Guest Speaker Recap: Andrew Macrae, Editor/Speculative Fiction Writer

No shenanigans today; no last minute room changes, inadvertent Tom O’Connell faux pas, or suicidal Kookaburras, either. Today was just a good, solid, no-nonsense (well, besides the sentient killer trucks … I’ll get to that) guest speaker talk delivered by multiple-hat-wearing (but mostly ghost writer, musician, editor and spec. fiction writer) Andrew Macrae. Even Andrew’s presentation meant business, with its comparatively singular focus and extended question time. Just as well, as previous guest speakers Pepi Ronalds’ and Lauren Williams’ sprawling presentations were harder to recap for a cheap-suit-and-scuffed-shoe-wearin’ amateur journo like me. Going to do my best to keep it concise this time. Here goes!

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It was an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon when the bespectacled, shaven-headed Andrew Macrae spoke to our Writing and Publishing class. Andrew, who has an MA in English and a Ph.D in Creative Writing, opened by sharing his adage: ‘It’s important to have multiple income streams’. Clearly, Andrew lives by example, for he is a self-employed business owner whose income stems from a combination of editing work, non-fiction writing, ghost writing gigs and book royalties. His website, Magic Typewriter, is his base of operations, and a quick visit there reveals that many of his past clients come from government and corporate sectors – sectors with fastidious standards of professionalism. Andrew previously worked in a governmental capacity, and was in the fortuitous position of bringing some past clients with him while embarking on this career change. (By the way, if any of my past Crazy Clark’s Discount Variety Store co-workers want to pay me to edit their shit, I’m available. Very available.) Andrew’s entrepreneurial skills are impressive; it pleases me that someone is making a comfortable (if strenuous) living from their written endeavours.

Andrew’s debut novel Trucksong, published by Twelfth Planet Press in November last year, formed the focal point of his presentation. The novel, which is dystopian speculative fiction, was born from Andrew’s love of the noir, cyber-punk and western genres, and an unlikely fondness for trucks. Andrew kindly took us through the process of writing his novel and the challenges he encountered on the road to publication.

Trucksong‘s concept is wildly inventive. It features a post-apocalyptic world where human splinter factions struggle for survival in a world they cohabit with the sentient, self-aware trucks that roam the barren landscape. Andrew told us about the project’s unlikely genesis. He hails from Toowoomba in South-East Queensland, which interested me as it’s not too far from my hometown, the Brown Gold Coast (ignorant kids at my school used to refer to Toowoomba as ‘the sticks’). Growing up, Andrew lived near a busy main road and, at night, he heard trucks chugging by on gruelling interstate all-nighters. Their noises, Andrew thought, sounded mournful – ‘They were like sad dragons calling to each other.’ This seed, fertilised by subsequent influences and Andrew’s inquisitive mind, sprouted over time.

Truck-driving movies further inspired Andrew. I never knew it, but there’s a whole genre for them. Andrew reared himself on these trucker flicks, describing them as ‘cheesy 1970s versions of the old Westerns’. I haven’t seen any, but can imagine the parallels. He expressed fondness for their morally grey worlds and ethically flawed heroes – a sensibility he has carried to Trucksong.

Apparently, Trucksong began as a whole other entity; in 2002, Andrew began writing what became the novella Truck Dreamin’. It featured a highly experimental rural Australian vernacular (Bloody oath, mate!), and was accepted for publication in 2005 as part of a short fiction anthology – though only on the condition that Andrew cull it from 14,000 words to a comparatively paltry 7,500.

From my understanding, Truck Dreamin’ was Trucksong‘s prototype. It wasn’t until 2007 that Andrew resurrected the project as part of his creative writing Ph.D. He wanted to realise his original vision for the story and luxuriate in this fantastic made-up world. He wanted a grand, sprawling epic. This version of the novel most closely resembles that which went on to be published by Twelfth Planet Press – but even still, Andrew admitted it took a lot of work to transform it from esoteric uni assignment into a full-fledged commercial venture. The publisher saw the alienating Aussie drawl and stream of consciousness style as accessibility barriers. This was a minor point of contention, but one Andrew respectfully conceded. He admits today it was the right call. Stubbornly clinging to his original vision would’ve grossly limited the book’s wider appeal. This suggests to me that all, or at least most, of the works on bookstore shelves have been radically reshaped in accordance with their structural editors’ suggestions. It further illustrates how important editors are in the publishing equation.

During his presentation, Andrew gave a short reading from Trucksong. The reading was accompanied by ambient music which he had written and composed himself, and which formed a part of the accompanying Trucksong OST. I thought this was a very innovative promotional gimmick, and an unobtrusive way to enhance the reading experience. I don’t know why more authors aren’t coming up with original ideas of this nature. I’m sure it would make for a nice point of difference in today’s ultra competitive market.

Listening him to discuss his work, I found myself really admiring Andrew’s passion and enthusiasm. He took a fairly outlandish concept (okay – very outlandish!), which I am sure would cause many prospective readers to raise their collective eyebrows, and convinced us of its brilliance. The world he has drawn in Trucksong sounds vividly realised and wholly original, and both Andrew’s passion and the quality of his prose were enough to convince me to buy a copy. This was no obligatory purchase. In the past three years, many guest speakers have ended their presentations by peddling their wares. I don’t begrudge them this (who would?). They come to impart wisdom, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to widen their readerships. What could be better than a captive audience of writing students, who, by nature, read voraciously?

Regrettably, I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything from a guest speaker before – partially because I’m almost always skint (remember the figurative cheap suit), but mostly because I’m not into throwing money away on products that don’t connect with me. To me, buying a book I’ve no interest in just for the sake of a nice gesture is insulting to me and the author. Besides, I don’t really do nice gestures. Just ask my mother.

But Andrew struck me as the real deal, and Trucksong is just the left-of-centre novel I need to shake me out of my current reading rut. As a speaker, he was open about his processes and journey, articulate, and sported a wonderful, lightly self-deprecating sense of humour. I thoroughly enjoyed his talk and wish him well with his future endeavours.

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