A quick interview with Rebecca Fraser: Dark Fiction Writer

Welcome to my ninth IFWG author interview for this year! It’s published as part of IFWG’s Uncaching the Treasure’s campaign. Today’s interview is with Rebecca Fraser, whose new short story collection, Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract, came out mid-April. Welcome, Rebecca!

Your bio describes you as a ‘genre mashing’ writer for both children and adults. Can you talk a bit about what that term means and how it manifests in your work?

Hi Maureen. Thanks so much for having me on your blog. While I’m probably best known for my dark fiction, I don’t necessarily like to pigeon hole myself purely as a writer of horror, as I write across a variety of genres and readerships. Many of my longer works blend themes and elements that would be more traditionally found in other genres or tropes, and I try to play against expectations. That said, the great thing about horror is it’s such a beautifully flexible and versatile genre, you can mix it up it with anything!

You’ve written flash fiction, short stories, poetry and a novel (also with IFWG). What appeals to you about each medium? Is there one that’s a particular favourite (if so, why)? 

I love poetry in all its formats. From traditional, to experimental, ballad, free verse, and other classic or contemporary forms and structures—poetry engenders creative and complex vehicles to carry and convey big themes, emotions, ideas, or narratives.

I cut my teeth on short stories. As a teen, I was obsessed with horror anthologies and collections, and when I first started out, I wanted to write the types of stories I enjoyed reading. Experiencing such intimacy from the briefest encounters … I wanted to emulate that which I found so artful. Short stories are my first love, and probably always will be.

Novels draw on a different set of skills.  While some schools of thought suggest short story writing is the more difficult form to master, I find the stamina and macro-level view required for longer works can sometimes be challenging.  Novel-length works have seen me ride a wave of learning and development—I doubt that will change. When do writers ever stop learning?—but I feel with every draft I get stronger, and my voice more confident.

Flash fiction … now there’s a tonne of fun! Good flash takes a bit of practice to pull off. You still need characterisation and a plot thread to keep your reader interested. Form matters, and every word counts. I’ve found flash fiction to be a great medium for honing my editing skills!

Your latest publication, collection Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract, is a collection of dark and weird fiction. What appeals to you about the horror genre? Do you have any favourite works you’d like to recommend that inspire you? 

To me, horror in its various forms is art. It’s such a great vehicle to highlight the many different aspects of the human experience, which is a perennial source of fascination to me. Numerous literary works are informed by the various elements and tropes of horror, and I think this just highlights the versatility and importance of horror.

I’ve got heaps of favourites! I’m going to miss out on so many here, because I could seriously waffle on for ages, but off the top of my head some horror / dark fantasy / spec fic works that have stayed with me for either their emotional impact, lasting resonance, or beautiful writing are: Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan, Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon, The Fisherman by John Langan, We Have Always Lived in The Castle by Shirley Jackson, The Long Walk by Stephen King (Writing as Richard Bachman), Singing My Sister Down by Margo Lanagan, Mr Lupescu by Anthony Boucher, Sky by Kaaron Warren, The Green Ribbon by Alvin Schwartz … so many more!

It seems like the ocean is a recurrent motif in your work (your novel features the ocean and this new collection’s cover features coral). Why do you think the ocean speaks to you and keeps cropping up in your work?

I have always had an affinity with the ocean. I don’t think I could ever move to a non-coastal setting. The ocean is not only beautiful and soothing, unyielding and enigmatic, it can be terrifying and powerful and unpredictable. It is also stuffed with the most fascinating alien-like creatures, many of which I am sure we’re yet to discover. This was the partial inspiration for my middle grade fantasy adventure Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean (also published by IFWG) – mysterious undersea creatures with their own lore and war, hidden from humans for centuries.

I guess, thematically, the rhythm of the ocean translates to the rhythms of life—the ebbs and flows, the highs and lows, the power and the passion, the calm and the chaos.

Did you write any new stories/poems for Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract or are they all reprints? How much input did you have in the story selection process?

There are four new stories in this collection, with the bulk made up by reprints distilled from the course of approximately a decade. When I initially pitched the collection to Gerry Huntman at IFWG Publishing, he astutely recognised that new material would make for a more appealing collection, and, more importantly, was expected by readers. He requested I add new work, and we agreed upon a deadline. I’m really pleased he did, because it gave me the opportunity to work on some stories that had been buzzing around my head for a while, as well as discovering completely new material.

What’s your favourite story in the collection and why? 

That’s actually quite a difficult question to answer! I like The Pedlar very much, his character and storyline were so enjoyable to write. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a writing process more!

When I was around nine years old, my father introduced me to one of his favourite childhood reads The Little Round House by Marion St John-Webb. Among the many beautifully crafted characters that bring The Little Round House to life is a charmingly roguish pedlar. He’s stayed with me all these years and I channelled a little of his energy to shape the ne’er-do-well in my story, Calypso Reeves.

I also like Casting Nets—I could see protag Tino’s village and surrounds vividly—and The Little One. The Little One is one of the new stories that feature in Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract, and is the longest, sitting at novelette length. It’s dark, and it’s brutal, but it felt “right” in  the writing.

In his wonderful introduction to my collection, Steve Paulsen describes The Little One as “… fairy tale-like, but with teeth. Razor sharp teeth. This is the story of Sable and her sister Carmine who work in the Queen’s kitchen, and of the “forbidden” love shared by Carmine and her partner Lizbette. But it’s also about the abuse of power and privilege, cruelty and brutal violence, and bloody revenge. Fraser takes the tropes, imagery, and beauty of fairy tales, and serves them up with a generous dose of darkness to weave something fresh and resonant; a powerful, haunting tale of love and revenge that will linger long after the story is finished.”

Tell us a bit about your StoryCraft Creative Writing Workshops. Is mentoring other writers important to you? What got you started in this area? It seems like you are passionate about supporting young writers especially. Do you want to talk a bit about that?

Thanks for asking about StoryCraft, Maureen. StoryCraft Creative Writing Workshops started as a passion project for me in 2017. I’d always dreamed of facilitating writing workshops for beginner writers, as they were something I benefitted from enormously when I first started taking my writing seriously.

When I completed my MA, I thought the time was right, and started presenting workshops to aspiring authors of every age and ability across the Mornington Peninsula and beyond. I run workshops on various elements of craft and industry for children and adults in schools, libraries, community centres, festivals, and home school environments. I’ve also been presenting for G.A.T.E.Ways (gifted and talented primary-aged children), and greatly enjoy working with children on the spectrum or with specific learning disorders such as dyslexia, who are wildly imaginative and talented, but sometimes lack the confidence or resources to express their creativity through narrative.

I’ve also recently embarked on a new project Little Stories, Big Ideas with friend and fellow author, Joe Novella, which aims to elevate the literary voices of ‘Generation Next’ through a free-to-enter flash writing competition for secondary school students all around Australia. A different topical and relevant theme each Term invites youth to respond to the prompt in any way they like, expressing their ideas about the world around them. We’ve been completely blown away by the quality and creativity of the entries.

What’s next on the writing horizon? 

I really wish I were a faster writer! I’ve got two half-complete manuscripts to finish this year (one a junior fiction contemporary novel with not a speculative element in sight! The other a space western).

Once I’ve finished these two projects, I’ll allow myself to think about the other ideas that are swirling through my head:  Two novella-length horror stories, a standalone middle grade novel, and a sci fi novel I wrote back in the early 2000’s – a bad first draft of a good idea (hopefully) that needs a full rewrite. I’m also slowly compiling stories for a new short story collection. Phew!

Thanks for chatting today, Rebecca! You can read more about her latest collection here with the book available to buy in all good ebook and print outlets. It is distributed through Gazelle (UK/Europe), Novella (Australia) and IPG (North America).

Rebecca Fraser is an award-nominated Australian author whose fiction and poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines, and journals. Her first novel Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean was released in 2018, and her collection Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract in 2021 (both through IFWG Publishing Australia). Rebecca holds a MA in Creative Writing, and a Certificate of Publishing (Copy Editing & Proofreading). To provide her muse with life’s essentials Rebecca copywrites and edits in a freelance capacity and operates StoryCraft Creative Writing Workshops … however her true passion is storytelling. Say G’day at writingandmoonlighting.com or Twitter/Insta @becksmuse.