Snapshot 2012: Peter Docker

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoWEST Australian Peter Docker studied writing at Curtin University of Technology and acting at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. His fiction credits include Fremantle Press novels Someone Else’s Country (2005) and Aurealis Award nominee for best science fiction novel The Waterboys (2011) (review) and short story collection The Kid on the Karaoke Stage (2011), one-act play A Million Miles from Ulcer Gulch and radio play Marrying My Family (1995). He has outback revenge thriller Sweet One, YA illustrated comedy Toecutters and autobiographical TLC (The Love of Country) in the works.

Does setting a story such as The Waterboys in the future and the alternate past allow you to discuss topics more freely than a contemporary story?
The trouble with white Australia is that we’re not black enough. With Waterboys I went searching for answers, which led me simultaneously to the past and the future (no doubt influenced by my rudimentary understanding of the only true Australian expression of spirituality -– The Dreaming –- which is a place/time/situation existing simultaneously in the past, present, and future). This certainly gave me the freedom to explore themes like the inevitable failure of democracy, and the ultimate outcomes of ‘constant growth’-based capitalism on the land, and the peoples whose entire material and spiritual existence is tied to that land. I am constantly searching for grand metaphors to discuss the soul of our nation.

The Waterboys, as well as being a study in race relations, depicts a future where water is a scarce resource. Are these themes likely to recur in your work?
In some ways it’s a great irony to me that, on the eve of publication of Waterboys, eastern Australia was experiencing the worst flooding in a hundred years. The secret of timing is comedy. My forthcoming work Sweet One is set against the background of the mining industry and the undeclared on-going secret war that the states are waging against the traditional owners.

In what ways has your background in acting helped or influenced your writing?
The vast majority of my acting work (once I got away from Neighbours and Blue Heelers) has been on Aboriginal projects -– in many ways they are like research tours. I certainly use acting techniques in my writing. For example, a great acting dictum is ‘give the problem to the character’. When a plot point or character illumination issue arises, I allow the problem to be solved by the character and not the writer. This means that I often don’t know which way the character will jump until I get that pen in my fist and give the character power over my hand. I also use filmic techniques to avoid the very tricky issue of me putting thoughts into the heads of my indigenous characters. I report dialogue but the inner workings are left to the reader. This also allows the reader to realise that I am no expert in Aboriginal people or cultures, although I do know something about what happens when we come together.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
5. The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage is a meticulously researched game changer for everything Europeans have ever thought about pre-Cook Australia. Carpentaria by Alexis Wright is an Australian War & Peace, or Great Expectations. And That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott: the layering in Kim’s work is mind blowing. He takes us into a profound emotional place in such a subtle way that we are deep inside the emotional and spiritual system without quite realising how we got there.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years?
We are a new country with an emerging culture and the spec fic we produce reflects this. It is no coincidence that as we mature the literature from here is finding a bigger international audience. The rawness of Aussie lit compared to nations with much longer histories and traditions than ours seems to be part of the appeal. I particularly like the way that brilliant writers like John Birmingham do not confine themselves to just writing about Australia (unlike yours truly) but are capable of taking on massive issues like the end of America.

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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:

Callout to Queensland authors of 2011, and other writerly news

queensland writers centre logoQueensland Writers Centre is compiling a booklet, Books from our Backyard, of Queensland authors to have had a book published in 2011. Must be first edition, paper or e-book, with ISBN and cover image. Details at the website.

Also, the centre has compiled a website of reaction to the summary cancellation of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards by incoming premier Campbell Newman. The centre is looking to salvage something from the debacle and provides some avenues for reaction to the move. A separate push is underway to establish the Queensland Literary Awards.

  • In award news, and much more positive all round, Aussies Jonathan Strahan and the gang from Galactic Suburbia podcast have made the shortlist for the Hugo Awards — Strahan twice, for best short form editor and also his co-hosted Notes from Coode St podcast. Way to go!
  • The Blood-Red Pencil hosts two posts about the life of agents, including their changing role in an industry where self-publishing is no longer the path of last resort.
  • At the Lair, Sean Williams and Karen Miller talk joining Forces with the Star Wars franchise.
  • In Lisa Hannett’s Tuesday Therapy (it’s been a busy week), Kim Falconer offers some down-to-earth advice about setting goals and achieving them despite all the good advice. In today’s Theraphy, Angela Slatters offers excellent advice about both offering and receiving favours of a literary nature.
  • Looking ahead: Swancon 2013 has announced a guest list of Gail Simone, Charles Stross, John Birmingham and Lucy Sussex. w00t!

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court series is pushing into overseas markets — great to see a publisher investing in local talent.
  • And finally, this piece from Call My Agent! about the cultural cringe and Australian novels. I’d like to think that the efforts of our fantasy, crime and romance writers, in particular, are changing the apparent reluctance of readers to buy locally … This post riffs off a previous one about why it’s hard to get an Aussie novel published, which kicked along a meme about ‘what Australian book have you bought recently’. You don’t buy local just because it is local, of course, but because it’s local and good: it’s that last part that has had buyers doubting, but they’re out of excuses these days. Now it’s how to raise awareness in an ever-crowded market place.
  • Late addition: I’ve been meaning to add 20c to this excellent post about the value of a book cover over at Patrick O’Duffy’s place, but that’s gonna have to wait for another day. When you see the amount of quality info Angry Robot has packed onto that back cover … wow. The absence of a back cover on an e-book — that requirement that the browser has picked up that info on the web page — is an interesting quandary that I haven’t got around to pondering in any meaningful way. Patrick, it’s up to you!
  • Campbell Newman chases the dubious dollar sign

    This news just in: Queensland has the proud title of being the only state in Australia not to have a state literary award. Wow, way to go Campbell Newman: make those creative industries feel welcome. Arsehat. He can really plough that $250,000 of savings into some serious infrastructure projects. And THIS is why the landslide LNP victory gave me the shivers, even from the other end of the country. They ain’t got no soul, people.

    UPDATE: I think John Birmingham has summarised the situation nicely in his comments (at the updated above link), including:

    He’s not going to lose many if any votes out of getting rid of this prize, and out of slashing the hell out of a lot of arts budgets … in terms of the state budget, there’s probably bigger tough cuts that he could make, but they’re much tougher to sell