Tuesday, May 31, 2016

North Melbourne Books June Newsletter - featuring Blythe Woolston

In the June edition of the North Melbourne Books newsletter we talk to young adult writer Blythe Woolston about her latest novel, MARTians.

Set in the near-future, MARTians is a darkly comic, dystopian tale of ubiquitous corporate control and shopping gone mad. It’s so close to the bone it often makes you shiver.

You can read our staff review of MARTians here.

To view the June edition of the North Melbourne Books newsletter, click here. To sign up for our newsletter, click here.


North Melbourne Books talks to Blythe Woolston


North Melbourne Books: When sixteen-year-old Zoe Zindleman finds her school sold off to corporate interests, she has no option but to get a job herself. She can either work at ALLMart or Q-Mart. She chooses  ALLMart and her world is soon turned upside down as the monster corporation tries to squeeze every last bit of productivity out of her. While MARTians is set in the near future, much of the  corporate greed and exploitation it satirises is quite close to today’s reality. Was there any particular event that inspired the story or is this a theme you’ve been interested in for some time?

Blythe Woolston: Not one moment of inspiration, but many small things over years. Stories friends shared with me about their work were a major influence—but the story really started simmering when the housing bubble burst. Many families became homeless, and, as a result, many teens started fending for themselves. I did a lot of couch surfing and roaming when I was a teen (things weren’t great at home), but the disintegration of what “home” meant really hit me in the heart during the economic crash. In the summer of 2012, I was in a house full of other writers working on science fiction, horror, and other sorts of fantasies. I wrote a short story called “Baby Escape” while I was re-reading Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. There is so much longing for home in those stories…that was when things started to come together. After that, the world showed me what I needed to see: housing developments abandoned in the middle of the western desert, street signs rattling in the wind.

NMB: There’s a lot of black comedy in MARTians. The passages that describe the Baby Escape, ALLMart’s child minding service where the babies are given sippy cups laced with a sleeping drug, are particularly funny. Was it important to you to bring humour to the story?

BW: A sense of humour is essential. That’s true for satire and for surviving in the world. But here’s a secret about me as a writer: I don’t have much of an imagination. There was a drop-off daycare called “Baby Escape” in my hometown. It became notorious when a toddler “escaped” into four lanes of traffic. (That baby survived unscathed.) And dosing babies to make them easy to look after is a real, dangerous practice. Infants die because of it. If I just started shrieking the truth about collapsing civilization, I’d look like a nutcase. No. I’d be a nutcase. Comedy is a lens that lets me communicate what I’ve noticed.  

NMB: Is there a message you’re hoping to get across to young readers?

BW: Once a reader picks up a book, it belongs to them. I’m opposed to pinning a moral on a story. I mentioned Ray Bradbury, a favorite author since I was twelve who influenced the way I think and feel about the world. There is room for readers to inhabit his stories, to connect to them in their own ways. I hope that I leave that space in the books I write, too. I want readers to decide what the story means and if it matters to them.  

NMB: MARTians has a wonderfully smart, snappy style. Are there any writers who have influenced you particularly?

BW: A. S. King, Sjon, Adam Rapp, Chuck Palahniuk—even Kafka! I admire them all so much, and I don’t imagine I will ever write sentences so shiny. The real foundation for my style, though, is the sound of my own thoughts. My brain is always sending me telegraphic, tangential messages. I learned a little discipline in school—I can use punctuation!—but brainchatter is key.

NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?   

BW: Beautiful Darkness, a graphic novel by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët; The Sad Book, a picture book for everyone, by Michael Rosen; Truckers by Sir Terry Pratchett; and Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson.