Hunter writer's first novel set in dystopian rainforest

IMAGINED WORLDS: Author Thoraiya Dyer, now living in Sydney and published in New York but still a proud Novocastrian at heart. Picture: Cat Sparks

IMAGINED WORLDS: Author Thoraiya Dyer, now living in Sydney and published in New York but still a proud Novocastrian at heart. Picture: Cat Sparks

AS a child, Thoraiya Dyer says she was always writing stories.

It was a very academic focus at Merewether High but writing was always my first love.

Thoraiya Dyer

They were her great love, but as a student at the academically selective Merewether High School, it was maths and science, rather than the arts, that the young Thoraiya Bousaleh – as she was then – found herself pushed to master.

And master them she did. Studying, and graduating, from the University of Sydney with a qualification in veterinary science, she spent five years as a vet on the Tilligerry Peninsula.

Pregnant with her first child, Dyer left the profession as “a personal choice” to limit her exposure to anaesthetics, x-rays and injectable animal hormones. With her husband working in the Hunter coalmines, she had her first short story published in 2008. Others followed quickly and by the time it came to the publishing of her debut novel – Crossroads of Canopy – Dyer had more than two dozen stories in print.

Along the way, she picked up various gongs for her science-fiction and fantasy work, winning four Aurealis Awards and three Ditmar Awards.

Most of her stories were published in small specialist titles, and as she writes in the acknowledgements accompanying Crossroads of Canopy, she has followed a “tortuous path” to this point, including a move to Sydney in 2015.

“Who would have guessed that the were-platypus [as in werewolf] novel would be buried by another 10 full novel manuscripts as well as various detritus left by the raising of actual children,” Dyer says.  

But she was always aiming high.

“It was always my goal to be published in the US, not only because it’s a much bigger audience, but because I would like to see possums and koalas and Australian plants and trees in print as much as we see American wildlife,” Dyer says.

Crossroads of Canopy, the first installment of a contracted trilogy, is published by Tor Books, a  New York imprint that is part of the venerable Macmillan Publishing Group.

Fantasy is not my normal reading choice, but Dyer’s imagined dystopian future, of battling tribes struggling to survive in a massive, multi-storey rainforest, got me in from the start. She describes it as “drawing inspiration from Western and Eastern traditions, including the Nepalese incarnated goddess, Kumari, in a monsoonal rainforest with arboreal fighting”.

 There are basic similarities with the blockbuster Avatar, but Canopy’s feminist sympathies are a long way away from the “white savior” undertones that Dyer’s sees in the James Cameron film.  

Most authors dream of seeing their fiction expressed on screen and Dyer is no exception, with an agent in the US scouting for the deal that could break her into the big time.

In the meantime, she is coming home this weekend, to launch Crossroads of Canopy at MacLean’s Booksellers in Beaumont Street, Hamilton, from 4pm to 6pm on Saturday, March 18.