We’re All Strangers Here: Deborah Biancotti and Baggage

Deborah Biancotti has done the world a favour by writing. She’s won Aurealis Awards and Ditmars.  Her short story collection, A Book of Endings (Twelfth Planet Press), has garnered attention both in Oz and overseas, and has bagged awards and recommendations ad infinitum (Look! Here’s a list http://deborahbiancotti.net/the/press/book_of_endings.htm), and been named on Guru of the Weird, Jeff VanderMeer’s Locus Online list of the Best of 2009. It’s a beautiful body of work. Her other stuff can be seen in various anthologies scattered artfully across the globe (including the original Clockwork Phoenix, Agog! Ripping Reads, Ideomancer, and The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Science Fiction). 

Currently, she’s living in Novel-town, fighting with the neighbours, stealing their wheelie bins, borrowing cups of sugar, etc, but she still has other short stories she’s wading through – I have seen them. Of course, my disclaimer here must be that she is one of my favourite short story writers, taking a subject and turning it on its head, pointing out the weird but in such a way that it makes perfect sense for someone to be able to either make their own boyfriend (quite literally male order) or disappear into the bones of a city.

Her story in the Eneit anthology Baggage is Home Turf and once again, she turns things on their head and makes you think ‘Well, of course’. And she’s funny – did I mention she’s funny?

So, how did you get involved in Eneit’s Baggage anthology?
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s how all my best adventures start. 

What inspired Home Turf?
As soon as Gillian told me to write a story about the Australian experience, I thought: homelessness. There was nothing else I could write about. Australia has always made me feel homeless. I mean, sure I have the whole obviously-ethnic name thing, but as a kid I moved around a lot, too. Eventually we even moved states (talk about culture shock: can I request nobody ever does that to their kids, pretty please??). So I grew up without a clan. And the trouble — dare I suggest — with multicultural cultures is the very diversity they encourage can accidentally lead to isolation if left unmonitored.

Not that I want to be contentious, much.

Writing to a theme: super happy fun times or slogging through treacle?
The latter. Incidentally, did you hear about the Boston molasses disaster of 1919? More than 20 people died.

That stuff’ll kill yer.

Australia is basically a nation of immigrants, whether we acknowledge it or not – have we forgotten the fact that we’re all strangers here and has this affected our compassion for refugees?
I think that’s exactly WHY there’s not more compassion for refugees: almost all of us have these difficult histories. Stories of loss & back-breaking hard work & the kind of dangers or disappointments a misunderstood landscape can bring (think: British architecture in an Australian climate, for example). I think there’s a sense with the ‘regular’ people you talk to that they’ve bloody suffered, why should anyone else have it easy? There’s a fear that inviting anyone in will end up with everyone having less, somehow.

Reminds me of that moment in Le Guin’s THE DISPOSSESSED: there’s people on a crowded train & they don’t want MORE people on the crowded train, even though they don’t want to say that & even though some of them don’t even want to go where that train’s going. So they want to find some morally acceptable way to stop those people getting what they’ve got, right? But most of all, they just want to make sure NOBODY ELSE GETS ON THAT TRAIN.

I mean, I’m not saying it’s right. But I definitely think fear is at the heart of it.

Baggage is about the stuff we carry with us no matter where we go – do you think it’s important to be able to work out what needs to be jettisoned before you can move on?
I think what’s most important is working out how to live with baggage. It’s hard to get rid of it — even now I cringe when I come across something that reminds me of my earliest school days, for example, or something that reminds me of my last failed friendship/relationship/job/what-have-you. But nowadays I can cringe & keep moving forward. I call this ‘maturity’.

 With Home Turf, how much did the environment of Sydney influence the writing of the story? I’ve noticed the city often puts in very powerful cameos in your work!
I realised when I did a term of Environmental Psychology at uni that I’m pretty powerfully affected by the environment. Traditionally, that hasn’t been a good thing for me. (Try living in an ugly house for a few years with me, you’ll see how nuts I become.) But in the last few years I’ve had to admit that I love urban dwelling. I love the energy & unexpectedness & activity & history — especially the history — of  city living. And I love Sydney — that faded old-whore of a city, that desolate Christmas tinsel of a town. So now I just try to work with it.

I was particularly struck by one line in Home Turf: “Everyone needed to be named, to belong, even the dead.” Are our names part of our baggage too?
Yeah, I think so. It was a source of great amusement — and, it later transpired, despair — in my family that there’d be no one in my generation to carry on ‘the family name’ because we were all destined to be women, not name-bearers (i.e. men). That’s always stuck with me, that definition-via-name. A kind of pre-destined anonymity. Names are a marking of the clan. A way to say ‘I belong’. We even mark our graves with our names (except for some cultures that still bury women namelessly).

Of course, I determined to hang onto my clan marking. But then I also later resolved not to have children. So, the Biancotti dilemma remained. 😉

What part of your own baggage would you leave behind, if you could?
Right now it would be my burgeoning mid-life crisis coupled with an out-of-date adolescent angst.

And finally, and most importantly, donuts or danishes?
Doughnuts! Spelled the old fashioned way, & all.

Baggage edited by Dr Gillian Polack and published by Eneit Press is available at http://www.eneitpress.com/

Here endeth the blog tour.

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