A prize for Watermarks, the thesis

It is an absolute thrill to be able to share the news that my PhD thesis, (short title) “Watermarks”, has been awarded the Aurealis Awards Convenors’ Award for Excellence.

The award, to quote the Aurealis website:

is awarded at the discretion of the convenors for a particular achievement in speculative fiction or related areas in that year that cannot otherwise by judged for the Aurealis Awards.

This award can be given to a work of non-fiction, artwork, film, television, electronic or multimedia work, or one that brings credit or attention to the speculative fiction genres.

To be more accurate, I guess, it was the exegesis that received the award, as the creative component was not included; the judges considered the non-fiction element of the thesis only.

The thesis, minus the creative component, is available to read at Academica.edu. In short, again borrowing from the AA website, the thesis

examines the benefits of the application of science fiction approaches and tropes to climate fiction with the aim of breaking down barriers to understanding climate change and adopting mitigation measures. In particular, it looks at mosaic fiction, and examines three Australian texts – Things We Didn’t See Coming (Amsterdam), Clade (Bradley) and Nightsiders (Isle) – as case studies that draw on the mosaic form and SF to create affective and effective climate fiction

Unfortunately, I had already made plans for the night of the awards (25 July 2020) when the date was announced, and it never occurred to me to send in an acceptance speech on the off-chance. My apologies, and gratitude, again to the hardworking crew who make these awards happen. And heartfelt thanks to my supervisors at The University of Queensland for their brilliant support, my wife for putting up with a PhD student in the house, and all those others who helped ferry me along the journey. The award is a lovely postscript to a challenging and rewarding endeavour.

I’ve been to so many Aurealis Awards nights because they are such a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Australian speculative fiction, and just catch up; I’m especially bummed to have not been (tele)present at the one ceremony where I actually won something!

Do check out the full list of finalists to get an idea of what’s happening in the field; it’s a great reading list.

Manuscript and editing services available

The new financial year seems an auspicious time to hang out my shingle in the editing arena.

Helping writers with their manuscripts is something I enjoy and have skills in, and with newspaper journalism going down the gurgler, now is a good time to diversify.

The awarding of my doctorate in creative writing (UQ, 2019) has encouraged the expansion of my freelance editing work.

This builds on a 30-year career in newspaper journalism, much as a sub-editor with skills in grammar, punctuation, spelling and clarity of expression, and a decade of providing editing and manuscript services to professional bodies, publishers and fiction writers. My own experience as a published writer further informs my practice.

You can find out more here.

Wollemi Dreaming – a new story

Wollemi pines. Picture: NPWS via AAP

Yes, for the first time since finishing the PhD, I’ve written — and sold — a short story. Whew.

‘Wollemi Dreaming’ was written in response to a call-out for an anthology called Oz Is Burning, by US publisher B-Cubed Press, with a brief of a fire-related apocalypse/post-apocalypse setting.

The theme of this anthology struck a spark, and it landed in tinder: images of the Black Summer bushfires still burning at the time this story was written and the incredible efforts of specialist firefighters in protecting the unique Wollemi pine stand in New South Wales; climate change; and crimes against our First Nations peoples. It’s not so hard to imagine the hubris of the wealthy privileged preying on the desperate to destroy part of our natural world that others risked their lives to save. But this story lets nature defend itself.

Here’s the full table of contents, which includes a couple of pals — huzzah!

And Gaia Screams by Ann Poore
Across the Ditch by Clare Rhoden
Burn, Burn! by Almas Alexander
Red Sky at Morning by Sue Bursztynski
Fires of the Heart by E.E. King
Pay Back by Alex Isle
By the Grace of God by Harold Gross
Should Fire Remember the Fuel by Kyla Lee Ward
Welcoming the End by Aura Redwood
Beef by Zena Shapter
The Last Wish by Lauren E. Mitchell
Wollemi Dreaming by Jason Nahrung
Firestorm Sounds by Suzanne Newnham
Red Sky, Blue Dream by Jack Dann
Infestation by Paula Boer
Writing on the Wall by Gillian Polack
Dire Insurance by Jared Kavanaugh
Divorce by Donna J.W. Munro
Inconvenient Visitor by Lucy Sussex
Burning Hearts by Eleanor Whitworth
Harvest by Narrelle M. Harris
A Town Called Hope by Silvia Brown

Cover to come, and the anthology to be available this year, with a portion of the profit to go to a bushfire charity: [update: WIRES]. Bravo, B-Cubed. I look forward to seeing the finished article!

Festivals going online

calendarThe calendar of Australian literary events is piling up with cancellations and postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but numerous writing organisations are heading online to keep the words flowing and the connections intact.

I’ve listed festivals offering online programming at the top of the calendar as well as in chronological order, and I’m curating a page at Ballarat Writers listing activities available online, such as joining in spoken word and poetry gigs, tuning in to award ceremonies, and listening to readings.

Please share recommendations here.

Swancon cancels

swancon convention logo 2020
I’ve just heard that the national science fiction convention, being hosted by the annual Swancon convention in Perth April 25-27, has cancelled for this year.

It’s a preemptive strike against the coronavirus outbreak and, while it’s the first literary event to be cancelled due to that threat, it possibly won’t be the last. I’ll do my best to keep abreast of it for the 2020 literary event calendar, but feel free to let me know of any you hear of (or any events I’ve not got listed!).

Swancon is offering to carry the tickets for this year on to next year, or a refund. See the website for more.

From the page to a coffee table – They Are Us is open

Neale Thompson, who made the exquisite coffee table in the background drawing on my piece 'Ghosts of Us'

Neale Thompson, who made the coffee table in the background drawing on my piece ‘Ghosts of Us’. Picture: Kirstyn McDermott

The They Are Us collaborative ekphrastic art exhibition filled the room for its official opening on February 27, and it was quite the night.

It was very rewarding indeed to see, after a year of development, how the artists from Soldiers Hill Artist Collective had used the short stories and poems of our team of writers working under the Words Out Loud banner as inspiration for such as wide range of art on the theme of They Are Us.

And I was especially chuffed to see the exquisite coffee table (with terrarium, a so delicate world balanced on the surface) made by Neale Thompson in response to my melancholy (shock!) ‘Ghosts of Us’. It even has wildlife carved into its pattern as a special treat.

Part of the audience at the launch of They Are Us

The combined works comfortably fill the generous space at the Lounge Gallery, Billy’s Bar, at the Mercure at 613 Main Rd, Ballarat, and the launch crowd comfortably filled the room! Lovely to see some red dots on the walls by the end of the evening, too!

City of Ballarat’s deputy mayor, Cr Belinda Coates, again showed her appreciation of not just the exhibition and the project’s collaborative nature, but the role of art itself at a defining time in history.

Reuben Morgan (of the BallaRat Pack), who composed a gorgeous piece for the previous WOL-SHAC collaboration Weathering the Future in 2018, has again written a bespoke theme piece. He was unfortunately unable to perform it on the night, but a recording of the work (about seven minutes in three movements) played during the launch shows a piece well worth a closer listen when it becomes available as he reflects on the refugee experience.

We’re particularly grateful to Radmac Office Choice in Ballarat for the generous donation of foam core board on which to display the written works and to Robert Young Signs for their contribution.

The exhibition runs from February 24 to April 5.

They Are Us – an exhibition of words made art

They Are Us exhibition logoIt’s only two weeks until the official opening of the They Are Us ekphrastic art exhibition, and it’s getting exciting!

The exhibition has been a year in the making, combining the talents of 20 Central Highlands writers and the Soldiers Hill Artist Collective.

It’s a follow-on to the Weathering the Future exhibition of 2018. I curated that one as part of the City of Ballarat’s community arts program but this time around SHAC has been in the driving seat and I’ve had only to wrangle the writing side of the event (and that’s no chore at all; these writers rock!).

The idea this time was for the writers to go first, producing flash fiction and poetry on SHAC’s chosen theme of “They Are Us”, and then the artists were randomly given the written work to use as inspiration.

They’ve responded with a range of media, including photography, painting, linocut, woodwork and weaving.

I can’t wait to see what they’ve done!

Kirstyn and I hit 99.9 Voice FM last night with SHAC’s Neale Thompson to talk to The Arts Program about the exhibition, so got to hear how Neale went about the process of translating my 100-odd word story into a coffee table. Terrific stuff! It’ll be great to see it in the flesh (or the red gum, more specifically).

We’ve been fortunate to have the support of the Mercure Ballarat as a gallery space — they’re generous and throw a great launch party, and Radmac Office Choice in Ballarat has supplied foam core board for the mounting of the written work, which has relieved some of the burden on the purse strings.

The exhibition runs February 24 to April 5 with the launch on February 27 at 6.30pm. We’re chuffed to have Reuben Morgan again performing an original piece of music inspired by the theme – his performance at Weathering the Future was amazing – and City of Ballarat councillor Belinda Coates doing the honours. It should be a huge night. All welcome!
 

Kirstyn McDermott, Jason Nahrung and Neale Thompson spruiking They Are Us at Voice FM’s The Arts Program.


 

2020 Calendar of Australian Literary Events

calendarWhile there are still plenty of events on offer this year, next year’s calendar is already getting busy, and so the calendar of Australian literary events for 2020 is now online! Of particular interest is the shift of the Bendigo Writers Festival to May from August (dates to come). As always, updates, notifications and corrections are appreciated.

Walking and wordage: finale

The September challenges have ended (the official ones, anyway) and it was a case of success and not so much on the two fronts.

The good news was the successful completion of Steptember, with all team members notching up their average 10,000 steps a day – and then some! – for the 28 days as well as, thanks to a last-day act of generosity, achieving our $500 fundraising total in support of those with cerebral palsy.

The added benefit of the exercise (all the exercise!) was making me aware of how sedentary I can be when I’m not clomping to the station for work, so the plan (failed already) is to try to do at least 6000 steps a day regardless of what else is on. So I’ll keep the step counter on the phone to nudge me along.

On the other hand (foot?), the wordage for Writers Victoria’s #30kin30days never really took off, in line with expectations, but I still managed to end up with 5000-odd words on the page for Project Whimsy.

It’s formative stuff, trying to write into the time and the characters, and I’ve kept all of the prompts and exercises supplied by Writers Victoria to work through – hopefully this month.

Usually when the words aren’t flowing it means the project isn’t ready: characters aren’t realised, setting’s not solid, story isn’t geared up. A little research and more plotting and character work are called for before the fun stuff can start.

My aim would be to have a draft by the end of the year, but I’m trying to not put too much pressure on it. I also don’t have a word limit, so it can be as long as it needs to be to tell the story. Let’s see how it all goes!

 

Flowers in the footpath

Flowers in the footpath – I think there’s a message in there.