Monthly Archives: June 2012

2012 Aussie Snapshot: Ben Payne

Ben Payne was born from an egg on a mountain top. During his time in the house, he has editored verious publicatons with varying decrees of succest. As a writer, he makes a great baker.

Since the last paragraph he has travelled to the outer climbs of North Angria with a pleasant garlic sausage, where he unearthed a mysterious pot composed entirely of lintels. Out of this pot he has written eleven masterpieces. But he will only allow them to be published preposterously.

You’ve been a perceptive and passionate commentator on the Aussie Spec Fic scene for a number of years now, and have never been afraid to present ideas and opinions that might not be popular. How effective do you think the Aussie Spec Fic community is at keeping itself accountable? Do we do open and frank discussion well?

Well, that’s a tough question. I’ve never courted controversy, but it’s in my nature to brush against the grain. I’ve always had a particular distrust of consensus, groupthink and conformity, I guess.
So in instances where I’ve felt differently to other people I often feel a kind of obligation to speak out. No doubt sometimes I miss the mark. That’s part of life. But I’ve always tried to speak honestly and to adhere to my own principles.

I think as a community it’s a tough balance to tread at times, between mutual support and encouragement on the one hand, and a vibrant and intelligent critical discussion on the other. The two aren’t always easy to reconcile. But I think that, on the whole, we do pretty well at creating a scene where both critical intelligence and community can exist side by side. There are times when we might err toward one or the other, but on the whole I think it all balances out.

I’ve always tried to maintain a balance between discernment and kindness in my own criticism and commentary. And I’ve probably failed on plenty of occasions. But that’s how it goes. The most important thing, I’ve always thought, is to keep the conversation alive. Silence is the biggest enemy of all writers.

As the inaugural editor of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, you must be delighted with its longevity and how it has become a pivotal part of the Aussie landscape. What do you think it is about ASIM that has allowed it to thrive for so long while so many other Aussie Spec Fic magazines have closed or had to radically change to survive?

I don’t think there would be a single member of the original ASIM collective who didn’t think, at heart, that it was a crazy idea with no hope in the world of succeeding. We didn’t admit it too often, out loud. But it really was a crazy shot in the dark kind of venture.

I haven’t been a member of ASIM for about five years, now, so I can perhaps see it with some objectivity. To my mind, its success is attributable to two factors. One; it coincided (not accidentally) with the small press boom of the early 2000s, and rode a wave of goodwill from new readers and new writers. I think that goodwill got us through the early years as we found our way. When I look back at Issue 1 now, I don’t think it was the greatest thing I’ve produced in terms of quality (I was much happier with the second issue I did). There were some good stories in it, but I look back on it more as an artefact, a time capsule or photograph of a particular time, a particular energy that was present in the scene at the time.

The second factor in its success is that most of the original crew buggered off before it became jaded. I think the rotating editorship, for all the problems it brings, has helped to keep the magazine fresh and to keep the enthusiasm from waning. So I like to think I helped save the magazine by jumping ship 🙂

You’ve been responsible for creating some fascinating and wonderfully named projects in the past. Do you have any ideas for new ventures, or anything in the pipeline?

Not at all, actually.

When I started editing and publishing, there were a lot of writers looking to break into the scene, and very few venues where they could be published. I think when Potato Monkey began, there was only Aurealis, Eidolon and Altair on the scene. And so it felt like I could really contribute by providing a venue where new writers could get a break.

Since then, a lot has changed. With online publishing, it has become a lot easier to read and to write for international publications. And the local scene has grown to such an extent that, I would argue, we now need good writers and stories more than we need one more publisher.

Looking back with a little distance, I think I’ve been a better editor than a publisher. I like to think I’ve had a good eye for stories, and how to improve them. But I have never had the drive or ambition to really dive into the business side of things, to create a publicity machine and to generate the buzz that you really need to create to compete with the best in the world. People like Alisa are doing that better than I ever could.

I actually said, just over a decade ago, that I would devote ten years to the scene, in terms of editing, publishing, criticism and behind-the-scenes work, and then concentrate on my own writing. And soon after I said it I thought well, that was a vague throw-away line that I’ll probably forget about and never stick to.

But here I am, oddly, a decade later, and I think it’s time for me to devote some time to my own writing, for better or worse.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Twelfth Planet is producing some awesome stuff. I should disclose that I’m friends with Alisa, and so I might be biased. But I usually don’t find myself judging my friends’ work overly generously. If anything, I’m harder on them because I have higher expectations 🙂 So I mean it when I say that Alisa is publishing stuff that I read for genuine pleasure, not out of any kind of loyalty. The recent collections by Sue Isle, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Deb Biancotti, as well as Ben Peek’s novella, were all first rate stuff.

There was a lot of other great stuff published last year. Paul Haines’
collection deserves special mention. Brimstone did a great job and Haines is a unique talent. I like a lot of what Peter Ball does, too.
And there are plenty of other great writers working in the scene at the moment.

I am a bit out of touch at novel length, I’m afraid. I’ve been telling people for years that they should read Penni Russon, who I genuinely think is one of our most powerful and talented voices, but who is often overlooked because she writes YA. Her novel Only Ever Always is simply beautiful. I don’t think anybody else in this country is writing prose as gorgeous as Penni, and there is a warmth and heart to her work that I just love. I am predicting she will be the writer people remember in a hundred years.

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

I wasn’t at Aussiecon 4, sadly, so I can’t specifically talk about that con. In terms of how the scene has developed over the last few years, I think we’ve seen an increasing professionalism. If the early part of the decade post-2000 could be defined by a vibrant, optimistic amateurism, I think the second half can be defined by a growing professional focus and higher quality works, both in terms of the writing and in terms of production values. People like Alisa, and Russell at Ticonderoga, and others, are producing genuinely good looking books.

We’re seeing more authors being collected. A whole bunch of authors who cut their teeth in the late nineties, who formed part of the nucleus of the small press boom of the early 2000s, are now reaching the stage where they’re producing world class collections and/or novels. I’m thinking of people like Trent Jamieson, Kaaron Warren, Deb Biancotti, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Kirstyn McDermott. You could probably count Margo Lanagan in that group too, although she was writing a little earlier. And we’re seeing the next generation of writers, people like Peter Ball, Ben Peek, Cat Sparks, Rjurik Davidson, Angela Slatter, making regular international sales, and those writers will probably be big names in five years too.

So we’re in a good place at the top end of the field. I am probably less well placed to see where the new voices of the generation after that are coming from. The scene at the newer end of the spectrum feels a lot more diffuse. But that’s exciting too.

If anything it feels like expansion is no longer a problem. We could keep growing and growing. The challenge in the next decade, I feel, will be in finding focus. It’s easier to publish than it used to be, and ebooks are gonna make it even easier. Increasingly, it’s not getting published that’s the hard part, it’s being *read*. That’s always been the case to some extent, but self-publishing and ebooks are going to make it more so. The challenge for publishers and authors in the period to come, I think, will be in finding a way for their voice to cut through the signal to noise ratio, to find an audience and connect.

It’s going to be interesting times, and if the last decade is anything to go by, unpredictable. I can’t wait!

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to Continuum 8 in Melbourne, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2012 conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from June 1 to June 7, 2012.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010


2012 Aussie Snapshot: Abigail Nathan

Abigail Nathan has a background in copywriting, sub-editing and legal editing, but has been a freelance editor for eight years. She works with various publishing houses, including HarperCollins, Random House and Hachette, and also works with emerging and self-publishing writers. Abigail is the managing director of Bothersome Words Editing and Writing Services and the website manager for the Society of Editors (NSW).

As well as working with some of the major publishing houses, you also provide editing services for self published writers. Do you think that there is a difference in perception of the role of an editor, or their importance, by those involved in traditional publishing models and self published writers?

I want to avoid generalising here because, well, I don’t want to get lynched! But mainly because I’ve worked with people with all sorts of different publishing backgrounds, experiences and views. I’ve worked with self publishers who started out in traditional publishing, and authors from both fields with either no experience or extensive experience.

I do think self publishers and traditionally publishing authors often view editors and their role differently, but I also think it’s important to keep in mind that these authors necessarily also have slightly different relationships with their editors and with the publishing process, and they will have different considerations that will affect their perceptions.

A traditionally published author usually comes to editing through a publisher (although yes, they may have hired an editor to polish their original manuscript for submission). The editing process is provided for them – and forced on them, really; they might retain the right to refuse certain changes or resist editorial suggestions, but there’s no way they’re getting published by a traditional publishing house without being edited. Even if the manuscript is squeaky clean and the story engages every person who reads it, it will still go through the editing process.

By contrast, a self publisher could publish their first rough draft if they wanted to. If they don’t want to, if they want the services of a professional editor, they have to pay for those services. With traditional publishing all those editing costs (whether they’re in-house or outsourced to freelancers) and any delays resulting from this process are swallowed by the publishing house. For a self-publishing author those costs and delays are personal. A self-publishing author has to decide, at every step, whether they can afford to pay for another round of editing – and whether or not it is worth it to them, to their project, perhaps even to their writing career, to do so.

So I think self-publishing authors and traditionally publishing authors come to their editors with different values, ideals and requirements. I do get the impression most authors, once they have been through the editing process – no matter whether they self publish or go through a trade publisher – understand what an editor can bring to their work. All those queries and track changes and pencil marks have to be worth something, even if the authors don’t agree with any of them!

As a general rule I find the traditionally published authors I work with, particularly if they have been doing this for a while, expect a lot more nitpicking – they will want to know any errors and expect to be pulled up. (Although they might still complain about the harsh edit afterwards!)
My work with self-publishing authors is not so very different in terms of the actual editing except that, as a freelancer, I rarely work directly with authors who come to me via a publisher – there’s usually another in-house editor, or even the publisher, in between. When I work with self publishers I am more likely to work as a sounding board and give advice and some level of mentoring. Often self-publishing authors are surprised by the level of detail an edit can go into and I suspect many of them have editing confused with proofreading, even when the process is discussed up front.

It seems to me that while a traditionally published author will weigh an editor’s value by how engaged they were with their book and whether or not they really connected and gave relevant advice and feedback, a self publisher will often then weigh all that against costs. I’ve heard a lot of self publishers say that a few typos, or errant commas, or even awkward sentences, are unimportant in the grand scheme of things; as long as the manuscript is in reasonably good shape and the reader can understand the story. Sometimes they’ll mix and match professional editing with the volunteer services of eagle-eyed friends to keep the costs down.

There seems to be a growing trend in self publishing to hire editors and then promote as a sales point the fact that a work has been professionally edited, so obviously there is a certain perception of value there. However, equally, I see a lot of people querying the value of paying for such a service when self-publishing itself is so cheap and editing, by contrast, perceived as so expensive. I’m interested to see how all this shakes out in the long run.

And of course, all this is simply my perception, as an editor, of how others perceive editors. So… I feel I should really have handed out grains of salt for people to hang on to while reading this!

How did you develop the skills and knowledge required to be an editor? Are there any courses or resources you would recommend to aspiring editors?

I studied English, among other things, at university. (Step one to becoming an editor: learn All The Things – I think I took courses in nearly every discipline except Maths. Every topic I studied has come up at least once in my editing career.) After that, I managed to get a job as an editorial assistant and have since worked as a copywriter, magazine sub-editor, legal editor and now freelance editor.

Most of my editing skills I learned on the job, in-house – there is no better way to learn. Every magazine I have worked at as a sub-editor has been fast-paced, with a high volume of copy to get through every day. I can’t think of a better training ground, and magazine editing is always a lot of fun. I’ve worked at two legal publishers, which understandably had very exacting standards. They provided intense editorial training that was regularly updated and this was a great place to hone accuracy and proofreading skills.

As a freelancer I frequently take courses and workshops, and of course I’m always reading up on grammar and language. Current to-learn is ebook editing. Freelancers have to keep themselves on top of industry changes like this even faster than in-house staff, but we have to seek out our own training.

A lot of the universities offer courses specifically in editing and publishing – I know Macquarie and RMIT do. The state editors societies all run regular workshops, which are great for brushing up skills, and often the local writers’ centres run longer courses on editing, too. Plus there are various private colleges, schools and centres that offer courses.  Get hold of The Style Manual, The Editor’s Companion and Strunk and White and read, read, read. Also edit, edit, edit – because while a course will teach you a lot, the absolute best way to learn is to edit every day – look out for opportunities to volunteer your services and if you can “shadow” another editor, or get a look at some marked-up manuscripts or documents, do so.

If you could pick any author, living or dead, to work with, who would it be?

This is a horrible question, right up there with “if you were going to be stuck on a desert island and you could only take one book with you…”. In all honesty, I work with some incredible authors. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I realise that a latest release by a favourite author is something I actually worked on.

It’s really tempting to name someone like Douglas Adams or Oscar Wilde but I’d be far too intimidated, even in an imaginary scenario!

At the risk of outing myself as a telly addict and fence-sitter, can I cheat and change that to “writer” and then say I’d love to work on a TV series as a script editor? I’m not going to be specific about which one* because there are some amazing shows around at the moment, written by some people I truly admire and would sell a limb to meet, never mind work with. But sometimes the inconsistencies and lack of continuity make me want to cry.

Right. That sounds like a horrible and arrogant reason to want to work on such a thing. What can I say? I love stories whether they’re on screen or on paper, and the editor in me can’t cope with plot problems in either.

(*Because there are several that make me shout at the screen.)

What Australian works have you loved recently?

The biggest problem with editing is that it leaves me so little time to read not-for-work books! Particularly since I often work on series, so I spend a great deal of time doing pre-reading. Which, I hasten to add, fulfils my original dream career goal of “working with books and being paid to read”, so that is by no means any form of complaint.

If I avoid bias by leaving out anything I’ve worked on/any author I’ve worked with, and interpret “recently” as “recently read by me” rather than “recently published”…

  • I am currently halfway through Glenda Larke’s Watergivers series, which is full of the most wonderful worldbuilding.
  • I’m also enjoying Trudi Canavan’s The Traitor Spy trilogy. I absolutely adored The Black Magician series and got my entire extended family addicted. These books are all on my comfort-read shelves.
  • Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels was incredible. The darkest “fairytale” with such base horror. That stayed with me a long time after I finished.

And then there’re the 500 books on my To-Be-Read shelves. And the other 400 on my To-Buy list…

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

I don’t think it’s specific to spec fic, but there’s definitely been a rise in self publishing. Without a doubt, I hear from a lot more self publishing writers these days than I did even a year ago. And a lot of them have a lot more of an idea what they’re after these days.

I also get the impression there’s more knowledge about spec fic in the wider world – largely because of various supernatural and fantasy television shows that have taken off, which have in turn encouraged people to seek out relevant reading material. Certainly a lot of my previously anti-fantasy/sci fi/whatever friends have happily watched shows such as True Blood and Game of Thrones and have consequently called me up, demanding book recommendations.

It seems to me there are a lot more fantasy/paranormal/science fiction based YA and children’s novels around now*, and more often lately I’ve seen books I’ve worked on as “adult” novels, being reviewed or categorised as YA, which is an interesting trend I first heard mentioned during WorldCon.

Having said all that, the publishing industry itself is going through a tough time at the moment for all kinds of reasons, and as a result I’ve heard both writers and publishers/editors discussing the fact that actually getting published, at least traditionally, is a lot harder right now.

Obviously ebooks have taken off in a big way in the past few years. One of the things I am really thrilled to see is that Momentum, which is currently doing all sorts of interesting things in the digital world, has taken on and is publishing, or republishing, lots of spec fic. Given there are so few publishers who do take genre fiction, it’s really exciting to see a new publisher so open to genre. Long may it continue!

(*Okay, I know there are. Just today I was in a bookshop and in the children’s and YA section there was a sea of black covers, nearly all spec fic, and tucked in between a collection of different vampire novels were some hardback collectors’ copies of…Winnie-the-Pooh.)

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to Continuum 8 in Melbourne, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2012 conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from June 1 to June 7, 2012.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010


Wednesday Writers: Snapshot Madness

Due to to the ongoing Aussie Snapshot I decided not to run a Wednesday Writer this week. But, stay tuned for next week’s exciting guest post! In the meantime you can slake your thirst for news and views from Aussie writers by checking out the huge range of interviews below:

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to Continuum 8 in Melbourne, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2012 conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from June 1 to June 7, 2012.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010


2012 Aussie Snapshot: Gillian Polack

Gillian Polack is based in Canberra. She is mainly a writer, editor, educator and historian. Her most recent print publications are a not-quite-cookbook, a novel, an anthology and a slew of articles. Her newest anthology is Baggage, published by Eneit Press (2010).One of her short stories won a Victorian Ministry of the Arts award a long time ago, and three have (more recently) been listed as recommended reading in international lists of world’s best fantasy and science fiction short stories. She received a Macquarie Bank Fellowship and a Blue Mountains Fellowship to work on novels at Varuna, an Australian writers’ residence in the Blue Mountains. Gillian has a doctorate in Medieval history from the University of Sydney and is currently completing a Creative Arts one at the University of Western Australia. She researches food history and also the Middle Ages, pulls the writing of others to pieces, is fascinated by almost everything, cooks and etc. Currently she explains ‘etc’ as including Arthuriana, emotional cruelty to ants, and learning how not to be ill. She is the proud owner of some very pretty fans, a disarticulated skull named Perceval, and 6,000+ books.

You’re currently a regular contributor at BiblioBuffet, with a column called “Bookish Dreaming”. Amongst many other things, it often delves into the history of books and literature and must require a great deal of research. Is this attention to detail a result of your academic background, and if so, how does that inform your writing, both fiction and non fiction? What advice would you give to other writers wanting to improve in this area?

When I write for BiblioBuffet and do guest posts for blogs, I often delve into research and thinking from previous work and earlier intellectual explorations. I will check facts (mostly) and make sure I’m not being an idiot, but my background as an historian and as an individual certainly feeds into my BiblioBuffet work. Crucially, however, whenever I write a column for BiblioBuffet I stop and think, “What do I want to say that has meaning for me.”

I read a lot. I say this last with some caution, for I’ve heard people say they read a lot and claim as many as 50 books a year – I read between three and six hundred books in a normal year. I’m not alone in this: being a good reader is essential to most kinds of writing. It’s not only reading a range of books, but reading them while paying attention to their contexts and their writers and how they function as narratives and as evidence. My first piece of advice to other writers is usually to make sure that they read, and that they read intelligently and widely and thoughtfully.

This leads to my second piece of advice. I find when I teach writers research or worldbuilding or history, I end up explaining the same concept over and over: it’s a mindset. One of my students recently translated that mindset as mindful awareness, which works if mindful awareness involves reading with the same alertness that one observes the waves on a beach or dreams of futures and pasts.

It’s not enough to have a smattering of a subject. It’s better if one delves into it and understands it deeply. When I do that, I find that I carry that understanding with me past the moment of research, and when someone throws me a review book or a concept for an article I can see the book or the article in the contexts of that understanding. The more I understand the world and the better I understand people, the less work I have to do when I sit down to write. In other words, I seldom do a lot of research for a non-scholarly piece, but I draw upon work I’ve done in understanding ideas and people and history and books I’ve read over the years.

And that’s my third piece of advice: if you do work properly early on and understand a subject properly before you write the first words of an article or a book that play with that subject, then it’s possible to be dead lazy when it counts. Or maybe, just maybe, to focus on making the writing better, rather than being fixated on locating yet more and still more pertinent pieces of detail. Your whole life counts, not just the articles and books you’ve read for the piece you’re working on at that moment.

For a number of years you organised a yearly banquet at the Conflux convention, with elaborate historical menus and delicious food. What inspired you to start the banquets? What were some of your highlights from this experience?

I was cornered for the first banquet. Trevor Stafford said “I’d like this.” Kaaron Warren (and others, including Nicole Murphy, but Kaaron most of all) said “I’ll do the décor, and I’ll co-ordinate the rest. Just work on the food.” This made the first Conflux banquet inescapable.

I was a food historian before I ever began, but it was food history as a component of other history. I taught evening courses in food history at the Australian National University and only a few members of the spec fic community knew about this. The banquets were probably inspired by the courses I taught, but they didn’t inspire me, they inspired other Canberra writers and fen. I just assumed it was an impossible task. Then I did it (because my friends are very persuasive) and found that no, it wasn’t impossible. Chefs, my students, Canberra fandom and people all over the world stepped in to help make it work.

I got to design the menu and bring together the recipes and to check that the history was all it could be, but there were hundreds of us involved, all up. It’s just as well I had many years of committee experience before the banquets, for I needed those co-ordination skills and that ability to work out who would be comfortable with what and how to deal when things went pear-shaped. I met some totally amazing people and wonderful cooks, both virtually and in real life. It brought me into contact with people who work with food as their main job and I learned to appreciate the depth and breath of their understanding. I was very fortunate to have been persuaded into that first banquet.

There were so many highlights. There were the banquets themselves, of course. I loved the committee meetings, especially the one where we tested a lot of mixed drinks for the Prohibition Banquet. I treasure the notes everyone took that day. I remember a very special dinner one of the testers and I shared, for instance, where we ate many dishes that were sublime but would never make it to a banquet for practical reasons and the summer of icecream when every time I saw her she had a new historical icecream or two for my freezer and I had a new recipe or two for her to try.

Everyone should have life experience that’s this rich.

You’ve edited a number of anthologies, including the highly regarded and acclaimed “Baggage”. Do you have any plans for future anthologies, or are there other projects you are focussing on in the immediate future?

I always have anthologies I’d like to edit, but at the moment I don’t have a publisher who wants to bring them into being. I’ve a secret list of writers who I want to push beyond their limits and other writers who I want to gently encourage and still more writers I just want the joy of working with and for whom I harbour no cruel plans. Right now, though, my main focus is on finishing the PhD and finding a job teaching writing, and possibly finding a home for a novel or two. After that, I have two big pieces of non-fiction that need to reach daylight (the Beast – a manual on the Middle Ages for writers and others; and a book on the relationship writers have with history) and I have thoughts for more fiction. I’m possibly easily bored.

In the immediate future (the next few weeks – with a release date of July 1st!) Life Through Cellophane (my second novel) will be morphing into Ms Cellophane and will be available through Momentum Books, Pan Macmillan’s new e-imprint. I love the thought of being available on iTunes!

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I was extraordinary lucky this year. I was a judge for the Aurealis Awards in the science fiction novel category. It was a stunning year to be a science fiction judge. So many very good books. I loved all the books shortlisted, but I also loved Claire Corbett’s When We Have Wings. There were also the three Angry Robot books (Joanne Anderton’s Debris, Trent Jamieson’s Roil and Kaaron Warren’s Mistification) and more. That SF list is worth a close look. This was my third year as judge and I’ve not met so many excellent books on the long list before, even the year that had gorgeous books by Sonya Hartnett and Penni Russon and Juliet Marillier.

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

The shape of the scene has changed. The non-public side of it is quite different from the side that gets seen on awards nights or from the outside. It’s still burgeoning delightfully, but we’re beginning to set up gatekeepers and opinion makers, which worries me somewhat, as we also seem to be struggling to regain the complex and fascinating criticism that was the hallmark of the earlier industry. Many of those critics are still among us and doing good work, but they are read mainly within academia and not noticed by the wider community any more. Our awareness of our own history and of some of the best sources of interpretation and understanding among us is sadly low.

We have some fabulous small press work being produced and some equally fabulous work coming out of the larger press.

We’re affected enormously by changes in technology, but it hasn’t quite reached the stage where we find out what is going to go where and what the scene will look like. I find myself wanting to do diagrams and cultural analysis to see who goes where and what happens.

It’s a very exciting time to be a fan/writer/critic/editor of speculative fiction, and Australia is a rather exciting country to be all these things in.

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to Continuum 8 in Melbourne, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2012 conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from June 1 to June 7, 2012.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010


2012 Aussie Snapshot: Zena Shapter

Zena Shapter is an emerging fiction writer based in Sydney. She has won multiple awards for her short stories and was published last year in both Winds of Change (CSFG, 2011) and A Visit from the Duchess (Stringybark Publishing, 2011). She has two further short stories being published later this year; leads and is the founder of the widely attended Northern Beaches Writers’ Group; blogs about contemporary book culture at; enjoys a successful online presence through her website at as well as social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Goodreads; and is currently editing her debut novel. With a BA (Hons) in English Literature from the University of Birmingham, England, she also edits.

An adventurer at heart, Zena enjoys travelling in search of unusual stories and uncommon sights, and relaxing on the beach with a good book, a glass of champagne and a bar of chocolate.

Read more about Zena on her website at or follow her writing journey by subscribing to her blog at Find her on Twitter as @ZenaShapter, at, or on a host of other social media also as Zena Shapter.

You seem to be very proficient in the use of a number of forms of social media. How important do you think it is to writers to have a social media presence? Are there any strategies that you use that you think might be useful to others?

Well, it depends on what you want to get from social media. Social media is important to me because I get something from pressing my finger into the pulse of the communal psyche that is social networking – I guess it nullifies the existential loneliness that I would otherwise have to bear sitting alone at my computer all day! I also like to be social with both colleagues and fans. Plus, it helps me to stay up-to-date with the latest news and events – while the past and the future both fascinate me, I do enjoy being in the ‘now’ of living, and I love popular culture. So, if such things are important to other writers then, yes, they too should establish a social media presence.

However, I don’t think that any degree of social media presence can win you a publishing contract, an agent or fans – in that, your writing has to stand for itself. There are plenty of writers whom I admire with only the simplest website where you can read more about them, no interacting, and I still buy their books.

There are also plenty of writers whom I only heard about through social media, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t have eventually heard of them through some other route, and it’s also not to say that I enjoyed their writing enough to buy again. Story is more important to me than social media presence, and I’m guessing the same is true for most readers.

Strategies? Just be yourself, keep your manners, but have fun. Connect with readers and other writers, have LOLs with them, and you’ll soon build yourself a huddle of unmitigated support.

You‘ve won a number of short story competitions. Do you approach writing a story for a competition any differently than one for an anthology or other market? How has being involved in these competitions helped you develop your writing?

I started writing short stories as a way to improve my craft. Luckily for me, they did more than that – they helped me find my ‘voice’. I used to write in the third person, often with multiple points of view. But when I started winning competitions, it was with stories written in the first person and I realised that suited me much better. My confidence escalated as I switched styles and that’s when I knew it was time to get published.

I don’t approach writing stories for competitions or anthologies any differently. Ideas come to me all the time, I make notes on those ideas, then save them for the idea-drought that I fear may come yet still hasn’t. When an anthology or competition comes along that inspires me, I sometimes look through my ideas, but sometimes conceive a new idea altogether. The key, I think, is patience. You can exhaust yourself entering competitions and submitting to anthologies here, there and everywhere. But it’s better to save your energy for your writing, and just wait for the right one, or two, opportunities to come along.

Is your main focus on short stories for now, or do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?

David, David, David – you see, this is why I shouldn’t go drinking champagne in Surry Hills with a bunch of writers and editors: it always leads to sharing too much! You know very well what upcoming projects I have, and where they’re at! But, true to your word, you’re being a vault. Yes, I have written a novel and, yes, it’s currently ‘out there’ seeking its best home. I can’t share too much more than that… I don’t want to jinx anything. But let’s just say… watch out world!

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I have tons of Australian works sitting in my to-read pile right now, and I can’t wait to get to them! I loved Richard Harland’s “Worldshaker” (in fact, that and Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” got me into reading YA literature). I’ve just started reading Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” and I already know I’m going to love that one too. But I must admit, I do read a lot of books from overseas! My bad.

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

I have to preface my reply to this question by stating that it could be much better answered by others more industry-experienced than I. But from my personal perspective, I’d say that there have been two big changes to the Australian speculative fiction scene in the last few years.

Firstly, there are more of us online – self-publishing and being published online, blogging, tweeting and just plain interacting via the web. It might be because Australia is such a vast country that’s a great distance from anywhere, making it both difficult and expensive to engage with fans and fellow writers, especially when compared to Europe and the US. Getting online is a way of overcoming that tyranny of distance and being more social (which I love, see question 1!).

Secondly, I’d say that there’s a greater acceptance these days of speculative fiction as a genre in its own right. More and more writers, myself included, have a desire not to waste good writing time thinking about where our writing sits on the spectrum between fantasy, science fiction, horror and everything else in between. I just want to write a good story that entertains, massages the grey matter a little maybe, but mostly enables readers to connect with my characters, each other… and me. Having the umbrella of speculative fiction enables me to do that.

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to Continuum 8 in Melbourne, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2012 conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from June 1 to June 7, 2012.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010


2012 Aussie Snapshot: Kate Orman

Kate Orman is best known to fans as the author or co-author of thirteen Doctor Who novels. Her most recent publication was the story “Head Case” in Cosmos (November 2011). She lives in Sydney with her husband and collaborator Jon Blum.

In the last Snapshot, you mentioned that you were working on a science fiction novel, Strange Flesh. Are you still working on it, or are there other projects that you are focussed on at the moment?

Oh yeah! I’ve been working on that sucker, in one form or another, since 1999! The only question is which of us will finish off the other first. Since the last Snapshot I’ve got some short stories into print (most recently “Head Case” in the Oct/Nov 2011 issue of Cosmos), and there are plenty more of those in the pipeline, but right now I’m trying to knuckle down and get to a first draft of Strange Flesh.

The Doctor Who spin off novels, The New Adventures in particular, allowed writers to explore themes that might not have been possible in the original TV series. Are there any themes you are particularly proud of bringing attention to? Are there moments in the new series that you feel were made possible by ideas the books pioneered?

I loved being able to play in Ben Aaronovitch’s African future. In Transit, Ben introduced the genuinely futuristic idea that Africa will become the “first world” – culminating in the 30th Century aristocracy of which Roz Forrester is a part. I borrowed this future for Sleepy, and it was also an influence on Seeing I and The Year of Intelligent Tigers.

While the spirit of the NAs is alive and well in the new show – not surprising, given how many of the book authors went on to write for it – you have to remember that only thousands of people read the novels, compared to the millions who watch the current show. So while the NAs might have prepared fandom for some elements of the new series, I think changes in TV itself have had a much bigger effect on the new show – things like CGI, much larger budgets, the explosion of pay TV and the Internet, and the greater sophistication of audiences.

If you were given free rein in the Doctor Who universe, are there any concepts you¹d like to explore further, any Doctors or Companions whose stories you would like to tell?

I’d like to see stories set further afield – another visit to China or the Aztecs, perhaps, or ancient Egypt or Babylon. Or, if those settings are prohibitively expensive, then perhaps an appearance of people or things from those times in a modern day setting. Or on a completely different tack, I’ve really enjoyed the “hard” SF we’ve had now and again in the new show, such as “Impossible Planet” – I’d love to see more of that sort of thing. Also a planet with twelve genders.

That’d be fun.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Here’s two: Kaz Cooke’s 1992 novel The Crocodile Club, a thoroughly Australia comedy adventure which I picked up for 25 cents from the reject basket of my favourite second-hand book shop; and Tess Williams’ 1996 SF novel “Map of Power” with its convincing future Australia (and Antarctica). Find ’em and read ’em.

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

Oh gods, don’t ask me, I’m shamefully out of touch (as my novel choices above demonstrate!).

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1 June to 8 June and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at:

2012 Aussie Snapshot: Meg Mundell

Meg Mundell’s first novel BLACK GLASS (Scribe, 2011) was shortlisted for the 2011 Aurealis Awards (in two categories), the 2012 Norma K Hemming Award, the 2012 Chronos Award (Best Long Fiction), and the 2010 Scribe-CAL Fiction Prize; it was also highly commended in the 2012 Barbara Jefferis Award. Meg’s short stories have appeared in Best Australian Stories, New Australian Stories, Australian Book Review, Eureka Street, Meanjin, Harvest, The Big Issue and Sleepers Almanac. Her journalism has been published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Financial Review, The Big Issue and The Monthly. A Kiwi by birth and a Melburnian by location, Meg is currently working on a second novel, writing a creative non-fiction book about trucking culture, and doing a PhD on how authors research “sense of place”. Website: Facebook:

“Black Glass” has picked up a slew of nominations for some of Australia’s most prestigious awards, and has been recognised in both YA and Adult categories. What is about the book that you think resonates with so many people and across so many different demographics?

Thanks for making it sound appealing! (: It’s hard to say, because every reader will take so many different things from a book. BLACK GLASS is set in a dystopian world, but I tried to infuse it with a sense of hope. Maybe that combination was kind of appealing – sinister, but not entirely bleak?

But I suspect it’s the characters that have helped the novel resonate with so many different readers – especially the main character, Tally. She seems to have won people over. I know I love her to bits, although she drove me crazy at times too! Little nutter. So yes, I hope it’s the diverse characters: their motives, their obsessions, and the ways in which they struggle to survive in a tough, sometimes heartless world. That struggle is an old theme, and a universal one.

Maybe the book’s focus on surveillance resonates at the moment too. Our lives are so heavily surveilled these days, both via CCTV and the more insidious and shady realm of dataveillance (case in point: Facebook). While we’re not always consciously aware of this, I think it filters through at some level. So maybe the book tapped into that feeling too – the sense that we’re living in a world of constant scrutiny, where we trail behind us these great, dark, ever-expanding towers of personal data.

Looking at your background in journalism, do you feel that this has informed or influenced your fiction, and if so, how?

Journalism trained me to be practical about my craft: to write to deadlines, to churn out words every day, without waiting for some mysterious muse to descend and wave a magic wand. (Although sometimes I wish she’d do that…just turn up and waggle the wand on cue!) Journalism probably also trained me to look at things from a multitude of perspectives – and I think you can see that in the novel, that idea that your take on reality depends on your point of view, your position in the world.

My time at THE BIG ISSUE magazine, where I spent five delightful years as staff writer and deputy editor, opened my eyes to stories and perspectives that I would otherwise have missed. The experiences of the homeless characters in BLACK GLASS – all of that was heavily influenced by my journo training at THE BIG ISSUE, and my many conversations with the magazine’s amazing vendors.

The journalist character in my novel, poor old Damon Spark, was clearly influenced by my own experiences as a freelance journalist. Although there’s a huge dose of satire there – both in my portrait of Damon, and in the way I’ve painted/twisted the dodgy alliances between journalism, big business and government, within the world of the book. Despite that sardonic take on it, I have the highest respect for quality journalism. I don’t think we value it enough, and if we lose it, we’re really going to be up shit creek.

Browsing your website’s “In Progress” section, you seem to be moving in a slightly different direction, with a “based on a true story” novel and a non-fiction memoir. Do you have any plans for a return to the world of “Black Glass”, or any more speculative fiction pieces in the pipeline?

I’ve always run in several different directions at once. I wish I could channel things more neatly into one stream, but I seem to need the variety. I love writing in all sorts of genres, across lots of different themes. The non-fiction memoir is about outback trucking, and the mythology and romance of roads and highways. But the “based on a true story” book is set in the future! So that’s a speculative project, for sure.

I’d love to dive back into the world of BLACK GLASS. I miss those characters and want to find out what happens to them next. But I’ll have to wait and see. I’m doing a PhD at the moment too, so I need to polish off a few big projects first.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Right now I’m reading a spec fic novel, WHEN WE HAVE WINGS, by Claire Corbett, and I’m absolutely loving it. As someone who can’t get enough of those flying dreams, it’s really firing up my imagination. I met Claire when we were both on a panel with Michael Pryor recently, at the Gloucester Writers’ Festival. We all just clicked, so I’m both happy and relieved to be really engrossed in her first novel. Michael’s latest book TEN FUTURES is now firmly on my to-read list, too.

I try to read really widely. This year I’ve also loved Tony Birch’s brilliant realist novel BLOOD, which is deservedly shortlisted for the Miles Franklin. For my PhD I’m re-reading one of my favourite non-fiction books, SEVEN VERSIONS OF AN AUSTRALIAN BADLAND, by Ross Gibson. Set along Queensland’s famous Horror Stretch, it’s an astounding piece of work: part murder mystery, part road movie, part dreamscape, part detective story. Damn good.

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

I think I’m too much of a newbie to be able to answer this question. I didn’t even realise there was a spec fic scene, until I published a book that apparently fell into that genre! It’s been great to discover this whole friendly, intelligent, diverse community of people who are passionate about the possibilities of spec fic. If I can offer a future hope/prediction, rather than a retrospective reflection, it would be a wish that good spec fic would continue to push through the genre snobberies and gatekeepers’ biases to plant itself more firmly in the “literary” and “mainstream” realms. Good stories are good stories, and readers deserve to hear about them, minus the genre caveats that too often frame or limit the write-ups that make it into lit journals and book pages. Too many assumptions get made on this front. Grandmas love spec fic too!

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to Continuum 8 in Melbourne, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2012 conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from June 1 to June 7, 2012.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010


2012 Aussie Snapshot: Greg Mellor

Greg Mellor is a Canberra-based writer of science fiction, and occasional writer of horror, paranormal, romance, erotica, fantasy and any combination thereof.  He is also a totally awesome husband and dad – well, at least that’s what he tells everyone. Ask his wife if you want to find out the “home truth”.

Greg has worked and studied in and around Canberra all his life, with a ten year residency in the UK somewhere in the middle. For some reason he felt compelled to do an Honours Degree in Astrophysics, and as if that wasn’t enough punishment, he also completed an MBA in Technology Management. He has worked in professional service firms for the last 15 years and will continue to do so for a while yet to ensure he leaves enough inter-generational debt for his son and future grandchildren. There’s a long, puzzling journey from astrophysics to consulting, involving shelf-packing, builder’s labourer and general dog’s body, technical drawing, business reporting, IT systems trainer, electrical power-line maintenance, four wheel driving, writing science articles and . . . you get the gist. Don’t ask him “how” or “why”, suffice to say there were many “sliding doors”.

He is a regular contributor to Cosmos Magazine with “Defence of the Realm”, “Autumn Leaves Falling” and “Day Break”. His work has also appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, Aurealis, AntipodeanSF and Daily Science Fiction, plus several Aus and US small press anthologies including “Winds of Change”, “Flesh & Bone”, “Hit Men”, “Novus Creatura” and others. Greg reached the finals of the 2009 Aurealis Awards, Best Short SF category. His stories regularly receive mentions (honourable and otherwise) and tend to crop up on recommended reading lists around the internet.

In his spare time (is there such a thing?) he reads about consciousness, philosophy, psychology, physics, astronomy, history and evolution. This is usually followed by a self-help book so that he can still feel good about the world. Occasionally he’ll flick through the books of Paul Davies, one of his professors at uni  . . . spot the name drop. Then he’ll follow this up with the odd fiction book or two, referencing Keats for soulful quotes and Wilde for the brutal truth about human nature. Then, when he can’t cram any more in, he will occasionally get back to his writing in the hope that the collage of ideas makes more sense on paper than it does in his head.

Greg was delighted when Ticonderoga Publications accepted his debut collection, “Wild Chrome”. Now he faces the daunting prospect of the SF novel.

He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG), and the ACT Writers’ Centre.

Visit to see pictures of his cat.

At the moment you are working on your upcoming short story collection, “Wild Chrome”, which is due out later this year from “Ticonderoga Publications”. How did this collection come about? What challenges, if any, have you encountered in putting together a collection and deciding which stories to include?

The publication of “Defence of the Realm” in Cosmos in 2009 kind of changed everything. Up until then, writing was an on-again off-again hobby, with a couple of sales and a few contest results scattered in between a hectic married and working life. The last couple of years have been snowballing along and I’ll have about 50 spec fic stories published by the end of 2012. I must be a late bloomer!

I pushed the concept of the collection along relatively quickly as I didn’t want to wait forever until I had amassed a bunch of stories from which to choose from. So in October 2010, with about half the stories ready, I sent a query to several publishers. Russell Farr expressed his interest and I sent him a proposal with a few sample stories. The contract was signed in May 2011 with publication due in October 2012.

This left me the challenge of finishing the other half of the collection. It’s been hard work keeping up the volume of writing without compromising quality. I also tried to include variety in the collection, and experimented with different narrative structures, characters and worlds. Amongst the traditional story-telling, there is a story read from exhibits in a far-future library, a lecture on xenopsychology, an interview for a terraforming magazine and, my favourite, an alien post mortem!

The actual theme for the collection came about during 2011 … I won’t give too much away, as I’d like readers to see for themselves, and I don’t want Russell to tear up the contract before the book is published! What I can say is that there are stories about discovering who we are in the face of life-threatening technology and aliens; or working out how we fit into a society increasingly driven by collective thinking; or saving the people we care about in post-singularity settings. I think the theme is particularly important for us men. We seem to have a habit of tumbling along life’s avenues, stuffing things up, and expecting our loved ones – parents, siblings, children, friends and work mates alike – to put up with our BS along the way!

The decisions on what to include in the manuscript haven’t really been that difficult. I wanted a balance of published and new stories. I wanted quality. It’s not easy to let some stories go, but I defer to the wisdom of Russell, as well as authors like Damien Broderick. If these guys say a story is not right, then I listen.

Word length has also been a consideration. After some debate I ended up stripping out all the flash fiction from the manuscript. There’s a lot to be said for traditional, thought provoking sf yarns in the 2k-6k range.

You have a background in science, with an honours degree in astrophysics. How has this influenced your speculative fiction? Do you find yourself leaning towards “harder” sci fi?

Yes, my degree has been an influence, along with many other factors. I chose astrophysics because of a life-long love of the planets and stars. I can vividly recollect the Viking missions to Mars and Voyager 1 and 2 to the outer planets. I suppose my rebellious streak in high school made the choice easier – every other kid in my class wanted to do engineering!

Professor Paul Davies lectured at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, so a lot of the undergrads bought his books. I’ve broadened my horizons since, and have shelves full of books on consciousness theories, psychology, genetics, history and philosophy. Not to mention novels by Dan Simmons, William Gibson, Michael Moorcock, Greg Bear, Eric Lustbader, Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds and others.

Am I leaning to harder sf? Maybe … it’s certainly easier to sell – I don’t have any trunk stories. I try to write the scientific bits with reserve and let the reader fill in some of the detail. I think the trick is to be consistent, even if you want to break the laws of physics. For example, there’s nothing wrong with faster-than-light travel if you make it plausible. In “Heaven and Earth” I included things like a Casimir booster network (connected wormholes) and a probability shunt (an exotic matter ship that tunnels through space-time). I didn’t give much detail, as they’re accepted technologies in the future, and I wanted to leave room for the reader’s imagination. I’m not sure I’ve answered the question … hardish.

With a number of professional sales, you seem very at home in the short story format. Do you have any plans to move into different forms in the near future, or are you concentrating on short fiction for now?

The short story format suits me for a number of reasons. I don’t think I am a prolific fiction writer, but I am a prolific business writer (my day job … there are bills to pay), so I am used to finishing a “deliverable” so to speak. My short stories are a bit like client reports, but with a lot less fiction. (Oops, did I just say that? I take it back.) So I feel I can actually see the end point when I write the shorter stuff, and that’s important with life being so busy.

Having said that, I would like to give more room to some of my ideas. I have plans for three novellas. One has a genetic engineering theme, the other is pure space opera with a dose of Buddhist philosophy, and the other is a sf treasure hunt.

Beyond that, the novel is on the horizon. A couple of the worlds in my short stories are begging to be expanded. Plus I’m receiving a lot of feedback from readers and friends telling me to push ahead to the novel stage.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Hmm, where to start with this one? There’s so much good stuff out there. Maybe I’ll stick with the three short stories that have grabbed me . . . “Evolution Baby” by Lesley Boland, “Breaking the Ice” by Thoraiya Dyer and “Under the Moons of Venus” by Damien Broderick. If I read the story again (or parts of it) then that’s a good indicator.

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

Change is a constant for Australian spec fic: there are more spec fic writers than ever before; self-publishing is more prevalent, but fraught with danger; e-publishing; self-promotion through social networks; flash fiction; genre mish-mash stories. Also, I think Aussie spec fic writers are getting more exposure in the US pro mags like Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Redstone, Apex and others. Plus I think there are some really cool anthos being produced

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1 June to 8 June and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at:



2012 Aussie Snapshot: Gitte Christensen

Gitte Christensen was born and raised in Australia, but also lived in Denmark for 12 years before returning to study journalism at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Her speculative fiction has appeared in Aurealis, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Bards and Sages Quarterly, 10Flash and other publications, as well as the anthologies The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder and Evolution, The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2010 and Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations. To escape keyboards, she regularly grabs a tent and a horse and goes trailing riding through distant mountains.

You’re currently part of a workshop on writing speculative fiction being run by Writers Victoria, presented by Jack Dann. How important are resources like this to developing your writing? Do you think that they are utilised enough by up and coming writers? What have you gotten out of it so far?

Workshops are useful because they get you out of your own head and make you look at your work through the eyes of others. You discover, much to your amazement, that other people’s reading tastes vary and that not everyone is in awe of your particular genius. You find yourself having to stick up for your characters, explain your plot and defend your choice of words, and either you can do so and go on to create a stronger piece of work, or the thing crumbles under the weight of its own ineptitude and you trunk it.

Workshops are also invaluable for networking, and, especially with speculative fiction, making new friends who enjoy many of the same things that you do. The fact that there are a few people I can now wave to or chat with at conventions is mostly due to the various workshops I’ve attended.

No, I don’t think enough new writers utilise these resources, or utilise them fully. Critiquing can be a raw experience, and often those who do sign up are put off by the ego-bruising awkwardness of the first few sessions and don’t stay the course. They end up missing out on the best part, which occurs once the participants have settled into the critiquing process and realised it’s not about personal attacks, but about improving their writing. So far, with this particular workshop, I’d say that it looks like the stentorian voice of Jack Dann repeating certain basics of storytelling has been permanently embedded in my brain.

You have had a great deal of success locally, getting published in some major Australian markets, such as Aurealis and ASIM. Do you deliberately try and write for Australian audiences, or are you submitting internationally as well?

Great deal of success? Moi? Thank you, that’s very kind of you, but I think most people reading this would be thinking Gitte Who? I don’t deliberately write for Australian audiences, but that said, I was definitely harking back to my outback childhood when I wrote the Aurealis and ASIM stories, as well as my piece in the anthology ‘The Tangled Bank’,  and I  thoroughly enjoy using Aussie settings and tropes to shape my fiction. I do submit internationally, and have been published in US publications and anthologies, but all of those stories have been devoid of any “confusing” Aussie references.

Once you’ve finished the current workshop, are there any other projects you have planned that you wanted to talk about? Where to from here?

My plan for now is simple, and one probably shared my most emerging writers: find enough time to keep plugging away at the keyboard and hope my short fiction improves to the point where it’s being regularly published and people vaguely recognise my name. I’m longing for a professional sale, of course – I’ve been so close a number of times that it’s teeth-clenchingly frustrating. Ultimately, I’d like to also write novels. I have the first two volumes of a massive SF saga that I’d like to beat into a readable structure, and a YA novel that I finished for a workshop with Paul Collins two years ago which needs about a month of focused dedication. But how to clear a month, that’s the quandary.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I make it a point to read both genre and mainstream fiction. Because of where I live now, lately I’ve been reading and loving the prose of local author Alex Miller. Genrewise, I’ve heartily enjoyed the Twelve Planets series by Twelfth Planet Press, and catching up with Sean McMullen’s YA books. There are a few Aussie anthologies in my TBR pile that I’m sure I’ll love and that I wish I’d read in time to include in this interview, but alas…

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

It’s difficult for me to gauge. I can’t be certain the scene seems different simply because I’ve stopped dabbling in it and now make it my business to make sure I know what’s going on, or because it has actually undergone major changes. However, it does seem to me that as our more established Australian writers have graduated to bigger things and attracted international recognition, there’s a greater confidence in our home grown talent and in genre writing itself, and a sense of movement in the Spec Fic scene which, in turn, clears a little space for newer writers to inch into the fray. It’s more vibrant with all the small press projects, and the many podcasts now up and running add fun and incite the occasional brouhaha,  all of which makes for a healthier and more participatory atmosphere

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1 June to 8 June and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at:



2012 Aussie Snapshot: Kim Westwood

In 2002 Kim Westwood won an Aurealis Award for her short story ‘The Oracle’. Since then her stories have been chosen for Year’s Best anthologies in Australia and the US, and for ABC radio broadcast. Her most recent short story won the Judges’ Prize at the Scarlet Stiletto Awards. She is the recipient of a Varuna Writers’ House Fellowship for her first novel, The Daughters of Moab (HarperCollins, 2008). Her second novel, The Courier’s New Bicycle (HarperCollins, 2011), is “a disturbingly credible and darkly noir post-cyberpunk tale”. It was chosen for the 2011 Tiptree Award Honours List and won an Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

The Courier’s New Bicycle was mentioned on the Honour List for the 2011 James Tiptree Jr Award, “an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender”, and has been lauded for its depiction of transgressive characters. What did receiving that mention mean to you as an author?

It was wonderful affirmation of the substance of the novel, because while the scaffolding of The Courier’s New Bicycle is climate and political change, pandemic and infertility, at its heart are issues of identity and disentitlement. It’s one gender transgressive’s adventure in a city where a prohibitive regime has divested a section of the community of their civil and social rights. It’s also about a community under great duress, and how ‘outsiders’ carve out community for themselves. The Courier’s New Bicycle is a call-out for breaking open the gender categories to make way for diversity. Did I mention it’s also crime fiction? Noir lyricism? Intergenre?

Your bio lists some extremely varied and fascinating experiences! Along with tiger snakes and hornets, you mention your time in theatre. Is this something you have thought about returning to? How has it influenced your fiction?

On the subject of snakes and hornets, all my favourite houses have let the wildlife in. The current one sits on an ant empire and gives me a daily surprise of spiders. Upstairs, there’s a family of possums. The most recent arrival is a wild rabbit—but I digress. Working in theatre had a big influence on me. The visual and visceral world of experimental theatre and dance that I loved so much, I try to carry into my writing. Partly because of that, my stories aren’t just about people but the landscapes they inhabit, and how these two elements intertwine. Both The Daughters of Moab and The Courier’s New Bicycle treat the physical environment as a character. It lives, it breathes, it protects and destroys… As for returning to theatre, that space of “collective dreaming”, I might sometime; but for now I’m happy to stay in the medium of words.

Is the world of The Courier’s New Bicycle one that you want to continue exploring, either in short fiction or with a sequel? What other projects have you planned for the future?

I’ve been working on the ideas for a quite different novel and didn’t plan a sequel to The Courier’s New Bicycle, but when I was back in Melbourne early this year, the beginnings of another adventure for Salisbury began quite spontaneously. Now I’m keen to see what happens next.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Recent and current great reads: Meg Mundell’s Black Glass; Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming; Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds; and Charlotte Wood’s Animal People.

Two years on from AussieCon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

I never feel well-enough connected to the scene to answer this kind of question intelligently, but I think I see an increasing acceptance of hybrid works, those stories that slip through and between categories—and maybe a growing awareness that the categories themselves need challenging. I have a vested interest in this, so of course I hope I’m right!

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1 June to 8 June and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at: