Snapshot 2012: Nathan Burrage

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

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

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

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: Paul Garrety

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoQUEENSLANDER Paul Garrety says he started to take writing seriously about nine years ago, when he began writing his debut novel The Seventh Wave. It and its sequel, The Emerald Tablets, were published by HarperCollins Voyager last year. He’s also written a number of short stories and picked up ‘an occasional’ prize both here and overseas.

He says, ‘When The Seventh Wave and its sequel The Emerald Tablets were released last year, instead of trying to establish a personal profile, I made the mistake of using the book name as the website URL ( This might work if you happen to be promoting a movie, or have a few more zeroes in your publishing advance than I did to support a sophisticated viral and mainstream marketing campaign, but it’s not a route I’d choose again.’

You scored a deal with HarperCollins Voyager for a two-book series in which you mix magic and technology. How many headaches did that genre-blending cause you? What about joys?
I really don’t think there is any difference between magic and technology. What once would have been magic even a hundred years ago, now is commoditised. Magic as we all know comes at a price and now comes to us in window-faced envelopes.
I suspect genre blending can be a challenge for some dedicated spec fic readers though; those who like to keep their peas and potatoes separate — I acknowledge that. However, I was incredibly humbled by many (yes, there were many) emails that I received from readers who weren’t fans of spec fic, had even gone out of their way to avoid it in the past, yet when they happened to stumble across my books they went to the trouble of letting me know how much they enjoyed them. I think that’s a kind of magic, too.

You’ve also had success with crime short stories. What’s your favourite genre to write and why?
As a species we love to categorise, don’t we? Give us a lifestyle threat or a fatal disease we know absolutely nothing about and the first thing we’ll do is give it a nickname, or, preferably, an acronym. The reason, I guess, is to make it appear that we are in control. I’ll fess up now. I’m not in control. I’m a ‘pantser writer’ so even though I like order with my chaos, when I sit down to write there is no plan around what, if anything, will appear on the screen. Of course I have a vague idea, perhaps even a clever acronym, but always-always-always it will come out differently with gravy slopped all over those carefully positioned peas and taties. Hopefully, though, it will taste better as a result.

What are you working on now, and is it easier or harder now that you’ve got two novels under your belt?
I’ll use a hackneyed analogy here. Like most writers getting my first book to publication was like climbing the proverbial. I believed that when I finally cleared the summit I would have made ‘It’. However, when publication day finally arrived, not only did I just see a lot more mountains on the horizon, but I also realised that the one I’d just climbed was only a hill by comparison. Right now, I’m on the other side, slogging my way down towards the valley in between.

The novel I’m half way through is another ‘bitzer’: crime/urban fantasy/sci-time. Biting at its heels though is an idea for the next book that wants to jump the queue. I haven’t worked out yet whether it’s a bling thing –- bright/new/shiny diversion — or whether there’s a stronger yarn underneath waiting to be revealed. I hope it’s the latter.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
Black Glass, Meg Mundell; The Business of Death, Trent Jamieson; The Rook, Daniel O’Malley; When We Have Wings, Claire Corbett.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years?
I think the biggest change, certainly for speccy writers, is that the blinkers are now well and truly off around publishing opportunities. Increasingly writers are submitting e-globally instead of waiting for a shot at the traditional hard copy (read credible) route within their home market. This huge rush towards e-publishing and the 0.99c reading hit is perhaps reminiscent of the 1800s penny dreadful, where new markets were created simply by making writing more accessible and affordable. Sure, there’s a lot of material floating around out there and for many it’s like sifting through the Yellow Pages without a directory, but the number of sales being made debunks the theory that reading as an entertainment form is dying.

This naturally impacts on all genres, but the beauty for spec fic writers in Oz is that they now have easy access to specialist online publishers who can sell to anyone, anywhere. Combining clever target marketing and low overheads, many e-publishers are providing quality reads cheaply and rewarding authors with relatively — often absolutely — higher royalties than they would otherwise have earned.

In tandem with this is the increased pressure for spec fic writers to produce work faster, establish a back list, and at the same time grow their profiles across multiple awareness platforms. There is a definite quickening in the pace. Where it is heading? Well that’s another story.

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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:

Writerly news

Catching up after time away and largely off-line at Adelaide Writers Week, and there’s good news:

when we have wings by claire corbettBarbara Jefferis Award shortlist: Claire Corbett’s SF novel When We Have Wings (which I am STILL to read, damnit) is on the shortlist of the Barbara Jefferis Award. Sean the Bookonaut, who I met for the first time in Adelaide, recently interviewed Claire: listen here.

Mythic Resonance: editor Stephen Thompson — how long has it been since he compiled the Vision writers group’s Glimpses anthology? — has a new anthology, Mythic Resonance, which, as the name suggests, riffs off myths. Excerpts are available at the Specusphere.

Thirteen O’Clock: a new aggregator of dark fiction news has hit the interwebs. The blog also posted an excellent piece on the difference between horror and dark fantasy recently.

Narrelle Harris reveals Showtime: The Melbourne author of The Opposite of Life is the latest in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series, offering ghosts, vampires and zombies in a four-story collection that includes an appearance of some old friends.

Aurealis #48 in the ether: Aurealis #48, with stories by Rick Kennett and Greg Mellor, is available from Smashwords.

Ticonderoga living large in 2013: the WA press already has an exciting schedule for 2013, including several collections by both veteran and tyro writers and the continuing Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.

And Chris Meade on Queensland’s writing future: the if:book pioneer reflects on his experience in Queensland and considers how my home state might leverage itself in the global literary landscape with ‘big sky writing‘. It’s also worth checking out if:book Australia’s 24 Hour Book Project for a hands-on view of how technology is changing the publishing industry.