Archive for stephen m irwin

Snapshot 2012: Nathan Burrage

Posted in books, fantasy, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by jason nahrung

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoNATHAN Burrage is a Sydney writer, father of two, and works as a project consultant by day. He is a graduate of the prestigious Clarion South workshop (class of 2005) and was the co-convenor of the 2010 Aurealis Awards, which was the first time they had been held in Sydney.

Nathan has accumulated 20 short story credits and his debut novel Fivefold was published by Random House in 2008 and is now available as an e-book. A second novel is currently jogging on the submission treadmill.

Occasional updates appear at www.nathanburrage.com.

Fivefold is finding new legs as an e-book — can you tell us a little about that process?
As part of marketing my second novel, The Hidden Keystone, my agent suggested that we request the return of the electronic rights to Fivefold, as the book had been out of print for a few years. The thinking here was that since the two books are linked (but still standalone), the second novel might be more attractive if we could also offer the electronic rights to my first novel.

After a few emails and some discussion that I wasn’t privy to, Random House decided to release the novel in electronic form and it appeared in all the online places you’d expect in late May.

Just ignore the synopsis if it talks about a crime novel. Somehow the synopsis from another book has been mixed up with mine, so the process hasn’t been entirely seamless.

So how hard is it to write about religious/historical conspiracy in the wake of the Dan Brown phenomenon?
Pretty tough to be honest. I get the feeling a lot of publishers and bookstores feel that the sales phenomenon has moved on to other genres and that any further works in this field aren’t destined to be very successful. Certainly there’s an inherent cynicism after all the ‘this-is-the-next-Da-Vinci-Code‘ marketing that has undoubtedly taken place since Dan Brown’s success.

Still, every genre has well established tropes. The trick, of course, is to bring a new perspective or angle that will breathe fresh life into those tropes. I don’t see my second novel as a religious thriller. Rather, I describe it as a story written in the margins of history and focusing on the eternal power struggle for the human soul. This might sound like the alternative history sub-genre but it’s not.

Some might argue I would do well to fit into square holes more often…

What were some of the hurdles and delights of researching your latest work on-site?
Delights first, I think. In 2008, I was fortunate enough to visit Jerusalem and France as part of research for my second novel. The old city of Jerusalem literally made my skin tingle and walking the old battlements was exhilarating. You can literally see the layers of history built on top of each other and one can’t help but feel that there is so much more to be discovered there. Heady stuff for imagination jockeys.

I also enjoyed visiting Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered), taking a dip in The Dead Sea and wandering through the Champagne region of France. I can’t recommend a visit to Abbaye de Fontenay enough!

In terms of hurdles, the problem with researching a particular place or time is that it’s very tempting to stuff all that juicy information into your work. Of course this makes for a dense, slow read, so some brutal editing was required. How brutal? Think hordes of Mongols. My first draft for the second novel weighed in at 240,000 words and is now 169,000. That’s a lot of extraneous words lying about the battlefield that is writing, but it’s all part of the learning experience.

Dealing with actual historical figures – rather than those you have invented that know said historical figures – requires a fair degree of research. It wouldn’t do, for example, to have a character besieging the walls of Jerusalem with Godefroi de Bouillon when the same person is recorded as having died in Antioch. Of course, the first- and second-hand accounts from those times don’t always agree, so you can write between the margins if you’re careful.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines is a great collection and one can’t help but wonder what Paul might have gone on to do if given more time.

I’ve read the first two installments of Trent Jamieson‘s Deathworks series and found them to be fast paced with a great voice in the central character of Steven de Selby.

Josephine Pennicott‘s Poet’s Cottage could be considered to be on the outskirts of speculative fiction but I enjoyed it immensely and was impressed with the versatility Jo has shown in her writing.

I’m also looking forward to reading Liberator by Richard Harland, When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett and The Broken Ones by Stephen M Irwin.


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Interesting question. The major publishers are clearly experiencing pain in their balance sheets and this has inevitably affected publishing decisions for both new and established writers. The combination of a strong Aussie dollar, the proliferation of e-books and online content, and the loss of key traditional outlets in this country (think Borders and Angus & Robertson) have all played their part.

Meanwhile Aussie small press continue to not only thrive, but publish important literary works. Increasingly, I think, new spec fic authors will see their novels published by genre specialists rather than the big publishing houses. In addition, distribution platforms, such as Amazon and the iBookstore, will sway what gets published in the future as people vote with their digital feet.

From an Aurealis Awards perspective, entries in the horror novel category for 2011 were clearly down, although the shorter format is still flourishing. The judges have also indicated that they are seeing more and more electronic submissions, which is expected to continue. I also think semi-professional websites and blogs with magazine aspirations will continue to blur publishing boundaries and challenge our concepts of ‘story’, in whatever length, and format, they are told.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

 

Snapshot 2012: Stephen M Irwin

Posted in books, gothic, horror, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by jason nahrung

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logo
STEPHEN M Irwin’s debut novel, supernatural thriller The Dead Path, was published in the UK, the USA, Germany and China. It was named Top Horror Novel in the American Library Association’s RUSA Reading List (2011) and won the Book of the Month Club’s First Fiction Award (2010).

Stephen’s second novel, thriller The Broken Ones, was launched in Australia in 2011 to excellent reviews, including being named the Sydney Morning Herald Fiction Pick of the Week. It will be released in the USA by DoubleDay in August 2012, and has also been selected by the Book of the Month Club for its catalogues which service 8 million members.

Stephen’s short stories have won competitions nationally and internationally, with several published in notable anthologies. Stephen is also an award-winning filmmaker, and has written and directed television documentaries and short films. He is currently working with several Australian producers developing feature and television material, including a screen adaptation of The Dead Path.

Stephen lives in Brisbane’s inner-west with his wife and two young children. Find him online at stephenmirwin.com.

Two novels down, and twice you’ve brought some shudders to Brisbane town. What is it about the city that lends itself to a site for nightmare occurrences?
I hope that I’m able to write with a degree of veracity about lots of places, and certainly a bit of my first novel was set in London, and a recent screenplay I worked on had some scenes set in New York and Canada. However, Brisbane is home and I know certain of its suburbs well, some of its hiding places, how it feels through different seasons, where it feels authentic and where it feels like it’s wearing too much makeup. My first two books had to be set somewhere, and while I don’t live or die by the axiom ‘write what you know’, it made sense to set the books in a place that I know. I figured that I was asking the readers to suspend any disbelief they may have in magic and ghosts, so if the setting felt solid, I could buy a bit more latitude to explore the fantastical.
Even if it wasn’t home, though, Brisbane is a great setting because there is more to it than meets the eye. It is a pleasant and friendly place, but it was born essentially as a penal settlement, so it has some unpleasant bones. It is sunny and warm, and its winters are divine, but as we’ve seen in the recent past, it can turn nasty quickly with streets flooding and disaster unfolding in a matter of hours. As a setting, this contrast is appealing, and has worked well for other authors, too (Jeff Lindsay used Miami as a setting for the dark deeds of his killer, Dexter). Just because a house has fresh paint doesn’t mean it’s not haunted; just because a city is sun-drenched and ‘livable’ doesn’t mean horrible things can’t happen there. Let’s face it, the least expected and most horrific crimes are those performed in broad daylight.

What is it you’ve enjoyed most about the transition from writing screenplays to novels?
I think what’s enjoyable is the feeling that the transition continues. I’m still writing screenplays and television material while working on more long-form fiction. Each mode of writing enriches the other. Since writing a couple of novels, I feel I’m now able to bring to my screenplay writing a better understanding of character, because I’ve drilled so much more deeply into characters’ minds and motivations for the books. And for me, screenwriting helped make the novels more enjoyable because I’ve learned something about conventional story structure from screenwriting. Screenwriting has helped broaden my understanding about pacing scenes and building suspense; I learned through experience that a scene that lasts more than a few minutes on screen risks becoming deathly boring, and every scene has to help advance the story. These rules have a place in the kinds of books I write. Very importantly, screenwriting forced me to learn visual shorthand: how to paint a clear picture or mood very economically. In a screenplay of just 100 pages, you can’t devote a whole page describing a room or a person –- you get a sentence for that. The lessons about economical writing have been helpful, because if you know the essence of what you want to say, then it is more enjoyable to dress it up. Putting in is always more fun than taking out.

Another thing that surprises some people is that a significant amount of my screenwork has been comedic. Right now I am working on a comedy feature I’ve been commissioned to write for an Australian producer. I hope that a few sparks of levity have found their way into the novels.

There was a noirish feel to The Broken Ones — is crime writing something you’d like to explore further, or do you find the supernatural an irresistible attraction?
I am a sucker for good crime, in literature, film, and television, and I’ve been a fan of noir since seeing The Third Man in my first year at art college. I’m a dedicated fan of the gurus like Chandler, maestros like Cruz Smith, and seasoned experts like the late, great Robert B Parker. It’s delightful to think that some of my love for crime writing has rubbed off into The Broken Ones, which is ostensibly a detective story. I’m certainly continuing to work on more crime material –- my next novel, while not a police procedural, has strong crime elements, and I’m developing with a talented production company a new crime miniseries. It’s great fun. Chandler knew how to entertain, and he knew that everything had a dark side. ‘It is not a fragrant world.’

As for the supernatural, I can resist it -… but only for so long. My nightmares, when I have them, are inevitably about angry spirits. I think some writers write to exorcise, and it helps when I do.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
I really enjoyed The Diggers Rest Hotel by Geoff McGeachin. It is set soon after the Second World War in country Victoria. My father was a serviceman in WWII, and no doubt his sensibilities were formed by his time as a young man, and remained with him for me to see and learn from. Geoff captured the spirit of the time beautifully, and had me almost nostalgic for an era I only knew about second hand. Apart from that, it was a great crime story with a smart, wounded protagonist. Right up my alley.

Claire Corbett’s futuristic novel When We Have Wings was highly inventive and very lovely.

And as a writer of stories with ghosts, I am a huge fan of Karina Machado’s non-fiction books about hauntings: Spirit Sisters and Where Spirits Dwell. The Australian spec fic scene is rich and varied right now, with some huge talents who are getting some well deserved recognition.

What have been some of the biggest changes in the Australian speculative fiction scene in the past two years?
I think the Australian market as a whole is responding to the same changes that the whole publishing world is facing with regard to digital books. While this new form is a phoenix to some and a spectre to others, I am delighted to see that it seems to have sparked a re-emerging interest from writers and readers in the novella. This is a form I’ve loved since adolescence when I first read seminal works like Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men and The Old Man and the Sea. Given that a novella can be created in a third the time or less that it takes to craft a novel, the rich excitement of furious creation can often be sensed on the page. A story has a life of its own, and to be effectively told it needs to fill into its own body without constraint or artificial inflation –- some stories are simply too long for to be a ‘short’, and too contained to warrant novel length. I think since the 1980s, the bang-for-buck book purchasing mindset has made it increasingly difficult for publishers to justify the printing and marketing of the novella form, but the e-book format is making it much easier for publishers to price the form back into popularity, and also for self-publishers to get their works to market. I am delighted that a number of authors I know are working in this form right now. It is good news that this important middle sibling is coming back in force.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2012: Ian Irvine

Posted in books, fantasy, horror, science fiction, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2012 by jason nahrung

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoIAN Irvine, a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia’s national guidelines for protection of the marine environment and continues to work in this field, has written 28 novels. These include the internationally bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence (The View from the Mirror, The Well of Echoes and Song of the Tears), which has sold over a million copies, a trilogy of thrillers set in a world undergoing catastrophic climate change, Human Rites, and 12 books for younger readers, the most recent being the humorous fantasy quartet, Grim and Grimmer.

Ian’s latest fantasy novel is Vengeance, Book 1 of The Tainted Realm trilogy. He’s currently doing the final edits of the second book, Rebellion, which will be published in Australia in October 2012, and the US and UK in early 2013.

Keep up with Ian at his website www.ian-irvine.com and on Facebook.

Your eco-thrillers have been recently re-released: how has the market for such stories changed since they were first published?
I don’t know that it has, actually. As far as I can tell, the market for eco-thrillers has never been a huge one. Even at times when the public had a high level of concern about environmental issues, and has been flocking to eco-disaster movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, I’m told that sales of eco-thriller books have generally been modest. I’m not sure why – perhaps it’s a bit close to home.


Your latest novel is called Vengeance. What topics have you found that fantasy can talk about more easily or more effectively than other genres, if any?
I’ve long been fascinated by the ways that seizing or maintaining political power can undermine the legitimacy of a realm – it happens all the time in history. For instance in Australia, the current Gillard government is constantly being white-anted because of the way its previous prime minister was overthrown. Malcolm Fraser’s government 30 years ago also suffered from the way the previous Whitlam government was deposed.

This issue formed the germ of the idea behind The Tainted Realm – a nation, scarred by a deep sense of national guilt about its own origins, that now faces a resurgent enemy it has no idea how to fight.


Your recent releases include a series for younger readers and now this new, epic fantasy. What are the different joys and challenges you’ve experienced in writing for these two audiences?
One of the best things about being a writer is the ‘next-book dream’ – that the story I’m about to write will be original or provocative or funny or life-changing, or non-stop, edge-of-the-seat suspenseful. Sometimes, in moments of authorial madness, I imagine that it can be all of the above. And everything in my life: every snippet of research, every odd idea jotted down or moment of inspiration can go into the pot, get a good stir, simmer for weeks or years, then miraculously and effortlessly flow into the story. Ha!

One of the worst aspects is grinding out the first draft. It usually starts well, and sometimes runs well for as much as eight or 10 chapters. Vengeance did. And I was lulled, poor fool that I am. Yes, I thought, this book is going to be a snap.
Then suddenly I was in the writer’s ‘death zone’ where every word came with an effort, every sentence sounded banal, every character was done to death, every situation boring and repetitive. Nothing worked; nothing felt inspired. What had gone wrong? Had I used all my ideas up and burned myself out as a writer? I started to think that I’ll never write anything worth reading again.

Nearly every novel has this stage, which generally occurs about a quarter of the way in, and sometimes lasts until half-way. Of all my books, the only ones I’ve not been stuck on were the last two books of my humorous adventure stories for younger readers, Grim and Grimmer. They were written to such short deadlines and with such wild and wacky enthusiasm that there wasn’t time to get into the death zone. It was the first time I’d ever completely let go as a writer, and they were the most fun I’ve had writing.

Vengeance, on the other hand, was one of the worst because I had so many interruptions from other deadlines – pre-existing commitments for the last Runcible Jones YA novel plus the four Grim and Grimmers. Writing is hard work at the best of times, but doubly hard when I’m forced to jump back and forth between different kinds of books.

Also, because really big books present a writing challenge that doesn’t occur with small ones – it’s difficult to keep the whole vast canvas in mind at once. The only way to write such books (for me, anyway) is in long, uninterrupted slabs of time, otherwise every interruption hurls me out of the characters’ heads and I have to laboriously write my way back in again. And no matter how well yesterday’s writing went, each new day presents the same challenge.


What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’m a big fan of Richard Harland’s steampunk world, as exemplified in his terrific World Shaker and Liberator. I’ve also enjoyed Stephen Irwin’s dark thriller The Dead Path, and Trent Jamieson’s excellent trilogy The Business of Death. Apart from that, I’ve bought lots of Aussie speculative fiction recently but it’s still on the ever-growing unread pile.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Sorry, I don’t have the faintest idea. I’m only now emerging from the busiest time of my writing life, and I rarely read short stories, so any emerging trends in Aussie speculative fiction have passed me by.

However, looking at the publishing and bookselling side of things, we face challenges we haven’t seen in the past decade and a half, since Aussie SF publishing, sales and international success exploded in the mid-to-late ’90s. From now on, due to the high dollar, the demise of book chains and the explosion in e-books and self-publication, it’s going to be a lot harder to get published by a traditional print publisher than it has been at any time since 1995, and sales, for the most part, are liable to be smaller because we’re also competing with a million self-published e-book titles. They might only sell a handful of copies individually, but because there’s so many of them, they add up to a significant chunk of the market. So, tough times ahead, but fantastic opportunities as well.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

No hope for Thoraiya and other writerly stuff

Posted in news regurgitation, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2011 by jason nahrung

anywhere but earth

Thoraiya Dyer has reviewed Keith Stevenson’s monolithic (it’s more than 700 pages!) SF antho Anywhere But Earth and I *love* her comment about my story in it:

Jason Nahrung, as usual, wrote beautifully, but handed me horror in sci-fi clothing. One day, he’ll gift me with a glimmer of hope!

A glimmer? I *think* I could do that. In fact, I did try once, and the jury’s still out on that story, but I *guess* I could try again…

Read Thoraiya’s thoughtful and generous review here.

  • Meanwhile, Karen Brooks has penned one of her, as usual, insightful media-probing articles about a new Snow White movie starring Charlize Theron and ‘that girl from Twilight‘, Kristen Stewart, a casting decision which apparently has issues of the shallow flesh front and centre. Stewart impressed in The Runaways; this might be worth a look. Has there been a decent adaptation since Sigourney Weaver played the wicked stepmother? I like what Karen says about looking for moral reinforcement in uncertain times, and just hope that means the movie makers are subverting the old tropes of cultural reinforcement rather than wielding them from a pulpit.
  • Louise Cusack has blogged on the authenticity of blogging and the crafting of online personae, this weird business of marketing the creator and not just the product. A kind of cult of personality, or a genuine reaching out to those who make a creative life financially viable (if you’re one of the lucky ones)? For those writers who fit the shy, retiring mould, the idea of appearing in public to try to talk up their work is anathema, but the pressure’s on. I guess the key is to try to be nice about it, wield some respect for others and yourself, while at the same time not taking it too seriously because there’s nothing worse than seeing a big head explode in front of an audience…
  • Jay Kristoff, who recently exhorted us all to walk and keep on walkin’ till we reach the destination, has got me thinking that, hm, yes, I really must investigate this Dropbox thing, or something similar. Read these words and tremble in shared terror:

    …the entire sequel had flipped out and been eaten by gremlins. Every draft. All my notes. My diary of a madman scribbles about where the trilogy was headed. Everything.

  • Michael Pryor, who has a new book out soon, has provided some cool tips for DIY booktrailers. Possibly the hardest part is getting someone to watch it, neh?
  • And Stephen M Irwin talks about the three acts of a narrative, the kind of basic info that I really should staple to the wall above my computer before I start the next project…
    Act 1: make it matter
    Act 2: make it messy
    Act 3: make it meaningful
    I can’t help feeling that it’s Act 3 that lets a lot of stories down. Boom, crash is all very well and lots of fun, but the stories that linger are the ones that reach down deep and make us ask those ‘what if’ questions.

    Back to the fairytales, then, and one of the coolest Disney villains: magnificent Maleficent!

  • Stormlord Rising, Snow Crash, Kraken, The Broken Ones, Phoenix Rising: one of these things is not like the others

    Posted in books, fantasy, horror, review, science fiction with tags , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2011 by jason nahrung

    Recent reading:

    stormlord rising by glenda larke

    Glenda Larke’s Stormlord Rising, book 2 of the Watergivers series, and quite superb. Just like book 1, The Last Stormlord (reviewed here). In which Larke beautifully uses landscape to sculpt her cultures, right down to the vernacular. Gives religion a thumping, stage-manages her rather large cast very well, manages to cause her characters a few headaches along the way as well. I was particularly chuffed at how book 2 feels quite self contained, while still managing to provide plenty of reasons to read book 3. Which I will do, very shortly.

    snow crash by neal stephenson

    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Fair to say that this, along with William Gibson’s Neuromancer (gushed about here), is a core plank of cyberpunk? Still holds up, after all these years, even if no one has bothered to fix that bothersome literal role/roll model. Coolest pizza delivery peeps evah! Will soon be lining up for his massive Reamde – wish me luck.

    kraken by china mieville

    Kraken, what passes for a romp in the land of far-too-talented China Mieville. A little cloudy in its cleverness in places — inky, one could say — as a vibrantly realised magical London (nice nod to a previous short story concerning cartography, too) and uber-clever dialogue as cults and other interested parties are caught up in the tentacles of a plot to bring about apocalypse. Evolutionary stuff!

    the broken ones by stephen irwin

    The Broken Ones, in which Stephen M Irwin gives Brissie a haunted makeover while trashing the place. Occult conspiracies, a tenacious detective and true chills. It’s Irwin’s second novel and, IMHO, shows the maturation of a mighty promising talent. I’ve burbled on about this one over at ASiF. I’m quite looking forward to Irwin’s next book.

    phoenix rising

    And then there’s Phoenix Rising, by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. Sadly, a few factors combined to hobble my reading of this one, the first in a series. I say sadly because I was, despite the steampunk lingerie on the cover, really quite keen, thanks to the combination of a Kiwi heroine and rather spiffy dialogue. But then there’s the solo attack in Antarctica carried out in thigh-high boots and a fur coat, the willy nilly distribution of literal and spelling errors, the (non-authorial) disconcerting use of American spelling in a story about a Commonwealth agency in Victorian London: I do hope the new world order of international publishing isn’t all about the lowest common denominator (that’s you, America, or rather, it’s not ‘u’). It certainly isn’t about proofreading, is it? Anyway, maybe it was my flu making me more ornery than usual, but I just couldn’t wade through the glibness and clumsiness. I’ll keep it on hand for another shot, because I really do like that librarian, sorry, archivist, on the cover sipping tea.
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