Screenwriter Turned Author Anthony O’Connor Talks STRAYA!
Screenwriter, film critic, journalist and teacher Anthony O’Connor (REDD INC, ANGST) can now add author to his list of titles as STRAYA, his debut novel, hits bookstores.
Set in a futuristic Australia desperately coping with inequality, racism and the effects of climate change, STRAYA balances canny social allegory with subversive wit and an oddly optimistic sense of hope.
We caught up with Anthony to discuss the origins of STRAYA, the influences behind it and the creative freedom in writing a novel over a screenplay.
How did the concept for STRAYA first form?
STRAYA’s actually been with me for yonks. I came up with the concept when I was a wee lad, say around twelve or thirteen. It was called BODY CHUTE but the premise was mostly the same: ruined city, evolving monster, shenanigans ensue, but I didn’t have a main character. Originally, it was going to be about a cop from the Big End of Town and a cop from the Inassidy teaming up to fight it… but I felt like cop stories were done to death, and I defo didn’t have anything new to add to the genre. So BODY CHUTE just sat in a drawer, waiting…
Years later, around 2016-2017, I think, I started having ideas about a theatre troupe of mutants who put on plays in the ruins of Sydney. And then, rising like a slumbering beast, BODY CHUTE came back to me and I smushed the two ideas together, creating the twisted yarn now known as STRAYA.
Were there any specific post-apocalyptic themed works that influenced STRAYA directly?
Oh, crikey yes! Two big early influences were BLADE RUNNER (which I watched far too young to understand, but the aesthetic made a big impression) and JUDGE DREDD comics from the 1980s. I was less taken with Dredd himself, and more mesmerised by the fully realised, often very satirical world of Mega-City One. The urban sprawl was just chockers with crime, insane people, fashy Judges, aliens, mutants and robots with speech impediments… it just fired something in my imagination.
Obviously, the MAD MAX movies are a massive influence too. And I remember thinking as I watched them, “this is what’s happening on the roads, but what’s going on in the cities?” Well, STRAYA answers that question, in a manner of speaking.
As a screenwriter also, are you able to enlighten readers as to what authoring a novel offers as opposed to writing a screenplay?
In brutally simple terms, you can fit a lot more in a novel. In a movie you’ve got two hours or so to tell a yarn, preferably visually, and then it’s end credits and please leave the theatre, sir or madam. A book’s different because you can spend time drinking in the world, hanging out with the characters, nipping down the pub for a beer with them.
With a weird, vivid environment like New Sydney (STRAYA’s main setting), it’s nice to be able to let the location breathe, and indulge in a bit of (hopefully entertaining) world building. Make it feel like a real place.
I’m not against STRAYA as a movie or a TV series, mind you. In fact, I’ve been approached by a couple of producers, so fingers crossed we’ll see Franga on a screen of some kind before too long.
The critical reaction to STRAYA has been incredible. Are you likely to revisit the STRAYA universe for another novel down the track?
I would absolutely love to revisit the STRAYA universe. The novel defo tells a complete story, but there are more adventures to be had, more places to visit. Quite a lot has changed by the book’s conclusion, so I’m super keen to get into what happens next.
Finally the artwork for STRAYA is magnificent, who was the illustrator and was it you that commissioned him to work on the art?
Chris Wahl is the bloke’s name, and he’s an absurdly talented Aussie artiste of some renown. I approached him through his agent and sent him my embarrassing chicken scrawl of a concept drawing. He sent back something about a million times better, and was really great with working through a few drafts of the image.
Originally it was going to be just the front cover, but I loved the bloody thing so much it exploded into the amazing wraparound cover you see today. I have a huge blown up version in my study, taking up most of one wall and it’s a belter.
The idea behind the cover was to harken back to those great 70s and 80s pulp images on the covers of genre paperbacks, but unlike a lot of those – everything on STRAYA’s cover happens in the book. No porkies told here. It’s a yarn just as wild, wooly and insanely creative as the cover, so hook in, ya little doers!
You can find a list of STRAYA stockists via Anthony’s official site right here.