Snapshot 2014: Kaaron Warren

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve always got a few things on the go. At the moment, it’s finishing a novel set in a Time Ball Tower and beginning the next one, a crime and ghost story about the art of Old Parliament House. I’m also writing a story about an obsessive doll collector and finishing one about Catherine Helen Spence.

Your most recent collection was “The Gate Theory” published by Cohesion Press in 2013. The blurb is compelling.

We’re all in pain. We try to keep the gates closed by falling in love, travelling, avoiding responsibility, getting drunk, taking drugs… anything to lose ourselves. But the dull ache remains in each of us.

These stories are about the gates opening.

Can you tell us more about the stories in this collection and your motivation to explore the theme of pain?

Pain is a counter-balance to happiness. Physical pain is of course vital to survival, and I think that perhaps emotional pain is as well. It alerts is to the fact we’re in the wrong place, with the wrong person, or that we have made a mistake. It tells us to run, to get out, to change things.

The title The Gate Theory comes from the gate theory of pain, twisted to my own needs.

All five stories are reprints, gathered together because I felt they built a sense of the loneliness of loss and failure. Of people on the verge of breakdown or of change. And of people coming to understand the pain of the lives they lead. 

Congratulations on your role as editor for the next issue of Midnight Echo. The theme is Sinister and submissions are open until 31st October 2014. What are you looking forward to about working in this role for the Australian Horror Writers Association?

I’m looking forward to hearing new, strong, original voices in the slush pile as well as hopefully stories from some of my favourite Australian and New Zealand writers. It’s the chance for me to create a ‘best of’ of my own. We’re looking at poetry as well and already I’ve seen some great work.

I love the team that puts this together, especially Cassie Britland, who is a brick.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I can’t go past the Aurealis Award short list for short story collections:

  • The  Bone  Chime  Song  and  Other  Stories by  Joanne  Anderton  (FableCroft  Publishing)
  • Asymmetry by  Thoraiya  Dyer  (Twelfth  Planet  Press)
  • Caution:  Contains  Small  Parts by  Kirstyn  McDermott  (Twelfth  Planet  Press)
  • The  Bride  Price by  Cat  Sparks  (Ticonderoga  Publications)
  • The  Year  of  Ancient  Ghosts by  Kim  Wilkins  (Ticonderoga  Publicatio

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I think that at the moment it is tougher to sell a novel, but easier to sell short stories and novellas. I see a renaissance for the novella, which is a wonderful thing both as writer and reader. It’s a perfect combination of all the good things of the novel and the short story, and I think more markets are opening up to the idea.

The Gate Theory

 

 

Bram Stoker Nominee and Shirley Jackson Award winner Kaaron Warren has lived in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Fiji. She’s sold many short stories, three novels (the multi-award-winning SlightsWalking the Tree and Mistification) and four short story collections. Through Splintered Walls, won a Canberra Critic’s Circle Award for Fiction, an ACT Writers’ and Publisher’s Award, two Ditmar Awards, two Australian Shadows Awards and a Shirley Jackson Award. Her story “Air, Water and the Grove” won the Aurealis Award for Best SF Short Story and will appear in Paula Guran’s Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. Her latest collection is The Gate Theory.

You can find her at http://kaaronwarren.wordpress.com/ and she Tweets @KaaronWarren

 ~

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

http://tsanasreads.blogspot.se/search/label/2014snapshot 

http://fablecroft.com.au/tag/2014snapshot

http://kathrynlinge.livejournal.com/tag/2014snapshot

http://bookonaut.blogspot.com.au/search/label/2014snapshot 

http://www.davidmcdonaldspage.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://tansyrr.com/tansywp/tag/2014snapshot/

http://randomalex.net/tag/2014snapshot/

http://jasonnahrung.com/tag/2014snapshot/

http://stephaniegunn.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://helenstubbs.wordpress.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://ventureadlaxre.wordpress.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://mayakitten.livejournal.com/tag/2014snapshot/

http://benpayne.wordpress.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://www.merwood.com.au/worldsend/tag/2014snapshot/

http://crankynick.livejournal.com/tag/2014snapshot 

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Snapshot 2014: Shaun Tan

Congratulations on your Ditmar Award for Best Artwork for for The Rules of Summer. Can you tell us a bit about the book? If he eats the last olive at the watchful-bird party, will the birds eat him? (Asking for my daughter.)

To answer your daughter’s question: probably. What I like about narrative painting, which is probably a more precise description of what I do than ‘illustration’, is that there is a little mystery in a picture’s past and also its future. All we can see as an audience is a particular moment, and I suppose I’m trying to make that moment as charged as possible, exploiting the stillness and silence of painting, which I love. Rules of Summer is basically a series of such charged moments that collectively describe, in a weird and fractured kind of way, the relationship between two boys who are probably brothers (it’s never clear, and I usually don’t ascribe any particular identity to my story characters). There is no traditional narrative, although there is a kind of building conflict and resolution told through several oil paintings, each accompanied by an obscure rule that appears to have been broken by the youngest boy: Never step on a snail, Never leave a red sock on a clothesline, Never give your keys to a stranger, and so on. It’s both frivolous and serious at the same time.

What were the highlights of working as a concept artist and animator on the various films you’ve worked on, including The Lost Thing? How does it compare to working on artwork and narrative for a book?

The main difference is collaboration. Books are very solitary projects for me, even in the past when I’ve collaborated with other writers I’m still very much working on my own. The Rabbits, for instance, with John Marsden involved no real discussion between author and illustrator during production, and that’s not uncommon with picture books, that can work fine. Film, however, is fundamentally about collective creativity, simply because it’s impossible for one individual to do everything (with rare exceptions). How is that different? It can actually make the process a lot more fun, a lot more fluid, because there’s a conversation between diverse imaginations, and those moments of collaboration would be the highlights. The possible down side is that certain compromises are required, but that’s nothing unusual, and not necessarily a negative thing. The main thing is that everyone is working towards the same objective, the realisation of which can take many different forms. You learn not to get hung up on any singular vision necessarily, because it just might not be able to be realised in practical terms: instead you take a core feeling and adapt it as best you can.

What projects are you developing at the moment?

Not much at present, partly on account of looking after our baby daughter at home a lot of the time (ie. she is the new project!). I recently illustrated a collection of Grimm fairy tales for a German publisher, and am trying to get that work together for an Australian edition. That was an interesting project as I put aside painting and drawing, and for the first time decided to illustrate each story using clay sculptures, which I then photographed. It forced me to simplify my work, and not think too hard about each one, modelling the forms quite spontaneously, which I found very refreshing.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Gosh, I feel I haven’t been paying much attention lately! I’ve been revisiting a lot of older work that left an impression on me when I was younger, particularly Tim Winton as a fellow West Australian whose stories are very landscape-inspired (as I would say mine are). In the SF vein, I very much like the work of Jeremy Geddes, amazing oil paintings with subtle narratives. Comics by Many Ord I find very amusing and honestly drawn. Both these artists make some use of the Melbourne urban landscape that I’m gradually tuning in to.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

It hasn’t changed the way I work very much, in fact that hasn’t changed significantly since I had my first illustrations published in Aurealis and Eidolon magazine in the early 1990s. I’m sitting at the same desk, literally, and using the same materials. I have made slight forays into new media, co-directing an app adaptation of Rules of Summer which was very interesting. Overall I’m quite lucky, as my early career was nurtured by small independent publishers who were happy to take certain risks with unconventional work, and my stories seem to have often appeared at the right time; for example, coinciding with a renewed interest in graphic novels and picture books for older readers. If I was starting over again, I’m not sure how I might go.

What will I be working on in five years? No idea, or else more of the same! I always have a bunch of ideas for books rattling around, but they rarely coalesce into something that is worth pursuing, it’s such a commitment of time and effort. I’m also interested in spending more time doing straight landscape painting (ie. not illustrative or fantastic). The Arrival is also being considered for feature film development, but any news on that front is likely to be some way off, and I’m not actively thinking about it too much just now. It could make a brilliant film, but only if the right people are at the helm, and finance is a whole other conundrum. Whatever happens, I’ll most likely continue working from the same desk as I’ve always done, a pencil in one hand and an eraser in the other.

Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan grew up in Perth, Western Australia and currently works as an artist, writer and film-maker in Melbourne. He began creating images for science fiction stories in small-press magazines as a teenager, and has since become best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through dream-like imagery. The Rabbits, The Red Tree, The Lost Thing, Tales from Outer Suburbia and the graphic novel The Arrival have been widely translated throughout the world and enjoyed by readers of all ages. Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, a concept artist for Pixar and Blue Sky Studios, and won an Academy Award for the short film adaptation of The Lost Thing. In 2011 he received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in Sweden, in recognition of his services to literature for young people.

~

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

http://tsanasreads.blogspot.se/search/label/2014snapshot 

http://fablecroft.com.au/tag/2014snapshot

http://kathrynlinge.livejournal.com/tag/2014snapshot

http://bookonaut.blogspot.com.au/search/label/2014snapshot 

http://www.davidmcdonaldspage.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://tansyrr.com/tansywp/tag/2014snapshot/

http://randomalex.net/tag/2014snapshot/

http://jasonnahrung.com/tag/2014snapshot/

http://stephaniegunn.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://helenstubbs.wordpress.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://ventureadlaxre.wordpress.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://mayakitten.livejournal.com/tag/2014snapshot/

http://benpayne.wordpress.com/tag/2014snapshot/

http://merwood.com.au/worldsend/tag/2014snapshot/

http://crankynick.livejournal.com/tag/2014snapshot 

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Australian SpecFic Snapshot 2014: Begins Tomorrow

I’m delighted to be part of the interview team for the SpecFic Snapshot 2014. Read on to find out about the Snapshot, as Tehani Wessely tells us  about it.

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Snapshot has taken place four times in the past 10 years. In 2005, Ben Peek spent a frantic week interviewing 43 people in the Australian spec fic scene, and since then, it’s grown every time, now taking a team of interviewers working together to accomplish!

In the lead up to Worldcon in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014, conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. Last time we covered nearly 160 members of the Australian speculative fiction community with the Snapshot – can we top that this year?

To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done:

 

http://bookonaut.blogspot.com.au/search/label/2014snapshot 

http://www.davidmcdonaldspage.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://fablecroft.com.au/tag/2014snapshot

http://helenstubbs.wordpress.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://jasonnahrung.com/tag/2014snapshot/

http://kathrynlinge.livejournal.com/tag/2014snapshot

http://mayakitten.livejournal.com/tag/2014snapshot

http://merwood.com.au/worldsend/tag/2014snapshot

http://randomalex.net/tag/2014snapshot/

http://stephaniegunn.com/tag/2014snapshot/ 

http://tansyrr.com/tansywp/tag/2014snapshot/

http://tsanasreads.blogspot.com/search/label/2014snapshot 

http://ventureadlaxre.wordpress.com/tag/2014snapshot/

http://crankynick.livejournal.com/tag/2014snapshot

 

 

Tehani Wessely

http://fablecroft.com.au


Subtropical Suspense Booklaunch — Brisbane

It was wonderful to attend the launch of Subtropical Suspense on Saturday! Thanks so much to everyone who came along and supported Black Beacon Books. One of the coolest things about attending a launch in Brisbane was that I got to see some friends I hadn’t seen in ages, so, yay. And I got to meet some people I was looking forward to meeting, like the other authors and the photo competition winner, Karl Forcey — brother of the very talented horror writer, Rebecca Fraser, who recently received an honourable mention for her Flash story in the AHWA competition!

The launch was held at Black Cat Books in Paddington. It’s a very cool book shop and venue. Cameron Trost — anthology editor and launch organiser — ran a fun and sociable launch.

In related news, Frank Errington reviewed Subtropical Suspense on Horror-Web Cesspool, Amazon and Goodreads and said nice things about my story.

In real life all the family is back to school and work this week, so it will be nice to settle back into a routine.

And … this is the last week of the Six in Six challenge. That is, six stories in six weeks. So I better get some fiction down!

 


Continuum X – Natcon 2014 – Melbourne – #Con10

The weirdest thing is, I want to write this blog. I usually find blogging hard, but after a weekend of hanging out with our speculative fiction community, there are things I want to say. With headings.

 

Thank you to the Committee

Wow, you folks! What a great convention. Thank you for all the time you put in to making it happen. It was awesome! The panel sessions were so interesting. Great work.

 

The Community

It’s not news to me, but I’m freshly in awe of the dedication, generosity, creativity, skilfulness, knowledge and humility of the group who has built and continues to build speculative fiction in Australia. I mean writers, editors, publishers, agents, fans, writers’ organisations, people who create, manage and judge awards, the organisers of conventions… and everyone else who supports our genre. I really appreciate their dedication.

 

My Book Haul

My haul. I missed including my postcard book of Italian masterpieces.

My haul. I missed including my postcard book of Italian masterpieces.

 

I love books! Some are for the chidlets, some are for me. Some are for me but I can pass them off as being for the chidlets. Not all of these are from the convention, some are from the art gallery, too…

Way to go, Australian independent press and bookshops, for giving Australian writers an avenue for publication. Say you’re reading this and the idea of small press is new to you, I really encourage you to check out some of these books, most of which are published by small press. Just Google the authors or editors and titles and you’ll find links.

 

Galatic Chat’s Ditmar Award for Best Fan Production

Narelle Harris and George Ivanoff were awesome hosts for the Ditmar and Chronos awards! They were hilarious. It was wonderful to see writers and artists rewarded for their work.

When Galactic Chat won its section, I was in shock. Am still in shock. I feel really lucky to work with Sean Wright, David McDonald, Alex Pierce, Mark Webb and Sarah Lee Parker. And while interviews can make me nervous, I love doing them. It seems bizarre to share an award for doing something so much fun. But thank you to those who nominated us and voted for us. Wow!

Wouldn't want to meet these two in a dark alley! They'd read you prose and poetry and quiz you about your writing...

Wouldn’t want to meet these two in a dark alley! They’d read you prose and poetry and quiz you about your writing. (Sean Wright.)

 

My Reading with Satima Flavell

Satima Flavell read from her new book The Dagger of Dresnia, published by Satalyte Publishing. The abstract she read was beautifully written and intriguing – I would describe it but I don’t want to ruin the passage, so I will only say it is about princesses and Elf kings. It was so enjoyable to listen to; I highly recommend it.

Satima Flavell read from the Dagger of Dresnia and I read from Blood on the Ice. We chatted. Very nice!

Satima Flavell read from the Dagger of Dresnia and I read from Blood on the Ice. We chatted. Very nice!

Satima’s work and my work are about as different as can be, and I think that was a wonderful contrast. I read from my story “Blood on the Ice” which is coming out in Subtropical Suspense, to be published by Black Beacon Books in July. This story is best described a YA lesbian romance thriller. The audience and Satima really seemed hooked, which was wonderful.

 

Panels I spoke on

I love talking on panels although it makes me nervous and I worry that I’ll have a brain-stall. However these three topics are all things I’m passionate about, and I loved contributing ideas and questions to them and hearing the other panellists speak.

 

Social Media

Our experiences and use of social media were quite different and seemed to be affected by many factors including our personality (how forthright or open we were comfortable in being) and how people had reacted to our past posts.

 

Photos in the action are a huge part of social media for me. That's Satima in the corner, and Nalini Haynes was on my other side.

Photos in the action are a huge part of social media for me. That’s Satima Flavell, Jim C. Hines and Alan Baxter, and Nalini Haynes was on my other side.

 

I like using social media creatively, trying out various apps like Vine and tweeting the results. I like it when it’s used to host conversations and strengthen relationships within the writing, publishing and reading community — to close geographical distances. We took a panel selfie and an audience shot and tweeted them.

 

I asked permission to take and tweet this photo at the social media panel.

I asked permission to take and tweet this photo at the social media panel. Most of my friends are happy to have photos taken and shared, but I try to remind myself not everyone feels that way. Hello audience!

 

We seemed to agree that if we tweeted or blogged something that was offensive, and someone called us on it and explained why we were wrong, we would apologise and amend what we’d said. We also felt it was important to engage respectfully on differences, but if someone trolled us we would block them.

 

Gender Stereotypes in Speculative Fiction

This was the third of the Triptych panels (which looked at gender and sexual identity in speculative fiction). The first two discussed the Moving Beyond the Gender Binary and Othered Sexuality (pic below). This panel was about stereotypes — why they exist and what we can do as consumers and writers.

My general thoughts are that we need to seek out (and create) stories with more diverse characters (of various sizes and abilities and ages and life stages and genders and sexualities) doing a range of things and celebrating a range of traits. Stephanie Lai compiled reading lists to go on the Continuum Website so check them out.

Lots of research is needed to write beyond what you know, and I’m keen to try it. I don’t think it’s enough for me to write strong female characters — what about trans characters and fat characters and asexual characters. People seem to want more a more diverse representation, even if big publishers or producers resist these risks. To do difference well, you need to do a lot of research, and talk to people who identify similarly to the characters you are trying to write. However, when a culture tells us not to appropriate their people and stories, I believe we need to respect that.

 

Discussing sexuality in speculative fiction, including assumptions and not making them

Discussing Othered Sexuality in speculative fiction, including assumptions and not making them. This was the second Triptych panel with Stephanie Lai, Lauren Mitchell, Mary Borsellino, Stacey Larner and Amanda Pillar.

 

Horror Gothic and Wild Wild Weird

This was a great panel which I was lucky enough to moderate. David Witteveen, Jane Routely, Lucy Sussex, Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung discussed various aspects of these genres, sharing their passion and extensive knowledge, and the complications of writing dark fiction, such as when people like a character you’ve created but you hate. They also talked about developing their own style through reading authors they loved, and researching topics which triggered them to write a certain story a certain way. The sensory richness of gothic writing was also discussed.

 

Panels and Speeches I loved listening to

So many! Live slushpile was fantastic, as the editors talked about what was important in a story. Sue Brystinzski, Cat Sparks, Dirk Flinthart, Amanda Pillar and Jack Dann discussed deciding factors on whether a story is in or out, and Cat read a wonderful first paragraph by Clair McKenna.

Ambelin Kwaymullina’s guest of honour speech was impressive. Her message was one I have heard before – do not appropriate indigenous material and people for your stories, because if you don’t originate within that culture your perception of it is probably wrong. It is worse to steal and/or misrepresent than omit.

I want to engage respectfully with Indigenous Australian culture and if that is as a reader or listener, then fine.

Ambelin spoke of the importance of process to indigenous cultures and how they fostered diverse life in the land. I would love to learn more from her, so I’ve asked her for a Galactic Chat Interview.

 

Ambelin and Jim.

Guests of Honour Ambelin Kwaymullina  and Jim C. Hines.

 

Interactive storytelling panel.

Jodi Cleghorn on the Interactive Storytelling panel.

There are many different types of interactive stories, from games to multiple path stories, to collections where the authors respond to each other to create a woven body of work.

There are many different types of interactive stories, from games to multiple path stories, to collections where the authors respond to each other to create a woven body of work.

  

Interactive storytelling panel.

Interactive storytelling panel. George Ivanoff is so funny. And that book he is holding sounds very interesting.

Overall

Overall, it was the best convention so far, for me. I achieved the right balance between seriousness and silliness. Heaps of both! It was lovely to see so many Queensland friends there including my roommates Jodi Cleghorn and Stacey Larner.

There are lots of people I missed having a good talk with! Sad. But it was great to see people again and get to know them better, and to make new friends, and buy new books.

 

A lovely way to start the day, with Kathleen Jennings and a coffee cocktail!

A lovely way to start the day, with Kathleen Jennings and a coffee cocktail! (Sorry you are so shadowy, Kathleen. In fact, blanket apology to everyone for my dodgy photos :))

 

My roommates: the Furies.

My roommates: the Furies.

At the bar. I spent a lot of time at the bar. The Wine glasses were enormous.

Ben Payne and Stacey Larner at the bar. The wines were enormous and the coffees way too small.

Stacey Larner and Jodi Cleghorn

Stacey Larner and Jodi Cleghorn. Pretty things!


Natcon Is Coming

Continuum is next weekend! I’m looking forward to my trip to Melbourne and escaping from domestic servitude in the human zoo in which I live.

I can’t wait to see people, art, coffee, alleys, panels, audiences, costumes. I’m on some panels with some esteemed authors… panels about Social Media (Sat 6pm), Horror, Gothic and the Wild Wild Weird (Mon 4pm), and Gender Stereotypes (Mon 3pm).

I’m also doing a reading (Sat 4pm) at which I’ll read a little of “Blood on the Ice,” which is coming out in July. It’s a little overwhelming to be doing so much, and of course I’m having my what-do-I-know crisis. In preparation for my reading on Saturday, I reviewed “Sayuri’s Revenge” yesterday and was relieved to see that my writing actually is okay sometimes. Phew! It inspired me, in part, to write another story. (Along with the encouragement of friends that it was a good idea.)

Another thing that might happen at Natcon is a Galactic Chat episode with all the interviewers together. I’m loving being a part of Galactic Chat. Last week I recorded an interview with Rebecca Fraser, who is also going to Natcon. It will be great to see her, too! And to share an apartment with the Furies. There will be wake-up selfies. They just don’t know that yet.

:)

 


Subtropical Suspense Cover and Launch Date 19th July


This has been an exciting weekend! I audio interviewed science fiction great Ken MacLeod for Galactic Chat. You can listen to it here.

In other news Black Beacon Books revealed the cover for Subtropical Suspense and announced the launch date to be the 19th July 2014 in Brisbane, at Black Cat Books in Paddington.

Check out the cover! This is a good look for Brisbane and, I have to admit, I’m kind of pretending that the bloody river is frozen into a big ice skating rink, because I’m obsessed* with skating and my story “Blood on the Ice” is about ice skating.Sub Sus Full Cover - draft 7

I wrote “Blood on the Ice” especially for Subtropical Suspense, and I’d describe it as a Young Adult Lesbian Romance Thriller. My good friend Andrea Burnell alpha read it for me and provided great advice, because she’s a YA expert!

My other good friend, Ben Payne, believes this will be the first of my extensive ice skating genre. It’s true, I do have at least two more ice skating ideas to play around with, and it doesn’t take long for two to become two hundred.

“Blood on the Ice” is set at Acacia Ridge Iceworld where I’ve never actually skated. I live on the Gold Coast, so I skate at Iceland in Bundall. When I was working on the story I happened to go to a party in Moorooka, so I made a detour to call in and case it out. I was dressed for a black tie event, in lace and fake pearls, and felt pretty conspicuous peering around and taking photos like a literary terrorist. But I did feel rather special being there to research a story.

I took some liberties with the topography in my story, moving some houses closer than they are in reality and quietening Beaudesert Road a little, however the layout of the car parks and other details are accurate. So if you are in that car park, you might want to keep a watch over your shoulder, just in case you’re next…

It’s been great to work with Black Beacon Books on Subtropical Suspense. Cameron Trost is a lovely person and editor. If you’re in Brisbane on 19th July, come along to the launch and say hi. You can find details and RSVP on here on Facebook. And please help us spread the word about Subtropical Suspense to anyone who loves Brisbane-based fiction or suspenseful stories.

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*Some say ‘obsession’, others say ‘interest’ or ‘hobby’. I’ve come to realise that obsessions are what I have instead of religion, spirituality or belief in anything. Writing continues to be my No. 1 obsession.

 


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 http://rantalica.com/GUFF_2014_Ballot.php , and voting using forms http://taff.org.uk/ballots/guff2014.pdf – 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.


31Mar2014

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

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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.


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