Australians seem to be well represented in the fields of science fiction, fantasy and horror, given our relatively small population base. […] I wonder if marketing a work as ‘Australian’ (or, indeed, as actively representing any particular diversity group) might sometimes be doing that work a disservice, in that the ‘Australianness’ of the work might then shout louder than other story elements potential readers would find more compelling or relevant. […] I guess my question is whether a work actually needs to be marketed as being Australian, if that’s only going to conjure up images of kangaroos and gum trees, when that might not have much, if anything, to do with the story.
–Leife Shallcross on Aussie specfic.
I’m Australian and I write Australian urban fantasy set in Australia. I set it in the Australia I know, which is highly urban, educated, white collar, and cosmopolitan. In other words, it’s basically the antithesis of version of the Australia we tend to sell overseas: rural, “rustic”, working class, male, and very, very white.2 This was a deliberate choice, and it was a deliberate choice because it’s not an Australia that foreign markets tend to see very often.
Still, it’s… irritating when I get U.S. readers ((And it’s always U.S. readers, not ones from Britain or Canada or continental Europe or any of the other regions my stuff’s available in.)) telling me my Australia isn’t “authentic” enough because it doesn’t conform to some Mad Max-esque mental image they have of what my country looks like.
Yeah, about that.
It’s other, little, things as well. The biggest one I tend to notice is U.S. readers complain the affect of my characters is too flat. To which I say: uh, yeah. Duh.
The thing about emotional affect is that it’s cultural. USians have a very exaggerated emotional affect that, frankly, reads as histrionic to a lot of other people, Australians included. This is particularly true in media originating from the U.S.3
Australia, meanwhile, is notoriously the land of the laconic. Our national motto is “she’ll be right, mate“… up until the point where things aren’t, in which case it becomes “bugger“. In other words, large showy displays of emotion are often considered gauche, pretentious, or childish here.4
So, yeah. When I write characters like Sigmund, Em, and Wayne they do, indeed, tend to undersell their reactions to startling events. In Sigmund’s case in particular it’s because he’s, yanno. A dude, and the pressure on Australian men to maintain flat affect is even heavier than it is on Australian women. Which is also one of the reasons Em, who works in the male-dominated tech industry, has a flatter affect than Wayne, who works in the arts.5
This is the stuff that, I think, non-Australian readers miss. Hell, probably even Australian readers miss it, but perhaps they miss it in the sense that fish “miss” water.
Anyway. It’s little things like that–those little, semi-invisible cultural assumptions–which make the Wyrd series “Australian urban fantasy”, as opposed to “urban fantasy… IN AUSTRALIA!!!”. Whether people notice them or not, whether they’re “effective” or not… eh. I guess that’s up to other people to judge. But they are things I think about.
- This is writer code for go read her stuff. So, yanno. Go read her stuff. ^
- Unless someone needs a scene with some “Mystical Aborigines”, that is. ^
- One of the reasons every Australian I know hates the “Australian” characters in Pacific Rim is because they “read” like USians, particularly the young bloke whatshisface. “They care too much to be Aussies,” is how my husband put it. Also their accents are terrible. And their names. And their dog is British. Seriously. So. So fucking bad. ^
- This occasionally makes dealing with people from the U.S…. interesting, shall we say. I got this a lot when I was first signing deals for Liesmith, both with my agent and with the publisher. There were these phone calls where I’d get something like “so we’d like to offer you representation!”, followed by an expectant pause. And I’d be thinking, Oh… okay. I guess this is the part where I shriek and scream excitedly? Except what I said was more along the lines of, “Awesome. Thanks.” It’s not because I wasn’t excited, it’s just that I’ve been brought up in a society that values understated reactions. But I think I threw a few people with my lack of externally visible squee. ^
- Em’s other reason, for the record, has to do with her schizophrenia, which is only alluded to in the first couple of books–Em mentioning doctors and her “meds” in Liesmith, Sig and Wayne assuring her she’s not hallucinating when Hel appears in Stormbringer–but is confirmed in the third. ^