From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Writing, Writing, Writing: Lisa Hannett

What inspired “The Good Window”?

I’d had a few of the story’s elements kicking around in my mind for a while, but a flight I took from Tasmania home to Adelaide last year was the catalyst I needed to bring them all together. Basically, we had just taken off and the plane had made a really sharp turn—so sharp that all I could see out my window was vibrant green grass, dense forests, and sparkling waters. No horizon, just ground. And since Adelaide’s been experiencing intense drought for years, Tasmania’s lush landscape came as a shock. It was such a contrast to what I’d gotten used to seeing at home! So, since I generally tend to think morbid thoughts at the beginning of my flights, I looked out at this gorgeous view and thought, ‘If the plane crashed right now, this would be the last thing I saw. Apart from the plummeting towards death part, that wouldn’t be half bad.’

Once the plane righted itself, I started thinking about how our perspectives—literally, what we see when we look out at the world—influence the way we experience life. From there it was a quick step to: What if a character’s world view was mostly based on what she saw outside her window each day?

In “The Good Window”, Ned’s toenail polish is an important image. Why toenail polish? What does this image mean to you? What color are your toenails today, and why did you decide on that color? Inquiring minds want to know…

First of all, because toenail polish is whimsical and colourful. It serves no purpose, really. It’s a quick way of making yourself feel just a little bit different than you were before. I used to watch my mom do her nails when I was a kid (her colours were always so glamorous!) and she graciously turned a blind eye when my sisters and I started painting our nails black, navy blue, fluorescent orange, hot pink. As I grew older, I’d paint my toenails when I was getting dressed up for special occasions, or I’d treat myself to a pedicure when I was on holiday. Then, as the toenail polish would inevitably grow out, I’d look down at my feet and be able to judge how long it was since I’d been to that party, or had been to Singapore, or whatever. I wanted Ned to enjoy something frivolous even though her world is fairly bleak; but also realized that to her the nail polish was a treasure. It seemed fitting that she’d use her precious polish to commemorate moments she felt were special.

(My toenails are unpolished at the moment! Oh, the horror! But I’m going to Cairns for a wedding next week, which is definitely a deep burgundy affair.)

What exactly does “The Good Window” represent?

At the risk of sounding coy, I don’t think I can say exactly what it represents. I think that to say precisely what any story ‘means’ is very limiting. But, broadly speaking, people might think this one’s about how we experience our individual worlds, how we cope with traumatic events (like wars), what we do to remember things, the way our knowledge is shaped by subjective experiences, the end of childhood—the list could go on. And, to some readers, it might not be about any of these things. I’d much rather have people come up with their own interpretations instead of prescribing any meanings to my stories.

“Wordwinds” are a key element in the world described in your story. Concerning the protagonist, one sentence explains “Ned thought she looked naked without a wordwind tap-dancing across her shoulder.” What do “wordwinds” signify and why are they so important to your characters in this world?

Wordwinds are people’s innermost thoughts, insecurities, and feelings exposed. The world in which Ned lives is in the middle of a global war, and has been for generations. This war has had both a physical and an emotional impact on its inhabitants: one way this is evident is in the genetic mutation that causes wordwinds. Adults, like Tantie, generally learn to control their thoughts (some are more adept at it than others, which I explore in other stories set in this world) so their wordwinds are less revealing. Children, like Ned, are generally more imaginative and less inhibited, so their ‘winds can often get the better of them. In this story, wordwinds are important because they can reveal what people are ‘really’ like, what they’re really thinking. In other stories, these features can be manipulated and used as weapons—for good and evil purposes.

At one point, Tantie says to Ned, “Your name was set down in ink the day you were born. And that is that.” Ned isn’t happy with this; the story indicates she often asks Tantie to call her other names. Why, if it was a simple typo, can her name NOT be changed? What larger implication might Ned’s desire for a new name indicate towards her mental view of their world?

The world in which Ned lives is shrouded in grey; grey buildings, grey fallout, grey clothes, grey eyes. But Ned herself isn’t. She’s a dreamer looking for brighter things. Even so, her dreams aren’t unlimited: they’re still tethered to mundane things, like her name. Changing her name is perhaps an attempt to change her reality, to make it more closely resemble her inner world.

As for why her name can’t be changed: I imagine that, in a world where words are floating around people’s head, constantly changing, flashing in and out of view, and being manipulated, a medium that sets these words down and makes them stable would be highly valued. Held in reverence, even. It would be very simple to change a typo, but for these people that would essentially make writing as inconstant and unreliable as wordwinds. Of course, we know that writing is just as subjective as wordwinds are—but these people are clinging to any semblance of permanence they can get. Ink, in their minds, is eternal.

I read on your blog that “The Good Window” is one story in a larger cycle. How many other stories do you plan to set in this world? When did you decide you would want to write more stories in this setting? What led to this decision?

Yes, I am working on a larger story cycle set in this world. At the moment, I’ve got eleven stories in various stages of (in)completion, which includes “The Good Window”, and I imagine the final collection will have another couple added to that total. I think I decided to write a larger body of work set in this world before I’d even finished writing “The Good Window” – there were so many things to be done with wordwinds! What if a person can’t read? Is brain damaged? Is blind? Speaks a different language? Lives in a dark tunnel? What are the limitations of these ‘winds? What else can they do?

In this collection of interconnected stories, characters take wordwinds to another level: for instance, in one story they are used as weapons of mass destruction; in another they are responsible for a postman’s murder; and in another they leave the protagonist mute and helpless in a foreign land. But the wordwinds won’t necessarily appear in every story in the cycle–the war with the fée has led to other mutations that have had a profound effect on the way human beings exist and interact, and I am exploring those at the same time.

What does the future have in store for L.L. Hannett? Are there any upcoming publications you would like to mention?

The future will see me writing, writing, writing. I’ve got a few stories in the pipelines at the moment and one coming out in On Spec in the near future. I’m working on completing the (as-yet-untitled) “Good Window” story cycle, but I’ve also started working on my first fantasy novel, The Familiar, which is a tale of schizophrenic witches, lunatics, and steampunk Puritans. And my conscience obliges me to mention that at some point I really should put my PhD out of its misery. . . So watch this space.

TJ_HeadshotT.J. McIntyre has seen his short fiction and poetry published in numerous publications including recent appearances in Everyday Weirdness, Ruthless Peoples Magazine, and Scifaikuest. He is a member of various writing organizations, including the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), and serves as a moderator for the Lobo Luna writing community on LiveJournal. Until earlier this year, he published Southern Fried Weirdness, an anthology and web zine celebrating speculative fiction and poetry with a Southern perspective. He lives in a busy household in the muggy heart of rural Alabama with his wife, two young sons, an aging Doberman mix, five tiger barbs, and three salt-and-pepper catfish.