I honestly can't remember. Not long, I think. No more than a few weeks at the most. In the middleof it I went off to a conference in Wagga Wagga (non-Australian readers should know I am notmaking that name up), and left early because as I said to people at the time, I had a storycooking.
Any particular problems/difficulties (vs. other stories/books you have done)? 
 The trick was to get them in and out of their respective fictional worlds and not lose the readerutterly in the process. I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but I went with the flow and it went just right.

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