By The Bel: Talitha Kalago

Talitha Kalago is a 28 year old Australian writer. Her first young adult novel, Lifesphere Inc: Acquisition was released on the 20th of May.

Lifesphere Inc: Acquisition tells the story of Eli, a thirteen year old orphan living in an immense garbage tip that rings the city. He sells trash to survive, while on the Topside, citizens live in hedonistic luxury. Eli dreams of obtaining citizenship by becoming a handler; bonded with a bio-organic life form called a meka.

On the Topside, handlers are celebrities, pitting their skills in televised meka battles. But new legislation will only allow those with citizenship to become handlers and Eli can’t raise the money to buy a meka before the law is passed.

A grifter named Kalex offers Eli a trade: meka of his own, if he competes in an illegal fight to the death.

So Talitha, is it true all your skin once rotted off?

Well, not all my skin, but a lot of it. At the end of 2008 I contracted Steven Johnson Syndrome, which is a very rare allergy like reaction where the body begins to eat itself. It’s a lot like having second or third degree burns, all over the body.

In my case, it went into my organs too. My stomach, intestines, liver and lungs were all badly damaged, and then it went into my brain and left me chronically ill with liver tumours and daily crippling migraines.

Actually I was living in Victoria at the time, and I was still very ill when the black Saturday bush fires happened. I was slathered in a thick layer of white paraffin all the time and packed in ice. I slept with my feet over the side of the bed in a bucket of ice water and with ice packs all over my arms and chest. Often, we were afraid to leave the house and take me to the hospital in case the fires got close and we wouldn’t be allowed home.

I wrote a novel over those few months of rotting skin and bushfires, and the white paraffin all over my hands ruined the keyboard completely. I actually finished Lifesphere Inc right before I got sick. The story I wrote with no skin was a horror novel.

Kalago_LScoverIn your new young adult novel Lifesphere Inc, one of the two main characters is in a wheelchair. Are her experiences a reflection of your experiences?

Squall is by far the most vivacious and optimistic of the characters. She’s capable, funny, kind and well educated. She’s also in a wheelchair, which gives her a lot of obstacles to overcome–usually literally–however it’s not her defining feature. If anything, she uses it to her advantage, cheekily getting sympathy for her condition to keep herself and Eli out of trouble.

The second book in the Lifesphere Inc series, Duplicity, is from Squall’s perspective instead of Eli’s. We get to see a lot more of what makes her tick and what she’s willing to sacrifice to save someone else’s life.

I love all my characters, but she is my favourite. The experiences I write for her are very different to my experiences, but we share the same outlook and both try and make the best of everything.

How do you manage to fit writing into your schedule?

Between the occasional flesh eating disease and trying to stop my horrible dingo-dog hybird from destroying the house, you mean? Being chronically ill I have to fight for every coherent second. Sometimes being sick wins and I spend the day watching back to back horror films and hoping someone will show up and feed me, because I can’t stand up long enough to cook.

However most excuses people have for not writing (including mine) are bollocks. My hands were one of the worst affected places when my Steven Johnson’s was in its acute stage. I wrote a novel with no skin on my fingers. I was pounding away on a keyboard slick with paraffin with raw flesh and you’re telling me you can’t write 500 words in your lunch break? You can’t give up a few TV shows and write in the evening? You can’t get up a half hour earlier? No? Catch public transport to work and write on the train then.

Writing is my schedule. I treat it like a full time job or a home business. At the very least you have to take it seriously, because if you don’t, no one will.

What triggers your creativity?

I assume it was passing through the birth canal. To say I was precocious is somewhat of an understatement. By 12 months I was putting on my own cloth and safety pin diapers. I wasn’t toilet trained, but goddamnit, I was going to dress myself.

Shortly after that I started telling stories. That’s a nice way of putting it. Really, I was just a spectacularly accomplished liar. I would approach strangers and make up outlandish stories which people would inevitably believe because then they’d come up to my mother and ask if they could help her with the injured kangaroo she had in the back seat of the car.

I also use to sell things to people, like handfuls of sand, rocks or leaves and was always showing up with pockets of change I’d conned out of baffled passersby.

I recorded my first oral stories on a cassette player around four. I finished my first written story at age six. But in truth I probably started making up crazy nonsense somewhere around two and a half. I just keep doing it, every day, and hope people keep buying rocks off me.

In your opinion how important are writer’s groups to you, pros and cons etc?

A great writer’s group is one of the best supports a writer can have. A bad one will do more harm than good.

Every group needs someone who is good at organising. There is a lot of hassle involved, even in an online group and a common way groups fail is when that person gets burnt-out and there is no one to take their place.

Another huge problem groups can have is bullying. One bad egg can sour everyone else and petty infighting can quickly turn a group from a literary resource into a malicious gossip circle. Often it is people who succeed who are the targets. Jealousy is a cruel mistress.

I am in an amazing writers group and I will tell you why it works:

1. We have an amazing organiser and leader whom the core group supports implicitly.

2. Everyone understands that a rising tide floats all boats. We work toward our own achievements, but we also support and promote everyone else in the group. The more success my fellow writers have, the more they can help me and visa versa.

3. Honest, kind and thoughtful feedback. Give the feedback you want to receive. We all genuinely want everyone else’s books to be the best they can. All feedback is given with the aim of improving the work in question.

Kalago_category 5Lifesphere Inc: Acquisition has just been released, but when can we expect to see book 2?

When do you want it? Book 1 will always be available for free anywhere I can list at that price (and if things changed and I couldn’t list it free anywhere, it would be free on my website) and the following books will be released when book 1 has reached certain download thresholds.

Even if no one buys book 2, or subsequent books, I’ll keep releasing them as long as book 1 reaches the required downloads. So if you’re keen to read the rest of the series, just keep encouraging people to download the free book.

So where can we get book 1 for free?

Right now it’s free on smashwords. Hopefully when you are reading this, it will also be free on Apple’s ibookstore, kobo and all the other retailers smashwords distributes to.

It’s also on Amazon for 99c, however Amazon don’t want people listing books for free. Sometimes they will price match though, so I am hoping it will be free on Amazon soon too when it starts getting downloaded at Kobo and Apple.

Wherever you get it, feel free to email book 1 to anyone you think might like it. Or recommend they download it themselves, if you want their download to count toward the next book.

Smashwords (free):


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