Kia Ora and welcome to the Couch of Chaos. Quite a trek from the land of the Long White Cloud I appreciate you making the trip. Oh goodie, you brought one of your primordial beasts with you, how exciting. Terra is going to have fun playing with him. I won't ask how you got him through quarantine....Definitely don't ask, sounds good. Now on your way through, how many people asked if you're an Aussie,? I always get asked if I'm a Kiwi. My answer is that I can count to seven without mentioning sex. (wink ,wink)
Now I can’t start writing until I have a coffee and digestive biscuits to hand. Do you have a ritual before you start writing, or is it a spontaneous venture?
First of all, I draw a pentagram on the floor… no, nothing like that. I’m a fulltime writer, so after my oatmeal, I take my second cup of coffee through t my home office, plonk my bottom on my chair, and get straight to it—that is, after wasting about an hour on social media, and another half hour checking my email, another quick look at social media, which will segue into an online chat with a mentee or colleague, then I’ll get a phone call about a local event, and at that point I’ll throw up my hands because nothing can be achieved in the ten minutes before lunch, but I’ll definitely crack out 500 words after that…
Self care is important these days, and women tend to leave ourselves to last every time. How do you care for yourself? (exercise, massage, dog walks)
It’s no secret that I’m an anxious piglet type with Eeyore tendencies, so some days just getting up and standing under the shower is a triumph. But I practise all the things you mention above—exercise, massage, dog walks—as part of my self-care programme. Also, foot rubs from my darling, cuddles with my dog, and watching movies with my geeky grown-up kids. Rambling walks on New Zealand bush trails. Soaks in the back yard spa pool. Simple weekends spent in the caravan. Reading poetry. Reading in my swing chair. Summer afternoons on the deck with a book. [Hmm. I’m sensing a theme.] One of the most significant things I could do to nurture myself and my writing, is to learn to say no to yet another volunteer project for a great literary cause which will steal a further hundred hours of my writing time, or the next five requests from lovely colleagues to blurb their latest must-read title (at least, until I catch up), no to those ‘quick’ requests to ‘pick-my-brains’ that will somehow end up requiring hours of input. There is that attitude out there that ‘you can only ask’ and ‘they can always say no’—only some of us can’t. Every year, acquiring this skill is at the top of my New Year resolution list, and still I haven’t nailed it. And perhaps deep down it’s because I don’t really want to; because being able to help my friends and colleagues is also fundamental to my wellbeing.
You have a choice of five people to invite to dinner. Any five in life or beyond? Ok, make that four because it is a given you will invite yours truly. Four friends plus me to your dinner party. Who are they and why?
My dad would be first on the list. He died last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, after a long battle with dementia. I’d love to catch him up on what he missed over the past fifteen years and thank him for giving me the gift of story because I’m not sure I ever did that. Not properly. Not while he could still remember. My earliest stories going back to my preschool years, were the ones my dad would tell me. A favourite was Horton the Elephant by Dr Suess. Dad did the best Horton voice. He did a pretty good Maisey-the-Lazy Bird, too. And the book has that great message, about being true to your word, and persisting even when things get tough. Not a bad theme to live your life by. Mostly, though, Dad regaled us with stories he’d made up himself. He was quite the storyteller. There were the tales of Horace and Aristotle, a couple of goofy frogs who lived in the creek at the bottom of our road in Whangarei. They had some hilarious adventures—you don’t realise how extremely perilous it is crossing the road when you are a frog. There were also stories about Professor Morgan and his famous ZZ-Burp steampunk creation, which the inventor cobbled together out of junk found in the garage. (The professor was modelled on himself, of course; he was renowned for cobbling you needed from a BBQ plate and an old bike tyre). Anyway, when he’d perfected his creation, Professor Morgan would fly around the world helping people solve their problems and taking care of the environment. I learned a lot about storytelling, community service, and friendship from those made-up tales. [And if Dad is coming, then I’m naturally going to call Mum, because, like protagonist, Clare, in Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, how could I deny Mum that last goodbye?]
Carol J Clover. If Carol can face the managed isolation period to get into New Zealand, I’d absolutely love to meet the woman who studied a raft of slasher films, then defined the term ‘final girl’, thereby laying down a challenge for us to do better. For my WiHM dinner party, I’m going to seat her beside my next guest, Sir Julius Vogel, because I have an inkling they’ll hit it off.
Sir Julius Vogel, a former premier of New Zealand (for whom New Zealand’s science fiction, fantasy, and horror awards are named) wrote the novel Anno Domini Women’s Destiny, arguably our country’s first published speculative fiction novel, which postulated that in the 1980s all key positions of power in New Zealand (government, police, justice, and business) would be held by women, a prediction that came to pass. This was a man’s vision. And it was considered outlandish. Women didn’t even have the vote in those days (although New Zealand was the first country to achieve suffrage.) I’d like to thank him for his crazy idea, for imagining a future where women were empowered, so readers, especially young readers, could envisage it, and then create it. I’m sure he’d love to know how we’re getting on. (If our current PM, Jacinda, is free, maybe I’ll invite her, too. Our house is kid friendly.) On the other hand, I won’t be inviting Sir Richard Seddon, another former New Zealand prime minister, whose policies and attitudes made life extremely for early Chinese immigrants to New Zealand, my own family included. I could invite him, but only so I could close the door in his face, and see how he likes it.
Singapore author-poet-essayist, Christina Sng. One of my favourite horror folks, a Black Cranes contributor, and a dear friend. Only, I have never met her. So, definitely Christina. [My parents are going to LOVE her. Mum will probably knit her something.]
And, of course, I’ll round out my guest list with horror novelist and spatter specialist, Lee Franklin.
How do you determine success for yourself?
My writing success is measured in small moments. This week, I got a short message from a ten-year-old reader who’d loved reading my middle grade novel, Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse. She thought the voices were realistic. [Heart melts]. A reviewer colleague recently called me ‘an incredibly kind person’. Then there was the dear friend who gave a literary presentation and named me as someone instrumental to her writing career. A lovely reader from Oklahoma calls me his favourite author of all time. There’s my uncle, the one who always brags about his famous niece, the author. An unexpected award from the HWA for mentorship. A mentee who secures a publishing contract. Just now, in my inbox, a local author for whom I did a quick critique: “Blessed to have you in our midst. You see stuff no one even thinks of! Thanks again. You’re awesome.” The lady in the supermarket, who rushes over to tell me, “Oh you’re that writer lady. You’re doing so well!” Little moments that feel like success and keep me going.
Tell us, why should we read your work? Don’t say because it is better than mine.
You should read whatever speaks to you in the moment. And if it resonates, tell someone else. Share it. Let us all know.
What inspires you?
Imagine I am filthy successful agent (I did say imagine) we are stepping into an elevator. Hit me with your top three elevator pitches for three pieces of your work.
Grotesque: Monster Stories, eleven uncanny tales of automatons, zombies, golems, and dragons, these stories subvert ancient themes, stitching new creatures from blood and bone, hiding them in soft forest mists and dark subterranean prisons. “A collection outside of time.” —Linda D. Addison.
Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, a dark and intimate exploration of what it is to be a perpetual outsider from Southeast Asian writers of horror. “This is a brilliant collection, one of the best books I’ve read this year—and one of the strongest anthologies I’ve ever seen. A must-read for horror fans.” —Vanessa Fogg
Into the Mist, an expedition into primordial terror. “For those familiar with the movie Predator, this book turns the concept up by 50 levels, and you honestly can’t go wrong with that.” —Tor.com
A mother isn’t meant to have favourites, but tell me, what is your favourite story that you have written? And why? Just so all those other stories know.
I’m proud of all my stories, but I’m always learning, always looking for new ways to get my message across, to tell it better, which is why I hope my best story is the one I write next.
Other than WIHM which is an amazing month for female horror writers. How do you feel other women can best support each other in this genre?
I think the problem is, we are preaching to the choir. Women are already supporting other women. We’re doing it. This month, for WiHM, you’re interviewing me and twenty-seven other women on this blog. I’ve interviewed four women on another blog, a colleague and I have written a women-in-horror reading list. There’ll be hundreds of other women writing more articles, posting more posts, all in support of our sisters. And we won’t just do it this month, we’ll do it all year. And yet, despite all their wonderful books and stories, despite the mutual support, women horror writers still don’t get the attention they deserve. Danuta Kean, author of British study The Emilia Report (2019), found that women “aren’t provided with an equal platform to men upon which their work can be judged,” claiming that this is because social structures are “created in a way that militates against women being able to be recognised for their creativity.” Which means we need to tear down those structures and erect new ones. So, get out the chainsaws, ladies; we’re going hunting.
Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning author-editor from Aotearoa-New Zealand (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows), and a three-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominee. Her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures, supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and debut collection Grotesque: Monster Stories. Her latest anthology projects are Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, co-edited with Geneve Flynn, and the AHWA’s Midnight Echo #15. She is co-founder of Young NZ Writers and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019, NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, and Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow for 2021.
Mind The Monster And Discover more Lee Murray HERE
Read more at leemurray.info.