Snapshot 2012: Alison Goodman

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoALISON Goodman has been writing and being published for almost 24 years. She began to get published in her second year of university – mainly feature articles and short stories – and her first novel came out in 1998: Singing the Dogstar Blues, a young adult science fiction thriller. It won the Aurealis Award for Best YA novel and was an ALA Best YA book. That was followed by her crime thriller, Killing the Rabbit, published originally in the USA, and which is now about to be re-released in print in Australia and as an e-book under the new title, A New Kind of Death.

Her latest two books are the fantasy duology Eon and Eona, which were New York Time Bestsellers and have been published in more than 18 countries and 10 languages. Eon (under its initial Australian title The Two Pearls of Wisdom) won the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel and was also an ALA Best YA book and a James Tiptree Jr Honour Book.

This year, Alison has been contracted to write a new historical/supernatural series with publishers in the USA, Canada and Australia. The first book is due out in 2014.

Keep in touch with developments at www.alisongoodman.com.au and her Facebook page.

  • Alison is guest of honour at Continuum, starting TOMORROW NIGHT at Rydges on Swanston in Melbourne.
  • YA SF, crime, Chinese-influenced fantasy … have you picked stories to best address certain themes, or are you just having a grand old time in all the diversity genre has to offer?
    I suspect a bit of both. In terms of genre, I go where the story takes me. When I have the initial idea for a book or series, I take note of where it seems to fit in the genre market and think about the conventions of that genre. If some of them work for me, I’ll use them (either with or against the expectations). However, I don’t feel obliged to stick faithfully to the conventions or, indeed, to one genre. I do like to meld genres, which can bring a whole bucket load of problems with it but is a lot of fun to write.

    In terms of themes within a novel, I usually find that I may start with an idea of a thematic line – developed from the plot and character – but find that other, stronger themes emerge as I write. Having said that, the thematic starting point is not usually the driving force for me in my writing process – I am more engaged by character and plot and these supply the passion that propel me. So, I don’t feel that I pick stories to write by the appeal of their themes. Still, it is not really possible to separate out those three elements – plot, character, and theme. They are so deeply entwined in the development of my fiction that at least some of each needs to be in place before I start writing.

    Romantic plotlines, of varying degrees, operate under some level of mostly social pressure duress in your books, and happy endings are not guaranteed. In what ways is love, whether unrequited, doomed or conquering all, important to your storytelling?
    I think it is more that desire is important to my storytelling, rather than love. That often includes the desire for love, but I think that is secondary to the desire for the ultimate goal of the main character, be it power as in the Eon duology or truth in A New Kind of Death (Clan Destine Press). Love is not the main goal of my characters, but it is almost always part of their motivation. How characters go about loving or seeking love is a fundamental building block of my characterisation. It is not the driving force of the main plot-line – that is the domain of romance fiction – but it is one of the elements that adds depth and universality to the characters, and provides sub-plots that support and add duress to the events in the main plot.

    You’re in the midst of a research trip to Europe for your new series. Has anything you’ve unearthed been wonderfully surprising, the kind of thing where you just HAVE to use it in the books?
    Yes, I came across a porcelain women’s urinal shaped like a lady’s slipper. In time of necessity in a crowded royal drawing room, it was slipped under one’s huge hooped court dress and clutched between the thighs! That is definitely going into my novel. However, I’m always wary of bunging in a bit of research because I like it. For me, research has to be at the service of the story and the fastest way to become a bore is to write pages of research detail and go off-story.

    I recently read an article by James Wood in the on-line New Yorker about Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels, but it is also about writing good historical fiction. Wood writes that:

    ‘..what gives fiction its vitality is not the accurate detail but the animate one … novelists are creators, not coroners, of the human case’.

    That really hit a chord with me. When I am researching, I look for those shining details that are going to give the flavour and energy of the time without weighing down my story…such as a urinal for women that is shaped like a shoe.

    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    This is where I shift uncomfortably and confess that I haven’t read much fiction lately because it has been all about researching my new series. My stack of fiction To-Be-Reads is huge, but I have just finished Garth Nix’s new book A Confusion of Princes which was magnificently inventive with a great, wry narrator and a lot of satisfying action. I’m also reading an advance copy of Kirstyn McDermott’s new novel Perfections, which is heart-achingly gorgeous. Mostly, though, I have been reading primary and secondary source research books, which sounds dry but is actually a lot of fun. And, as it happens, one of the most valuable research books I’ve come across so far has been by an Australian – Jennifer Kloester – who has written an excellent guide to the Regency era in Georgette Heyer’s Regency World.

    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    I think some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction are the same changes that have been hitting all of publishing. What immediately comes to mind is the rise of the e-book and the crisis of the bookshop. The gathering force of the e-book is offering some great opportunities for authors – more control over backlists and a greater cut of the royalties – but as with all these new modes, it also brings challenges that often leave many behind. The demise of so many of our bookshops breaks my heart, and I sincerely hope that Australia does not follow in the footsteps of Britain and starts closing libraries too.

    Another change that I think has particularly affected the speculative fiction market is the ‘phenomenon book’ such as Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games series. They can all be gathered under the banner of the speculative genre and, I think, have opened up new audiences to our work, and in fact, to the idea of reading for pleasure.

    * THE END *

    THIS is my final interview 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: the list of interviewees is here. You can also read the interviews at:

    Snapshot 2012: Simon Brown

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoSIMON Brown started writing fiction every day at the age of 14, which means he’s been a writer for more than 40 years. He’s had six novels published in Russia, which means his brag shelf has books he’s written that he can’t read. He currently lives in Thailand with his wife, who is an English teacher in Phuket, and his two school-age children.

    PanMacmillan, under their Momentum imprint, have just released e-book versions of his previous fantasy trilogy, the Chronicles of Kydan. He’s working on three different books – a young adult/crossover horror, the first book in a new fantasy trilogy and a non-fiction book – because he can’t make up his mind which one to concentrate on.


    You’ve been living overseas for the past few years. Grist for the writer’s mill or one huge distraction?
    Living overseas is a great way to concentrate the mind on what you’ve left behind, at least initially. After four years in Thailand, I find that some of the things about living in a different country and a different culture are finally starting to get under my skin and become a part of me. It’s a nice feeling. But when I look up and towards the horizon, it’s always towards Australia. I think my time here in Thailand will start seeping into my work about the time I come home. That’s the way of things.


    Momentum has re-released one of your series as e-books. What’s been happening to let readers know they’re available?
    Mark Harding at Momentum Books has been great at getting the Chronicles of Kydan some attention. It was recently one of the books of the week on Google Play, for example, and the Momentum site has a piece by me on writing the trilogy. Gillian Polack has also kindly let me blog about the trilogy on her site. I just have to save up for an e-book reader now so I can download them myself. Imagine carrying hundreds of books in your pocket. Weird.


    Can you tell us more about what’s inspired the latest projects?
    The young adult/crossover horror novel, based on a short story I wrote called ‘Water Babies’ (published in Agog! Smashing Stories), is currently with a publisher, so until I get word back it’s difficult to say where it’s going.

    The idea for the new fantasy trilogy I’m working on was inspired by reading about the importance of trade in ancient and medieval societies, something usually ignored in most fantasies. Since it’s just kicking off, I’m not sure how it’ll pan out at this point, but I’m enjoying booting ideas around.

    The non-fiction book I hope to co-author with a good friend who is also a great writer is about the development of quantum theory. The book will concentrate on the Fifth Solvay Conference in 1927, which featured an amazing array of scientists who were also larger-than-life personalities.


    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been so detached from the Australian scene over the past four years that I’ve read very little home-grown fiction. I did manage to read and enjoy the first book of Sean and Garth’s Troubletwisters and Scott Westerfeld‘s Leviathan (we’re allowed to poach Scott, aren’t we? (definitely: his snapshot his here — JN).


    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction (or the industry?) in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    Difficult to assess from a distance, but surely the big development not just over the past two years but the past decade has been the increase in the number of Australian specfic writers and the quality of their work. I think Clarion South has a lot to do with this (and by implication Clarion South’s organisers), as well as the continued and it seems to me against-all-odds existence of short fiction markets such as Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

    The other big change has been the slow but inevitable move in Australia from ink to phosphor dot and LED, including e-books and online magazines. We’ll have to wait a year or 10 before properly assessing what effects this has had on writers and writing. If I’m still around, feel free to ask me again in 2022.

    * * *

    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: Garth Nix

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoGARTH Nix has been a full-time writer since 2001. He has worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales representative, bookseller and as a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve. Garth’s books include the award-winning fantasy novels Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen and the science fiction novels Shade’s Children and A Confusion of Princes. His fantasy novels for children include The Ragwitch; the six books of The Seventh Tower sequence; The Keys to the Kingdom series; and the Troubletwisters books (with Sean Williams).

    More than five million copies of Garth’s books have been sold around the world. His books have appeared on the bestseller lists of The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, The Guardian and The Australian, and his work has been translated into 40 languages.

    Garth also produced the IF Award-winning and ACTAA-nominated short animated film The Missing Key, directed by Jonathan Nix; is a silent partner in the literary agency Curtis Brown (Australia); and is a co-founder of the online games developer Creative Enclave.

    He lives in a Sydney beach suburb with his wife and two children. Find him online at www.garthnix.com.



    You and Sean Williams looked to be having fun with the whiteboard when it came to plotting out your Troubletwisters series. How did the two of you go about collaborating on that series?
    The whiteboard video you can see on YouTube is a kind of condensed version of how it actually works. Basically, we got together at various times to work out the story in considerable detail, building up a chapter outline for the first book, and a backgrounder for the characters, setting and so on. Then I wrote the first chapter, Sean took it away and wrote the first draft of the rest of the book, mostly following the chapter outline but varying where he wanted to or thought it necessary. Then he flicked it back to me, and I revised it, sent it back again and he revised it, and so on for a couple of iterations. We also discussed any major changes as we went along. The end result is that when we look at any given page, neither of us can remember who wrote what, it is a true joint effort. We’ve repeated this basic process in the next two books, including the one that is just out now, Troubletwisters: The Monster.


    A Confusion of Princes is based on a computer game and you’ve done a great job of absorbing the game conventions such as respawning into the narrative. What were the challenges of this adaptation, if that’s a fair description of the process?
    It would be more accurate to say that the game, Imperial Galaxy, shares a background with the book. I actually had started writing the book first, then when Phil Wallach and I began work on the game, I suggested we use the background of the galactic empire, the three teks and so on, for the game. I had intended to finish the book earlier, but got distracted, so a kind of limited subset of the game came out in a beta version before the book was finished. You can play that game at www.imperialgalaxy.com, but essentially the game is stalled at the moment for lack of funds, and has been frozen for about two years now. We do still hope to return to it at some stage.


    You’ve been branching out and drawing on your family’s various skills as well: a very well received short film, self-publishing a collection of Sir Hereward stories, the computer game and the novel, and goodness knows what else. What have been the biggest pleasures you’ve found from exploring these diverse creative worlds?
    The film, The Missing Key (trailers at www.themissingkey.com), is very much my brother Jonathan Nix’s work. I co-produced it, but had little creative input, just the business management and so on typical of a producer. It has won a bunch of awards, and I am pleased to be an IF Award-winning and ACTAA-nominated producer, but I can’t take much of the credit.

    I self-published Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz: Three Adventures as an experiment to test new digital waters. I like to keep up with and investigate publishing trends and changes were I can. I do like to be involved in various ventures and activities, and I like to use my business mind as well as my fiction-writing faculties.

    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    I was enthralled by Margo Lanagan‘s Sea Hearts and greatly enjoyed Dave Freer‘s Cuttlefish (not yet released), but in general I haven’t read much Australian (or in fact any) science fiction or fantasy. I’ve been mostly reading non-fiction, particularly history. I was kind of shocked at myself when I realised how little of the Aurealis shortlist I’d read at the awards ceremony last month, so I have picked up a bunch of books and stories to read when I get the chance.

    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    I’m not sure changes are obvious until much later, perhaps six, seven or even 10 years, when you can look back and point to things that have become significant or made an impact over time. That said, I think in general it is encouraging to see so many people involved in reading and writing speculative fiction, and to see more and more Australian authors getting a foothold in the USA and UK, and in translation.

    * * *

    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:

     

    A Confusion of Princes: YA space opera is on target

    a confusion of princes by garth nixGarth Nix has unveiled his A Confusion of Princes, and it’s a great read starting with that fetching title. One of the most interesting elements is how he’s taken its computer game origins and incorporated them into the world building — in particular, the respawning, made familiar to viewers of the remade Battlestar Galactica.

  • My full review is at ASiF, but in short: most excellent fun with a serious message at its heart.
  • Observations from Adelaide Writers Week

    adelaide writers week

    The Adelaide Writers Week, parcelled within the Adelaide Festival (and how the city’s hotels must have been gleeful), last week was much fun, mainly because it provided a wonderful opportunity to catch up with good friends from four states.

    The festival set-up promoted conviviality. It was centred on two marquees in a park in a relatively quiet area of the city: jet flypasts for the Clipsal street race added some aerial interest and background noise occasionally during the opening weekend, and presumably the Fringe festival’s open-air gigs up the hill were the source of occasional summer beats laying down a groove in the background, but generally speaking, sirens notwithstanding, quiet.

    With only two streams of programming, skiving off to see people didn’t require a great sacrifice of panels, and a book store tent close at hand and plenty of shady trees outside the (somewhat expensive — kranski sausage in a slice of bread, $8) refreshments tent made chilling out with those people quite easy. Plus the city’s cafes were only a short walk up the hill, so finding affordable lunches and snacks and after-festival dinners was very easy indeed.

    Social pictures by Cat Sparks

    The weather was kind, overcast and relatively cool in the main, only on the last two days really beaming down some sunshine to give a hint of how languorous and sweaty it might’ve been. With the greenery and the marquees and the heat, it reminded me a lot of early Brisbane Writers Festivals down on the river at South Bank, before it went corporate.

    The panels at Adelaide were diverse but weighted towards the literary. US noir writer Megan Abbott was a find. Boori Monty Pryor was engaging and fun with a very real message. Garry Disher was sharp. Jenny Erpenbeck gave an East Berliner’s view of life in reunited Germany, as told through the medium of a summer house from her childhood. A chance meeting with Favel Parrett at the airport revealed she was also a Sisters of Mercy fan. Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link were delightful, flying the fantasy flag. There was also a touch of SF with Ian Mond and Rob Shearman providing a commentary to Rob’s episode of Dr Who, one of the few paid events at AWW and quite fun; we missed Garth Nix’s appearance on the last day, but an earlier encounter revealed a forthcoming (Australia: next month!) YA space opera title, A Confusion of Princes, that sounds truly awesome.

    adelaide writers week megan abbott interview

    Megan Abbot (centre) discussion with Susanna Moore, with Auslan interpreter in background.

    One of the things that struck me was the impact to be had of reading out a section of one’s work. This isn’t something that necessarily fits well in the format of genre conventions, where panels address topics with the authors treated as learned sources. But at Adelaide, where the focus was very much on the authors and their latest work, reading a small passage to illuminate a point did fit, and more than once hearing the authors’ words from the page cast their work in a totally different, and more alluring, light. Case in point was the personable Michael Crummey, whose Galore hadn’t been given much of a talking up, really, until he read the opening pars, in which a man is pulled from the belly of a whale on a Newfoundland beach. We now have a copy sitting on the to-be-read pile.

    Listening to Lanagan and Crummey talk to each other, without a moderator, was a highlight of the festival: two interested and interesting authors, who had read each other’s work, who had established a rapport before the panel, exploring the themes and methods each employed.

    The welcome party on the Sunday night also revealed the emphasis carried by social media, with festival director Laura Kroetsch commenting that the event had been ‘trending’ on Twitter, and the hashtag being part of the housekeeping before every panel.

    The panels ensured time for audience questions, but the use of a single, central microphone hampered accessibility for those unwilling to scramble across their fellow audience members.

    AWW was largely free, totally relaxed and extremely welcoming, with a little bit of most things to cater to all tastes. With the right couple of drawcards on the guest list and the promise of good friends on the ground, AWW will be an attractive addition to our annual event list.

    Haines, Huf and then, thankfully, some good writerly news

    x6 collection of novellasThis post from Paul Haines is truly gutting. A talented writer, without a doubt, the kind I’ve used as a benchmark when writing a story — would Haines (I always think of him as Haines, though I call him Paul to his face; I don’t know why that is) shy from writing this, I ask, when I’m up to the icky bit? Hell, no, as long as it’s making sense. The news that cancer has forestalled his writing career just as it was about to break out of the short story box is horrible; the news that it might be imminently fatal is so much worse. Father, husband, friend … this life thing is a cruel roulette wheel, and I can only hope — wish, pray — that Haines can beat the odds. Haines has three collections of short stories out, and you can find his most excellent novella ‘Wives’ in an anthology called X6. Read them, and rail.

    YOU might not have heard of Liz Huf if you live outside of Central Queensland, but we’ve lost someone special with the passing of Liz Huf, from cancer. Liz, who won a Johnno Award for her contribution to Queensland literature, helped to found and then run the literary magazine, Idiom23, at what is now Central Queensland University, for more than 20 years. She organised writing retreats in CQ was also an editor and documentary film maker. More than that, she was one of the good guys, softly spoken, interested and ever helpful. She was, the Gympie Times‘ Uncle Jim notwithstanding, my first fiction editor, in the fledgling magazine Yapunya and then Idiom23, which I contributed to as a BA student. I remember her fondly, and know that she’ll be sorely missed. You can read an obituary here.

    And now for some good news:

    The Nix family have proven a potent combination in the animated film business, as this news article at Locus shows. The Missing Key has already bagged an impressive array of awards. First Shaun Tan, now Garth Nix: there’s something in the water, all right.

    Food for thought: Josephine Pennicott writes about the value of perseverance, a word I’m thinking of having tattooed on my forehead, or perhaps just pinning to the wall above the computer.

    Nix, Kobo and the evolving delivery of the book

    crammed book shelves

    Syncronicity or what? Last night, I was at a do at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre, where four speakers presented diverse insights into the way in which technology is spreading the written word. And afterwards, at dinner, a text arrived saying someone’s hubby had just bought a Kobo reader — I can feel the pressure mounting to take the weight from the shelves and go digital (this photo shows why — those are the DISCARD shelves).

    And this morning — here’s the syncronicity bit — a pal has pointed out this transcript of a speech by Aussie author Garth Nix at a Kobo launch, in which he has insightful and reassuring things to say about books made of paper, and books delivered by other means.

    With further, affordable choices in eReaders becoming available to Australian readers, the e-branch of bookselling has to expand. If this means easier access to a wider audience, with remuneration, naturally, this has to be a good thing. Good enough to have this old fossil not only contemplating the wild world of eReaders, but golly gosh, one of them mp3 players as well. Not that I won’t still buy CDs — as with books, I like to feel and unfold and admire on the shelf — but it sure will reduce the luggage when I travel.