Rebecca Bryson is currently completing a PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University after having worked in the publishing industry for eight years. She has a particular interest in speculative fiction about unexplored worlds, and her own research is centred on the future of technology from a Marxist feminist perspective.
Our Associate Editor, Andy Browne, interviews Rebecca about her work.
In your piece, humdrum suburban life is interrupted by the fantastical arrival of the fish woman. Where did you draw the inspiration for this story?
I recently attended a conference that focused on climate change (or climate catastrophe, which is fast becoming the more acceptable term) from a literary studies perspective, so there were many discussions about how climate catastrophe can be depicted in literary fiction. I recently read Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills, a wonderful dystopian novel that is set in an Australian coastal town that is grappling with the loss of the sea. Through reading Dyschronia and engaging in discussions at the conference, I started to think about how mythology and our perception of well-known mythological creatures could alter through the changing of the climate. Although my own research is centred on science fiction, this genre often overlaps with fantasy (there is much debate over the definition of these terms—for instance, Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood have always disagreed), so my reading of both fantasy and climate fiction led to my ruminating on how the mythology of mermaids is bound to be affected. I wanted to depict a mermaid who is sick and frail, then place her in a setting that conjures nostalgia and familiarity in the reader. I thought it would be more relatable that way. I also drew inspiration from my own suburban childhood. I unfortunately had tadpoles that exploded in an ice-cream container.
There appears to be a message about pollution in ‘The Fish Woman’. Is that an important message for you to get across in your work?
Pollution and climate catastrophe are more prominent in my work this year. My PhD research focuses on speculative Australian narratives, so I have been reading a lot of contemporary science fiction. I initially viewed climate fiction, or ‘cli-fi’, as its own separate genre, but it’s just impossible to explore any sort of futuristic scenario without incorporating climate catastrophe. It’s something I’m thinking about more and more and I’d be remiss to exclude it from my own writing as well as from my research. I believe that climate catastrophe needs to be addressed in every art form and that includes fiction, such as speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy and magic realism.
There are some hilarious moments in ‘The Fish Woman’. Do you find it hard to write comedy, or is there another form you find more challenging?
If I set out to write a comedic piece, I don’t struggle too much with the humour (at least, I hope!). I do find it difficult to inject humour into pieces that are not comedy, which is still important and something that I’m working on. I’m currently writing a novel as part of my thesis and my supervisor often reminds me to add humour. It’s a dystopian piece, so it’s difficult, but I know that humour is so important in every single genre, not just in comedy writing. It adds depth to characters and situations and it’s how we cope with the tough times in life. It’s how we bond and relate to one another as people.