It’s hard to keep count of all the awards and Year’s Best spots Kaaron Warren has raked in for her unique and haunting brand of dark fiction. Writer, mentor, collector of unusual objects, if Kaaron’s not putting words on the page she’s sifting through the gewgaws in a second-hand bric-a-brac shop, inspired by the ghosts that lurk in old things. Last year, in gratitude for her years of support for Australasian horror and horror writers, she was awarded lifetime membership to the AHWA. This year, she’s off to Baltimore, as Guest of Honour at World Fantasy Con 2018!
We checked in with Kaaron to learn a bit about her 2016 Shadows win…
Your book, The Grief Hole, won Best Novel in last year’s Shadows Awards (along with a whole bunch of other national awards). Congratulations!
Can you tell us a bit about the story (without spoilers, of course)?
The Grief Hole is about Theresa, who sees ghosts. She knows how you’re going to die by the ghosts who haunt you. So if you’ll die by drowning, you’ll have drowned ghosts surrounding you. The closer you are to death, the closer the ghosts are. She works as a social worker, helping to place women in safe homes. Sometimes this isn’t enough, though. When the ghosts fly so thick she can barely see, she has to intervene, take a further step.
After being beaten close to death by a client’s husband, she takes a break, goes to work in her uncle’s stamp business. There, though, she discovers that her young cousin Amber committed suicide, and Theresa realises she is the only one who can figure out why, and stop others from doing the same.
Is there some interesting backstory to the idea?
I gathered a lot of the imagery while on a trip to Montreal some years ago. The idea itself, that you are haunted by ghosts who died in the same way you’ll die, came to me as I started writing and thinking about what a grief hole might be.
An element of it all was the so-called ‘My Way Killings’, where people are shot while singing My Way. I was fascinated by the idea that a song can inspire this level of violence. And of course there’s ‘Gloomy Sunday’, which apparently has caused many suicides.
At the time I started writing, I had in my notes ‘suicide forest’, but by the time I got around to putting words onto paper, everyone was writing stories set there. In a way this was good; it meant I had to dig harder for my bad place. I thought I invented the idea of a luxury apartment block nobody wants to move in to but realised there are many, many of these places. Grand ideas in the wrong place that just don’t work
You’ve already collected enough Shadows Awards to fill a shallow grave. Can you tell us about the first you won?
The first one was for Slights, my novel about a woman who becomes addicted to knowing what’s in the afterlife. She sees everyone she’s ever slighted there, waiting to take a piece of her. She also starts figuring out what other people see, which requires a certain amount of ….death, to quote Blackadder.
I LOVE my nekkid lady statue. She is utterly fabulous and I’m so proud of her.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing a novel with the working title The Understorey. This is the one inspired by my research at Old Parliament House about art, government and serial killers. A group of violent men break out of jail together (based on a true story) and invade the home of a remarkable old woman. A lot of it is about building her as a character, so that the reader knows her strength but the men don’t.
She lives in a massive house in the country with so many rooms she loses track, each of them with amusing names like The Mint, The Strangers Room, The Understorey. She runs ghost tours there but doesn’t believe in ghosts herself. Until….
You’ve run some unusual writing workshops in the last year or so, getting people out of their habitual mindset using found objects, old photographs, even other people’s clothes. Can you tell us a bit about this? How does this align with your own process?
That’s a really good description. I like to do workshops where I help people to tap into the subconscious, because one of things that’s really important is an individual voice. There’s something really satisfying about figuring out what your story is at a deeper level, and some of these props can help with that. This works really well with the clothing one on particular. You make it sound very disturbing. “Other people’s clothes”! We’re not taking the clothes off people’s backs or stealing them off the clothesline. We go to a huge second hand clothing shop where I get people to find clothing that their character might wear and dress up in them. It’s amazing what comes out of this. Wearing shoes you can’t walk in, or a top that’s too tight, or a dress you can’t zip up without help; all of those gives us an insight into the character we’re writing about.
This aligns with my process well. I try to look between the lines in the creation of story and character, to create a more solid, believable world.
What do you see as the value of the AHWA?
Community is number one. Gathering together online or in person, at times, to talk writing, horror, stories, plans, the future, is one of the most important things that keep you at it. We share opportunities and support each other, we make friendships, we make connections. We get ideas off each other.