Snapshot 2014: Maria Lewis

maria lewisMARIA LEWIS is an authority on film and pop culture. Currently a showbusiness reporter at The Daily Mail Australia, she has also written her debut novel Who’s Afraid? which is represented by the Alex Adsett Literary Agency. She currently hosts Gaggle Of Geeks and TV Talk on 2SER 107.3FM. You can visit her website at marialewis.com.au
 
1. What led you to get involved in pop culture podcasting, and what have you enjoyed most about doing them?

The great thing about podcasting is no matter how specific or weird your niche, there’s always an audience for it. For my co-host Blake Howard and I, we would have these hour-long rambling conversations about new releases that would lead into vintage film comparisons and weird trivia inserts, and it occurred to us one day that we should record it. Pod Save Our Screen is less a movie review show – although we do review weekly releases – and more a pop culture lifestyle podcast, where we talk comics, movies news, share anecdotes about celebrity encounters and relevant interviews. The strange, specific places we go to is what I love about it and it’s the same thing that has seen me fall for Kevin Smith’s Fatman On Batman (a weekly podcast about The Dark Knight) and The Ladyist (where females discuss female centric pop culture). I also love the opportunities we’ve had to do it in a live setting, like when we got to pick the brain of Star Wars and Alien concept artist Ron Cobb – who conveniently lived just around the corner – in front of a packed cinema, which was a dream come true.

 
2. How has your journalism experience affected or influenced your creative work?

It’s influenced every aspect, undoubtedly. Mostly I think being a professional journalist for almost a decade has trained me to be an aggressive researcher (HULK GOOGLE!). An internet search is never sufficient enough and knowing that there are other routes to take – randomly calling professors, hunting down people on social media, face-to-face interviews, going through public records – helps inform my writing in a way that it wouldn’t necessarily if I didn’t come from a press background. Also, I’ve mentioned this before, but it really does make you grow ladyballs and teach you to be fearless in terms of hunting down the story – which is endlessly helpful when trying to construct a world of your own.

 
3. You have an agent shopping around your debut novel, Who’s Afraid?, about werewolves. What is the attraction or theme or shapechangers that attracted you to write this story?

I’ve always been fascinated by werewolves as I grew up in a small town in New Zealand where you were able to see snow-capped mountains from the windows, and my grandfather used to tell me werewolf tales at night when he put me to be. So really it’s his fault I’ve developed this weird obsession. But much as the idea of two identities existing within the same person has fascinated me in the superhero universe with secret identities and pseudonyms, etc.; the darker side of that coin always seemed much more interesting. The idea that someone could exist with a monster inside of them (metaphorical or otherwise) and how they can either learn to embrace or control that is infinitely fascinating to me. It’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde syndrome.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I have loved Michael Adams‘ young adult series (The Last Girl) even though I’m technically too old to be in the target market (don’t judge me). It’s one of the rare high-concept stories that I’ve read which is actually set in Australia, the last probably being the Tomorrow, When The War Began series (by John Marsden). He’s a brilliant writer and has a great female voice. I loved his first book Showgirls, Teen Wolves And Astro Zombies: One Man’s Quest To Find The Worst Film Ever Made and it’s interesting to see the transition from his non-fiction work to something like The Last Girl and The Last Shot.

 
5. 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?

Not for me personally. There seems to be a strong need from publishers to constantly tell you that ‘it’s all about E and not about P’ which although I think there has been a significant growth in e-publishing, print will ever be defunct. I also don’t understand this obsession with one or the other. Like the girl in the Old El Paso add says, why not both? I still buy books, I still love the feel of a book in my hand and building a personal library, but there’s a beauty to the convenience of an e-reader that can’t be beat. It doesn’t bother me whether people are turning the page or an ‘on’ switch, as long as people are still reading stories, still engaging in make-believe, I don’t care how they do it.

In five years… what will I be reading? I’m a genre loyalist, and I have always grown up on and read horror, fantasy and urban fantasy titles. I don’t see my love of that changing anytime soon. In the same way Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games have brought a lot of first-time genre readers into the equation, I’ve been reading a lot more crime purely thanks to novels like Gone Girl and Jeffrey Deaver’s return with The Skin Collector drawing me in. I’m not a genre snob, I just trot over to wherever there’s a tale that intrigues me: whether that’s Pride and Prejudice or Pride, Prejudice and Zombies.

 
2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2014: Sonja Hammer

sonja hammerSONJA HAMMER’s live radio show on JOY 94.9 in Melbourne, Sci-Fi and Squeam, turns five on December 10, making it one of the longest running dedicated LGBTIQA speculative fiction shows on air. Sonja has edited and uploaded about 290 podcasts of the show, including one-off interviews with writers to media personalities, film makers, comics artists and video games developers. Her passion for the horror film genre has led her to support organisations and events for the annual Women in Horror Recognition Month, and to developing Queer Geeks of Oz – the first LGBTIQA pop culture panel, held at Armageddon Melbourne 2013 and Oz Comic-Con Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney in 2014. Its manifesto is to support and encourage diversity in geek culture and to be a voice for LGBTIQ geeks and nerds in Australia.

 

1. What drew you to become a radio broadcaster? And why spec fic?

I always wanted to talk to people and listen to what people have to say about interesting things, and so radio was the perfect medium to do that: talk and be heard, and meet and talk with fascinating people about subjects I want to hear more about … passionate people talking about science fiction and horror fiction, all fit perfectly in a radio show in my mind! Even though everyone turns more and more to television and webcasts and web TV, everyone in the world still has a radio somewhere! And so Sci-Fi and Squeam was born!

 
2. You ran a great interview with comics writer Gail Simone when she was out last year about how important she felt it was to have minority groups in her work, whether of race, sexuality or ablement. Are there any shows or books that you think have done a brilliant job of portraying such characters?

Yes, I am excited and genuinely enthused by the past few years efforts in particular with television shows made in Canada (though not always exclusively so), SyFy TV has done ground breaking stuff when it comes to representation of the ‘other’ or with normally marginalised or ‘minority’ peoples, shows like Lost Girl particularly for lesbian and bisexual female inclusiveness, and even more recent shows like Orphan Black with its sexually diverse characters and its normalising of pan and omni sexuality as well as gay and bisexuality: very satisfying when it comes to that sort of content, let alone that it is well crafted and has intriguing plot lines.

On on the topic of Gail Simone, even though she has left writing Bat Girl now, she has left a great legacy with her introduction of one of the first transgender characters in a mainstream comic franchise: well done to her, she is a fantastic advocate for LGBTIQ rights.

 
3. Since you started doing Sci-fi & Squeam on Joy 94.9, have you noticed any themes or changes in the material that’s been coming your way?

Yes, since beginning Sci-fi and Squeam in 2009, one of the biggest shifts I have seen and that has affected the show and its content more and more, is the growing influence and strength of women in genre, in particular horror film making, and the visibility of transgender characters in genre, and this also becoming apparent in the guests on the show and the fantastic ongoing contributors to the show’s content as well.

Video games and the changes in that community have been more influential in the last year or so, and that is generally due to the inclusion and the debate around inclusiveness of LGBTIQ characters in games.

It is certainly a wonderful time to be doing the show as more and more positive things are happening in genre for the LGBTIQ communities. Definitely more visibility!

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Well, it would have to be in comics, Aussie comics! Australian comics is another growth area in genre that I have watched go through so many changes, and the work and quality of it is terrific. I am most impressed by Home Brew Vampire Bullets – an anthology of comic artists and writers done here in Melbourne. Ambitious, adventurous and daring and … very Aussie.
Here is the link to PODCAST with the man who put it all together, Garth Jones: Home Brew Vampire Bullets

 
5. 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 more and more artists, creatives and comic artists especially, are self-publishing their works, and online publishing is also growing faster too; micro-publishing is the future and independent publishers are being recognised for their ingenuity, hard work and talents, which is awesome! Gestalt Comics are one of the success stories of what can happen to a micro-publishing house, and an Aussie one at that! This is a good move, as the creative can have more control over their work and there is also more variety for the collector/reader. I hope to publish a comic too one of these days, based loosely on the show, and it will include the experiences of a queer zombie unicorn going to its first pop culture convention and … and just what happens next? Well, we will have to wait and see!!

 
2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2014: Stephen M Irwin

stephen m irwinSTEPHEN M IRWIN is a screenwriter and novelist. His career began with broadcast television documentaries, and broadened to include award-winning short drama films and short stories. Stephen’s debut novel, supernatural thriller The Dead Path, was published in Australia by Hachette and subsequently around the world, being named Top Horror Novel 2011 in the American Library Association’s RUSA Reading List. Stephen’s second novel, The Broken Ones, was released by Hachette and DoubleDay to exceptional reviews, including being named among the 100 Best Fiction of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews. Stephen was writer and creator of a six-part crime drama Secrets & Lies (2014) produced by Hoodlum Active, which has screened around the world and is being remade for American audiences by Kapital Entertainment for ABC (USA). He is currently developing several feature film and television projects for Australian and international audiences, and is writing his third novel. Find out more at www.stephenmirwin.com

 

1. Since the last Snapshot two years ago, you’ve added to your oeuvre of supernatural horror with a story, ’24/7′, in last year’s A Killer Among Demons anthology. What is it about folklore and legends such as the Green Man, ghost and demons that draws you to write about them?

Writers write for different reasons. For some, it’s catharsis; for others it’s simply a job; for yet others it’s a compulsion to express. For me, writing for pleasure presents a chance to go exploring, to go play. And my favourite sandpit is not necessarily this world, or this world as I’ve experienced it in the day-to-day, but a world like ours where fantastical things are possible. The fact that I enjoy my stories to be both well grounded in reality yet to have otherworldly shadows lends me to write about ghosts, spirits, unseen or barely seen forces … so, those stories begin in the ordinary and take that weird side-step into the extraordinary.

One of the things I like about these stories is that they come with a suggestion that the protagonist doubts his or her own perception of reality – wonders, even, if they are mad or heading that way. In this era of social media and instant news, when everything is laid bare, it’s nice to think that some people (even if they are just fictional characters) are forced to keep secrets for fear of condemnation … and try to soldier on in silence … although this usually sows the seeds of peril. Great fun.

 
2. Secrets & Lies is, possibly, your biggest screen project to date, enjoying a US rendition. How have you enjoyed the translation of your Australian story to the United States? In fact most of your written stories have been set here – have you ever felt any pressure to perhaps set them overseas or keep the ocker quotient low to enhance foreign market appeal?

secrets and lies tv showI didn’t have a lot of time to writing the six hours of television that was Secrets & Lies – the preproduction was so charged with urgency that I didn’t really get time to enjoy the process. Now the series is done, and it’s screened here and in the UK, Canada, Scandinavia … I’ve had the chance to look back more fondly on the experience of writing the show. I don’t have any real input in the US version, but on a recent trip to Los Angeles I did get to meet some of the cast, and that was enormously fun – they’ve attracted some great talent, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

Right now, I’m working on an Australian telemovie for a national TV broadcaster, and a supernatural crime show for an American network. The former is set firmly in Australia, the latter firmly in the USA. I’m a big believer in universality of story, but specificity of setting. We humans are territorial creatures – we like to know well our little nests and hunting grounds, our comfort zones. So, I think it’s important to write with respect for that – because people act differently when they are in their own territory, or taken from it, or threatened with removal from it, or discover it is not as safe and comfy as they thought it was. To that extent, character and place are inseparable.

But I haven’t felt any pressure ever to heighten or lower the local tone of stories, either in books or in television – I think if it feels real, it works. The only changes that I’ve needed to be make are in terms of accessibility, so that readers or viewers aren’t jolted from the story because they don’t simply understand what a word means.

 
3. There’s mention on your blog of adapting The Broken Ones for the screen, and a possible novel on the way. How are those projects coming? What’s next for you?

the broken ones by stephen m irwinI was fortunate enough to see The Broken Ones receive the Chauvel Award (Screen Queensland), and I was asked by the producers who optioned the work to also write the screenplay adaptation. That was a strange experience – interrogating my own work, ripping it to component parts, and putting it back together in a different media (a screenplay). But it seems to have worked out well, and the producers are now shopping The Broken Ones around to potential directors. I hope it gets made; it would be fun to meet Oscar Mariani in the flesh!

My third novel is progressing at, sadly, a much slower pace than I wish – my television commitments seem to always be grabbing at my heels like cattle dogs. I am hoping (perhaps foolishly!) to finish the draft by the end of the year.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I adore Sonya Hartnett’s writing, and enjoyed her Children of the King (yes, it’s for younger readers, but that is no impediment to either great writing or enjoyable reading). I was captivated by Kári Gíslason’s The Promise of Iceland – and knowing the lovely Kári personally made the journey through the book so much richer. And being a contributor to A Killer Among Demons gave me the perfect excuse to read the other authors’ works – and there were some crackers. I’m a fan of Angela Slatter’s and Alan Baxter’s work, and enjoyed enormously reading their stories and the others, too.

 
5. 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 my forays into feature and television writing have come at a good time for me. Since The Broken Ones was published, I’ve got a strong sense that publishers are being increasingly discerning about where (and in what kind of writers) they invest their money. Since I have no other appreciable skills beyond writing, I am grateful that I can derive an income from film and television as well as book writing to help pay the mortgage. But the moving picture media are every bit as volatile as publishing; more and more viewers are consuming content at home and on demand, rather than going to a cinema or waiting for a show to screen on a free-to-air broadcaster.

And I’m as guilty as anyone of this: I consume books, television shows, and movies on my iPad Mini, and I’m the first to grow irritated if I can’t get what I want RIGHT NOW! That’s unhealthy, and light-years from the person I used to be, who could order a book from suburban bookseller and patiently wait weeks for the phonecall announcing that it had arrived.

I think in five years’ time, things will have shifted subtly (but scarily) to a place where there is even more choice of things to consume, but with an ever-widening gap between the ‘big’ studio and publishing house projects, and the indie publications and productions. I hope that I’ll be able to do the splits enough to make a satisfying income from commercial works while still indulging in the free flights of fancy that smaller publishers allow and encourage. As long as I’m writing, I’ll be happy.

 
2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2014: John Harwood

john harwood pic by peter whyteJOHN HARWOOD was born in Hobart and educated in Tasmania and at Cambridge University. He went on to become Head of the School of English and Drama at Flinders University in Adelaide before leaving to write full time. His novel The Ghost Writer, first published by Jonathan Cape in 2004, won the International Horror Guild’s First Novel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Horror and Dark Fantasy. The Séance, a dark mystery set in Victorian England, won the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel of 2008. The Asylum (Random House) was published earlier this year.
 

1. What elements of the Gothic have attracted you to write in that mode – and to set your stories, predominantly, in England in the Victorian era?

I first read the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was nine or ten, and as much as anything it was the atmosphere I loved: the fogs, the gaslight, the hansom cabs, the labyrinthine streets of London, the way the stories flirt with the supernatural: until the rational explanation at the end, ‘The Speckled Band’ is classic Gothic horror. At around the same time I discovered the ghost stories of MR James and again I loved the sinister old houses and churches and libraries, the gradual, indirect approach by way of hints and glimpses, leaving as much as possible to the reader’s imagination.

So when I began writing fiction full-time it was only natural that my childhood reading would come back to haunt me. I’d written and discarded a couple of novels with contemporary settings before I stumbled on the idea for The Ghost Writer, and as soon as I started writing ghost stories in that late Victorian idiom I knew – paradoxical as it sounds – that I’d found a voice of my own.

The Victorian era attracts me because it’s very different from our own, but not so remote that the language becomes a barrier. And because it’s a darker, more elemental setting, without any of the technological insulation we take for granted. Once inside that crumbling Gothic mansion, you’re utterly alone with whatever may be lurking there …

 
2. Your writing has been acknowledged in both literary and genre awards. What is your feeling about the tension or rivalry between these two camps?

It strikes me as an artificial and fairly recent distinction – some of the greatest 19th century novels would now be classified as genre fiction – largely driven by the demands of marketing, and perhaps by a degree of prejudice. I’ve met readers who pride themselves on only reading literary fiction, and tried to explain to them how much they’re missing out on, but sometimes the prejudice is too deeply embedded. Whereas all that ultimately matters is the quality of the writing, in the fullest sense of that phrase.

The best books across all the genres – SF, crime, YA, fantasy, literary – have far more in common with each other than they do with formula-driven, boilerplate fiction. And the best work, regardless of how it’s labelled, often defies classification, like Russell Hoban’s masterpiece, Riddley Walker. Or a book like China Miéville’s The City and the City, which tends to be shelved as SF because that’s mostly what he writes. But when you’ve finished it you still don’t know – at least I didn’t – whether you’ve actually crossed the boundaries of realism or not.

 
3. The Ghost Writer had supernatural tales embedded within the text; The Séance took a Radcliffe approach to offering rational explanations for the mysterious events; and you play with lost or stolen identity in an asylum on the delightful Bodmin Moor in The Asylum. Where, and when, to next?

the asylum by john harwoodI’m not sure yet. The Séance grew out of the original version of The Ghost Writer, which included a novella about a sinister mansion festooned with lightning rods, and then The Asylum grew out of material which didn’t make it into the finished Séance. Could be something quite different this time. For me, beginning a novel is like being a dog trying to follow a scent through a pitch-dark forest, falling down holes and bumping into tree-trunks until he picks it up again: you don’t really know what you’re pursuing until you get through that forest.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Most of my reading in recent months has been about the looming reality of catastrophic climate change, and so the Australian work that comes first to mind is Morrie Schwartz’s invaluable review, The Monthly, with its superb coverage of all sides of politics as well as environmental issues. Which is not to minimise the work that Fairfax journalists are doing under extraordinarily difficult conditions. But with a government dominated by Tea Party lookalikes and climate change deniers, and most of the commercial media acting as their cheer squad, The Monthly is a source of light in a very dark landscape.

 
5. 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?

Changes like the emergence of e-books and the ever-increasing power of Amazon haven’t really affected me as much as the exponential growth of the internet itself. When I began work on The Ghost Writer the internet was still relatively slow and clunky, whereas now it’s ubiquitous. The internet is a very mixed blessing, so far as writing is concerned; it speeds up research enormously, but it’s also a terrible distraction, and disruptive of precisely those long stretches of meditative concentration that writing fiction requires.

Like many people, I’ve just kept adding new technologies to existing ones, so that I now have a Kindle as well as a paper library. I assume that the proportion of e-books sold relative to paper will continue to increase, like the proportion of books that will be available only in e-form. Environmentally speaking, I suppose it would be better if we all bought nothing but e-books from here on, but I’d very sorry to see that happen. When the survivors – if there are any – of the Great Anthopocene Extinction are picking over the ruins in a few hundred years’ time, a few printed books in deep cellars or caves may be all that remain of our vast output of words.

 

2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

* * *

THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2014: Australia’s speculative fiction scene

2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot
The Aussie Spec Fic 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 the World Science Fiction Convention in London, I will be part of this team blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

Last time, in 2012, the Snapshot covered nearly 160 members of the Australian speculative fiction community – 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:

And you can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

Only Lovers Left Alive: pollution is a real pain in the neck, yeah


only lovers left aliveJim Jarmusch takes the long, slow road to a vampire movie aimed squarely at what happens when you use up resources, but yet, there will still be music.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) features Eve (Tilda Swinton), well read and generally wonderful, reconnecting with her significant other, Adam (Tom Hiddleston). She travels from Tangier, leaving behind good old mate Christopher Marlowe — played with the usual aplomb by John Hurt — to Detroit, where the collapse and abandonment mirrors Adam’s depression. Adam’s a muso of modest but enduring renown, and things are looking all right for the reunited lovers until Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up to rock the boat with her over-eager, insatiable consumerism.

Because things are already tense for the children of the night, with the blood supply as tainted as the environment. Resources are getting scarce. The good stuff is in demand. And the food chain, and decency, are such fragile things.

It’s a slow-burner, shot almost doco style as Adam and Eve drive through derelict suburbs, living their lives in splendid and not-so-splendid isolation.

The vampire culture is wonderfully (under)drawn, with its own peccadilloes and gentle in-joke references. Living in the shadows, observers trying to find safe ways to interact, to leave a mark, however anonymously … the settings mirror the desolation, even Tangier — necessarily by night — an empty place where people offer only what is not needed. And the leads capture the mood perfectly. Swinton’s nuanced performance is a delight, and Hiddleston has the disaffected rock star air down pat.

It’s crafty, too, how at least one certain prop never gets to satisfy the Chekhov law, although perhaps that’s a Jarmusch law. Along with the music, of course.

As the predators prowl the decaying streets, the message is there in the coyote howls: nature will have its way, so we’d better look after it.

Neil Jordan’s Byzantium: delicious!

byzantium, vampire movie posterNeil Jordan made Tom Cruise look good in Interview with the Vampire, but Byzantium is even better.

Saoirse Ronan chews up the celluloid as a 16-year-old vampire, on the run with lusty Gemma Arterton, who looks in her period flashbacks as though she just stepped out of a classic Hammer Horror movie (and indeed, there’s a nod to Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness in the film).

Writer Moira Buffini has delivered a script that these two actors totally inhabit, Ronan with subtlety and tender beauty, Arterton a force majeure of hedonistic pragmatism. The familial relationship between the two, of freedom vs control, change vs habit, of nurture and protection, is a joy to watch as Ronan’s Eleanor stretches her 200-year-old adolescent wings.

In the background is the threat of a patriarchal order who don’t like women rocking their boat, with events set in motion by Johnny Lee Miller as bounder and cad, and Sam Riley as an understated hero-figure.

The casting is superb, the sets suitably atmospheric, and there are nods to vampire forerunners in Ruthven and Carmilla. The vampirism here is well drawn and consistent, drawing on a Caribbean version called a soucriant (read more in this excellent New York Times review).

The story is kept simple and is simply told, set to a soundtrack of classical and folk songs, and gorgeously presented by Jordan and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, allowing us to bask in the beauty: to sink in its warmth like Bathory into a bath.

Definitely in my list of the best vampire movies.