Sydney as a Choice Setting in the Words of Patricia Leslie

Australian author Patricia Leslie has a passion for combining history, fantasy, and action into stories that nudge at the boundaries of reality.

Front cover of Keeper of the Way and author Patricia Leslie.

Her latest novel is Keeper of the Way, published by Odyssey Books and distributed by Novella Books.

Our Q&A with author Patricia Leslie delves into her authorly life and process:

What have you learned?

Resilience, persistence, faith, and patience.

Resilience through finding strength after apparent failure: I learned not to take rejections personally, but to feel I’d made headway if I received something other than a form “not for us” note.

After all, there are plenty of now famous authors out there who had to pay their dues and collect their fair share of rejection slips.

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to give up a few times along the way; shoved my manuscripts in the metaphorical bottom-drawer in frustration, and found other things to do.

But the ideas still came. Stories created themselves in my head and before long I’d be back at it, either dusting off the finished manuscript or bashing out something new. That is how I also learned persistence.

Faith: I took to heart something John Steinbeck once wrote to a friend about how he still felt that one day someone would realise that he was an imposter: “… the haunting thought comes that perhaps I have been kidding myself all these years, myself and other people – that I have nothing to say or no art in saying nothing.”

I figured that if the great John Steinbeck felt that way, had that lack of confidence in himself, then who am I to deny those similar feelings in myself.

Patience: this is a long game. I’ve gone from strength to strength in my writing, research, my ability to sift through the ideas to find the hidden gems, and in coming to terms with fear.

I’ve done it at my own pace and within the boundaries of what I can handle in terms of stress and pressure. Writing and all it entails isn’t done in a bubble. Competing demands must be taken into account.

For the uninitiated, what is urban fantasy?

I think of myself as a writer of speculative fiction, but that is usually too generalised a description.

I’m fascinated by the nuggets of information hidden away in history books and archives, most often about women. The sort of thing that isn’t well known.

I work from the viewpoint that history, if you go back far enough, reaches a point where it slips into mythology.

For instance, most cultures were once more women-focussed than currently. The femaleness of their beliefs have been pushed underground or subverted.

This is common enough knowledge, but the lengths and machinations that have been taken to hide history are quite often astounding.

If you’re not much of a reader you might never realise that women, historically, did anything more than keep house and have babies.

And this is just one area of neglect. The same can be said for indigenous histories (any country, any time period), and religious beliefs.

The term urban fantasy, I feel, refers to fantasy fiction set in a realistic urban setting without any elves and dragons (high fantasy).

Magic realism would have strong links to urban fantasy as well.

In Keeper of the Way, I blend a real mystery (the destruction of Sydney’s Garden Palace) with magic and mythology.

Magic has a strong hold on our imagination and there are more people than might like to admit who instinctually assign magical reasoning to unexplainable events.

Why set all your books in Sydney?

Sydney’s history is really interesting and easy for me to research.

It’s where I live and I know it reasonably well.

There’s also a mystery around the Sydney Basin’s past that is only coming to the surface now as we learn more about the First Peoples and acknowledge their presence and impact on the area before and during European occupation. I hint a little at this in Keeper of the Way.

We’re also maturing enough (most of us) to realise that what we’ve learned and been told, what’s been mentioned in newspapers and books in the past, only scratches the surface of real life.

Do you attend writing festivals?

I’ve appeared at the Sutherland Shire Writers Festival and Sydney Book Expo. I’m totally up for other festivals.

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Carolyn Martinez

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