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Ahead of the Pack: A Profile of Anna Dusk

In her debut novel In-human Anna Dusk mixes poetry, Aussie vernacular and a gutsy werewolf heroine.

Don’t ask Anna Dusk if werewolves are the new vampires. Sure she’s releasing a lycanthrope book just as the zeitgeist howls with The Wolfman and the Twilight franchise has been re-booted by shapeshifting spunk Jacob. But Dusk began In-human over 12 years ago so she’s hardly jumping on the fangwagon.

In-human follows Sally, a high school girl who tears out of the humdrum of rural Tasmania as she transforms into a werewolf. Her allegiances are tested between family and the pack, between hunger and herself.

Far from Twilight’s de-fanged fairy tales, In-human is powered by Sally’s anger with buckets of sex and blood. As Dusk sees it, “Growing up in a small town and having people constantly commenting on her all the time really pisses Sally off.” Dusk is no fan of Stephanie Meyers vegetarian vampires. “Where’s the fun in that?” she laughs flashing her prominent canine teeth. “People get interesting when they’re put in an extreme position. If you were becoming a werewolf how would you react or if you found that your daughter was becoming a werewolf what would you do?”

Like Sally, Dusk grew up in an idyllic Tasmania living in a small town outside of Hobart. “My very first memory was holding a kids book and thinking this is what I want to do.” But it was a long road to publication as Dusk hopped to the mainland studying commerce at Melbourne University. For several years she wrote poetry that was published in several journals, but a novel eluded her. Her first attempt at a book took her back to Tassie “and it was moving into the hidden world”. It was the horror genre, however, that gave Dusk structure to hang her poetry on and opened up fresh creativity. “Once I got onto the supernatural I felt like I could write about anything I wanted, and not even time and space were limits.”

In-human’s unconventional style owes much to poetry with lyrical text jumping between fonts and paragraphs spaced out like stanzas. “How I write is I focus on the sound of the words. I don’t think of the story or the meaning. I’m just thinking of the sound and then how it looks on the page,” Dusk explains.

Originally Dusk wrote the whole book in a gutsy Australian vernacular – in the tradition of Tim Winton’s ‘carns’ and ‘goodonyas’ – but the style almost obscured the substance. “Some of the spellings were kooky and I spent thousands of hours working out how words should be spelt. It was totally controlling because I wouldn’t let you read it in your voice you have to read it in mine,” Dusk reveals those teeth again. One publisher advised Dusk to re-draft the whole book in more accessible English, but vernacular survives in the book so it still feels like a distinctly Aussie werewolf tale.
Writing In-human took Dusk back to the familiar ground of her childhood. “There’s such mythology in Tasmania. Together with Lake Pedder, the disappearance of the Tasmanian Tiger is part of that.”

Dusk’s Tasmania has a threateningly close wilderness making the possibility of werewolves seems more real and present. “If you grow up in Tassie that’s part of being Tasmanian – that fight between wilderness and civilised life. I remember really clearly growing up with Lake Pedder protests and the devastation as a seven year old that this was a place I was never going to get to.”

And after eight years of looking for the right publisher, Dusk doesn’t think she’s over lycanthropes yet. “In my next novel I’m getting an understanding of where werewolves come from and it’s very much set in that Tasmanian environment.”

There’s a fierce environmentalism at the core of In-human. Sally makes the realisation while surveying her island that people enjoy killing even when they’re not werewolves. Dusk sides with the animals: “Werewolves kill because that’s what they need to do to survive. Anyone who gets killed by a werewolf shouldn’t take it personally.” She sees the individuality of humans tearing our planet apart more brutally than any wolves’ maw. “Humans are only just understanding that our planet is not going to survive unless we work together – not as a nation or family or tribe but as a whole. So working collectively, as a pack but at the same time allowing individuality to survive is really the way forward.”

By tackling more complex issues and clawing out a unique style, Dusk separates herself from the pack of Meyer mimickers and tween horror writers. But Dusk doesn’t see In-human as a young adult book. “I didn’t write with an audience in mind and I think it’s the publishing industry that works out an audience. My book is not for the Stephanie Myer crowd – their parents would be horrified and I’d get letters,” Dusk laughs again letting those parents know what they might be in for.

An edited version of this profile appeared in The Big Issue, No. 350.

Comments

  1. Nice work at the Drawing Out, Drawing In sessions yesterday. I was very impressed.

    I read an earlier version of this novel when it was with another publisher and I've got to say I hated it with a passion, largely thanks to the 'kooky spellings', which annoyed the hell out of me. It's one thing to represent the vernacular but there was no rhyme or reason to the way it was implemented, and it was utterly inconsistent. On one page a word would appear with an unconventional spelling and on the next page it would be conventional. Maybe it's been improved since I saw it a couple of years ago, but I'll still be steering well clear of the published version.

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  2. Thanks, Blair. The Graphic Novel weekend went really well with solid attendances and some great interest. Several creators there but also some publishing industry people.
    Interesting to hear you had an early read of the ms. In the interview, Dusk said she re-drafted it substantially, removing the vernacular to please one publisher. That publisher subsequently dropped the novel. I think the vernacular is one of the more exciting things about the book and editing it would be difficult if you wanted to keep that strength. But also Sentimental Bloke wasn't to everyone's taste.
    Understand your points on consistency though I reckon yer language changes depending on who you're speaking to. I've been wrestling with you/ya in my own manuscript and I use it inconsistently but correctly in different contexts. It's probably for the commissioning editor to judge though...

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