1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I’ve always loved books and stories, and like many people who love these things, I always wondered if I had it in me to be a writer. And so I started writing in my late teens, working on short fiction and poetry but never taking it very seriously. One day, I just stopped. Almost a decade later – having moved back to my old hometown in the bush, at the tail end of a ten-year drought – I had the idea for my first book. It seemed to come from nowhere, and I hadn’t even considered returning to writing. But the idea burned within me, so I decided to take writing seriously. After all, no one else was going to bring this idea to life.
I returned to university, took a bunch of writing classes, and eventually undertook a PhD that involved writing both a novel and a piece of literary criticism. In effect, I took the small-talent I already possessed, and the passion I felt, and nurtured them and learned how to make them grow, and practised and practised and practised until I understood what discipline meant. And then one day, while working on my second book just for the fun of it, I realised that I’d become a writer.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
I’ve always been a voracious reader, and sometimes an obsessive one, and giant monster fiction was one such obsession that consumed me around the time I completed my first book – I’ve also always been a fan of giant monsters, which I’ll get to shortly.
Gripped by this obsession, I devoured whatever giant monsters fiction I could find, looking for something that took giant monsters seriously, and something that was more than just capital-A action or zany in a post-modern way. But nothing really scratched the itch I’d developed. And so, looking for a new writing project that I figured should be distinctly different from my first book, I settled on the serious work of giant monster fiction that I had been craving.
In other words, I decided to write the book that I wanted to read. Isn’t that what an author does?
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
My real hope with We Call It Monster is that people might start to see that life will go on, and that hope perseveres. It’s just that life in the future – life after we’ve faced the earth-shaking forces of climate change – won’t be the same as it is now. We’re a persistent, determined, ingenious and tenacious species, and I firmly believe that we’ll still be around once it’s all over. As far smarter people that me have said: It’s not really the end of the world, just the end of the world as we know it.
This is the lens through which I hope people interpret the various beasts and kaiju of We Call It Monster. I hope people see them as forces almost beyond comprehension, and from which is there no real escape or ability to defeat. The only real solution lies in accommodation; only by changing the way we are now, will what’s to come be that little bit brighter. And to do so, we must remember that the things that will be most important are those that have always been the most important: Community and compassion, love and family, kindness and togetherness, hope and faith.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
I’ve always been fascinated by giant monsters. At first, as a kid, it was a childish fascination with things being smashed. After all, every little kid has thrown a tantrum, broken something and then experienced relief at the wordless release this brings. Giant monsters flattening cities for no apparent reason readily reflects our own difficulties in articulating and making sense of our emotions at a young age. As well, giant monsters conjured a feeling of awe and mystery, in much the same way dinosaurs did – show me a kid who’s never gone through a ‘dinosaur’ phase’ and I’ll eat my hat.
But beginning in my teenage years and continuing on into the present day, I’ve loved the metaphorical potential inherent to giant monsters, and their ability to ‘stand in’ for so many incomprehensible problems that seem beyond our control. Nuclear war, environment degradation, international terrorism, industrial pollution, climate change, the staggering number of displaced people around the world – giant monsters can represent them all, and more.
And so, as I mentioned earlier, when I was looking for a new writing project that would be distinctly different from my first book, I settled on revisiting this fascination.
5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
Owing to its structure, there are at least two-dozen featured characters in We Call It Monster, and so choosing to sit down and talk to just one of them is tricky. Instead, if I could, I would sit down with Sue Fleming from the first chapter, and Melaarny from the final chapter, and encourage them to talk to each other, in the hope that what they have in common outweighs that which distinguishes them.
Here things get a little dicey, as I don’t want to be so gauche as to unleash any spoilers. But I will say that despite the years that separate them, Sue and Melaarny are really the same and are inextricably linked, and are just like all us. They live their lives, making do as best they can; they have friends and families, hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties.
And so I would like to sit down with Sue and Melaarny in the hope that they realise this, and that we could all share in the comfort of this realisation. After all, isn’t that the point? No matter who we are – or what or when – in the end we’re just like them: We’re living our lives.
6) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
There’s so much advice for aspiring authors out there, much of it contradictory, so I’ll share something that works for me.
If you want to write, you need to have some understanding of the science and art behind it, and have some small talent. After that, all you have to do is keep at it – like all creative arts, writing is something you need to practise. By writing and writing and writing – and keeping your chin up as you wade through it – you’ll eventually get there.
But remember, there are no real rules when it comes to writing – what works for some doesn’t work for others. Finding your own way is what’s important.
7) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
If I’m not careful, I end up with too many different projects on the go at the same time. And so aside from my semi-regular pieces of science fiction criticism and the occasional piece of short fiction, I’m trying to be disciplined about focussing on my third book – a piece of metafictional science fiction that’s a bit “lighter” than the rest of my work – rather than get lost in daydreams about the book after it, or the book after that.
With a bit of luck and perspiration, it’ll be done by Christmas. Won’t that be a nice gift to myself?
About the Author
Lachlan Walter is a writer, science-fiction critic and nursery-hand (the garden kind, not the baby kind), and is the author of two books: the deeply Australian post-apocalyptic tale The Rain Never Came, and the giant-monster story-cycle We Call It Monster. He also writes science fiction criticism for Aurealis magazine and reviews for the independent ‘weird music’ website Cyclic Defrost, his short fiction can be found floating around online, and he has completed a PhD that critically and creatively explored the relationship between Australian post-apocalyptic fiction and Australian notions of national identity.
He loves all things music-related, the Australian environment, overlooked genres and playing in the garden. He hopes that you’re having a nice day.
The old man shuffled out to the balcony, dusted off an outdoor chair and
then made himself comfortable. The sky was a shade of blue that painters
only dream about; it was a beautiful sight. The old man drank it in,
leaning back in his chair. He sipped at his coffee and smoked a cigarette.
He was happy to wait as long as was necessary – he had all the time in
the world and he wasn’t going anywhere.
The monster finally appeared, a blurry smudge in the distance.
Slowly, but not as slowly as he would have thought, it grew both
closer and more distinct. The old man laughed out loud; it looked like
nothing more than a child’s drawing of something that might have been a
lobster or might have been a spider or might have been both, propped up
on flagpole-like legs that supported a wetly-shining carapace, a beaked
head, and a tail as long as a bus.
It was enormous and ridiculous in equal measure. The old man was
surprised to find that it failed to frighten him.
It drew closer to the city. It stopped suddenly and bit a great chunk
out of a stately old tree lining a boulevard. Chewing slowly and
methodically, it worked its way through the mass of wood and foliage
before throwing its head back and opening its mouth wide. Despite his
deafness, the old man felt the monster’s keening in his bones and in the
pit of his stomach.
He pulled his hearing aid from his pocket, turned it on then slipped it
The beast’s cry was low and mournful, more a melancholy bellow
than a ferocious roar. Thankfully, the klaxon-blare of the evacuation
alarms had stopped. The monster cried out again and it shook the old
man, both literally and metaphorically. The beast shifted its legs,
presumably adjusting its weight, and destroyed an office building in the
Almost comically, it looked down at the destruction it had wrought
and seemed to shake its head.
It looked back up and cried out a third time, and then started walking
again. It seemed to meet the old man’s eye. Without breaking its gaze, the
old man took another sip of coffee before lighting another cigarette.
Slowly-slowly-slowly, the monster drew closer. You could almost see
a smile on the old man’s face.
A Q&A WITH THE AUTHOR
What is it about giant monsters that appeals to you?
Initially, it was a childish fascination with things being smashed. Let’s face it: Every little kid has thrown a tantrum for reasons they can’t explain, broken something and then experienced relief at the wordless release this brings. A giant monster barging through a city for no fathomable reason can reflect our own difficulties in articulating and making sense of our emotions at that age.
This fascination soon turned to awe and wonder at their scale and mystery, a reflection of the feelings inspired in me by my discovery of dinosaurs and cryptozoology (the study of creatures such as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Yetis and the like). My love of dinosaurs is easy to explain – show me a kid who hasn’t at some point gone through a ‘dinosaur’ phase’ and I’ll eat my hat – while my love of cryptozoology was inspired by a book entitled Creatures From Elsewhere, which my parents gave me and which is actually still sitting on my bookshelf.
Beginning in my teenage years and continuing on into the present day, I’ve loved the metaphorical and symbolic potential that giant monsters possess, and the ways in which they can ‘stand in’ for so many different problems that seem beyond our control and almost impossible to deal with. Nuclear war, our negative impact on the environment, international terrorism, industrial pollution, climate change, the staggering number of displaced people around the world – giant monsters have represented them all.
Why did you decide to write about giant monsters?
As mentioned, I’ve always been fascinated by them. But I’ve also always been a voracious reader, and sometimes an obsessive one. I’ve been known to occasionally get my nerd on for a particular sub or micro-genre, looking up ‘similar title’ and ‘you might also like’ lists online when I should be doing better things with my time. But I still keep searching, because there can’t just be one example of Mystery Sub/Micro-genre X out there.
Giant monster fiction was one such obsession that carried me away, the timing of which coincided with the completion of my first book. I binged on literally anything I could find, looking for something that took giant monsters as seriously as some of the movies do, something that was more than just capital-A action. I found lots of fun, post-modern stuff out there – some of which could even be described as zany – but not much that approached giant monsters with a serious eye.
Looking for a new book to throw myself into writing – a book that I wanted to be distinctly different from my first book – I decided upon a piece of serious giant monster fiction. In other words, I decided to write the book that I wanted to read. Isn’t that what an author does?
Do you need to be a fan of giant monsters to appreciate We Call It Monster?
Nope, but it probably helps… In all seriousness, though – no, you don’t need to be a fan. My aim with We Call It Monster wasn’t only to write a serious piece of giant monster fiction because giant monsters have, historically, rarely been written about in such a way. Instead, I also wanted to write a piece of speculative fiction that does what all good speculative fiction should: Use the speculative element within to make us look at ourselves and our place in the world with fresh eyes.
Despite its title, We Call It Monster is more concerned with people than monsters. It isn’t a ‘wham-bam, shoot-em-up’ but instead a serious look at how we might react to forces beyond our control, and to forces that illuminate the precariousness of our position as world-conquerors sitting atop the food chain. And ultimately, it’s the story of what really matters: community and compassion, love and family and friendship, hope and faith. Anyone that appreciates such people-centric stories should find something within We Call It Monster that they can enjoy.
Why did you decide to write We Call It Monster as a story-cycle/novel-in-stories?
To me, one of reading’s biggest attractions has always been in my sense of engagement with the world being built on the page (a process even more absorbing when reading science fiction and speculative fiction). I think this enjoyment of engagement applies to most people. We all ‘see’ things in written worlds that the author didn’t actually write, even at the most mundane level: we populate a footpath with pedestrians, a street with cars.
A story-cycle/novel-in-stories can increase this sense of engagement to an incredibly strong degree, and their traditional structures allow writers to work magic. They can give us different perspectives on the same events, blocks of ‘missing time’ that exist between stories/chapters, events that are only alluded to rather than seen first-hand, a multiplicity of narrative “voices”, and so much more. But ‘missing time’ begs to be filled; events only alluded to tantalise us; we can’t know the truth when presented with different perspectives, or even if the truth exists. And so our minds do this work for us, conjuring up and giving life to parts of the story the writer has withheld.
The way story-cycles/novels-in-stories allow us to create the world right alongside the writer is a beautiful thing. However, the structures behind them aren’t just beautiful, but also incredibly practical. They can allow a story to cover a span of time longer than a regular person’s life; and help do away with the inevitable and repetitive ‘amazing coincidences’ that prop-up stories where one single character guides us through an incredible sequence of events covering an incredible amount of time; and enable a wider representation of voices from a wider variety of countries and cultures, without also falling back on the aforementioned trope of inevitable and repetitive ‘amazing coincidences’.