Snapshot 2012: Rjurik Davidson

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoRJURIK Davidson is a freelance writer and associate editor of Overland magazine. Rjurik has written short stories, essays, reviews and screenplays. PS Publishing published his collection, The Library of Forgotten Books, in 2010. His novel, Unwrapped Sky, will be published by Tor in 2012. He writes reviews of speculative fiction for the Age newspaper, film reviews for several magazines and has a regular column in Overland. Rjurik’s screenplay The Uncertainty Principle (co-written with Ben Chessell) is currently under development with German company Lailaps Films. He has been short-listed for and won a number of awards. He can be found at www.rjurikdavidson.blogspot.com and has a blog on the Overland website called Against Reality.

You have a collection and, in the pipeline, novels set in your world of minotaurs and sirens: how have you approached such mythic creatures in your fiction?
As a child I read the Greek myths and, around the age of six, my imagination was captured by the ruins of Ancient Rome. There’s always been something transcendent about myth, which is why they still resonate with us. But in my stories, I wanted to approach the mythology — minotaurs, sirens, cyclops and gorgons — with a modern sensibility. That is, I wanted to keep the sense of myth and the mythic, but place it within an industrial world. The minotaur myth, for example, is sometimes said to be about technology: Theseus finds his way through the minotaur’s labyrinth with a ball of string. In a sense, ‘The Passing of the Minotaurs’ <read the short story at SciFi.com> — which is an extract from an early section of Unwrapped Sky — is a rewriting of this myth in an industrial capitalist world. The minotaurs are undone by modernity — by the power of commodification, if you like, in a similar way to many old and beautiful things in our world (old buildings or old forests, for example).

This fantasy world, and the city of Caeli-Amur, might be thought of as city a bit like Rome or Turin in the 1920s. In Caeli-Amur, there’s industrialism, a rising working class, a strange bureaucratic capitalism, but there’s also the remnants of an older less developed society, and even further back the ruined remnants of a more advanced society. So the mythology all takes place in a world where there’s a great deal of of change. There’s social turbulence. No one quite knows where it’s all headed. It is a world where ‘all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned’ as Marx once described it. What could be more profane than the death of a minotaur and the use of its body parts as commodities?


Have the short stories been a way of exploring the world in preparation for the longer works, or were the novels always the end goal?
I love short stories. In many ways, they’re more interesting than novels. You can be more experimental and you can be more adventurous in content. Quite often, the things which become famous at novel-length are first done in short story form (think of Gibson, for example). The stories gain a certain notoriety and this encourages the writer to develop those sorts of stories at longer length. One of the reasons is that novels have a slightly longer shelf-life, and there’s a little more money in them. That’s the way it happened with me, anyway. People liked Caeli-Amur and the stories set there, so I thought, right, time to write a novel set there. Still, I’ll always write short stories, just as I’ll always write essays and scripts and other things.


You are an editor on a literary magazine and you’re a Ditmar winner for best new talent: what’s your take on the literature/genre divide?
Oh, I have several responses, all pretty contradictory. My first response is that the division is false. Writers like Atwood, Ishiguru, Houllebecq and Winterson are clearly writing SF. On the other hand, there are plenty of SF writers writing very ‘literary’ science fiction: Gene Wolfe or M John Harrison, for example. Partly the division is invented by the marketing departments of publishing companies, partly there’s an inherited prejudice against SF in the ‘mainstream’ (which I find ignorant and repulsive), but there’s also quite often a self-reinforced ghettoisation from the SF community also.

I find it all pretty frustrating because there are all sorts of deleterious effects of the division. SF writers are unfairly ignored and ‘literary’ writers writing SF too-often claimed as ‘original’ when they’re really borrowing tropes that have been around for decades. At Overland we try to be inclusive: we’ve had special SF editions, publish SF stories and articles, but I do feel fairly sad that the SF community pretty much ignores us — something reflected not only in terms of our submissions but reflected in things like awards, links to our online articles and so on.

Another passed-down quirk of the division between the literary and SF worlds is the over-emphasis on plot-driven narrative in genre. Genre writers, readers and editors probably do want more ‘action’ than the literary world (which could often do with more action!). I’m not sure that’s healthy. Having said that, the SF community is a really welcoming and in the end, in terms of fiction, that’s where I happily exist.


What Australian works have you loved recently?
There’s a bunch of really great Australian SF writers. In fact, I’m amazed by the talent in Australian SF. I’ve loved stories by James Bradley, Lisa Hannett, Angela Slatter. But you know, I’m constantly surprised by the number of new writers coming though. And then there are other wonderful writers who have been around a while: Kirstyn McDermott, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti, Trent Jamieson and so on. I might say that the loss of Paul Haines leaves a massive hole in the SF scene.


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
I’m not sure I could answer that. I’ve been a bit lost in novel-writing. But things seem to be coming along okay. The Aurealis Awards I went to last year were vibrant and professional, and the writers coming through, as I mentioned before, are talented. The end of Clarion South is a pretty big blow, I think, and there’s the ongoing ‘digital’ revolution (Aurealis is now mostly in e-book format).

The challenges here are going to be the challenges the whole publishing industry is facing. No one can be sure quite where we’ll end up, but it seems likely that there will be less money around, and fewer readers (the statistics show that the average reader age is increasing). None of this is great for writers or publishers and we can expect that as an money-making industry, publishing might be on its last legs.

At Overland we’ve been debating this for some time (on the website, in public forums and in the magazine’s pages) and some of us think that the solution may be to return to a more, for want of a better term, ‘social-democratic’ system, where the government funds an independent publishing house (or houses?) in the way it funds something like the ABC.

In this sense, the challenges of publishing are similar to those of quality Australian TV drama, which can’t compete with international TV without stepping out of the system of commercialism. SF steps out of these bounds with labour-of-love small presses (which are wonderful), but they’re not a way for anyone to earn a basic living.

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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: Talie Helene

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoTALIE HELENE is a musician and writer, from Melbourne. She has poetry published in journals including Voiceworks, Avant and Inkshed, and Mary Manning’s About Poetry (Oxford University Press), and a co-authored short story (with Martin Livings) ‘The Last Gig of Jimmy Rucker’ in More Scary Kisses (edited by Liz Grzyb). Talie is horror editor for the anthology The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror (Ticonderoga Publications), and was news editor for the Australian Horror Writers’ Association for four years (2006-2010), for which she received a Ditmar nomination. She is a member of the SuperNova writers’ group. Talie has a background in music journalism – especially extreme genres – and has performed with many artists including The Tenth Stage, Wendy Rule, Sean Bowley, Saba Persian Orchestra, Maroondah Symphony, and Eden. She is currently developing a new audio arts anthology titled The Unquiet Grave. You can find out more at www.taliehelene.com.

What are the pleasures and perils of compiling the horror component of the Ticonderoga Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror?
One of the guiding principals I have is that the stories need to go to different emotional places, because horror is about hitting raw nerves. If you hit the same nerve too many times, you desensitise and the stories become emotionally monochrome. Horror is unique in that the genre is defined by emotion, rather than trope or context – you can have a completely supernatural story that is horror, and a totally realistic story that is also horror. So trying to keep the mix fresh and blow the readers away in different ways, keep the emotional impact – that is pure fun. Editing a Year’s Best is a bit like being a DJ. The works are already published and polished, so the job is to find that mix of hits and undiscovered gems and make the overall experience entertaining and powerful and surprising. It’s a kick!

Working with Liz and Russell at Ticonderoga is totally a pleasure. I was a dark horse choice for this editing job, and having them believe in my instincts is very humbling. They are also really understanding, and they’ve been very supportive throughout. Having a purpose that isn’t focused on my own headspace has probably been a saving grace for me. Just getting to associate with such fine writers is a buzz and an honour; meeting some of ‘my authors’ and having these instantly engaging conversations about narrative that I would never otherwise have is a delight.

The perils. Well, there should be perils in compiling horror, right?

I think probably the biggest peril is balancing literary horror and visceral horror; horror goes to places that connect with visceral responses, and it goes to places of deep trauma and danger and anger, and sex and death are so very tangled together. If the emotion overwhelms the form it can be incomprehensible, and if the form overwhelms the emotion you get cliche. The quality that lifts both aspects up is authenticity. I’m just one person, so I have to trust my own instincts as to which stories do which of those things excellently. Just entering that territory is perilous, because when people disagree they will disagree vehemently. Conversely, if I didn’t stick to my guns about my choices, I have no business editing horror.

I worship what I would call literary horror – writing that engages with top-shelf word craft and narrative constructs in the service of hitting those raw nerves. In the Capital L Literature world the idea of ‘literary horror’ is regarded as an oxymoron. The reality of any genre is you have to read through a truckload of mediocrity to find the amazing work. Go to a Capital L Literary spoken word night. You will have to endure an avalanche of bullshit to experience a few dazzling talents. But I think it’s harder for people to go the other way – from the literary world, to the horror world – because horror stories do contain exploded intestines! The bad ones have exploded intestines! The brilliant ones have exploded intestines! It takes a committed reader to learn to separate being repulsed by bad gory writing, and enthralled by brilliant gory writing – which is also repulsive! But repulsive in the service of some larger meaning.

Really great horror stories aren’t just about horror – there is always something else that makes you empathise. That’s the reason Stephen King writes so much about love and different kinds of relationships. If you write about death, you write about life. I think horror is the deepest genre because it speaks from that precipice of our mortality. But I’m not allowed to harpoon people who don’t share that view!

While I prize literary horror, I also feel very connected with visceral horror. There would be something really wrong if the horror selection in Year’s Best didn’t include some stories where things that are supposed to be inside people are splashed all over the page – maybe that is blood, or a terrible secret, or unbearable knowledge. I think there are people who read horror and appraise the shock value over the literary merit – that reader is going to roll their eyes at terror in sunlight stories or existential horror. For me, blood and the numinous are equally powerful. By making a broad selection, I’m demanding the reader be open to all of that.

Is that condescending? I don’t mean to be condescending to consider that a peril. My gut tells me horror writers feel that they put great demands on readers too, and that is one of the issues of commercialism (or lack of) for horror.

There is an amorphous danger zone of gender politics in the speculative fiction community in Australia, and in horror more than any other genre. It is in part due to a disparity in theorised feminism, because writers range from all walks of life – can I say thank fuck? That is something I can appreciate from both sides, because I’m not a theorised feminist myself. (I don’t have a degree, and while I do read feminist musicology with interest, I’m truant on Feminism 101.) I think the sticking point is that horror is often violent, and historically violence precedes from the patriarchy, so there has been confusion in separating confronting language from gendered language.

As horror editor of the Year’s Best, I’ve had to remain silent on feminist issues I might have otherwise been very vocal about, because I have conflict of interest – and I support people in their artistic practice who have completely contradictory views, including views that I don’t agree with. It doesn’t mean I’m not participating in the discourse, because I will recognise writers who are disrupting and interrogating those issues in their work, and that becomes an influence in my editorial process. I want the anthology to be a powder keg of awesome! My philosophy is stolen from an old 3RRR Radio Station ID: ‘Diversity in the face of adversity’.

A more personal peril is discovering if I don’t include a writer’s stories, I can hurt the feelings of a friend – and maybe give them the erroneous impression that they had ‘a bad year’. While the words ‘best’ and ‘horror’ are the stars by which I navigate in story selection, there are also other pressures on the selection process – and not every fine story on the shortlist makes it through. It does not always mean those stories aren’t as good – or that I am prejudiced against a certain flavour of horror and won’t ever include it. This is the arts. It is subjective. It has to be subjective. And the DJ part of the editorial process serves a mix, not just an evaluation.

The final peril is for me as an emerging writer. Donning the hat of gatekeeper threatens to crush my view of my own writing with 10,000 tonnes of neurosis. (And that’s what SuperNova is for?)

You’ve got a Ditmar-nominated short ghost story co-written with Martin Livings: is this a sign that we might be seeing more Talie Helene stories out in the wild soon, and is the supernatural likely to play a role in new material?
If by soon you mean ever, then the answer is ‘eventually’. It’s a sign! The stories I have in progress have supernatural elements, although that wasn’t a conscious choice. You can’t really marinate your brain in horror fiction without soaking up the supernatural – and it kind of crunches down to writing emotion. I was already into it, but how tumultuous and marginalised my life has been in the past few years has probably pushed me deeper into it. You can write emotion through the supernatural that might not translate if you tried to deliver it Capital L Literary style. I don’t want to jinx the writing by turning this into a publicity blurb for unpublished work. I need to submit an ‘unavailable form’ to my retail job for SuperNova Sundays, and be humble or shameless with bringing drafts to the table.


You’re known for being a musician and a writer, and ‘The Last Gig of Jimmy Rucker’ combines the two: in what ways do those two creative pursuits influence each other in your practice?
Your question makes it sound nice, Jason. My stock answer is ‘they are the two halves of my heart’ – but right now, fox-holed in a robotic random day job, wearing a plastic smile and folding knickers in a department store – music and writing feel like combatants! They both fight for time and energy I barely have, and one is always stealing time from the other, so of course the other claws in as an influence. Anything beyond writing, that a writer spends time immersed in – history, physics, maths, or philosophy – that is going to influence them. That goes both for social engagement – dialogue colour and character – and for soaking up information that ignites ideas. Whatever boards you tread – the squeaky boards there are your story. Especially if the dark stuff sings to you.

So that kind of influence… I’d like to think my diction and structural sense of drama are influenced by music. I’m definitely influenced by the more personal ways people use music, and that is always a place of story – to grieve, to love, to evoke memory, to escape, to heal, to endure, to mark time, to hide from or find themselves, as a mask, as a drug, as an excuse, as redemption, as Dutch courage, a mating cry, a war cry, a goodbye…

There is something really spooky about singing a Dorian mode with a bunch of other music students. It is intended as an aural drill, but sometimes it hits you that you are inside an ancient structure – and it gives you shivers.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’ll tell you about some things I didn’t anthologise. I had post-it notes plastered all over them – one saying ‘HELLYEAH!’ and one with a sad face and ‘NOT HORROR’.

Two stories from Cat Sparks – ‘The Alabaster Child‘ and ‘Beautiful‘ – were both completely immersive science fiction with a distinct visual style. Cat is one of the best visual stylists in Australia, which is not surprising given her involvement in design and photography. She studies colour and light all the time. Thoraiya Dyer‘s ‘Fruit Of The Peepal Tree‘ was the most delicately painted and subtly paced story I read from 2011, and I’m so glad it won the Aurealis in the Fantasy Short Story category, because I was shattered I couldn’t use it for Year’s Best. Even touching on dark themes of loss, environmental degradation, and female infanticide – it didn’t riff the emotion of a horror story, but it was an exquisite story.

The Rage Against The Night anthology Shane Jiraiya Cummings edited as a fundraiser – while under-the-radar locally, that was an impressive collection. The excerpts I’ve seen from Rocky Wood and Greg Chapman’s Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times (with Lisa Morton) look kickarse.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Given that I have an Atheling nomination for a 2010 Year in Review essay (co-authored with Liz Grzyb), and I’m gap-filling the 2011 review essay right now – it is absurd, but I don’t feel that qualified to answer this question, because I only really follow the horror. I’m kind of new as a writer and an outsider in the Australian speculative fiction enclave – and I’m tremendously self-involved. The PR Bitch answer would be to say Ticonderoga Publications launched a Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror series, right? The size of the two boxes of Year’s Best reading – 2010 and 2011 – 2010 weighs in as a year of bigger output, but the marketing impetus of a Worldcon makes that almost a given.

Australian spec fic had an international profile boost with all those international practitioners visiting Melbourne. While I’d never dream of suggesting it was the reason Alisa Krasnostein and Twelfth Planet Press scored a World Fantasy Award, I think the wave of Aussiecon4 helped an already deserving and enterprising nominee – and this is a good and natural development, and I’m cheering that success on.

The bowing out of Brimstone Press certainly changed the playing field for local horror writers. Bummer. The AHWA seems to have lost cohesion, but I can see a rallying point emerging with Marty Young executive editing Midnight Echo.

The unfortunate melee that Robin Pen hilariously sketched as ‘Ballad of the Unrequited Ditmar‘ seemed to cause a lot of hurt – factions seem delineated, which I think is a pity because in a scene this small we all move forward together. (Who knew I was such a hippy?)

I think the true biggest change – to paraphrase the words of Bren MacDibble – there is a Paul Haines shaped hole in the world. For the broad generation of Paul’s contemporaries, the wave of writers around him, that loss is going to be felt for a long time. Art doesn’t evolve in a slow creep, it leaps forward with bold thinkers and original voices, and then other practitioners play catch-up. I’m not saying he is the only trailblazer in Australia, but that ego Paul always talked about having – to my mind was just that awareness. He was a leap forward kind of artist. He was special. He knew it. The curtailing of that brave talent is the biggest change I’ve seen, and the saddest.

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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: 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:

 

Snapshot 2012: Adam Browne

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoADAM Browne lives in Melbourne. He’s published 30 short stories, winning an Aurealis Award for best SF short story in 2002 and the Chronos in 2009. His first novel, Pyrotechnicon: Being the Further Adventures of Cyrano de Bergerac among the States and Empires of the Stars, by Himself (dec’d), is being released by coeur de lion in September this year — look for a launch at Canberra’s Conflux. Adam has also been working on the internal illustrations — one is available for sale as a print at Signed and Numbered, in Prahran. You can also see a few at his blog.


In ‘The End of Roentgen Rays’, the aptly concluding story of your Phantasmagoriana collection, reality unwinds as language collapses, a process begun with the loss of capital letters: is there a line to be drawn, currently perhaps, between the evolution and devolution of language, and should we privileged texters care as long as we can all understand each other’s tweets?
Yeah, that one’s less about the devolution than language than the idea that the world is made of language. Most of us can’t remember anything before we were two or three; it’s because language doesn’t colonise the mind until around then. Language is cloudware – it does a lot of our thinking for us – or, more than that, it does our perceiving for us.

I wrote the story as a lipogram, but was far too easy on myself: the only letter missing is X. In the end, all the letters unknot and fall apart, the story becoming a lipogram with the entire alphabet missing…

I was looking at the lipogrammatic novel A Void the other day, and suddenly realised it’s a double achievement – not only that it was written, but that it was translated from the French while also avoiding the letter E…

Your short stories often offer a blend of science, history and the fantastic: is there a particular advantage, say, in discussing certain themes, to this melding that more othordox narratives might not hold for you?
I didn’t start writing historical stuff until a friend, Barry Rome, sent an email with a beautiful little paragraph of what he’d like to see in SF; I can’t remember it very well, except that it was sumptuous, diseased – renaissancepunk – bewigged ancients with intelligent calipers, that sort of thing – transgenic peacocks… I wrote a story about Mozart as a hacker as a result. To be frank, I’ve long been driven by the need to impress. Historical science fiction offered opportunities along that line.

But I sometimes think that what we do is try on affectations to see which ones fit. This one fit me in a deep way. Historical SF dealt with my misgivings about fiction set in the future – the future was over, for me at least – and history provides atmosphere, which is so important in fantastical storytelling. The baroque period suits me best, as it suits my love of crammed, adjectival prose, and I think it feels rather like the present – the heedless headlong nature of it – the horror vacui – decadents dancing on the brink of the abyss.


In your forthcoming novel Pyrotechnicon, Cyrano de Bergerac takes us on space adventures. What made you choose Cyrano for this adventure?
Cyrano wrote two SF novels, Englished and republished as Other Worlds in the 1970s. I had the book for years without being all that interested, but then one day my eye just sort of lit on it – that’s all I remember – that moment I knew it was my novel. I was surprised someone hadn’t thought of it before: the third in the trilogy seemed an obvious project. I have to admit I didn’t start my research into the man himself until a year or so into the process. The most interesting detail for me was that Cyrano was gay – proudly, openly – his Trip to the Moon makes it obvious, for all that I assumed the affection between the male characters was just a French thing, or a 17th century thing. I began to wonder if Edmond Rostand, who wrote the eponymous play, was giving a sly nod to this when Cyrano’s love of Roxane is never consummated.

My Cyrano belongs more to Rostand than history. Manic, swashbuckling, epigrammatic, ingenious, madly inventive, a magnificent outsider. I got the same thrill from writing him as I do writing pirates – he’s at once real and fictional – a picture book character with heft, a commedia dell’arte character with depth. His energy and strength of character served to hold the novel together – he’s ridiculous, but he’s vulnerable and ferocious and engaging…

So to answer your question, I can’t really answer it. I don’t know why I started with him, but I think what I’ve said here goes to show why I stuck with him.

As for Pyrotechnicon: Being a True Account of the Further Adventures of Cyrano de Bergerac, by Himself (dec’d), I’m proud of it. I reckon it’s a goer. It’s a good sign when you read something and it feels like someone else wrote it. Like it’s come from on high, where all good art comes from. Maybe it’ll be for me as it was with Rostand, whose best work was also about Cyrano – he’s our muse, taking us to the peak of our art.


What Australian works have you loved recently?
Recently, I belatedly bought Anna Tambour’s Monterra’s Deliciosa & Other Tales. It’s wonderful, full of wonder. Two stories in particular, ‘Temptation of the Seven Scientists’ and ‘Monterra’s Deliciosa’, gave me a feeling I find hard to describe – an airiness in the frontal lobes, as if the central crevice were opening out. Literally mind expanding, I suppose. I relish her naturalist’s approach to the world, her witty, transparent, rich but economical prose.

After Paul Haines died, I re-read The Last Days of Kali Yuga, and enjoyed it as much as ever — he’s not a horror writer, despite that was how he defined himself; like all of the most worthwhile artists, his writing is its own genre, unique to him alone.

I went through my old David Ireland books this year too. The Flesh Eaters, A Woman of the Future. What a writer. How shameful that he’s been out of print for so long – though I saw recently that someone else felt that lack, and is having them reissued.

I beta-read Lee Battersby‘s novel The Corpse-Rat King too – and I’m realising now that all these authors are the same in that they’re all different – all unique. Like the others, Lee’s writing was ostensibly of a genre I normally avoid, but I persisted, and was glad of it – it’s a romp, it’s grotesque and inventive; it’s peculiarly Battersbyesque…

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
The biggest change was Paul Haines’s death. Without being too sentimental or eulogistic, he’d be king of the scene by now; with his Penguin deal, his novelisation of the Wolf Creek prequel, all the rest of it, he’d have been a Proper Writer, object of awe at the conventions. I’d have been jealous of his success, but his largesse was such that he would have shared it around, would have been admonishing me and my more insular contemporaries to keep ourselves out there; he would been sending this or that opportunity our way and encouraging us with his enthusiasm — all that stuff. Ah, he was such a fun guy. I’ll always miss him.

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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: Andrew McGahan

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoANDREW McGahan is one of Australia’s finest and most varied writers. His first novel, Praise, won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1992, and his third, Last Drinks, won a 2001 Ned Kelly award for crime writing. In 2004 his fourth novel, The White Earth, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Age Fiction Book of the Year, and The Courier Mail Book of the Year. His most recent adult novel is Wonders of a Godless World which won the 2009 Aurealis award for science fiction. In 2011 Andrew released the first volume of his young-adult fantasy Ship Kings series, The Coming of the Whirlpool, currently short-listed in the CBCA awards and the Australian Book Industry awards and an Aurealis finalist. The second volume in the series, The Voyage of the Unquiet Ice, will be published in late 2012.

Andrew lives in Melbourne with his partner of many years, Liesje.


Some writers use pen names when they write across disparate genres, but you haven’t. What have been the pros and cons of sticking with the one brand?

I did toy with using a pen name for Ship Kings, and I might indeed have elected to employ one if my previous books had been in a single non-fantasy genre. But as I’ve already strayed a little across the genres with the earlier novels, I didn’t think anyone would be too bothered if I ventured into yet another field under my own name. As for the pros and cons of it -– I’m not sure about either. I’ve never given much thought to myself as a ‘brand’, or better to say, by the time I realised that I should think about it, my brand was already too muddled to save.


What have been some of the biggest pleasures and perils for an avowed landlubber building a nautical fantasy world?

The perils are obvious enough -– that, in my descriptions of sailing, I make a technical error so obvious and outrageous that it snaps the reader out of the story. To that end, I’ve done as much research as I can on the basics of sail, but at the same time I’ve avoided full-on immersion in it, nor have I signed up for duty on a tall ship. Too much reality could actually become self defeating. For of course the Ship Kings series is not set in our world, or upon our oceans -– indeed, the Ship Kings ocean has quite different physical properties — so real sailing is only relevant up to a point. Therefore my premise has been that even though I’ll never fool experienced sailors, if I can reasonably convince fellow landlubbers that I know what I’m talking about, then that’s good enough.

The pleasures are manifold. Precisely because I have so little experience of the sea, it has remained a great unknown for me where imagination can roam as it likes, which no doubt is why I’ve always particularly loved seafaring stories — especially the more fantastic tales of whirlpools and sea monsters and baffling disappearances. The Ship Kings series is a gleeful chance to revisit and enlarge upon all those boyhood adventures I remember reading. I couldn’t be having more fun.


You’ve won an Aurealis award and been short-listed for another, and have some far more presitigious award credits to your name. Without necessarily buying into the recent fracas in your old home state, what have these various levels of accolade meant for you personally and your writing career?

I’ve been very fortunate with awards over the years and I’m always amazed by (and grateful for) the passion for writing that it takes to set up and run such things. The Queensland awards are a case in point. As you know, they’re going ahead anyway in community form –- and the lack of prize money aside (and ignoring the wider politics of their axing, and the whole question of the role of governments in supporting literature) they’ll actually be better awards for it in some ways, because they’ll be a product of ground level enthusiasm, rather than an obligation of government policy.

But to win any award, of course, feels fantastic, for all the obvious reasons –- the validation of your work, the increased sales of the book in question, and not least the raw cash, should prize money be included. There’s no doubt that all of it together gives you confidence to push on with your career, when royalty statements alone might make you question if it’s worth while -– and the bigger the award the better. But strangely it’s some of the smaller awards I’ve won or been shortlisted for that have stuck in my mind the most, because I’ve been aware that they exist only because a tight group of organisers, judges and fans care enough to make them exist. There’s something rather humbling about that.


What Australian works have you loved recently?
Of late, Scot Gardner’s The Dead I Know –- very interesting indeed. And far too belatedly, sadly, I finally cottoned on to Paul Haines, with The Last Days of Kali Yuga collection. Cracking stuff.


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years?
I’m the last person to ask as I’m not very well read in any realm of Australian writing, speculative or otherwise, and I’ve struggled life-long with a deep-seated phobia for group activities such as conferences and literary festivals, so that I rarely meet or talk with other writers, or even readers. Which all means I’m pretty ignorant of trends in the local industry.

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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:

Australian Shadows announced

The Australian Shadows awards for home-grown horror have been announced. As with this year’s Aurealis awards, there’s no gong for horror novel; otherwise, a very small cross-over in the short-lists. The short-lists have been announced at the same time as the winners, so no time for a drum roll … Please see the full list at the Australian Horror Writers’ website. Particularly pleasing to see Dead Red Heart get up — vampires, nom nom nom — and Paul Haines’s truly chilling meta-story The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt! Congratulations all!

Snapshot 2012: Robert Hoge

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoBRISBANE writer Robert Hoge has never had a job that didn’t involve writing. His first job was working on a sports newspaper at the University of Queensland where he spent time interviewing future Olympic gold medallists before they were famous. Since then he’s worked as a full-time journalist, a speechwriter, a science communicator for the CSIRO and a political advisor. Robert has had a number of short stories, articles and interviews published in Australia and overseas. You can visit him at www.roberthoge.com.

You had a beautifully poetic short story in last year’s After the Rain anthology and there’s a similar atmosphere to other shorts: is that a preferred mode or just what best suited those yarns, a space you were in at the time…?
Glad you liked it.

I kind of hit on a series of shorts about the elements – especially water – almost by accident. I certainly didn’t plan it that way but I think I kept coming back to it because it was simple but brutally powerful at the same time.

I like taking the elements we’re so familiar with – water, rain, fire – and throwing them onto the page and seeing what happens.

You’ve got an autobiography occupying your time — where to after that, writing-wise?
Yep, I haven’t finished any new short stories in a while because I’m still really focussed on that. But by the end of the year, I want to knock a few new short stories out and get stuck into a novel about civil disobedience that keeps rattling around my head.

After the awards ceremony at Perth’s natcon last year, you wrote an open letter to the spec fic community about ensuring access to such ceremonies. What was the response?
The response was very heartening – especially from the event organisers themselves. Everyone seemed to immediately understand and acknowledge that we need to do better – as a community.

I think the community has a tremendous capacity to self-organise and self-correct when we need to. We can get an awful lot done when we put our mind to it.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
Well, if I keep it to the last year or so…

The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood; the collections by Paul Haines, Angela Slatter (2) and Lisa L. Hannett; and a lot of the really high quality stuff that’s coming out from Twelfth Planet Press.

I’ve also really been enjoying the artwork Kathleen Jennings has been producing – it’s great and you can tell almost immediately that it is a work produced by her.


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
That’s a hard one. I think it’s so much easier for everyone to organise now, to communicate, that the changes seem – and probably are – less pronounced. And I think some of these things would have happened without Aussiecon 4 anyway, but I’m really impressed with the development of some of our independent presses. The people running them are doing great but I’m also really impressed with how much it is allowing other creatives like Amanda Rainey and Dion Hamill to develop as well.

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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: