BENGALURU: Australian author Kirsty Murraywas recently in town to launch Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, a collection of fantasy stories for young adults written by an all-star line-up of Australian and Indian authors. Edited in collaboration with Indian writers Anita Roy and Payal Dhar, Murray shares how this cross-continental project emerged, and how fantasy writing has an important role to play in imagining alternative realities for young women.
Tell us a bit more about curating the anthology
I toured India in 2012 as a member of the Bookwallah Roving Writers Festival. At the end of the tour, I met up with publisher and author Anita Roy in Delhi and over a shared plate of momos at the Dilli Haat market, we talked about how we’d like to put together a collaborative project for teen readers showcasing writers from both countries. Over the following weeks, the shadow of the rape and murder of two beautiful young women—Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi and Jill Meagher in Melbourne—hung darkly over our conversations and led us to speculate about our hopes and fears for the futures of all young women. Via skpye and email, Anita and I joined forces with Payal Dhar and put together a proposal which we submitted to the Australia Council for the Arts, seeking funding to create a truly unique anthology. Luckily, we received a Creative Partnerships with Asia grant which allowed us to make our ideas a concrete reality.
Why the focus on speculative fiction?
Fantasy and speculative fiction is deeply connected to the realm of myth and hence touches upon universal experiences. Speculative fiction has a global flavour that makes the stories accessible to readers of any country. Speculative fiction is a genre, an approach to a story which is not unlike quantum physics that involves playing with the boundaries of time and space and re-imagining the past, the present and the future. This anthology has strong feminist themes which basically means it is inclusive and compassionate. But I don’t think “feminist speculative fiction” is a genre. The term implies that the stories are simply didactic when in fact they are quirky and daring.
How did you select the contributors?
Anita, Payal and I are passionate readers. We selected the contributors based on our admiration of the various authors’ work and our belief that they would each come up with something distinctive that would fit the themes of the anthology. One of the most interesting aspects of the shared concerns is how often the authors and illustrators were on exactly the same wavelength. Many of the stories have a strong emphasis on environmental concerns from climate change to pollution. Many of the experiences of young people, their hopes and dreams, are universal and unconstrained by the parameters of culture. When you read the anthology as a whole, you realize our shared humanity is much larger than our cultural differences.
And how did the Indian and Australian authors collaborate?
We spent many hours discussing which authors and illustrators would work in partnerships. We tried to match the creators based on the strengths in their work and how they might be temperamentally suited to each other. It was a little like being a matchmaker, hoping that affection would spring up in the partnerships. It was very satisfying to see how the writers an illustrators inspired each other and to watch the connections— both personal and creative, begin to grow. I think what I found really fascinating about working on the anthology is that it wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. It is a truly contemporary creation. Without Skype and email, without the immediacy of the internet and the connections it allows, the book would have taken decades to put together or never have been completed.
Why the all female line-up?
There were several male authors that we would have liked to include, particularly Ranjit Lal, whose work I’ve admired for years, but after much discussion we felt it was important to make the line-up all female. It’s not uncommon to find anthologies of all male contributors without there being any comment. Women generally have to work much harder to gain attention for their work, are under represented at writers’ festivals and gain a smaller proportion of publicity in general. If we had included even just a couple of male authors in the anthology, a disproportionate amount of attention would have been paid to their contributions and it would have created an imbalance in the way the anthology was received.