Eugen Bacon on Speculative Fiction, Contemporary Themes and her Writing Process

Thursday, December 16, 2021
By: 
Kate Cuthbert with Eugen Bacon

A photo of Eugen Bacon

Eugen Bacon is an African Australian writer specialising in Speculative Fiction, Dystopia, Dark Fantasy and Afrofuturism whose work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted and commended in numerous awards. Eugen has just released her new collection of stories 'Danged Black Thing' (Transit Lounge Publishing), and has several books being published in the new year: 'Mage of Fools' (Meerkat Press), and 'Chasing Whispers' (Raw Dog Screaming Press). Eugen also works as an editor, and is reviews editor for Aurealis.

Eugen will be teaching our upcoming Online Feedback Course in Speculative Fiction, which begins on February 3, 2022.

Writers Victoria's Program and Partnerships Manager, Kate Cuthbert, spoke to Eugen about balancing the roles of writer and editor, writing speculative fiction and how the genre allows her to explore contemporary issues, and her writing process.

 



Hello Eugen! Congratulations on the publication of Danged Black Thing. What a busy and prolific few years you’ve had.

It’s been amazing and insane. I have been very blessed with opportunities during rough years with the pandemic and Melbourne lockdowns – they are excruciating when you’re a migrant with no family network close. I think writing was my sanity.

I am enamoured with Transit Lounge Publishing. The publisher, Barry Scott, is committed and professional. He understands the industry and offers valuable insights – a writer’s dream.

 

So you are both a writer and an editor. When you’re writing, are you able to turn off the inner editor or do you struggle to find the balance between creating and refining?

I am a very immersive writer and can, for the first draft, plunge into the belly of my story and its characters and events. That first ‘write’ is with urgency and curiosity, and I have taught myself to be patient with the rough stone.

Then the editor nudges the writer aside, and nothing beats the thrill of shining the stone to an opal.

I know that I have blind spots – don’t we all? So I have trusted peers, advisors and editors – like Kate Goldsworthy, who rode the shape of my stories, and respected my art when she edited Danged Black Thing.

I work with trusted peers to affirm whether I have rendered my vision, and bring the work to its best form.

 

Your works move across the spectrums of speculative fiction and Afrofuturism, from science fiction to myth and legend to religious and cultural histories – what draws you to this particular style and genre of storytelling?

I am an experimental writer. I love to explore the uncanny and step beyond traditional expectations of genre. I am enchanted with language (Toni Morrison), and playfulness with text (Roland Barthes), both taking me to a space where I can be, become, and my characters can be, they can become.

I also feel things deeply, and have a strong connection to family. This intense longing to reconnect with my roots drives my stories and their themes. I am passionate about social justice, and Black Lives Matter – I am the mother of a black boy, and I bleed for him every day.

 

 

Though much of your work plays in speculative space, you nonetheless grapple with very contemporary issues, themes, and mores, especially as they relate to women. When it comes to imagining women’s lives – what they were, what they are, and what they could be – how does speculative fiction allow you to show what is also real?

I see myself in some of my stories, especially migrant stories, or children stories. I understand the struggle, the often inequality that people of colour experience, the sacrifices they make, the harms they endure, and how deeply, sometimes helplessly, they hurt. Speculative fiction allows me a safe space to explore themes that are sometimes sensitive, political or ineffable in reality.

 

One of the central themes in your work is power: who has it, who doesn’t, who wants it, who is going to take it. But I also really like how you explore different kinds of power: the obvious and the more subtle. What do you think you are trying to resolve in your writing for yourself and your readers with this examination of power from so many different angles?

It's never planned. Something about each story or its characters yanks out a fury or hopelessness at injustice, and the story crafts itself as a mirror or a metaphor or a warning or a bellow that leaves both the reader and me unsettled.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your process? How do you begin to write? How do you know if your idea is a short story, novella, or novel? Do you begin with questions or characters or setting?

A short story or prose poetry begins with a question, or a curiosity. I am seeking to find something, and sometimes I don’t know what it is. It may be a longing or a memory, a dirge or a possibility. The quest is fluid, and I am open to where it might take me – sometimes to a newer question, or curiosity. 

It is intentional when I write a novella or a novel, because I chart its skeleton and have an idea of its core players, of the events that might drive them and, vaguely, why.

I still savour the element of astonishment, so novella or novel I let the story come alive on its own. Often, I tuck little stories inside, layered vignettes invisible to the reader, but they carry the mutability and intensity of a short story, which seems to power my longer forms.

 

Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

I am working on an ambitious project in collaboration with other writers, poets and translators. Languages of Water is a cross-lingual hybrid interpreting a story in different forms of itself.
The anthology cross-examines climate change, crossing cultures, writing the other… It is a rare but intimate fusion of East, West and Africa, a stunning artefact of writerly immersion and cultural exchange.

It is enriching to its participants, irresistible to me, its editor, and will be something new and stimulating like nothing before it in the market when it’s released.

 


 

Thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing, we have three copies of 'Danged Black Thing' to give away to some lucky Writers Victoria members! To enter the draw, email your postal address to members@writersvictoria.org.au by Thursday 23 December, with 'Danged Black Thing' as the subject.