The Guitar Hero of The Etched City – K.J. Bishop Interview

kj bishop

My first interview. We are going to start interviewing the various creative personalities in the genre. We will strive with this feature as we do with our reviews to offer the widest range possible related to Fantasy. We have several authors who have agreed to participate thus far and were kicking it off with K.J. Bishop, author of The Etched City, a novel that has drawn this quote from Michael Moorcock regarding some of Kirsten’s scenes “The Etched City is worth reading for these scenes alone, which are among the most mystifying and astonishing I have found in a fantasy.”

That should be good enough for anybody. The Etched City has not gone unnoticed among anyone else either, garnering a World Fantasy Award nomination in the Best Novel category, and winning the Ditmar awards for Best Novel and Best New Talent, recognizing excellence in Sci-fi and Fantasy in Australia, and making the short list for the Aurealis in 2003. Kirsten also took home the William L. Crawford Fantasy Award for Best First Novel, and was nominated in the same category for the 2004 International Horror Guild Award, which recognizes outstanding Horror and Dark Fantasy works. If you haven’t picked up The Etched City (what are you waiting for) and the name sounds familiar perhaps you caught herstory contribution in Jeff VanderMeer’s Album Zutique, Maldoror Abroad. Or perhaps your one of the enlightened shoppers who pick up Leviathan 4: Cities, offered by Forrest Aguirre, where Kirsten’s We the Enclosed, makes not only an appearance but is the jewel within the collection. Here is Kirsten, author, artist, and guitar hero.

Jay Tomio — Kirsten, your novel is getting heavy mention as a terrific read by readers, particularly those that tend to be more critically inclined and many of them illustrious, like a Michael Moorcock. As a new author and given that your first novel, The Etched City has had time to circulate now, can you tell me your thoughts on the reaction to your novel, whether it was more or less that you thought it would garner and are you pleased with the finished product in hind sight?

K. J. Bishop — I feel extraordinarily lucky, regarding the reaction to the novel. When I wrote it, I had no expectations; I didn’t really expect to find a publisher, let alone receive so much positive attention. In hindsight I’m mostly pleased with it. If I could write it all over again, I’d give Raule’s character more screen time. But other than that, I wouldn’t change much. To me, that book is like my first child; it has a personality, and it has a particular, personal magic for me, so it’s hard for me to be objective about it. I kind of love it unconditionally, with its flaws, if that makes sense.

Jay Tomio- When I contacted you to request an interview you informed me you were working on another novel, that was more leaning toward mainstream fiction, your exact words however indicated that it could fall into an “urban grotesque’” category. Are you able to give us any information on this no doubt heavily anticipated work?

K. J. Bishop — Calling it ‘heavily anticipated’ makes me want to run for the hills! I wrote The Etched City entirely innocently, for my own pleasure, like a child happily playing on her own in her bedroom. Now the bedroom has been replaced by a stage with an audience — a situation which I try to ignore. I’m working on (or playing with) a couple of things, one of which is mainstream. It’s about suburbia and a family, and the weirdest stuff in it, which will probably get labelled ‘magical realism’, is all true.

But I’m struggling with it; it’s going to take me a while longer.

Jay Tomio — I read an interview of your on Fantastic Metropolis and you said “I wanted to be a guitar hero, but that was in 1989, when the extinction of the species..”. Who did you admire, and who do you think was the last guitar hero?

K. J. Bishop — LOL! I was more into guitarists who were part of a band, rather than solo virtuosos. I liked — and still do like — Mick Ronson, Brian May, and Mick Mars from Motley Crue, who I always thought was an underrated guitar player. I went through a period of Yngwie Malmsteen worship, and I always liked Kirk Hammett. Last guitar hero? Lord, I don’t know. Me! Unsung, unstrung hero. I haven’t played my guitar for ages. You can’t plug in and shred when you live in a flat. I’d have to buy an acoustic — and learn to play all over again; it’s been that long. I’ve got a keyboard; I learned piano as a kid, and it’s the thing I’ve come back to. At the moment I’m learning the songs from Tom Waits’ Alice album.

Jay Tomio — One thing that sticks out to me about The Etched City was your depiction of Ashamoil. What was your inspiration behind Ashamoil?

K. J. Bishop — Believe it or not, it’s mostly based on Melbourne, where I live. Melbourne’s a 19th century city built on a muddy river, and the suburb I live in is old, with pavements buckled by tree roots and tumbledown houses with feral gardens (all in the process of being bought up and renovated). If you came to Melbourne you wouldn’t experience anything like Ashamoil; it’s more that I took little things and elaborated them, and made the weather hot.

Jay Tomio — Before even reading The Etched City one cannot help to notice the incredible cover art. I understand you are the artist. What do you enjoy more: music, art or writing? Do you get something different out of each one?

K. J. Bishop — I’m not sure which version you’ve got, but I only did the art on the Prime edition. I was really delighted with both the Bantam and the Tor UK covers. I probably get the purest pleasure from music. I’m not a great musician; music is something I can do badly and still enjoy. I enjoy the process of making art but I’m rarely satisfied with the results I achieve; I always feel I’m reaching for something and not getting it. With writing, I sometimes feel I get it. Probably for that reason, I have more discipline and patience with writing than I do with art or music; I hang in there because I’m looking for the next hit of the language drug, or for insights; I learn things when I write.

Jay Tomio — The first work I read by you was in Jeff VanderMeer’s Album Zutique, and after reading Maldoror Abroad I knew I had to get The Etched City. Was Lautreamont an influence on you, and how did your role in in Album Zutique come about?

K. J. Bishop — Hey, I’m glad you liked Maldoror Abroad. Lautreamont was most definitely an influence. In fact, I put a quote from him at the front of . The narrative voice of the original Maldoror got right under my skin. It’s an infectious, viral sort of book; Lautreamont was right to put in a warning to readers! If I remember right, after I sold The Etched City to Sean Wallace at Prime Books, he asked if I had any short stories, and I sent him Maldoror Abroad, fully expecting him to reject it; but as it turned out, he liked it and showed it to Jeff VanderMeer, who was putting Album Zutique together, and Jeff liked it too.

Jay Tomio — Kirsten, can you please give us a couple of names in the genre we should be reading, and a couple that we should have already read.

K. J. Bishop — Jeff Ford and Rikki Ducornet are always wonderful. If you have a fondness for the very surreal (and beautiful), you might like Catherynne M. Valente. As far as older books go, Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-In-The-Mist. Chronicles of an Age of Darkness is my favourite old classic fantasy. I also recommend that anyone who likes their fantasy gritty and humorous check out Hugh Cook’s series, especially The Walrus and the Warwolf.

Jay Tomio- Thanks Kirtsen, it’s been a pleasure and we appreciate you being our first interview. We hope you can come back and visit us again, and good luck with your next book, and in all things.