Cheryl Morgan does too much stuff. She has four Hugo Awards, two for working with the fabulous Clarkesworld magazine. She runs Wizard’s Tower Press, and is closely involved with various fannish goings on in Bristol, including hosting the monthly BristolCon Fringe readings series. Cheryl also co-hosts the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima Radio , where she often gets to interview writers of fine fiction. Those interviews tend to end up on the Salon Futura podcast feed. Like many of her fellow countrymen, she utterly despairs of the English cricket team.
You lived in Australia for a number of years. Could you tell us a little about your involvement in the Australian speculative fiction scene, and share some of the highlights of your time here?
I got a job in Melbourne in 1995. At the time I didn’t know anyone in Australia except my work colleagues, but it so happened that Worldcon was in Glasgow that year so I went along hoping to find some Australians who might become friends outside of work. I hit pay dirt because Melbourne was in the process of starting to bid for the 1999 Worldcon and they were keen to get help. I was soon sucked into volunteering, and when I also acquired an American boyfriend, Kevin Standlee, who happened to be a big noise in WSFS, I was fully assimilated.
I attended MSFC fairly regularly (thanks in no small part to the kindness of Ian and K’rin Pender-Gunn who gave me a lift there and back), and even spent some time as Treasurer of the club. I learned a lot about being a grumpy critic from Terry Frost. I particularly enjoyed Nova Mob, which I still think is unique amongst science fiction groups for the quality of the discussions it hosts.
Because I was living thousands of miles away from my friends in the UK, and from Kevin in California, I started up a small fanzine, which I called Emerald City because the tourist guide I had picked up at the airport described Melbourne as the greenest city in the Land of Oz. I distributed it electronically to save on postage, which got me into a lot of unexpected trouble with hardcore fanzine fans. It really took off when I started reviewing books. People like Garth Nix, Trudi Canavan, Sean Williams and Sean McMullen were just starting their careers back then, and I was putting reviews of their work in the hands of fans in the UK and USA. I have no idea if it helped them, but it sure helped me because I went on to win my first Hugo for the fanzine.I’d also like to mention the first ever Australian Costumers’ Ball, run by Wendy Purcell. I ran backstage for her, and it was a huge success. That’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had running a fannish event.
You’ve been a wonderful supporter of Australian spec fic, both through your online book store and via your online presence. With your perspective of having been able to observe the scene both from having lived in the country and internationally, do you see anything unique that Australian speculative fiction brings to the table, or any notably specific traits?
I remember one particularly long and rambling Nova Mob meeting at which we tried, and I think ultimately failed, to find some characteristic that would mark out Australian speculative fiction as different from that produced elsewhere in the world. The trouble is that writers are all different, and even the works of one writer can be very different from each other. I could point to specific works by, say, Glenda Larke, Sean Williams and Sean McMullen that I think draw particular inspiration from the Australian landscape. I suspect that Terry Dowling might be the most Australian of writers. But all of these writers have done things that seem very un-Australian as well.
However, there is one thing at which the whole world knows that Australians excel, and that is podcasting. On this year’s Hugo ballot there are seven finalists for Best Fancast, and three of them are based in Australia: Coode Street, Galactic Suburbia and The Writer & The Critic. They also happen to be (in my humble opinion) the three best on the ballot. That’s a phenomenal achievement.
I’m not sure why Australians make such good podcasters. Maybe it is something to do with the vast distances separating Australian cities that encourage you to talk online. But whatever it is, please keep on doing it.
One of the talking points in the speculative fiction community has been about trying to increase diversity of representation, both in publication and in our awards. As an outsider, do you feel progress has been made? And how does Australia compare with other countries that you are familiar with?
When I lived in Melbourne Australian fandom was very white, and apparently very straight, though no one seemed to have any objections to me on gender grounds. Of course I was much less open about my trans status then, but I’m pretty sure most people must have known.
It is hard to say whether things are getting better because I’m not attending Australian conventions and seeing the ordinary fans. I only interact with high profile people such as the aforementioned podcasters. I think the Kaleidoscope anthology, forthcoming from Twelfth Planet Press, is a very welcome development, as is the Norma Hemming Award. Alison Goodman and Hazel Edwards have both done great work presenting trans characters to a younger audience. However, these are all cases of straight, white Australians talking about diversity, rather than actual diversity of fandom.
You can contrast that with North America which might have some abominable racists, misogynists and homophobes, but also has a large number of people of color, QUILTBAG folk and so on in fandom, and in the writing community. Maybe that’s because they have so many more people, but it does make the place seem more accepting of people from diverse backgrounds provided you know the right people to mix with. Maybe it is just that there are enough non-white people, and enough queer people, in US fandom to make viable and visible communities.
As for the Poms, what can I say? The UK is hugely culturally diverse these days, but you would not think that looking at our literary scene, including science fiction. Hating foreigners, in the form of the EU, and the Americans, is a favorite national sport. Being gay or lesbian is OK as long as you are white and mostly gender-normative, but the media, and in particular feminist journalists and celebrities, are shockingly transphobic.
Thankfully we are not all bad, and the younger generation is a breath of fresh air. The Nine Worlds convention is very encouraging. The trouble is that I don’t feel diversity is something we can have a conversation about. If you try to start one, people immediately start fretting about “political correctness”, or claiming that it isn’t an issue for the UK because whatever might be wrong here is far worse in America. I’d rather be back in Australia or California where I feel I can have an honest discussion about such issues. I spend my time working for an Afro-Caribbean radio station, and avoiding white feminists as much as I can.
Aside from the podcasts, I haven’t consumed a huge amount of recent Australian material. I loved Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle. I have also really enjoyed many of the Twelve Planets series, including Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Love & Romanpunk, and Sue Isle’s Nightsiders. I thought Glenda Larke’s Watergivers trilogy is the best thing she has done, and I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Lascar’s Dagger in the UK.
The likes of Deb Biancotti, Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter are producing some very interesting short fiction. I should read more books by Margot Lanagan, Kirstyn McDermott and Kaaron Warren, but I am a total wuss when it comes to horror. I was overjoyed to see Anna Tambour’s Crandolin on the World Fantasy ballot last year – she’s a greatly undervalued talent.
The Ishtar mini-anthology featuring Kaaron Warren, Deb Biancotti and Cat Sparks pushed all of the right buttons for me.
I rather miss Justine Larbalestier’s academic work. I’m sure the YA fiction is more fun and more profitable, but I love a good piece of feminist academia.
I understand that Aussie men do still write fiction. Indeed, I had the pleasure of meeting Rjurik Davidson at Finncon recently. Andrew Macrae’s Trucksong looks very interesting, but I haven’t had time to read it yet. However, Australia has some amazing women writers and you should be very proud of them.
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
Dear me, yes. Rather by accident I helped pioneer online fanzines, and no one would have heard of me had it not been for that. Wizard’s Tower would not exist if ebooks didn’t exist. Making paper books is astonishingly hard and expensive in comparison. And stuck in a small town in the West of England I would go days without a sane conversation were it not for email and social media.
Hopefully Wizard’s Tower will still be going strong in five years time. If it is I hope we’ll still be publishing up and coming writers from the local area, but I also want to do some more ambitious projects. Keep an eye open for press releases.
I also note that I have sold two pieces of fiction this year, which is very much a new departure. One of those doesn’t really count because it was in Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion . I gave Jo Hall and Roz Clarke strict instructions to reject my story if it wasn’t good enough, but they seemed to like it. The other one, however, is in Girl at the End of the World, Vol 2, forthcoming from Fox Spirit Books later this year. It is the first thing I have written that I actually felt confident showing to writer friends. I hope that Kaaron, Deb & Cat get to read it, because it is an Ishtar story.
There are some interesting anthology calls out at the moment. I have ideas. I would like to write, but I have no time.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014 conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.
To read the interviews hot off the press, check out these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done. You can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012.