Aurealis Awards Judge Gillian Polack on Judging and Dreams of LonCon

The Aurealis Awards are this weekend! I can’t go, but I thought it would be interesting to hear from one of the judges about the experience of judging, especially as she has a dream to get somewhere herself.


In the following interview, the estimable Dr Gillian Polack shares some very interesting insights about the experience of judging, what makes a story work, and trends in Australian speculative fiction.


My last question is about her quest to represent Australian speculative fiction at LonCon. She’s had a paper on Australian Writers accepted on the academic programme. I’d love to see Gillian get to Loncon.


Tell us what it’s like to be an Aurealis Judge. What are the highlights?


Each year is a different judging experience. There are some things that make patterns – meeting interesting people and working with them on the panel, watching the number of books grow and being thankful that I can read quickly, having deadlines and then deadlines on top of deadlines when publishers leave getting us material until the last minute.


Each judging panel is shaped by the lead judge. This year, for the YA panel, we had Stephanie, who did us up a lovely spreadsheet which we could update any time. It felt like a lot of work as we read each book and each story, filling in a bunch of categories, but it was so magic at the end. I kept looking for work, and there was none. Every bit of spreadsheet-filling-in paid off at the busiest time of year. All the head judges I’ve worked with have been this good, and all in different ways. Learning how they work has been a lot of fun, each and every year.


The biggest highlight for me, always (and the reason I volunteer for it) are all the wonderful books and stories. Sixty-four novels, this year.


I love the reading and the exploring and the discovery of new writers. Because we have to read every single Australian work in a given category, and because I’m someone who always reads every single word of every single work (most of us are, in fact) some of it can be a bit slow, but it’s never boring. Not even the dullest books are boring. Reading a complete class of books each year educates and entertains. It also means I actually get to read the books I love – they’re not all sitting in a pile waiting for me to find the time, one day. It’s a special kind of magic for a book addict.


I’ve discovered that I love the traditional narratives as much as the daring ones: what I vote for is the brilliant, in whatever guise it appears. This is also a highlight. Discovering that what I like about stories of all lengths isn’t whether it’s predictable or has vampires or is bizarre: it’s the crafting of the tale-telling; it’s the characterisation; it’s the mood and the language and the setting.


Have you noticed any trends in contemporary Australian speculative fiction?


The biggest trend I’ve noticed is a bigger gap than there used to be between the best and the worst. The best is the best in the world and the worst is sad and unpolished.


I’ve heard people in the wider community say that this is because of self-publishing. Reading everything, every year has taught me that this isn’t strictly true. Each year there is an increasing number of excellent (and even superb) self-published novels and short stories. They used to be occasional gleams in the dross. Now they’re proclaiming their identity loudly and strongly and deserve our attention.


More and more (alongside this trend) readers need to be able to do their own judging. The gems are not always the books that critics notice, for instance, or that are given reviews by bloggers. We need to be clever readers if we’re going to find the best books, and we’re going to have to gossip about our reading, and we’re going to have to learn to rely more on our own judgement.


Take the Aurealis and the Ditmar lists and combine them, and we each have good reading lists. But there’d be no exploration, which is why I’ll continue judging for as long as I’m allowed. Reading everything means I get to read all the hidden treasures and I get to watch authors developing.


You’re running for the LonCon GUFF Fan Fund. What will you be doing in London and how can we help you get there?


I want to go to the World SF convention and to the European SF convention (I’ve never been to Ireland!) and, if possible, the Finnish convention (I’ve never been to Finland, either!). I want to meet lots of people and talk to lots of people and get them interested in Australian fandom and Australian SF. I also want to have with drinks with friends who I only ever see online. I want to appear magically in the dealer’s room, and say hi to a German archaeologist and friend who will have a table there. I want to deliver a paper all about Australian writers on the academic programme. I want to make sure famous authors have enough to eat, by helping out in the Green Room. I want to do so many things, some of them nostalgic, some of them practical, and some of them (let’s be honest) quite daft.


More than this, I want Australian writers and artists to be seen, and I’m already doing my bit to make this happen. I’m a junior volunteer (because events are more fun when one volunteers) and I’ve already got that academic paper on the programme. I’ve talked to Europa (the fanzine for Europe) and they’ve agreed to interviews of several Australian writers in the lead up to LonCon.


How can people help me get there? Vote for me. The votes have payment attached, I’m afraid, but that’s part of how the funds are raised. The rest of the funds come from fundraisers and other places. I’ve already donated a whole bunch of stuff to be auctioned at Continuum – whoever wins is going to need that money. Fan funds are not about individuals saying “Look at me” (even if we have to do that a bit to get votes) – they’re about finding someone who you think will do a good job.


There’s online voting , and voting using forms – choices, choices. If you’re not sure about something (like what it means to be active in fandom) it’s worth asking.


And can I take this moment to point out that, if you’re thinking about voting for GUFF then you’re probably eligible yourself to be a candidate next time round? And that there are other fan funds? You could go to New Zealand for their national convention next year, for instance.


It’s very much worthwhile getting involved in fan funds (which is what finding the money to send someone to a convention tends to be called), especially at the auctions at conventions which can be hilarious. It’s a way of getting to a big convention if, like me, you have no money, but it’s also a wonderful way of discovering people who share your interests.


Very cool, Dr P! Thanks for your generous contribution to the Australian speculative fiction community. You are an inspiration and I hope you get to LonCon.


I’ve been doing a lot of writing and submitting short stories in the last two weeks, and that feels wonderful. The downside will be all the rejections that turn up in the next few weeks and month. Nah…not really. Every rejection is a mark of honour. Pain to fuel the creative fire. And I’m pretty used to them. Rejection used to feel like a stab through the heart, then diminished to a cat’s scratch, then a paper-cut or mosquito bite. The trick is, I have to be getting plenty of rejections so that I don’t feel them. They become the mere brush of a moth’s wing. The occasional acceptance makes it all worthwhile!

So, yes, I’ve been writing! That makes me a writer.

My writing had been limited because I was spending all my spare time and creative energy on co-editing the Gold Coast Anthology project. My involvement in that came to a sudden end with my resignation.

Co-editing the anthology was mostly awesome. The highlights were working closely with Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Tara Calaby, S.G. Larner, S. Elliot Brandis, Betsy Roberts, Tom Betts, Thoraiya Dyer, Jane Downing, Dianne Morris, and Jodi Cleghorn. These are lovely, committed, talented people. I hope I have the chance to work all of them again.

The other activity I’ve been devoting time to is ice skating. I am hooked. If you follow my Twitter feed you have probably met my purple-laced ice hockey skates. I haven’t named them yet. What should I call them? I’m really glad I found out about ice hockey skates instead of buying figure skates like most girls and women do. Ice hockey skates feel more like sports car style skates to me; they are shorter and don’t have picks so they are more manoeuvrable. I’m trying to convince Jasmine to try ice hockey skates before I get her a pair, but she’s not keen.

Skating is so much fun that I feel a little guilty skiving off there. But it’s exercise, which is totally justifiable, and it’s way better than going to the gym.

After a couple of months at it I’m feeling pretty confident. As well as going around the rink lots and lots of times, I can do a snow plough stop, turn, and skate backwards. And now my writing is skating infused because there’s so much to be inspired by! The cold white ice, the threat of injury; nimble skilful skaters, clumsy fall-about skaters; teenagers snogging in the corner, or crying in the corner. So much life going on, on and around the ice!

“Someone’s surely messy!” Book review: Serious Sas and Messy Magda


My first book review of the year is of children’s book, Serious Sas and Messy Magda by Marianne De Pierres and Rachel Annie Bridgen.

The story gets off to a great start with the line, “Sas and her mum were as different as could be.”

I’m super excited to be reviewing this book with my brilliant little girl, Jasmine.

Helen: Jasmine, are you and I as different as could be?

Jasmine: Well sometimes we’re matching, and sometimes we’re different.

And I think that’s what is so good about Serious Sas and Messy Magda. It resonates with the (Jasmine is laughing at me here, and going, “Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah”). As I was seriously saying… It resonates with the differences which are often part of the relationship between little girls and their mums.

Helen: What would you rate the book out of ten?

Jasmine: Ten out of ten.

Helen: Do you think it really captures the little girl’s point of view? I think it does.

(Some explanation of what that meant went here.)

Jasmine: Yeah, I think it does, too. I really liked the mum, Magda because she was a little bit silly, like my mum.

Helen: I am so not silly! What about you? Are you like Sas?

Jasmine (whispering from behind her hand, with wide eyes): I’m like Magda too, because my room’s a little messy. The illustrations were kind of funny because the mum is a fancy pants most of the time.

Helen: My take on the illustrations is that they are colourful and have those entertaining little details that add an extra giggle to a children’s book. I totally identified with Magda’s day at school, too.

I asked Jasmine if she would read Serious Sas and Messy Magda to her little brother, and recommend it to her friends. She said, “Sure, but can you do it?”

Pfff. Daughters.



Serious Sas and Messy Magda is published by Books to Treasure.

Twitter’s Suffocating 2K Limit and How to Breathe Again


This is a blog about Twitter and the ratio-based limits on how many tweeps you can follow. (Tweeps are people who tweet, but you knew that.)

If you end up following 2000 tweeps and a lot less follow you, suddenly you can’t follow any more tweeps!

This can be very sad if you, like me, want to follow all kinds of people and you don’t really care if they follow you back.

So… what do you do?

This is what you do.

You make lists! If you don’t use lists, you are missing out. You probably limit who you follow so that your feed doesn’t fill up with annoying stuff.

My main list so far has been my friend list, where I put people who talk to me and don’t market or RT too much. I also love Seandblogonaut’s Auspecfic list. You could ask, “But, Helen, why do you even follow accounts that annoy you?”

“Because I like diversity in my feed, I guess,” would I reply.

I thought a LOT about what to call my relevant list to help achieve my main goal, which was to be able to follow more tweeps without having to stop following those that I liked and/or who follow me back. In the long term, I need more followers. But I’m not going RT something to get x follows. Annoying!

So, how could I use a list to communicate to tweeps I follow that I want them to follow me back?

(You know, I could just tweet to people, “Please follow me,” but that seems a bit pushy and annoying. And I don’t want a feed full of that. Using a list is more subtle.)

So I decided I’d list and unfollow big magazines and organisations, because they are never going to follow me back. If I was their social media person, I would follow all my followers back, because what a great way to keep your market close.

At Gold Coast Anthology and GC Speckies we try to follow all our followers back. Sometimes it comes down to not taking the time to make sure you get everyone. But if someone follows you and mentions or RTs you, I really think it makes sense to follow them back.

Anyway, I made “Science News” and “Publishers and Writing” lists, and I’ve started adding accounts to those, and unfollowing them. If I want to check out what’s being tweeted about science news or writing news, I can check those lists. It’s a bit sad that they are no longer in my main feed, but it’s the lesser evil to being blocked from following more everyday tweeps.

The main problem was naming the list that I would use to let people know that I’d like them to follow me back. At first I thought I’d unfollow them first, but I’d rather not do that. And removing magazines and organisations had provided the slack I needed in the short term.

I created the list: “Follow me? Or not.” I think sometimes tweeps don’t realise they don’t follow you back, and it really doesn’t matter, until you get to following 2K and your ratio displeases Twitter. Putting them in this list will bring it their attention, I think. Maybe they’ll block me. Block power to them! That is, I don’t really mind. Twitter is a big pond.

I’m not sure how this will play out in the long term, but in the short term I’ve decreased the number I follow sufficiently that I can follow again at will. Yay me. I’d be interested to hear how other people deal with this suffocating 2K limit.

Genrecon 2013

A cover

Oooh, my Con Report is way overdue! What a slack-ass. No, no, that’s not quite true. I’ve been working on stories and blogs, and editing the Gold Coast Anthology.

So, I drove up to Brisbane on Friday 11th uncertain of what to expect. Speculative fiction conventions have been my thing since 2010 but I knew Genrecon would be a little different. But my aims were the same… hang out with friends, have some laughs and get a sense of what genre fiction might be planning.

We love books!

In case you are saying, “What is Genrecon?”

It is a conference for writers of genre fiction. It was held at the State Library in Brisbane and run by Queensland Writers Centre. It was a wonderful weekend of workshops and talks by industry professionals, and conversations between friends. Both QWC and the venue shone, providing a wonderful event in beautiful spaces. The food was great, too.

The best part of the convention was talking to people who are passionate about reading and writing, and hanging out with online friends for reals.

I love to hear about writers’ different journeys. I love the way we share our experiences to encourage each other. I love to be a part of our community. The next one will be in 2015 and I highly recommend going.

Here is my pictorial record of the weekend. For much better photos, check out Cat Sparks’s Flickr.

The Opening Reception.

This photo doesn’t do the Terrace justice.

 It’s a lovely space, with an open wall out to a veranda.

Opening Reception


Lovely to meet Cameron Trost, Rob Hood and Greg Chapman.

Opening 3

Stacey Larner, Jodi Cleghorn and me. We maintained this red theme.


The crowd adjourned to Rydges.

Then off to…


karaoke 3

We took Fat Louies by storm.

karaoke 4

About twenty of us sang beautifully in a big private room.


Summer Nights, The Locomotion, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

A great night out!


I felt unfairly seedy on Saturday morning.

I stopped for a coffee and bumped into Sue Wright of Tiny Owl Workshop and we had a lovely chat about the generous spirit of the conference. Soon we were joined by Tom Dullemond and Chris McMahon. This is one of his new books. Never mind my face. It was malfunctioning.

Congratulations to Chris for having his trilogy out!

Chris McMahon

Lunch was the setting for…

Clan Destine Press’s triple book launch.


Cheryse speaks.

Three books were launched.

Book launch

“The Blood She Betrayed,” by Cheryse Durant.

“Unnaturals,” by Dean J Andersan.

“Flush,” by Jane Clifton.

Booklaunch 2

Dean, Cheryse and Jane.

Next was…

The Digital Firsts panel

with Amanda BridgemanAmy Andrews and Rebekah Turner.

Digital first panel

The advantages of publishing digitally include faster timeframes

and super convenient availability.

Saturday afternoon, members of the…

Australian Horror Writers Association

got together in West End.

Cat Sparks, Jodi Cleghorn, Stacey Larner and I were all wearing red.

Horror writers 2

Below are Greg Chapman, Cameron Trost, and Tom Dullemond (slurping beer in profile).

Horror Writers 3

Horror writers 4

Clwedd and Gary Kemble share a beer.

Horror writers 6

Horror writers 7

Dave Versace and Jodi Cleghorn.

Horror writers 8

Jodi, Rob Cook, Clwedd and Stacey Larner.

Then I had to dart home and dress up for…

The Cutlasses and Kimonos Banquet.

My cutlass saw plenty of action.


Sorry Chris.

Here are Jodi Cleghorn, Peter Ball and Kevin Powe talking nicely.

Cutlases and Kimonos

My table buddies were Amanda Bridgeman and Allanah.

Kimono Amanda

Kimonos&cutlases 2

The banquetters.


Kimonos Paul Landymore

Pirate Paul Landymore and I looking particularly scary.

Jodi and Ben

Ben Payne, me and Jodi Cleghorn.

I had a great night’s sleep and rebounded to arrive on time on…


First up was…

The Future of Genre Fiction.

Futures Meg Van

QWC CEO, Megg Vann, is so energetic and positive.

Future Alex Adsett

Alex Adsett was wonderful and informative.

I believe she said publishers were buying more books!

Anita Heiss 2

Anita Heiss talked about finding our niche as writers.

She was inspired to write stories of Indigenous women, to create social change.

Futures Peter Armstrong

Peter Armstrong, of Leanpub, was very entertaining, talking about early serials, and the power of serials now.


Genrecon Ninja, Aimee, keeping the show running!

Chris Andrews

Bright and bushy tailed audience, staring, Chris Andrews!

Lois Spangler

Clwedd and the lovely Lois Spangler who was so friendly, and gave me coffee.

The blurriness is the warm fuzzy energy.

Next was…

Beyond Rippling Muscles and Uzi 9mm

in which Rebekah Turner and Charlotte Nash illustrated story arc.

Story Arc 5

They used some of our favourite movies to demonstrate transitions.

Story arc 4

Here they are starting a clip.

Story Arc 3

The final panel I attended was…

Working Without Covers.

Working without covers

Narelle Harris, Sue Wright, Kevin Powe and Jodi Cleghorn of eMergent Publishing discussed their creative story delivery methods, including Kitty and Cadaver, and napkin and cushion stories — a fantastic new way to reach a new audience.


It’s hard to really explain how great writers’ conferences are. I hope this provides a taste. A wonderful spirit permeates an event like this; so much love for writing and stories.

Thanks to everyone who was there and all the people who worked so hard to make it such a great weekend. The event left me feeling very happy to be a writer.

Helen Stubbs


PS. If I’ve effed something up, up there — like misnamed you, or you don’t like a photo

– just let me know and I’ll fix it.

Brisbane Writers Festival — Story Plus Workshop

Dear Reader,

Exciting times to be a Queensland genre writer are upon us!

Genrecon is next weekend, in Brisbane. I can’t wait. I’m trying to find time to get my Cultasses and Kimonos costume ready.

Genrecon is a convention that brings the genres together, so we can learn from each other’s areas of special knowledge. I promise to blog about Genrecon.

However, today I’d like to tell you about my experience at the Brisbane Writers Festival in early September.

I have been remiss regarding blogging. As well as being busy, I have to admit, I’m a little bit uncomfortable in the medium.

Everything I saw at Brisbane Writers Festival was fabulous, and there were several highlights for me including the Story Plus workshop.

At Story Plus, industry experts talked about the creative projects they were leading, using story and information technologies creatively.

It was an amazing day of short lectures and panels by about thirteen creative professionals, all of whom had different insights and fantastic projects to talk about. I want to share their projects and insights with you.


They described the following diverse projects:

1. Mapping the journey of an abstract airship based on wind movements – ‪@shipadrift – by James Bridle
2. Zombie Run – a running game – by Naomi Alderman
3. Writing, publishing and analysing data about the novel “Willow Pattern” which a team wrote and published within 24 hours – by Simon Groth
4. Mobile Choose Your Own Adventure stories with QR codes – by Emily Craven
5. Flash fiction on napkins – by Sue Wright – Tiny Owl Workshop
6. Robot University – by Christy Dena
7. ACO Virtual – by Michela Ledwidge
8. Game, game, game and again game – by Jason Nelson.

I recommend checking out these projects and creators.

The main messages I brought home were:

1. Story is strong
2. New platforms create new creative spaces and narrative possibilities to explore
3. Platforms elevate, amplify and influence story (but keep accessibility for audience in mind)
4. People, technology, network and platforms all interact
5. Text remains important and narrative often returns to text
6. Story space expands to accommodate more mediums
7. Technology must be explored for creative possibility
8. Community and collaboration are key
9. People and technology can achieve more collaboratively than separately
10. Imagination and risk taking can create new delivery platforms rather than fine tuning old ones


I was already interested in exploring narratives in different media, but these speakers made me feel that it is possible. In fact, it would be remiss of me not to investigate the exciting possibilities changing technologies represent.

As Garth Nix pointed out, writers will always write. Other speakers also said that reading will maintain an important place in the landscape, as will telling a bedtime story to a child, or a scary story over a candle.

One concern I have, which I’d like to hear discussion of, is extending the network to less privileged people. Technology has become so essential to my family’s learning and creativity that (while there might be drawbacks of dependence) I suspect we gain further advantage over those without access to technological products.

The main issue here is that technology represents access to information and education, two important avenues to achieving successful life outcomes.

I’ve described two extremes of the spectrum; the creative leaders taking technology into new emerging narratives, and those with limited or no access to the computational side of the network.

While we pursue our creative goals I think it’s important to extend help towards those who lack opportunity, and incorporate a vision towards equitable access into our work.



(This will be cross posted at my other blogs)

Galactic Chat, Gold Coast Anthology and Diversity

Hello dear reader,

I’m super excited (yes, even more excited than usual) to have joined the Galactic Chat team and to have made it real by interviewing my first guest, Talitha Kalago.

Talitha is a member of Vision Writers and a regular attendee at the Vision critique group in Brisbane, and she has just released Lifesphere Inc. It’s a fast-paced novel aimed at ten to fourteen year olds. You grown-ups would love it, too. It’s available for free from Smashwords, Amazon and other ebook distributors.

It is a bit scary doing interviews and listening to them afterwards. That whole, “Ah, it’s my voice!” thing. But I figure it’s like writing. You write it, edit the fuck out of it (which you can’t really do with a recorded interview…), and release it into the universe for people to love it or hate it or be entirely indifferent to it.

And there are plenty of writers I’d love to talk to about their books, so why not do it on record and share it with the world. So, yay!


In other news the Gold Coast Anthology webpage is looking hot thanks to Janis Hanley. Please help spread the word that we’re open for submissions until 31st of August, and if you have any connection to the Gold Coast (did you honeymoon here!?) you are welcome to submit a story. Just check out the photos at and get inspired.

I’ve probably already shouted from the rooftops about how happy I am to be a part of a project that can pay authors a fair fee for their stories.


Finally, I was thinking about Twitter, today. About how easy it is to isolate your feed. I noticed, when Gillard was getting deposed, almost all of those I follow were pro-Gillard. Yet talking to general acquaintances I hear different views.

I guess it’s no surprise that we follow those who think similarly to us. And then maybe we think more similarly to those we follow, because we’re reinforcing each other’s opinions, creating a sort of group think and false belief that we are right, and that most others we know think the same way.

I think it’s really important that we follow those with different views as well. I’ve tried to do that — I have an follow-anyone policy except for purely marketing accounts. I want to give people a go, especially if they are different.

But I prune my feed. There are only so many comments that infer sex workers are inferior that I can take, per tweep.

But, generally, I think it’s better to engage with difference than ignore it. It gives me the chance to test my ideas, and to persuade others to my way of thinking. I don’t want us all to fester in pools of similarity, all being right about everything.


Have a great weekend. Drink beer and be silly. Go dancing if you can.



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