Please note: this is part three of our interview with Lee Murray. Please click here for part one and here for part two.
Lee Murray is an award-winning New Zealand author of science-fiction, fantasy and horror. She recently won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novel with Into the Mist, book two of the Taine McKenna series, as well as Best Collected Work as one of three editors on Te Korero Ahi Kā. However Murray’s work isn’t limited to the page: she has also helped establish key writing communities in New Zealand and organise events such as GeyserCon, New Zealand’s 40th National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.
To learn more about Murray’s work, check out her website here — or part three of our interview below. Enjoy!
You’ve also done a lot of other great work helping to develop the sci-fi, fantasy and horror writing community in New Zealand. What would you like to do next in terms of this?
Thank you. One of things I’m especially proud of is being co-founder and co-convenor of Young New Zealand Writers, a not-for-profit volunteer group established almost ten years ago to develop writing and publication opportunities for our youngest writers through a shared love of science fiction and fantasy. Young New Zealand Writers runs programmes for school students such as free-to-enter writing competitions, anthologies, mentorship, and our annual day Youth Day Out, which is occasionally held in conjunction with our national science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s a huge task, but every year the quality of the work and the talent of our students convinces me that forming new readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror are some of the most important things we can do to keep the community vibrant.
There are a lot of other great ways to raise awareness. For example, Speculative Fiction Writers of New Zealand (SpecFicNZ) has just established a regular podcast, called none other than The SpecFicNZ Podcast, to focus on trends in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. With lively discussion and interviews by the group’s members, the podcast is still in its infancy, but definitely worth tuning in to for a listen. I notice some of the mainstream literary festivals, such as Featherston Booktown, the National Writers’ Forum, and the South Auckland Writers’ Festival, are introducing genre panels and presentations as part of their regular programming line-up, a trend which can only be promising for the genre. Of course, by far the best way to ensure the health and longevity of our local science fiction, fantasy, and horror community is for New Zealanders to read and recommend our work. That’s it. The more people read and rave about us, the better our chances of attracting the notice of local publishers and producers, and that in turn creates more opportunities for writers, which will improve the number and range of titles on offer for readers to enjoy, and so on and so forth. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of demand creating supply. You heard it here, folks!
What are your thoughts about CoNZealand next year? Will you be very involved?
I’m not at all involved in CoNZealand planning, although, if I can get together a few colleagues, I might propose a couple of panel presentations. Mostly, I’m looking forward to enjoying the convention as an attendee and welcoming a number of friends from overseas. I hope they’re as inspired as I am by our landscape, and our people, and that no one goes home without trying our wonderful hokey pokey ice cream.
As someone with an impressively busy schedule, what advice would you give to authors trying to fit their writing around other commitments?
I’m the worst person to ask this question because I am hopeless at saying no to those other commitments. Over and above my actual writing, I undertake a lot of mostly unpaid writing-related activities. I’ve already mentioned the national convention, and the Young New Zealand Writers group. In addition to those, I typically have several mentees on the go, a book or two I’ve been asked to blurb, a half dozen blogs I’ve promised to write, panel presentations to plan, reviews to write, and more than one commissioned work to edit. Last summer, I had to turn down a prestigious international judging opportunity as I had already committed to judging two other national competitions over the same time period. With my to-be-read stack teetering at 90 novels and 30 novellas, I couldn’t possibly squeeze in any more. As it was, I spent almost the entire summer in my hammock reading! The thing is, while many of those extra commitments take me away from my writing, they also contribute to my work by immersing me in all aspects of genre fiction. Plus, I get a sneak peak at some wonderful new work, while also having a hand in developing (and celebrating) the new talent coming through the ranks.
Ah. I think you are asking for suggestions on how to schedule your writing around paid work commitments as well as the demands of family and community. I am fortunate to write full-time, but many of my colleagues who work other jobs write in the early morning or late evenings when their children are in bed. Or perhaps they scribble furiously in a notebook on the train into work. I have a friend who does writing sprints in the car while her children are at their music lessons. One friend gets all their best ideas in the shower. Another finds their inspiration while out running. All trying to carve out writing time where they can. With the latest CNZ survey revealing that New Zealand writers average around $12,000 in annual earnings from their writing, the reality is most writers cannot make a living from their creative work. This means we are in danger of losing those middle voices, where writing becomes something people do only as students, or when they have retired from full-time work. On the other hand, it’s also true that writing seems to take the time available, so if you have an hour to spare, then the poem or drabble will take you an hour to write, whereas if you can afford to invest a week, the same piece will invariably require the full week. So, perhaps there is some merit in having at least some pressure on us to make our time profitable. I should add here that, even at my fastest, I’m an incredibly slow writer, producing only 500-1000 words daily. Still, I console myself that Hemingway wrote just 500 words a day and yet his body of work comprises an impressive 10 novels, 17 collections of short fiction, two books of poetry, and nine works of non-fiction (albeit some published posthumously).