Dimension6: we have lift off

dimension6 speculative fiction magazineA quick plug to say today is the day for Australia’s newest spec fic magazine: the free, digital Dimension6. It’s available here and includes yarns by Richard Harland, Charlotte Nash and yours truly. You can get a taste of what each of us (and editor Keith Stevenson) is about thanks to an interview series conducted by Angela Slatter — just click those links. Or just read the magazine!
Dimenion6 runs three issues a year, so stick around!

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Dimension6 cover and contents

dimension 6 speculative fiction magazineThe covers are off Dimension6, Couer de Lion‘s free digital spec fic mag hitting the interwebs on April 4. It’s a pleasure to be sharing pixels with Richard Harland and Charlotte Nash, who has not only hit the shelves with some rural medical romance but is a dab hand in the fantastic, too — see her ‘The Ship’s Doctor‘ for a taste. And obviously D6, for more.

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: Sophie Masson

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoNEW South Wales writer Sophie Masson has written more than 50 books ranging from fantasy to history, mystery to graphic novels. In 2011 her historical novel, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, while her alternative history novel, The Hand of Glory, won the Young Adult category of the 2002 Aurealis Awards. She has also written several novels for adults, and four romantic thrillers for teenagers under the pen-name of Isabelle Merlin.

Her latest novels are The Boggle Hunters (Scholastic), a fantasy adventure for young readers 8-12, and My Brother Will (AchukaBooks), a novel for adults and young adults about a year in the Shakespeare family’s life, as told by William Shakespeare’s younger brother Gilbert. Forthcoming are the YA fairytale thriller Moonlight and Ashes (Random House) and the historical adventure novel for younger readers, Ned Kelly’s Secret (Scholastic).
www.sophiemasson.org


Your list of fairytale books is getting long! The latest, Moonlight and Ashes, is out this month. What was it about Cinderella that attracted you?
Well, I’ve always loved the story and been fascinated by it and how it’s probably the most common fairytale theme across all cultures and different times — the theme of the neglected, abused, oppressed young girl who is gifted a better life and love of her own. It is a common human longing. The versions of the story I know best are the classic French one, Cendrillon, as told by Perrault (with the fairy godmother); the English one, Tattercoats, collected by Joseph Jacobs (which has a flute-playing gooseherd as the magic-worker, and which I used for my earlier novel Cold Iron) and the German one collected by the Grimm brothers, Ashputtel , which has no fairy godmother or gooseherd but instead a magic tree which grows from a hazel twig that Ashputtel hears about in a dream sent to her by her dead mother. I always liked that version because the Cinderella figure there is much more active than many of the others, and a lot depends on her own strength of character. It’s that which drove the creation of my own Cinderella character, Selena — though I’ve pushed it even further with her. And I’ve made a complete setting for her too — a fully fleshed out world, which is actually an alternative-world version if you like of the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the main setting, Ashberg, based on Prague, which I visited a couple of years ago. Fairytales are extraordinary and always reveal so much when you work with them and this one was no exception. It was an intense emotional experience, writing it.


Your bibliography covers so many genres. In the recently published The Boggle Hunters, you seem to have mixed science fiction with fairy folk fantasy — did that pose any particular challenges?
Not really. What I’ve done is updated many fairytale and folklore motifs and given them a modern twist, so that the Fays and Grays, the rival faery tribes in The Boggle Hunters, invent all kinds of very science-fiction sounding gadgets and suchlike, but in truth they are jazzed-up versions of very traditional things: the IWish card is an update of three wishes, for instance; the ‘glammer’ which the boggle hunters carry with them is a cross between a magic wand, a computer, camera and many other things! It was immense fun to do!


With such a diverse back catalogue of genres and readerships, have you noticed any common themes? Or have you found that some genres suit different themes better than others?
Well there certainly are common themes — among them that Cinderella theme of the neglected and left behind winning through to love and happiness; also an examination of courage and its antithesis, which to me isn’t cowardice so much as cruelty; the world within the world rather than beyond it — I am firmly imbued with the idea of what the Welsh called Annfwn, the ‘In-World’ — the magic world is not outside of ours but living by it and behind it. I think my own experiences growing up as a child between two worlds — France and Australia — and two languages — French and English — have contributed to that. I am also very much interested in metamorphosis in all its forms, and dreams.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
Very recently, I’ve loved Kate Forsyth’s gorgeous riff on the Rapunzel story, Bitter Greens, which weaves three different stories within its historical and magical framework. Richard Harland’s extraordinary steampunk Worldshaker series is also a great recent favourite. And though it’s not brand new, I’ve just read Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier, which is a beautiful, suspenseful and unusual version of another of my favourite fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast, which Juliet has set in Ireland around the 12th century, I think — anyway, there are Norman invaders, so I thought probably that time. (Incidentally, I’m at present writing my own Beauty and the Beast novel , titled Scarlet in the Snow, which is inspired by the Russian version of the story, The Scarlet Flower and set in a country called Ruvenya, within the same basic world as Moonlight and Ashes.)

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
I’m not sure — but perhaps the biggest change, and challenge, has come actually from general trends in publishing including the global financial crisis, which sort of made things harder for both writers and publishers, and the disruption but also opportunity afforded by e-publishing. Things are still shaking down from all that.

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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: Ian Irvine

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoIAN Irvine, a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia’s national guidelines for protection of the marine environment and continues to work in this field, has written 28 novels. These include the internationally bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence (The View from the Mirror, The Well of Echoes and Song of the Tears), which has sold over a million copies, a trilogy of thrillers set in a world undergoing catastrophic climate change, Human Rites, and 12 books for younger readers, the most recent being the humorous fantasy quartet, Grim and Grimmer.

Ian’s latest fantasy novel is Vengeance, Book 1 of The Tainted Realm trilogy. He’s currently doing the final edits of the second book, Rebellion, which will be published in Australia in October 2012, and the US and UK in early 2013.

Keep up with Ian at his website www.ian-irvine.com and on Facebook.

Your eco-thrillers have been recently re-released: how has the market for such stories changed since they were first published?
I don’t know that it has, actually. As far as I can tell, the market for eco-thrillers has never been a huge one. Even at times when the public had a high level of concern about environmental issues, and has been flocking to eco-disaster movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, I’m told that sales of eco-thriller books have generally been modest. I’m not sure why – perhaps it’s a bit close to home.


Your latest novel is called Vengeance. What topics have you found that fantasy can talk about more easily or more effectively than other genres, if any?
I’ve long been fascinated by the ways that seizing or maintaining political power can undermine the legitimacy of a realm – it happens all the time in history. For instance in Australia, the current Gillard government is constantly being white-anted because of the way its previous prime minister was overthrown. Malcolm Fraser’s government 30 years ago also suffered from the way the previous Whitlam government was deposed.

This issue formed the germ of the idea behind The Tainted Realm – a nation, scarred by a deep sense of national guilt about its own origins, that now faces a resurgent enemy it has no idea how to fight.


Your recent releases include a series for younger readers and now this new, epic fantasy. What are the different joys and challenges you’ve experienced in writing for these two audiences?
One of the best things about being a writer is the ‘next-book dream’ – that the story I’m about to write will be original or provocative or funny or life-changing, or non-stop, edge-of-the-seat suspenseful. Sometimes, in moments of authorial madness, I imagine that it can be all of the above. And everything in my life: every snippet of research, every odd idea jotted down or moment of inspiration can go into the pot, get a good stir, simmer for weeks or years, then miraculously and effortlessly flow into the story. Ha!

One of the worst aspects is grinding out the first draft. It usually starts well, and sometimes runs well for as much as eight or 10 chapters. Vengeance did. And I was lulled, poor fool that I am. Yes, I thought, this book is going to be a snap.
Then suddenly I was in the writer’s ‘death zone’ where every word came with an effort, every sentence sounded banal, every character was done to death, every situation boring and repetitive. Nothing worked; nothing felt inspired. What had gone wrong? Had I used all my ideas up and burned myself out as a writer? I started to think that I’ll never write anything worth reading again.

Nearly every novel has this stage, which generally occurs about a quarter of the way in, and sometimes lasts until half-way. Of all my books, the only ones I’ve not been stuck on were the last two books of my humorous adventure stories for younger readers, Grim and Grimmer. They were written to such short deadlines and with such wild and wacky enthusiasm that there wasn’t time to get into the death zone. It was the first time I’d ever completely let go as a writer, and they were the most fun I’ve had writing.

Vengeance, on the other hand, was one of the worst because I had so many interruptions from other deadlines – pre-existing commitments for the last Runcible Jones YA novel plus the four Grim and Grimmers. Writing is hard work at the best of times, but doubly hard when I’m forced to jump back and forth between different kinds of books.

Also, because really big books present a writing challenge that doesn’t occur with small ones – it’s difficult to keep the whole vast canvas in mind at once. The only way to write such books (for me, anyway) is in long, uninterrupted slabs of time, otherwise every interruption hurls me out of the characters’ heads and I have to laboriously write my way back in again. And no matter how well yesterday’s writing went, each new day presents the same challenge.


What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’m a big fan of Richard Harland’s steampunk world, as exemplified in his terrific World Shaker and Liberator. I’ve also enjoyed Stephen Irwin’s dark thriller The Dead Path, and Trent Jamieson’s excellent trilogy The Business of Death. Apart from that, I’ve bought lots of Aussie speculative fiction recently but it’s still on the ever-growing unread pile.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Sorry, I don’t have the faintest idea. I’m only now emerging from the busiest time of my writing life, and I rarely read short stories, so any emerging trends in Aussie speculative fiction have passed me by.

However, looking at the publishing and bookselling side of things, we face challenges we haven’t seen in the past decade and a half, since Aussie SF publishing, sales and international success exploded in the mid-to-late ’90s. From now on, due to the high dollar, the demise of book chains and the explosion in e-books and self-publication, it’s going to be a lot harder to get published by a traditional print publisher than it has been at any time since 1995, and sales, for the most part, are liable to be smaller because we’re also competing with a million self-published e-book titles. They might only sell a handful of copies individually, but because there’s so many of them, they add up to a significant chunk of the market. So, tough times ahead, but fantastic opportunities 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:

Continuum, Slights from Angry Robots, and some vampires

So I’m in post-convention funk, short on sleep and strong on caffeine, a day back at work and wondering where the weekend went. The receipts tell some of the story: cabs, airlines, two dinners at a Chinese restaurant with lots and lots of chilli and an amazing capacity for seating and feeding 17 people at the drop of a hat, Japanese, innumerable coffees at the Lindt cafe and the State Library and that excellent sandwich bar in the Queen Victoria Building and other places besides…

Cat Sparks’ (as always) fun photo diary helps fill in some blanks, too.

So, the event was Continuum 5, held in the basement of the sprawling Mercure hotel complex in Melbourne, with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro as international guest of honour. She was rather grand, too. I enjoyed my vampire panel with her, and taking a new novel in the making for a walk during a reading session on the Sunday. I enjoyed meeting up with a bunch of folks from around the country, seeing Deb Biancotti launch her first anthology and Richard Harland steaming on with Worldshaker … and Kirstyn McDermott landed an award trifecta with her short story “Painlessness”, which had already won an Aurealis and a Ditmar before taking a brand new Chronos.

Next year there will be another Continuum, in February, and in September there will be a grandaddy of conventions, the Worldcon aka Aussiecon 4, also in Melbourne. If you are in Australia and write any kind of spec fic, you really owe it to yourself to be at the Worldcon.

Slights by Kaaron Warren

Slights by Kaaron Warren

On the flight home from Melbourne, I finished Kaaron Warren’s debut novel, Slights. It’s one of the first books to be released under HarperCollins’ new spec fic imprint, Angry Robot. It’s a weird title for an imprint, especially given that Kaaron’s book doesn’t have robots in it, nor any science fiction at all. The SF component of two of the other first four books also seems non-existent. No matter. What matters is that Aussie writer Kaaron’s book is a real gem. Sure, I had a little rant about the number of literal errors — you can’t get away from them these days — but don’t let that distract you. This is a compelling read, even though it’s not exactly express train pace. It’s a steam train of personality and character, wit and dread; such fully realised characters just don’t pop up that often, especially when they’re digging up family secrets in the backyard, pissing off their brother, tormenting all and insundry — and paying a heavy price. I can’t say Stevie is likeable, but her honesty is refreshing, her barbed one-liners engaging, her relationship with and indeed morbid curiosity about death intriguing and just a tad spooky. She namechecks Aussie writers Richard Harland and Robert Hood, too. Cool.

Kaaron has two more books signed to Angry Robot. So what’s to be angry about, huh? You tell me, robot.

Despite the previously mentioned funk, there is no rest for the wicked. I’m up to my jugular in vampires, and will be till Saturday when I present a wee talk at the Logan library’s SF month about the evolution of the vampire, from Byron to, ahem, Twilight.

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.