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: Alison Goodman

alison goodmanALISON GOODMAN is the author of four novels including EON and EONA, a New York Times bestselling fantasy duology. She won the Aurealis award for Best Fantasy Novel (EON aka The Two Pearls of Wisdom) and for Best Young Adult novel (Singing the Dogstar Blues), and was the DJ O’Hearn Memorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. The first book in her new historical/supernatural series, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club, is due out in January 2016.
Visit Alison’s website at


1. Some might think that having a book release date set back is a lemon. How have you been making lemonade from the delay in Lady Helen’s debut from this year to early 2016?

Lemonade from lemons, huh? Well, on that note I can’t be too sour about the set back of the first release date since it is mainly for my benefit. My new series is a historical/supernatural trilogy set in the Regency and my publishers want to release a book a year to maintain the series momentum. That doesn’t quite fit with my writing speed – it takes me about 18 months to write a novel that I am happy to have out in the world – so we have decided to ‘front-load’ the books. That is, when Book 1 is published in January 2016, Book 2 will already be finished, and I will have started Book 3. That way, we can release a Lady Helen book each year and I can write at my best pace and not implode from deadline stress. Admittedly it is a very long wait for the first book to come out – it is already written and edited – but in the end, I think the delay will work in favour of the series. Not only does it enable me to keep to that preferred one book a year momentum, but the longer lead time has already been worked into the marketing plans of my various publishers.

2. As part of your Lady Helen research, you’ve been embracing the Austen aesthetic: so how do you balance a modern sensibility with that older sense?

It is a fascinating process. While I want to maintain a modern sensibility for my modern readers, I also want to create a world that feels authentic. I also want my main character, Lady Helen, to be a woman of her time, but still maintain the empathy and identification of today’s reader. It is why I have chosen to write the novels in third person point of view: there is more narrative room to make subtle comment on the world. I am also trying to keep to the worldview of that time as much as possible and not overlay 21st century concepts on to my early 19th century characters. Interestingly, however, the western world had just gone through the Enlightenment, which more or less was the foundation of modern sensibility, particularly the ideas of individualism (the importance of the individual and his/her inborn rights) and relativism (the idea that different beliefs, cultures and ideas have equal merit). That gives me a bit of wriggle room in regards to the characters’ perspectives on self and environment. In terms of the style of the novel, I have developed a subtle syntax to give that early 19th century cadence, but always with an eye to the books being an accessible and fun read. I’m also enjoying the language, which adds a lot of flavour. I get to use words like sapskull and fustian, and my favourite, Gadzooks!

eon by alison goodman
3. Your stories consistently show superb plotting – things happen when they need to happen, and are never inexplicable. To what detail do you design your narratives, and what advice do you have for plotters?

Thank you – I spend a lot of time thinking about the design of a story and try to make the events feel inevitable but also, at the same time, surprising. Before I start writing, I ask myself a number of questions: what starts the action of the story, where to place it, what is the mid-point, how does that lead into the climax, what is the action around the big climactic decision? I ask these questions (and many more) all through the planning stage, through the research stage, and then all through the writing stage. They are not static; throughout the creation of the novel there is a constant dialogue between the plot that I want to build and the characters that I have created. Plot and character inform each other, so while I do plan my plot before I start writing, I also accept that it is an organic process and my careful planning will inevitably shift and bend around character psychology.

My best bit of advice to plotters is to really think through your character motivations: make them as strong and as logical as possible, in terms of each character’s psychology. Take the time to trace back why your characters have made those particular decisions, and if any of the decisions don’t make sense or are weak, then look that weakness square in the eye and ask yourself: is this character making this decision only because the author needs that plot point? If the answer is yes, then don’t let yourself off the hook. Return to the drawing board: either you need to create a character whose motivations and decisions will fulfill that particular plot point in a satisfying way, or adjust the plot point to fit the character you have already created.

eona aka necklace of the gods by alison goodman

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I was fortunate enough to be given preview copies of Garth Nix’s new novel Clariel, and Trudi Canavan’s Thief’s Magic. They are both cracker reads.

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?

The recent changes haven’t really affected the way that I work, but they’ve certainly affected the way that I publish and think about my career. The rise of the e-book has given authors a way to revive backlists and return-of-rights books, as well as bypass traditional publishing models for new work. I e-published my crime novel A New Kind of Death (traditionally published in the US as Killing The Rabbit) alongside a print edition from Clan Destine Press, and I am investigating the idea of collecting my short stories into an e-anthology. I would never have been thinking along those lines five years ago.

Five years from now, I will have just finished writing and trad-publishing the Lady Helen novels and either be thinking about the next three Lady Helen novels in the series, or starting another project. I have a feeling I will also be working on some shorter works to go straight into e-format. I really like the idea of following up a novel (or a series) with shorter adjunct pieces set in the same world. There are often so many possible paths in a series that you have to resist if you want to maintain the narrative drive, but it would be great to be able to play-out those little gems in shorter works and publish them in e-format.

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: Guy Salvidge

guy salvidgeGUY SALVIDGE was born in England in 1981 and moved to Western Australia in 1990. His first novel, The Kingdom of Four Rivers, was published in 2009 and his second, Yellowcake Springs, won the 2011 IP Picks Best Fiction Award and was shortlisted for the 2012 Norma K Hemming Award. Yellowcake Summer was published in 2013. Guy is currently working on a crime novel, Thirsty Work, and he is the co-editor (with Andrez Bergen) of The Tobacco Stained Sky: An Anthology of Post Apocalyptic Noir. His short stories have been published in Alien Sky, The Tobacco-Stained Sky, Tincture Journal and The Great Unknown. He lives in the Avon Valley with his wife and children. Visit him online at or


1. You have two novels – the second, Yellowcake Summer, came out last year – dealing with the prospect of a nuclear power plant in WA in the near future. Do you think science fiction is particularly well placed to comment on social and economic policy such as this?

yellowcake summer by guy salvidgeYellowcake Springs and Yellowcake Summer were written, in part, in response to the WA State Government’s desire to allow uranium mining to resume, something I was and remain resolutely opposed to. Speculative fiction has had, since at least the time of Mary Shelley, the capacity to offer grim warnings to the contemporary generation. George Orwell certainly didn’t think of himself as a science fiction writer and yet 1984 is more relevant today than it has ever been. One of the dangers, of course, is that those warnings can become dated very quickly. The Fukushima disaster did more to damage the nuclear power industry than my humble attempts at scaremongering ever could, but I was glad to try.

2. You’ve had a couple of short stories out starring Tyler Bramble, dealing again with a near future dystopia. Is there a bigger picture to his story that you’re working on, or otherwise a reason for the recurrence?

The first Tyler Bramble story, ‘The Dying Rain’, was written at the request of Andrez Bergen who was putting together a themed anthology of ‘post-apocalyptic noir’. I enjoyed writing this story so much that I wrote two more, ‘Blue Swirls’ and ‘A Void’, which have since been published in Tincture Journal and The Great Unknown. I saw the stories as transitional in my own development as a writer in that they combined speculative and crime fiction tropes. I’m planning on writing straight crime from now on. I’d like to take Tyler Bramble for another spin at some point though. He was good fun.

3. Earlier this year you landed a writer in residence gig in WA, during which you were working on a new novel, Thirsty Work. How did you find the W-in-R experience, and how’s the novel coming along – what are your plans for it?

I’ve been lucky enough to complete two residencies in the past 18 months, at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Centre last year and at the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA) this past April. It normally takes me two years to write a reasonable draft of a novel, but those two residencies allowed me to complete Thirsty Work in just one year.

The residencies were incredibly enjoyable and productive times for me and I highly recommend applying for them. I have been surprised to discover that most Australian states don’t seem to offer much in the way of paid residencies, so WA might be something of a leader in this regard.

Thirsty Work is notionally finished for now, which means that it’s ready to start doing the rounds with publishers and competitions. Fingers crossed I’ll have some good news to report on that front in the near future.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

This past year I’ve been enamoured with the novels of Peter Temple, especially An Iron Rose, The Broken Shore and Truth. I’ve also been impressed by other Aussie crime writers in David Whish-Wilson, Alan Carter and Robert Schofield. In the speculative arena, I very much enjoyed reading works by the likes of Angela Meyer, Andrez Bergen, Anthony Panegyres and Meg Mundell.

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 try to ignore the doomsayers in publishing as much as possible. I think it’s a mistake to lose heart. Reading and writing will continue with or without the publishing field that has existed in recent decades. I doubt the situation will be very much changed within five years, although I’m sure many publishers and booksellers will have gone under in that time. That’s sad, but I very much doubt that the printed book will be extinct anytime soon. It may eventually become akin to the record in the music arena, something of a collector’s item. I’ve had a Kindle for 3-4 years now, but I still read more than 90 per cent of my books in printed form.


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


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: Charlotte Nash

charlotte nashCHARLOTTE NASH is an Australian writer with degrees in engineering and medicine, and an eclectic past in technical industry. Her short stories range from near-future cyberpunk to contemporary fantasy, and have been published in Every Day Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Electric Spec, Dimension6, Dreaming of Djinn (Ticonderoga) and Use Only as Directed (Peggy Bright Books). She is also the best-selling author of rural medical romance novels (Hachette) and teaches creative writing at The University of Queensland. She confesses a special love for motorbikes, heavy machinery and mock cream donuts, and isn’t sure which is more dangerous. Find out more at


1. You have two rural medical romance novels out with Hachette (and a third on the way) – did that kind of take you by surprise?

Hehe … you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But no. They’re all my stories. I’ve always read and written across the board as far as genre goes. I’m happy switching between reading Neal Stephenson and Jilly Cooper, and writing cyberpunk and contemporary romance. Good stories are good stories …

My spec fic writing is actually what got me my introduction to my publisher – it just happens they bought my contemporary fiction. Besides, I managed to sneak more than passing references to Firefly, Jurassic Park, engineers and Starship Troopers into my romances – like I said, they’re my stories! Genre switching is definitely a branding problem for book-selling, one I’m going to have to look at managing, but it’s not an identity problem for me as a writer.

2. In your comments accompanying your story ‘The Message’ in Dimension6, you talk about the lure of subversion mirrored against your varied background of experience. Is speculative fiction the natural home of subversion? Is that what brought you here?

The nature of spec fic almost demands stories about subversive ideas and actions – making points about the shortcomings of the status quo, the dangers of particular systems, or the hopes of a different way. (I also hope that’s true of all fiction – it was important to me to subvert some ideas in my romance novels too). But it’s not the reason I’m here – not consciously, anyway. I write spec fic because I loved Michael Crichton as a teenager, and then I found Huxley and Orwell; later came Neal Stephenson who blew my mind. Then Ted Chiang and so many others. I’m here because I was inspired by those who came before, and I stay because I love it.

inflight magazine asim 593. Your novella The Ship’s Doctor balances space travel, action and a little romance. Is that a sign of things to come, or are you off to subvert an entirely new genre?

I tend to write spec fic in two camps – the space opera style things like The Ship’s Doctor, then the on-earth stuff, which tends towards punk but is sometimes fantasy. The Ship’s Doctor was actually the first thing I ever had published (I self-published a new edition when I got the rights back as an experiment), and I’ve had reasonable success with other short fiction since then. I have continued to write spec fic in short form, even while I’ve been writing commercial fiction novels. And I’ll keep doing that.

My latest thing is what I’d call agricultural cyberpunk. I’m writing a novel that blends speculation about the future of food and two characters whose relationship I find very interesting. It’s currently half-written, and I desperately want to get it done, although I have no idea what I’ll do with it. ‘Blue ICE’ (a novellette, my most recent publication) (in ASIM #59: JN) is actually a prequel story for the novel.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Most of them are actually unpublished! (I do a huge amount of manuscript reading for students, and some of them blow me away.) But in published works, I recently (finally) read Sara Douglass’s The Hall of Lost Footsteps. An amazing collection, and her essay in the back about her experience with dying is essential reading. Besides that, Kim Wilkins’ The Year of Ancient Ghosts – incredible.

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 don’t know that it’s changed the way I work. It has made me consider, however, the appropriate channels for the things I’m writing – whether to self-publish my speculative fiction, for instance.

The one thing related to changes in publishing that’s influenced me hugely (and not positively) is increased emphasis on social media. It’s the most destructive thing for my creative ventures. I’ve had to manage my use of social media actively and savagely to prevent it damaging my work. As a result, I don’t engage much with Facebook, Twitter or any of those platforms – and I think that’s the right choice for me. I’m happy to trade whatever I lose in sales (and that’s questionable) by not always being available in order to preserve my output and mental well-being!

In five years, I hope to be: still writing spec fic short stories, have two spec fic novels out, as well as a contemporary novel each year. I hope I will have improved in my craft. The industry is fickle, though. I’m conscious my hopes may not meet with reality. But I’ll still be reading widely.


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: Cheryse Durrant

cheryse durrantDead fingers curled around an ancient crypt and a love of Celtic mythology were the two inspirations behind CHERYSE DURRANT’s The Blood She Betrayed, the first book in her Heart Hunter series. Durrant grew up on an Australian cattle farm where she chatted to scrub faeries and an imaginary superhero. She wrote her first story on her aunt’s bedroom wall but it did not attract the literary acclaim she deserved. She has since worked a variety of jobs from barmaid and dental assistant to journalist and PR guru. The coffee/chocolate/strawberry addict has won and placed in a number of writing competitions and lives on the central Queensland coast where she teaches writing through Creative Dragons and is a huge WriteFest fan.
Cheryse loves chatting on Facebook, Twitter @CheryseDurrant, and her website.

1. Your debut novel, The Blood She Betrayed, was released last year by Clan Destine Press. Based on your experience, what advice do you have for others looking down the barrel of having their first book published?

Don’t sweat the small things – and every thing is a small thing. Enjoy the journey and celebrate each of those ‘first time’ moments (the first time you see your cover artwork, the first time you see it in print). Most of all, stay disciplined and keep writing. It’s harder to make time to write once the published author merry-go-round starts, so get creative and remember why this is important to you. After all, this writing gig nourishes our souls. That’s why we write (and attend conventions). Finally, keep a detailed daily diary. Not only is it awesome for tax purposes but it’s a great reminder of who you met when and that can be a great source of inspiration. It also shows that you are a professional author, living the dream.
2. The Blood She Betrayed was a finalist for the favourite Science Ficton, Fantasy or Futuristic Romance award at the Australian Romance Readers conference this year. How do you find it, having a book that belongs to at least two genre communities?

I feel very privileged that it’s found a home in both these genre communities because I belong to both communities. I love STORY, whether it comes gift-wrapped as fantasy, crime, horror – as long as the author transports me to another world where the characters are real and the storyline compelling. My fave reads often include romance or strong romantic elements because this explores an added dimension of character and ups the plot ante. It’ll disappoint some romance readers because it’s not romantic enough and it’ll disappoint some spec fic fans because there’s too much romance, but I’m not expecting a sci fi military lover to be picking up my book (unless he’s also got a hankering for quests, urban fantasy and teen female warriors). As a genre fan myself, I love being able to do things like pay homage to my fave books, TV and pop culture within my writing, for example, I always mention Dr Who in each of my Heart Hunters books. My publisher not only approved this but eagerly endorsed it. She did remove other references that she feared would jade too quickly in a dust-collecting novel.

What has been an interesting challenge for me as far as genres has been positioning The Blood She Betrayed within the young adult and the newly evolving new adult genre ranks. This novel’s a story about an Earth guy helping an other-world girl on a fantasy quest in Brisbane so it ticks the superficial boxes of urban fantasy, cross fantasy, action, mystery, romance, adventure. The main characters are both 17. My publisher positioned the novel as young adult (14+), along the lines of The Mortal Instruments series, and I have pre-teens (especially boys) who love it, but there’s some Dymocks stores in Melbourne that only stock my debut novel on adult shelves because it’s ‘too sexualised’. Meanwhile, there’s adult readers who’ll never read my book because ‘they don’t like young adult’ (because it’s typically too angsty). Maybe this is the same dilemma facing all authors – whatever cross (or sub) genre labels deliberately or inadvertently tagged to our book will ultimately attract certain readers and repel others, based on their own personal experiences with that genre.

On saying that, I love the fandom that comes from having spec fic and, especially, young adult fans. These are the readers who (quite unexpectedly) pay homage to my novel by sending me hand-drawn artwork of my characters or writing their own TBSB fan fic. There was even a miniature copy of The Blood She Betrayed featured in a State of Origin diorama that won a prize earlier this year. Who would have thought my novel would have anything to do with sport? Finally, some of my girlfriends organised The Blood She Betrayed T-shirts for their toddler and primary school aged children. The words scrawled across their chest, ‘Too young to read it, but excited enough to wear it’, were appropriately positioned above the cover image of TBSB. I love how some people who read my book pay homage by reinventing my story in ways I’d have never considered. It’s both humbling and flattering – and you wouldn’t find that as often in the socially accepted mainstream genres.
3. You’ve still got volumes in the Heart Hunters series to come. Have you got them all planned out, or are you winging it?

I’m a pantser and a big ideas girl. I start with an idea (and a picture or scene in my mind) and it’s soon pouring out into a long-winding series of complicated characters and plotlines. The Blood She Betrayed was different. My goal there was to pen a complete, stand-alone book because I kept on thinking in extended palettes, but was told that publishers were more interested in single-title books (even though once you’re published, they then want you to churn out more). I disciplined myself to write one story, one book only. Then, as soon as I wrote ‘the end’, the second two books tumbled out onto the page (as far as full synopses) within two days. Thwarted. Again. But it was meant to be because the Book 2/3 plotlines brought everything from the first book together. All the questions finally answered. All the quests and problems solved. I’m still ironing out minor plot problems, etc, as I write these next two books but the story is very strong and clear to me. The fourth book in the Heart Hunter series is totally different. This book’s main character is a minor character from Books 1 and 2, and I still don’t know if her story will span one or two or three books. I’m looking forward to being able to winging it again. I love a seat-of-my-pants journey. It’s delicious.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I haven’t read enough published books in the past few months to give this a decent answer BUT I am very excited about some of the many unpublished manuscripts that I’ve been reading. One of these is the debut novel of WriteFest volunteer and Benaraby gal Sue-Ellen Pashley. Her YA storyline took my breath away. It’s simple, complex and gut-wrenchingly beautiful. She didn’t need to rely on a complicated plot to make it compelling and it’s as Australian as the Nargun and the Stars. There is nothing more delicious than reading a friend’s emerging manuscript and knowing she’s nailed her story and nailed her voice. It’s an inspiration for everyone on that emerging writer/author journey. Just keep stepping towards your goal, one paver at a time. You can’t imagine where those pavers will lead you. I’m looking forward to reading more of Sue-Ellen’s manuscripts and I know she’ll find an agent/publisher very soon.

I’m also eagerly anticipating the publication of a score of books by new Clan Destine Press siblings, including Jason Nahrung’s Blood and Dust and The Big Smoke. I’ve always been a huge fan of Nahrung’s work (:P) so it’s awesome to be part of the same stable now, even if our thoroughbreds run at different race meets.

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?

My imagination is fickle so I’ve always written across various genres and age groups. For me, it’s about writing the story that’s inside you right now (though I suspect that spec fic will always remain my first love).

I think the recent changes in the publishing industry mean authors have greater choices in how and what we want to write. Traditional publishers have, in the past, railroaded authors into specific and limiting genres and sub-genres, based on what’s most commercially successful for the publishing company. I have friends who stopped writing, full stop, because the publisher was only interested in them writing a certain series or genre. After years of complying, they became disillusioned and burnt out. Today’s publishing dynamics gives authors the chance to explore genres and media. A traditionally published author can also write books in a different genre and publish elsewhere or self-publish. We are coming into our own. We suddenly have more control, more choices and better negotiating rights. Of course, with that freedom comes a backlash but we’re aware enough to go down that path, if we’re authentic.

The changing dynamics also means that every person, the common man, can write that book inside them and share with a public audience, if they’re willing to make the time. The digital age has brought arts and culture full circle. Once upon a time, it was common for bards and musicians to play amongst a small group of people in a common pub or home. Story and song was as common as the air that every person breathed. The building of theatres, the printing of books, created an elitism that stole art from the common man and placed it on a pedestal. This digital age brings art back to the people, fulfilling the domino effect that the penny dreadfuls started. The only risk now is that our stories and voices will be lost in a sea of billions of voices. I’m not sure if this makes it good or bad.

For me, I have a lot of projects on the boil in the next five to ten years. There’s quite a few books and trilogies that I wrote as I was learning the writing craft and I’d now like to rewrite, including a gorgeous children’s fantasy series that is tempting me away from Heart Hunters. I fear also that I should be putting more time into pursuing new writing ideas but I’ve trained myself too well to stick to my work in progress. I think a little bit of time for a new story in my life could do me good. Above all, I just want to make more time to read because between full-time work, contracts on the side, helping run the family business and health issues, there hasn’t been a lot of time for reading this year and what nourishes the soul better than soaking up other people’s ideas and journeys?


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: Sean McMullen

sean mcmullenSEAN McMULLEN lives in Melbourne, Australia, but has been published mostly in the USA and Europe. He has had 20 books and 80 stories published, has won 15 awards, and was runner-up for Best Novelette in the 2011 Hugo Awards. His writing is often steampunk in theme and his breakthrough novel, Souls in the Great Machine, featured a future Australia ruled by a caste of psychopathic librarians using a human-powered computer and internet. His most recent publications are e-book collections from Reanimus Press: Ghosts of Engines Past (steampunk) and Colours of the Soul (SF and fantasy). Sean works with large scientific computers in his day job, has a PhD in medieval fantasy literature, and is a karate instructor at the Melbourne University club. Before he began writing he was a professional actor and singer, and he can be heard reading some of his own stories at his website


1. Your story ‘Hard Cases’ has been made into a short film. What was the process like of seeing your words translated to the screen?

It was nostalgia at first, because when I was an undergraduate I had become an actor and singer. Being on set for Hard Cases brought all that back, but this time I had done the script. That said, I particularly enjoyed developing the script further with the director and actors, it was as if the story and characters had escaped from my hands and taken on lives of their own.

I originally had Mrs Medic as a burlesque, jolly sort of character, but Eve Morey decided to play her as a tentative, uneasy apprentice executioner, someone who found the idea of killing a fellow human a bit confronting. The actors decided to play Mr Judge and Mr Drake more or less as I had them in the script, but their personalities were still different to my original idea.

I was surprised when the director, Terry Shepherd, asked me to play Mr Guard, a cameo part. He wanted Mr Guard to seem like an old colleague of Mr Judge (Mike Bishop), and because I look about the same age as Mike, I got the role. You would think that I would play one of my own characters just as I had written him, but no, as the script evolved, Mr Guard had to adapt to fit in.

Hard Cases was basically about ordinary people having to give up luxuries and conveniences that harm the environment and chew up resources in the long term. However, people don’t like to be reminded that their SUVs, jetskis and huge, centrally heated houses are indulgences that cannot be part of a sustainable future, so while everyone who has seen it has said it was very well scripted and produced, we could not get exposure for it. I suppose Hard Cases was a messenger that got executed because it had an unwelcome message.

Still, it was a great experience, and I have gone on to more involvement with the television industry since then. Hard Cases was made by professionals, and with very high production values, so perhaps it will be rediscovered in a more sympathetic future.

2. You’ve been making audio versions of some of your short stories, including music, some of which you’ve played yourself. Is this a way of combining at least two of your loves?

It certainly is. I had not thought about doing audio recordings until I met Terry Shepherd, who directed Hard Cases. He taught me the basic techniques of professional recording and sound engineering, and loaned me equipment to experiment with. I bought my own H4n and began to put readings on my website by August 2013.

Many authors have told me that they tried doing recordings of their own fiction, but the results sounded a bit iffy so they gave up. That’s because doing good readings require a lot of acting skills and experience. I learned singing and acting from professionals like Lucy Altman and George Whaley, then spent years on stage professionally. Few authors have that sort of background.

I use music in my readings to set the mood and provide scene breaks. Sometimes that’s only a matter of picking up my concertina or guitar, and sometimes my friends like Ann Poore, Graeme Smith and Peter Parkhill let me use recordings of their music in my readings. Unlike live-on-stage recordings, I can do half a dozen takes of a piece and select the one with fewest mistakes.

There is one annoying aspect of getting good at audio work, though. While I have learned to appreciate really good readings by people like Sir Tony Robinson, Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams, a lot of my old favourite readings by some other quite famous people – that I would rather not name – have started to sound a bit mediocre.

ghosts of engines past by sean mcmullen3. In the snapshot of 2012, you mentioned you were working on scripts, but had an idea for a Regency steampunk novel, and you’ve had short stories out in the meantime, too. What are you up to at the moment?

I started that Regency steampunk novel, but it soon became an espionage adventure rather than steampunk, and that was not what I wanted to write. Since then I have actually written or outlined several novels, but they did not have quite the same edge as Souls in the Great Machine or Voyage of the Shadowmoon so I dropped them as well.

Because of the deluge of genre fiction that is now easily and cheaply available, it is no longer good enough to just write an okay novel. It has to be great, and it has to be at least as good as your best or you can lose readers very easily. I know more about late Victorian literature and technology than that of the Regency, so I have moved on to a series of stories set in the 1890s. They are developing into a novel all by themselves, so this is looking like my next novel.

I have also been advising two other very talented people with their first novels. It’s quite a challenge to keep my hands off their ways of writing things, and it seems to be a good way of loosening up my own style. Writers tend to develop methods for themselves, then stick to those methods too closely because they work. This cuts you off from methods that might work better, however.

Novels aside, Reanimus Press published two collections of my short fiction last year, Ghosts of Engines Past and Colours of the Soul. Ghosts was steampunk, while Colours was more traditional science fiction and fantasy. This was my first foray into the electronic/print-on-demand market, so I was a bit dubious about their prospects, but they have been selling unexpectedly well so I’m not complaining.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

This is a hard one to answer. Over the past few months I have read two stories and a novel that I have really loved, but all three have been unpublished works that were given to me for my opinion.

Generally speaking, the Australian scene has grown too big for anyone to follow, so I only read a few local authors that I know like Cat Sparks and Alan Baxter, but I keep a lookout for interesting newcomers. Adam Browne’s collection had a very clever story about a man addicted to giving things up, and Andrew Macrae’s novel Trucksong was a very ambitious attempt to convincingly narrate a story using a character from the future, yet keep it accessible for today’s readers. I was an examiner for Andrew’s creative writing degree, in which Trucksong was the creative work, and it was quite a pleasant experience to be able to slow down and read a work really carefully.

1994 was the last year in which I could have answered this question comprehensively. After that I gave up trying to buy and read everything in the genre that was published by Australian authors. The industry had grown up by then, and I had calculated that I would need a new bookcase every three years just to hold all the new books and magazines. Since then the internet has also blurred the literary national boundaries, so that being an Australian author no longer means what it used to. For example …

My 2013 story ‘Technarion’ won the Interzone readers’ poll and was selected by Gardner Dozois for his Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology, yet most Australian fans don’t even know it exists. This is fair enough, because it was set in 1875 London, had no Australian references, and was published in a British magazine. I would not even classify it as Australian. The author (me) just happened to live in Australia. If someone had said it was the most enjoyable Australian work they had read recently, I would have been pleased but surprised.

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?

It’s not possible to be any sort of writer and not be affected by those changes. The internet in general and electronic publishing in particular have made it easy for everyone to be published, and nearly everyone wants to give it a try. A few months ago I checked the stories and novels published by Australians in 2013, and I calculated that a reader with a full-time job who also took time out to eat and sleep could not get through the total output for a year, in a year. Back in the early ’90s, you could read the annual output of Australian genre fiction in a fortnight. It’s the same situation worldwide.

Desktop publishing and online marketing has demolished the old barriers to publishing. Three-hundred-and-ninety thousand vanity press ISBNs were issued in the USA alone a couple of years ago. Is this good? Not if you are a reader in search of a good read. How do you tell which are the 10 best of those 390,000 titles? In five years it will be even harder to find the good works because there will probably be three million vanity press titles coming out per year.

For new authors it is no longer just a matter of getting published, but of getting people to give your fiction a chance by reading it. That means getting onto Facebook, Twitter, Good Reads, online writing groups and all other social media to promote your work – but they are already jammed solid with other authors trying to do the same thing. Anon once wrote that the hardest part of getting to the top of the ladder was fighting through the crowd around the bottom. Someone new enters that crowd every few seconds.

I count myself lucky as an author because I made my reputation when it was much harder to get published, but easier to get noticed. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, if you got published, people noticed you because so few people got published. Because I already have a reputation, the readers and editors of 2014 recognise my name, but I still have to try a lot harder than before. Every story has to stand out, so I take a lot more time and care with my fiction.

On the other hand, that extra time and care probably got me a Hugo Award runner up in 2011, the Analog readers’ award last year, and the Interzone readers’ award this year, so there are positives amid the publishing industry upheavals. In five years I think I will still be having stories and novels published, but the methods and markets have probably not been invented yet.

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: