Interview with Lyn McConchie
by Joy V. Smith
Lyn McConchie writes in a wide range of genres: science fiction, fantasy,
horror, humour, and mystery; and she also writes poetry and articles. She
was forced to take medical retirement in 1988, when she swapped her
suburban home for one in the backblocks, which is when she began writing;
and she now has a small farm in New Zealand, where she breeds coloured
sheep and tends her free range geese and hens, sharing her farmhouse with
her Occicats, Tiger and Dancer, and 7,000 books.
She became a professional writer in 1991 with sales that year to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine and Strange Plasma. She has since had almost 200 short stories and 16 books published in six countries.
JVS: You began writing to earn a living when you had to retire. Had you
written before then?
Lyn: Not professionally, but I'd been writing as a fan since the early 1980s.
JVS: People are usually advised to not quit their day jobs until they
begin selling. You didn't have that choice. What made you choose writing?
Did you expect to be able to make a living at it?
Lyn: I didn't really choose writing, it chose me. I tell people that when I
had to stop doing a normal 9-5 job I felt that it would be bad for me not
to do anything at all but sit home on a pension. I wanted to do something,
and something furthermore which might have a faint chance of earning me
some money at least. So, since I had already been winning SF short story
competitions in New Zealand, I thought I'd try to sell something.
JVS: What markets did you start submitting to?
Lyn: The first ones were MZB's Fantasy Magazine and Steve Pasechnick's Strange Plasma, both American, plus a children's magazine in New
Zealand. I also sent a story to a third American magazine which didn't buy
it and two poems to a fourth US magazine. To my astonishment the first
three magazines purchased the work I'd offered.
JVS: Lyn, you write a wide range of stories--children's, ghost, horror, SF,
fantasy, mystery, and humorous fiction and non-fiction. Do you have a
Lyn: Fantasy, then SF, but animal stories run them close.
JVS: I've read FARMING DAZE and DAZE ON THE LAND, wherein you recount your adventures of finding and buying your farm, getting your animals and caring for them, etc. They're a fun read, but I know it must have been scary starting out on your own. Did you have to do it all by yourself?
Lyn: No, and in that I was fortunate. My oldest friend and her husband were
living in the country at that time, and I went to stay with them to look for
a suitable small farm. She has been on farms more than half her life and
was able to mentor me for years, since once I'd bought my farm I
subsequently sold one of the titles from that purchase to her, and her
family moved in next door within months.
JVS: You wrote columns about life on the farm, which appeared in various
publications. When did you decide to publish them as a book?
Lyn.: Some of my first year's sales were humorous farming poems to a widely
read farming magazine here titled Straight Furrow. They bought my work for several years. I also sold short true-life humor stories to a smallholders magazine here called Country Living. That was how I sold my first book. The editor of C.L. was also an editor for a major NZ publisher. He approached me to ask if I had sufficient material to make up a book which would suit the gift market. I did and put it together, offered the ms and had it accepted. That came out in May of 1993, and while it has been picked up now by a different publisher, it has been almost continually in print since that time. The new publisher, Avalook Publications in Australia, also published the sequel, DAZE ON THE LAND in 2003. (Both books can be purchased on amazon.com.)
JVS: FARMING DAZE was broadcast on NZ Public Radio (1994) and then again by popular request (1995). How did that come about? Did someone read it? Who?
Lyn: Truthfully, I have very little idea. All I knew was that I received a
contract from the publishers saying that it had sold to Radio NZ and would
I please sign this.
JVS: Some of your books were written in Andre Norton's Witch World
universe. And you also wrote in her Beastmaster series. (BEASTMASTER'S ARK--hardcover 2002 edition--won New Zealand's Sir Julius Vogel award for Best SF/F novel of 2002). How did you meet her? Was she a mentor?
Lyn: I'd known Andre for years before I ever wrote in her worlds. I wrote
her a fan letter and she replied. We continued to correspond, and when I
said I planned to write professionally she was very encouraging. She was a
mentor from that time on with helpful suggestions and information. Then in
1994 when she was unwell I wrote THE KEY OF THE KEPLIAN to cheer her up. I included a chapter or two with each letter, enjoying her comments and
demands that I continue. It was Andre who showed it to her agent of the
time and asked if it could be sold. He showed it to Warner who said they
would buy it and the first I knew of this was a phone call at 2am to ask if
I minded the book being sold to Warner Books.
JVS: I see you won a couple awards for your short story, Deathsong--and
awards for other cat stories. (I have Deathsong in my copy of Catfantastic
IV.) Have you written any sequels to it? I know you have other stories in
the Catfantastic anthology series, which was edited by Andre Norton and
Martin H. Greenberg. Which books do you have stories in? Is that series
still being published, btw?
Lyn: Yes, the Catfantastic stories were all set in my own Aradian Universe.
I also have five books completed in that world which I hope one day to
sell. The Catfantastic stories appear in volumes III, IV and V. Sadly the
series stopped with volume five, and I feel that other cat stories
anthologies have not been of Andre's standard.
JVS: Among your books is a children's picture book series that starts with
THE LONELY TROLL. They became quite popular locally. Can you tell me more about how that happened?
Lyn: A local small publisher came to me and asked if I would write the
first book to help publicize the township in which we lived. (There had
been several articles locally on my sales of FARMING DAZE and the first
two Witch World books so he knew of me.) I agreed, wrote the first book,
then had the idea for two more. (THE TROLL'S NEW JERSEY and THE TROLL AND THE TANIWHA.) The series has continued with THE TROLL AND THE HUIA out last year, and a fifth book sold.
JVS: THE PARKING METER WHO WAS BORED, a children's urban fantasy short story (under pseudonym Ruth Underwood), is an interesting premise. How did you come up with that idea?
Lyn: Writer's immagination. I was in the city with a friend when we had to
put coins in a parking meter. It occured to me that I was glad I wasn't
one, it must be a very boring life - at which point my imagination took
off; I came home and wrote the story in a couple of hours.
JVS: I see that some of your fiction ran in Scavenger. Is that Scavenger's
Lyn: Yes, I had a number of stories in Scavenger's over the years. I only
wish Janet had continued it. As a writer I found the magazine a wonderful
JVS: You used pseudonyms for your FARMING DAZE books and your children's books. Did you do that for other works? Why?
Lyn: No, I originally did that because I wanted to differentiate between my
children's work, animal non-fiction and my SF/F writing. The Parking Meter
story was the only one under the "Ruth Underwood" pseudonym, and the DAZE books are now coming out as "Lyn McConchie writing as Elizabeth Underwood." I have also written a few stories under "Jan Bishop" where I've had more than one story accepted in an anthology, and I am currently using one-off pseudonyms where I write true-life stories and don't want my own name recognized since the story is personal or could be painful to others. [One-off means basically pseudonyms that I have used one time only.]
JVS: Are you still raising sheep and geese and hens? Can we look forward
to another book about your animals coming soon? (I love those books!)
Lyn: Yes, I am and I continue to write about them too. I have a third book
being considered by the Australian publisher of the series and hope to hear
in the next few months if she likes the work.
JVS: Do you usually work on multiple projects or do you prefer to focus?
Lyn: I tend to do one thing at a time. I'm crippled and I don't always have
a lot of stamina. It's better that I race on and complete one project then
take a rest before tackling another.
JVS: What are you working on now?
Lyn: I'm just putting together a theme SF short story collection for
possible sale, and I recently finished writing a collection of 14 new
Sherlock Holmes short stories.
From Expressions (July 2005): Expressions