Blogging about Writers & Readers: Kelly Link, Denise Mina and Robert Shearman: Comics, Fantasy & Popular Culture.
Chaired by Dylan Horrocks.
Wednesday 14 March. 3.30pm, The Embassy
This was my favourite of the three events I’ve been to see so far this year. Dylan Horrocks in conversation with Kelly Link (short story writer and editor of anthologies,) Robert Sherman (writer of books with subjects diverse as the entire history of human civilization, a man who falls in love with the talking ghost of Hitler’s childhood pet dog, and critical essays on the X-files,) and Denise Mina, author of detective novels and writer of Hellblazer for a year. Like any good panel discussion, the conversation jumped all over the place, so I’m writing a blog post in bullet points to save myself the difficulty of having to tie it up neatly. So, in no order of importance:
– Robert Shearman talked about the fact that whatever he did in his writing career, he would still never do anything more famous than Dr Who. He is doomed to be haunted by it all his life, and says when he dies they’ll probably put a Dalek on his headstone. “Robert Shearman. He was exterminated,” says Dylan Horrocks. But Robert Shearman says it’s humbling to be part of something with such an enormous history.
– As a child, Kelly Link had a pet boa constrictor called Baby she used to bring to school, wrapped around one leg. It usually didn’t escape.
– Denise Mina said she had only had her website up for a day when she was approached to write Hellblazer. She sent DC comics back an e-mail telling them to fuck off because she thought it was a joke.
She says writing comics feels like a physically different experience to writing fiction, and that she thinks the paneling restrictions of a syndicated comic make the experience of writing somewhat similar to that of a haiku or a sonnet. She said a lot of fans were unhappy with a woman writing Hellblazer, because they thought she’d change the character (“and make him drink herbal tea,” says Mina.)
– Robert Sherman talked about writing fantasy, (or ‘the fantastic,’) and described a story he had written where Luxembourg suddenly vanishes overnight. Nobody cares, except for a woman whose husband has gone there on a business trip. He says that he likes to write stories with a reverse twist – to start out with the fantastic and work backwards from there. Rather than ending with a twist, he thinks it’s more startling to begin with an improbable situation, and them slowly narrow in. This way, you can start with some good jokes at the expense of Luxembourg, but then you can add emotional depth, which makes for a much stranger and more compelling story.
– Denise Mina is often told that her work ‘transcends genre,’ which makes her mad. She said that it’s all part of that low/high art distinction, and when people tell her that her books ‘transcend’ crime fiction, it’s the literary equivalent of someone saying ‘you’re not that ugly.’
She always makes a point of saying she writes comics and detective books, not graphic novels or thrillers. Kelly things that ‘transcending genre,’ is a way of people trying to ‘dignify’ the fact they enjoyed reading a piece of genre fiction. But she also says that snobbery goes both ways, and she’s been told by genre writers that her work doesn’t belong in sci fi. She says it’s important to remember that genre is first and foremost a marketing tool.
– A member of the audience asked Robert Shearman (who was an obsessive fan of Dr Who since childhood) whether he considers himself to be a fan-fic writer. He said that did, but he thought that fan fiction was an intelligent and creative solution to any issues an audience might have with an episode of a show they loved (he mentioned sexism and representation.)
There was lots of other amazing stuff discussed, but it’s disappeared into the black hole of my brain. Denise Mina told a hilarious story about the most irritating man she’s ever met on the plane, (who claimed to be a writer and first introduced himself to her by saying ‘an Irish lass was she,’) but I’ve never been a good joke teller, and if I try to put it down on paper it will bomb. I got my book signed by Kelly Link and she drew a picture of what’s either a dinosaur, or a spiky wolf. Here it is:
by Hera Bird, Administrator at Booksellers NZ and poet.