Ian Harrison is an author with a lot on his mind. With a number of short stories under his belt and 4 novels in production, the erstwhile IT professional is relocating to quieter digs to focus on his writing. We caught up to talk about his WOLVES tale, A Change of Heart.
Hi Ian, and thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Let’s start with who you are, and where you hail from?
Hi! I’m Ian. Aries, Tiger, Rhinoceros 🙂
43 years old. Born ‘n’ bred Sydneysider with European in the bloodstream. Did the travel thing in my late twenties / early thirties and it was a trip to Berlin that inspired my first manuscript. I’d already written a short story about the last man to be shot by border guards at the Berlin Wall, and the more I researched, the more I realised that this was a big story (as in, huge) that someone needed to tell, even without embellishments. It became impossible to ignore, so I kept writing ideas down. I love music and art, but can’t sculpt or draw and have never got over that hump of being good enough to just pick up an instrument and play a song, so I write. Mostly short stories.
I’m an introvert. I write conversations I wish I had. Fix arguments I wish I hadn’t.
What can you tell us about WOLVES and your short story, A Change of Heart?
‘A Change of Heart’ is the story of a young woman who discovers she has cardiomyopathy the same month she learns of her adoption. I thought it would be interesting to write a story through diary entries, recounting raw highs and lows of her illness. The lengths she goes to, to try to find a donor and repair her relationship with her parents, with her own mortality staring her down.
Fiona Coote and Dino Bellina were front-page news when they underwent this experimental surgery in the 80’s. Transplants are now commonplace. It’s something we almost take for granted – tissue matching, donors, microsurgery, anti-rejection medication, the public stigma for the patient to seem ‘worthy of receiving’ the transplanted organ.
I cast my character Kelly in that relative time-frame as a figurative wolf, capable of a range of behaviour. From protective of those around her, to a snarling, prowling, unpredictable beast. It seemed clear that other stories would lean toward the supernatural – and there are some great stories from terrific writers in this collection in that vein, but it’s not my strength, and I wanted to be more metaphoric with a creature that typically doesn’t receive much sympathy.
This is my second Needle in The Hay collaboration and I feel lucky and blessed to be a part of a group that are so focused on producing quality writing.
Tell us about your influences. Is there an author that’s played a significant part in your life?
I’d always scribbled ideas as a kid but Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park was one of those ‘bigger than big’ stories, with a great, simple hook: ‘What if you could extract and clone viable dinosaur DNA, from prehistoric blood-sucking insects trapped in amber?’
My older brother was raving about it and I was studying for my HSC. I took two or three nights off and gobbled the book up. It was violent, it was a rollercoaster, it was scary.
It was plausible.
All of the little leaps from science fact to science fiction seemed so straightforward, and it gripped me until the end. Whereupon I flicked straight back to page one.
Jurassic Park spawns a whole heap of ‘what if’ questions; few resolving into ‘happily ever after’. Things go pear-shaped quickly, and not everyone makes it out again. It’s a warning, and an encouragement that ‘life will find a way’, recurrent themes in Crichton’s work.
Twenty-seven years later, science is imitating this fiction. It’s proof that intelligent writing makes the reader think, long after they’ve put the book down. A brilliant piece of work.
If you met the late Michael Crichton in Sydney, where would you take him?
Let’s just presume straight-up that I wouldn’t be tongue-tied at meeting one of my literary heroes who literally towered head-and-shoulders above me. (He stood over two metres tall.) Or that he wouldn’t be recognised and remain relatively anonymous. And that I’ve asked him the obvious question of where he wants to go and his reply is ‘surprise me’. I’m also cheating by presuming he wouldn’t be limited to just one day in Sydney. And, of course, that he’s still alive…
I think he’d be interested in the observatory, if, for no other reason than getting a good look at the Southern sky at night.
Perhaps a military tour: ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, to check out Fort Denison, Garden Island and the old defensive bunkers at Neutral Bay, still visible from the water, a lasting reminder that we once feared invasion from Japanese midget submarines in our beautiful harbour. A walk up the hill from Manly to North Head Barracks and the Quarantine Station, and the old Hyde Park Barracks once we arrived back in the city.
I’d point out the Botanical Gardens and Zoo, both creating an artificial ‘natural’ habitat, as one of his favourite themes was about ‘nature, red in tooth and claw’, battling ‘nature, green in root and stem’. Either venue is a great way to while the better part of a day away.
If he were researching a book, I imagine the kinds of places he’d want to visit would be a teaching hospital (given his medical background), or the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor (where they make radioisotopes for medicine), the old petrol refinery in Kurnell or the nearby Water Desalination plant. (I think the Desal plant’s open to visitors; not sure what’s happened with the old Caltex site.) They’d be the kinds of places he’d like to destroy.
But for a proper holiday, he’d be here in the summer, and so I’d take him for a morning swim at Mona Vale beach, and we’d escape the heat and hit museums – Powerhouse, MCA, Australian Museum and the Art Gallery, followed by a coffee at the Woolloomooloo finger wharf.
Finally, a bushwalk through the Royal National Park, West Head, or a trip to Katoomba, and snorkel at Shelley Beach at Manly.
OK, fine. You’ve got me. Maybe they’re mostly the kinds of places I like to go – but I think they showcase the best of Sydney, offering a mixture of stimulation and calm, with some of the natural beauty and history of our young sprawling city. Just the thing for the creative (and non-creative) type to enjoy, and just talk about whatever comes to mind.
Where do you see myself as a writer in ten years, think you could emulate someone like Michael Crichton?
It’s an exciting thought because I’m currently doing structural edits of my four longest works (one, which grew out of a 100-word short story that I developed into a novella after the basis of the idea was serialised on Needle in the Hay). They will all be finished by then, and I’ll have done the rounds of the local publishers, to greater, or lesser success.
I’ll be 53. I’d like to think I’ll still be young enough and plugged-in enough to understand pop culture in such a way as to create convincing characters of all ages, but experienced enough to get my point across in FAR FEWER drafts.
Over the past few years, I’ve been branching out into scriptwriting. I have a mate who I’m always trading comedy ideas with and he wants to put together a skit show or sitcom. We have a long and proud history of both in Australia, and it might be fun to try to get something done for a niche player to begin with (or do it ourselves on youtube). Given three years for development, we will have wrapped up our five-year plan, have taken a break to replenish ideas, and now be working towards my / our choice of next project… I wish!
I’ll have throttled back on the corporate IT gig so there will be more time to write.
Catch Ian and other authors on NiTH’s latest collab, WOLVES.