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 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:

 

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Dan Brown writing lesson

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Doing the rounds at the moment is this article outlining 20 woeful lines from the pen of Da Vinci Code writer Dan Brown. It’s worth a read, not to knock Brown, but to learn from his mistakes.

I’m going back through my current manuscript, removing all extraneous mentions of Mickey Mouse watches.

And taking heart that you can bollox things up and still make a mint.

The Last Stormlord/Night’s Cold Kiss

Herewith two reviews of recently released Aussie novels, and a handy link to a very cool review site at The Guardian featuring Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.


Last Stormlord

Glenda Larke, an Australian now living in Malaysia, has lived on four continents, but it is her experiences in arid Western Australia and Tunisia that appear to most inform The Last Stormlord (HarperCollins, $22.99), the first book of the Watergivers series.

Larke impressed with her breakout, big-publisher debut, The Aware, which I loved for its dystopian air and gorgeous world-building.

The Last Stormlord, a saga of an empire facing its demise, is set in a dry coastal realm bordered by mountains and desert where life revolves around the possession and acquisition of water.

Key to the survival of the city states is the Stormlord, the last of the line powerful enough to take water from the sea and send it inland to break in designated areas, bringing rain to the needy. Under the Stormlord is an aristocracy of lesser powered men and women with varying ability to manipulate water, physically moving it or even removing it from living creatures. This apparent magical power over the essential element has kept the status quo against the nomadic desert dwellers for centuries, but now that is changing. Political ambitions give sway to treachery and murder and the world is set for upheaval.

Caught up in this chaos are two teenagers, Shale and Terelle. Both possess considerable water powers of different ilks, and both find themselves being used as tools in political machinations. The star-crossed pair are given precious little time for adolescence.

Like a brewing storm, the story gains weight and power as it gathers momentum, the considerable cast rising to strike clear identities as ideals of honour and survival clash, and love lies bleeding. There are some gentle religious barbs along the way, too.

Larke’s world-building is a great strength of the story, the dryness and heat permeating the fabric of her society, with enough touches of the fantastic to excite the imagination. This, combined with a bloody climax, leaves the reader keen for the next instalment.

NightsColdKiss
Aussie writer Tracey O’Hara has enjoyed some happy hunting in the United States with Night’s Cold Kiss (HarperCollins, $19.99), her debut novel, the first of the three-book Dark Brethren series. Now the paranormal romance has been released in her home country.

Set primarily in New York, it covers familiar ground for those who enjoy paranormal romance, still one of the hottest of genres.

Antoinette Petrescu, deeply affected by the murder of her parents by a death-loving vampire called Dante, is a slayer of the undead, and an unnaturally gifted one at that. But a deadly conspiracy throws her into the path of the charismatic and filthy rich vampire Christian, and sparks erupt despite her best intentions.
Christian is an agent for a covert, quasi-government organisation that polices the paranormal community with a view to keeping an uneasy truce brokered years before between vampires and humans.

Now someone’s rocking the boat and Antoinette’s past is coming back to bite her – quite literally.

Planes, helicopters, fast cars and elegant upstate mansions all figure as Antoinette is exposed to the other side of vampire existence – she truly gets to see how the other half live as she meets Christian’s well-to-do vampire family and household staff.

Vampire society is well-described, with the usual dividing line between those who try to maintain a sense of humanity and those who embrace their inner beast, revelling in the kill and their otherness. There is enough insight into the realm of the shapechangers to suggest further exploration in coming books.

O’Hara hits all the right buttons for fans of the genre with her tale of desire, betrayal and revenge, providing a pacy and at times steamy adventure with a strong, lusty subplot. This makes up for the occasional lack of sparkle on the page and some haphazard editing as the story builds to a fittingly explosive climax, and overdrawn denouement to springboard the reader into book two.