Creating a Monster at Sydney Writer’s Festival

by | Jun 14, 2024 | Off Campus

The Creating a Monster event, held at the Sydney Writers Festival on the 25th of May, had three ‘Masters of Monsters’. C.S. Pacat, author of Dark Rise, Vanessa Len, author of Only a Monster, and Sarah Street, author of A Curse of Salt discussed their process of crafting their stories in a more complex way rather than in the good-verses-evil binary.  

C.S. Pacat, bestselling author of the Dark Rise and Captive Prince, talked about how the villainous portrayal of queer-coded monsters in media affected her growing up as an individual. From the depiction of queer-coded characters such as Scar from ‘The Lion King’ or Ursula from ‘The Little Mermaid’, it had led her to feel uncomfortable with herself and her sexuality. After a while, she then realised that in her own writing, she could go beyond the binary, so to speak. In her stories, she could create queer-coded characters and monsters that aren’t necessarily malicious in nature. They can be complex, morally grey, be the heroes of their stories, and inspire readers. 

Internationally bestselling Australian author Vanessa Len wanted to take a different stance on how monsters are portrayed in stories. She thought it was strange how monsters were written majorly as villainous when they can be more morally grey and complex in nature. In her first novel, Only a Monster, Len wrote about how the main character comes from a family of monsters with terrifying abilities and how she needs to embrace her inherited monstrousness to defend herself against a legendary monster slayer. Len mentioned how, in watching media with monsters, she often felt empathy for them, thinking about why they can’t be more than a mindless, ravenous beast that kills on sight. 

Young Adult (YA) fantasy author Sarah Street told the audience that she wanted to add more complexity to the monsters in her stories. She achieved this with the heartless king in her debut novel, A Curse of Salt, a retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with pirates. In the novel, the dark, brooding pirate, known as Heartless King, isn’t as villainous as he seems on the surface, and there is indeed warmth within his ice-cold heart. Street explores this and allows readers to realise that there are many sides to an individual, and it takes getting to know them to understand why they are the way they are. 

As a reader of YA fantasy novels, I appreciated how these authors wanted to explore monsters as misunderstood and complex characters. 

W’SUP news would like to thank the Sydney Writer’s Festival team for providing the opportunity to attend events media personnel and for hosting such incredible sessions. We hope to continue collaborating in the future and bring these important conversations to Western Sydney University. 

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