Snapshot 2012: Janeen Webb

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoJANEEN Webb is a multiple award-winning author, editor and critic who has written or edited 10 books and more than a hundred essays and stories. She is a recipient of the World Fantasy Award, the Aurealis Award, the Peter MacNamara SF Lifetime Achievement Award, and is a three-time winner of the Ditmar Award. She is internationally recognised for her critical work in speculative fiction and has contributed to most of the standard reference texts in the field. She holds a PhD in Literature from the University of Newcastle, and lives on a small farm overlooking the sea near Wilson’s Promontory.

You’re cancer battle meant you weren’t able to co-edit 2008’s Dreaming Again (the follow-up to 1998’s milestone Dreaming Down Under) as planned, but you’ve since, wonderfully, announced that you’re back. How have you been making up for that lost time in your writing? Back to your Sinbad series, perhaps?
In all honesty, I should say that I still have, and probably always will have health issues – remission isn’t cure – and I just have to accept that. And although it sounds trite to say that writing is a great form of therapy, like so many axiomatic statements, it happens to be true: writing is a kind of zen space where the world can be as one would wish it to be, and I can try to make up for lost time. And I’m happy to say that yes, there is a third Sinbad YA novel in progress, working title Flying to Babylon. I am also writing an Arthurian fantasy, Perfect Knight, and an alternate Australian history novel.


Back in ’98 you co-wrote an academic study, Aliens & Savages, on racism/bias in Australian SF: have you been able to keep track to provide an idea of how the current situation compares?
I think this is one of those times when fiction is ahead of politics. We currently see a xenophobic political focus playing the politics of fear in a way that would not have been out of place in the 19th century. It seems our leaders have not yet learned kindness to strangers. Recently published fiction is more generous and understanding in its explorations of issues concerning both indigenous and immigrant peoples: it was good to see Kim Scott win the Miles Franklin Award with his historical novel of culture clash, That Deadman Dance.


You’re known for your academic work in the realm of speculative fiction as well as your fiction. How do you find the two streams rest side by side — do they feed each other or are they slightly uncomfy bedfellows?
It took me a long time to learn that the research techniques for both academic work and fiction are the same thing, seen from different angles: that I can use the same skill base but apply the results in a different fashion. The best fiction has a solid research base underneath it, and a background in the academic world does no harm at all in honing those technical skills.

I recently used material from Aliens & Savages as the basis for my story ‘Manifest Destiny’ (in Gillian Polack’s Baggage anthology, reprinted in Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene’s 2010 Years Best Australian Fantasy & Horror from Ticonderoga), and am revisiting more of that work for my alternate history novel, so in that sense the two areas do complement each other very well.

The downside of being a critic is my constant awareness of the scope the field, of the best that is produced, of the sheer volume of work that’s out there: sometimes it’s hard to stifle that internal critical voice in order to write at all!

What Australian works have you loved lately?
My favourite new work is Kim Westwood‘s The Courier’s New Bicycle, which recently won the Aurealis Award for science fiction novel. Kim has thought deeply about the issues of gender and has some very original ideas embedded in a compelling story: she is a genuinely fascinating new voice in the field.


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
I think it’s really too soon to tell: a lot of things are still in the pipeline.

One thing I will note is the rapid expansion of Creative Writing PhDs in the field. With so many of our best writers venturing into this sphere, SF has reached critical mass in this area. This unexpected incursion into academia will have an enormous impact in future years: I like the idea that SF is finally colonising the mainstream.

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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:

Worldcon/Aussiecon appearances

the darkness withinI’ve scoured the Aussiecon4 program online and come up with these appearances at the convention, at Melbourne’s Convention and Exhibition Centre, for those who might like to catch up (outside of the bar area):

Saturday, Sept 4, 5pm

If anyone has a dusty copy of The Darkness Within lying around they’d like signed (or maybe an anthology such as Dreaming Again), I’ll be in Room 201-02 with pen in hand. (I believe Guest of hHnour Kim Stanley Robinson, amongst others, is also signing at that time.)

Sunday, Sept 5, noon

A reading in Room 215

Sunday, 1pm

Presenting a chat (for teens only) about the evolution of the vampire from Dracula to now, in Room 218.

Sunday, 2pm

I’ll be joining some very cool people indeed to support the anthology Dreaming Again (probably my proudest publishing credit), in Room 211 (keep your eyes, or ears, peeled, as there *might* be an audio version of my story ‘Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn’, available during the con).

Monday, Sept 6, 1pm

Joining a discussion on the taboos in dark fantasy, again with some very cool people, in Room 211.

I’m very happy indeed to be able to support the worldcon through this participation, so I hope some folks can come along to any and all of these: the more input the better 🙂

australian dark fantasy and horror, volume 4

australian dark fantasy and horror volume 4

The good folks at Brimstone Press have announced the table of contents for their latest volume of Australian dark fantasy and horror, collected from the 2008 crop, and — big smile — my story, “Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn” (one of several to be included from Dreaming Again), is in there. It’s rubbing shoulders with some mighty good yarns:

“The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga” by Peter M. Ball

“The Claws of Native Ghosts” by Lee Battersby

“Pale Dark Soldier” by Deborah Biancotti

“Heere Be Monsters” by John Birmingham

“Teeth” by Stephen Dedman

“Her Collection of Intimacy” by Paul Haines

“A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead” by Richard Harland

“Moments of Dying” by Robert Hood

“Just Us” by Pete Kempshall

“Painlessness” by Kirstyn McDermott

“The Casting Out” by Miranda Siemienowicz

More details here.

QWC blog tour

I’m now living in Melbourne, but I’m continuing my membership with the Queensland Writers Centre because it’s a damn fine organisation with plenty to offer, even for an ‘outpost’ member such as myself (a writer who wouldn’t have a book on the shelf were it not for the QWC). The centre has been kind enough to include me in their blog tour, offering a Cook’s tour of writers’ blogs. You can find out more about the blog tour at the end of this post. Meantime, here are the requisite questions answered:

Where do your words come from?
The words themselves probably swim up from a lifetime of reading and study and movie-watching. But of the origin of the ideas that drive them, I’m not sure. Perhaps also in the words that have gone before, adapted by experience and observation, daydreaming and nightmares. I tend to download my stories from the ether of the subconcious, then set about shaping them, making sure the words are the best possible ones to tell the story. And then there’s Roget’s 😉

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up on a Queensland cattle property about half way between Maryborough and Gympie, an hour’s drive to either. It was a fertile place for the imagination, fuelled by books of all sorts. I’ve been leap-frogging my way through gradually larger cities since, most recently to Melbourne where I’m still waiting for my blood to thicken and save me from the embarrassment of being the only person on the street wearing gloves.

What’s the first sentence/line of your latest work?
My most recently published story, “Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn” (Dreaming Again, 2008) opens with, “George stood by the bleached skeleton of the Wyandra stockyards, breathing in dust and sun-baked silence.”
The first sentence of the story I’m meant to be working on at the moment is still a work in progress…

What piece of writing do you wish you had written?
Macbeth’s Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow speech. It’s stuck with me ever since I had to recite it in high school.

What are you currently working towards?
I’m planning a new novel, probably a follow-up to The Darkness Within, or yet another iteration of a linked story that just won’t behave. Or maybe something else again. November is my self-appointed crunch time.

Complete this sentence… the future of the book is…
… assured, though its delivery method will expand into the electronic realm with much wailing and gnashing of copyright regions.

This post is part of the Queensland Writers Centre blog tour, happening October to December 2009. To follow the tour, visit Queensland Writers Centre’s blog The Empty Page.

now listen here

Keith Stevenson has kindly made a podcast of my short story Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn, at Terra Incognita. It’s up now. The story is the latest in a monthly series that includes Sean Williams reading an unpublished short story and Cat Sparks reading her The Bride Price. I’m looking forward to next month’s story, by Trent Jamieson.

Smoking … was published in Dreaming Again last year. The collection won a Ditmar (for best collection) at the National Science Fiction Convention in Adelaide earlier this month. Cat Sparks also won a Ditmar, and Sean Williams was deservedly awarded the Peter McNamara award for being an all-round awesome dude. This year’s Ditmars were hard to fault, in fact, with very deserving winners across the board. I was quite chuffed to see Rob Hood, Margo Lanagan and Kirstyn McDermott land theirs, and took delight in the awarding of the William Atheling Jnr award for criticism or review go to Kim Wilkins for a superb, scholarly article about genre bias. The full list of winners can be read here.

Aurealis Awards 2008

It was a big night for Perth’s Adrian Bedford at the Aurealis Awards in Brisbane last night.

Bedford, writing as KA Bedford, has had all four of his novels published by Edge in Canada make the finalist lists of the awards, and last night he scored his second win: for best science fiction novel, Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait. The novel is also a finalist for the Philip K Dick award.

The awards, recognising excellence in Australian speculative fiction, were presented in a sold-out Judith Wright Centre, with Queensland Governor Penelope Wensley in the audience.

Other winners were:

Children’s fiction

Illustrated work/picture book: Richard Harland and illustrator Laura Peterson, The Wolf Kingdom series
Novel: Emily Rodda, The Wizard of Rondo

Illustrated book/graphic novel: Shaun Tan, Tales from Outer Suburbia

Young Adult
Short story: Trent Jamieson, “Cracks”, Shiny #2
Novel: Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock

Collection: Sean Williams and Russell B Farr (ed), Magic Dirt: The Best of Sean Williams

Anthology: Jonathan Strahan (ed), The Starry Rift

Horror
Short story:
Kirstyn McDermott, “Painlessness”, Greatest Uncommon Denominator #2
Novel: John Harwood, The Seance

Fantasy
Short story: Cat Sparks, “Sammarynda Deep”, Paper Cities
Novel: Alison Goodman, The Two Pearls of Wisdom

Science fiction
Short story: Simon Brown, “The Empire”, Dreaming Again
Novel: KA Bedford, Time
Machines Repaired While-U-Wait

Peter McNamara Convenors Award: this special award was presented to Jack Dann for his incredible lifetime of achievement in the genre.

This was the first year that prizes were awarded for best collection, anthology and illustrated book/graphic novel.

Fantastic Queensland chairman Damon Cavalchini announced that 2010 would be the last year that FQ would host the awards as their contract with awards founders Chimaera Publications will expire, and a new team to organise the awards for 2011 and onwards is needed.

ticonderoga lives!

Ticonderoga is a small press in Western Australia that has done some brilliant stuff in recent years, anthologies and collections mostly. It went on a wee hiatus but now it’s back with an online presence at ticon4.com. You’ll find short fiction and book reviews there; it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Dreaming Again

Dreaming Again

And in other online news, the HorrorScope has provided a recommended list of the year’s best dark fiction. Good to see so many from Dreaming Again included, and very good to see my story, Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn, among that number. A friend described it as a “melancholy vampire story” – I like that 🙂