Lucy and Phil an Interview With Lucy Sussex | Science Fiction | Fantasy

Lucy and Phil: An Interview with Lucy Sussex by Frank C.

NOTE: Lucy Sussex is an Australian/New Zealand writer, editor and researcher, who works in the areas of science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and children's literature. She has written two novels for younger readers, The Penguin Friend (1997) and The Peace Garden (1989), two for young 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). She has edited four anthologies, of which She ’s Fantastical (1996) was short listed for the World Fantasy Award. Her short story "Kay and Phil" has been published in Alien Shores, edited by Margaret Winch and Peter 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 article she 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 the Nazis, Dick's The Man in the High Castle and Burdekin's Swastika Night, originally published in 1937, 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. I wondered what he might have thought of it had he done so. He couldn't have known it was written by a woman, something he might have found problematic, given his troubles with his wives and particularly his mother. In addition descriptions of Kay put me in mind vaguely of PKD's own mother. I thought it would be interesting to throw the two writers together in a fictional format and see what happened. Of course, the most interesting time for them to meet would be when he was writing The Man in the High Castle, but at that time Kay was bedridden. I let my fancy take over 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 very polyglot Australian city, with one of the biggest concentrations of expatriate Greeks and also holocaust 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, it was hard not to think of both PKD and Burdekin. From memory I had the story idea and then put it down in words only when I got asked to contribute to a German sf anthology. THEY ABSOLUTELY HATED IT! And wanted to know why I hadn't written about Australian instead of German racism. Well I have, repeatedly, in novels such as The Scarlet Rider and Black Ice but it wouldn't have seemed appropriate for the story, which was in fact less about the Nazis than it was 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 contacted me initially about using another story of mine, "My Lady Tongue". I said, fine. The problem was that the anthology was arranged chronologically, and she wondered if I had a slightly later narrative, to be the final story (which is a huge compliment, as the intro and extro stories of an anthology are as important as the closing and opening bars of a symphony). This whole exchange was conducted by fax, between Australia and England, by the way. I asked her if she knew who Burdekin was. Yes, she said, she had Swastika Night on her shelves. That meant she was an informed and possibly ideal reader. So I faxed her "Kay and Phil" and in the fax the next morning 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 with certain age groups, for instance that actually having a penguin as a pet would be a disgusting and smelly business, which struck a chord with 5-7 year olds (The Penguin Friend). A story about Kay and 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 had the character of a visitant, to make quite clear that Kay was a real person (and also because it fitted the theme of the story). I've yet to meet anyone who didn't know who they were, but since the story was reprinted in The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women, it's possible there are such readers. Ultimately, though, I wrote it for myself: I wanted to know what was going to happen. The joke is that the second market I sent it to (a very prestigious sf market too) thought their 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 Monash Secondhand bookshop. You could walk in there, buy a secondhand paperback most inexpensively, and if you didn't like it, sell it back to them the next week. That's how I amassed quite 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 Gillespie published 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, and realized he had this terrific mother complex, which was quite repellent, and was also a marital disaster area. "Kay and Phil" was one way of reconciling the disparity between the writer and his writings, 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 chapter of Scarlet Rider (my first US novel) instead of going to dinner with the most appalling man in Melbourne. 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 in letter contact with Daphne Patai, who discovered the Burdekin/Constantine connection, and had written introductions to reprints of her novels. I didn't know too much about her, perhaps a blessing, 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 personal situation while writing The Man in the High Castle. However, at that time the only copies of the bios in Melbourne were in Bruce Gillespie's living room, and he wouldn't let them out of the house. I brought Julian Warner along to talk to Bruce & bother his cats while I sat and read, and frantically 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 middle of it I went off to a conference in Wagga Wagga (non-Australian readers should know I am not making that name up), and left early because as I said to people at the time, I had a story cooking. 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 reader utterly in the process. I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but I went with the flow and it went just right.

Now that it's done, what afterthoughts might you have about the whole thing? Not many. I'm generally not interested in a story after it's been published, but in preparation for this interview I went and read through "Kay and Phil" again, and didn't see anything that made me wince, so I guess it's ok. Did you learn anything about PKD and/or his work that surprised you? The version of his character that emerged as I wrote was not quite what I was expecting. I knew he was going to like cats, and that he was ambivalent towards his womenfolk. What emerged was a kind of eternal writer archetype, scribbling away, making something out of nothing at all. And his writing is what makes him important, not the somewhat tortured human in real life. Would you want to write anything else (story/essay) about PKD? I've pretty much given up sf criticism, after an Australian critic fabricated a story that a famous writer had threatened to take an axe to me for a negative crit. If you write and also criticize in one literary area you can end up shitting in your own nest. In any case I'm writing a history of early women crime writers, so that's where my non-fiction focus is at the moment. Would I ever write another story about PKD? If the fancy takes me. Any particular PKD story or novel stand out for you as representative of his work? I still think The Man in the High Castle is a great book.

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