Oct 10 2011
At the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival I got to catch up with Meg Mundell, a New Zealander based in Melbourne. She’s just released her first book, Black Glass, a story about two teenage sisters set in a dystopian Melbourne. Meg’s a talented writer with a wicked sense of humour and a special place in her heart for monkeys.
What is Black Glass about?
It’s set in a world that’s very like ours, so it could be the near future or a parallel reality. It’s mostly in a city that’s a very scary place. The main characters are two girls, sisters. They come to the city separately, and they have to survive off nothing and try to find each other. It’s a very controlled world, and there’s a huge social divide between the haves and the have-nots. It’s about surveillance and the consequences of surveillance. It’s a bit thriller, specfic and detective story.
When you were writing your book, did you intend it for a YA (young adult) or adult audience?
I didn’t write with an audience in mind. If I start to have an audience in mind I freak out, because I know you can’t please everyone. I didn’t want to censor myself, so I didn’t write for a YA audience. I hope, though, that this is a book that can crossover. There are some scenes that school librarians might not like. But I met one yesterday and she said she ordered it for her library, so I guess it’s not too filthy.
What sort of research did you do for the book?
I like walking around heaps. I like exploring weird places and forgotten places in cities and tumbledown corners and industrial sites, places where you’re not supposed to go. I love that.
I smelled a lot of things. There’s a character in the book who manipulates rooms and crowds by subliminal means by putting certain smells in to the air or sounds you can barely just hear, to manipulate you on a subconscious level. So I had to do a lot of sniffing, to explore different smells and try to imagine what subconscious effects that it might have on crowd of people. Mostly nice smells, though.
I worked at a magazine called The Big Issue [ed: an Australian magazine sold on the streets by homeless people to help them earn an income] for many years — talking to the magazine vendors, that gave me really good experience to know what it’s like to be homeless. I got to know some of them and they showed me around, where they sleep and that gave me some idea of what it was like to be homeless.
I also went on the Gravitron. One on the characters goes on it, so I had to go on it to remember what it was like.
What do you think of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival?
This is my first time being at an international writers festival, but I’ve been to a few in Australia. I think they’re really fun. Other writers are much friendlier than I thought they would be. It sounds corny, but they are quite supportive. I like meeting the person whose book you’ve read or meeting a person and reading their book, and meeting the readers, so you realise that there’s a person on the other end of it.
Writing is so solitary, so it’s nice when we all get let out of solitary confinement and go crazy together.
Who have you been most excited to meet?
Lina Goldberg. You’re funny. And DBC Pierre was funny. He was making disgusting jokes with my boyfriend.
I also met Benjamin Law, who I was excited to meet because he’s another Australian writer and we had heaps of fun. I met lots of really nice, funny people and swapped details with them and I’m going to stay in touch.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a Ph.D. on literary sense of place, and I’m also finishing a non-fiction book called Braking Distance about outback trucking. I travelled with outback truckies for three months all around Australia. I just got a grant to finish it so it should be out next year.
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