Tag Archives: Sean Williams

Paying for Our Passion – Sean Williams

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

Sean Williams is one of those people who you can actually say needs no introduction–he is one of Australia’s most successful spec fic writers, carving out a massive career overseas and having played in some of the coolest franchises in the universe. He was also one of the writers who appeared on the “Paying for Our Passion” panel at Conflux. His honesty in sharing his own struggles, and his obvious empathy for others who are struggling, was a reminder of why I not only aspire to emulate his writing success–but also his character. 

I’ve had a fantastic career. That is an undeniable fact. To suggest otherwise would be disingenuous and self-serving. I’m exactly where I dreamed of being when I dropped out of university to become a writer twenty-five years ago. Everything I want now can be summed up by one four-letter word: more.

The universe, however, is telling me: less.


Being prolific has been my undoing. Nobody cranks out six million or so words without consequences, and for me those consequences begin and end with chronic pain, pain that never lets up, day or night. I don’t wake up screaming every morning, but there are times I feel ill to the point of vomiting and emotionally desperate for release. I’ve gone on and off various drugs and had one operation, to no effect. If there’s an end to this, I can’t see it.

It’s got so bad that I’ve considered giving up writing. But that begs the question: what else would I do? Every time I try to take time off, I end up squeezing in a short story because stories, like virtual particles, appear spontaneously in a vacuum and must be written. I’ve always said that I would write music again one day, but that still leaves me at a keyboard, situation unchanged. I’ve considered taking up a hobby, but not being a sporty person, I’ve yet to find one that relieves my hands or interests me much. Reading is great, but even more sedentary than standing at a desk. I’ve taken up Pilates and Tai Chi to get my body moving, but I can’t do them without making other parts of my body creak and twang like a rusty old piano.

Spirit Animals

In short, age sucks. And it’s just going to keep on sucking until we find a cure for it.

I’m not alone in this. Everyone experiences significant pain at some point in their life. Everyone finds ways to deal with it. Once upon a time I’d get together with my writer friends to bitch about money and the market, but now we exchange health tips and coping strategies. Usually we gripe in private because it seems churlish to say that the career of our dreams, which many other people dream of having, is even slightly tarnished. But I think there is value in being open about these things. Not to get sympathy, but to stand as a cautionary example.

Force Unleashed

Don’t ignore the twinges. Be active, even in small ways. Treat your occupational health and safety as seriously as you would expect any other employer. Invest in a robot body the second they become available. (Join the queue.)

However, there are positives as well as negatives.

Stories come from our lived experiences, so if we’re living in pain, then that pain will inevitably inform our creativity. After a bit of a crisis early this year, I’ve recently found myself overflowing with ideas inspired by my condition, ideas that speak back to it in ways that I find both cathartic and creatively fulfilling. My gut tells me that these might be the strongest stories I will ever write . . . but I still have to write them.

The act of writing may be a source of unspeakable pain some days, but on other it is a source of great succour. Focussing on the latter I hope will be the best medicine of all.

Picture credit: James Braund, http://www.jamesbraund.com/.

Picture credit: James Braund, http://www.jamesbraund.com

Sean Williams is an award-winning, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of over forty novels and one hundred stories, including some set in the Star Wars and Doctor Who universes. His latest is Twinmaker: Fall, the final book in his Twinmaker trilogy. He lives just up the road from the best chocolate factory in Australia with his family and a pet plastic fish.


Wednesday Writers: Sean Williams

Sean Williams is undoubtedly one of Australian spec fic’s most succesful exports, having made the transition from national to international success. Whether it is creating his own worlds, successfully collaborating with other writers or playing in existing universes, he has consistently shown his incredible talent. To go along with that, he has the reputation of being the nicest guy in Aussie spec fic, and I have to say that my experience of him bears this out.

In today’s Wednesday Writer we get a look at the passion that burns beneath that mild mannered exterior, and it may fog up your monitor!

This Literary Affair: A Love Letter

For my true love, on the occasion of our anniversary:

What a joyous thing it is to love, and how wondrous to have loved so long.

When I look back at myself as I was at the beginning–inasmuch as that is possible; haven’t we both changed in so many ways?–I wonder if I would alter a single thing, were I to know what lay ahead. Understand me when I say this: my passion would have been undimmed, as it is undimmed now. I would never have turned my back on you, for doing so I knew even then was not a possibility I could seriously entertain. But perhaps I would have been more circumspect, more protective of my thin skin, more wary of the pitfalls ahead. All lovers can be cruel. To give oneself utterly is to snatch at a spinning sword, and then to juggle with it.

It seems both amusing and sad to me in retrospect how long we danced around each other. Where would we be now had I not nursed my crush for so many years? I was little more than a child then, I admit. I could but dream of you, for you seemed to me a distant and unattainable thing, a mountain so high that even to think of the summit was to lose my breath. Still, I yearned to be swept away by you. And you? I do not know that you even noticed me. In that lack of regard I found fuel for all my uncertainties. On that bonfire I cast all the letters I wrote you, telling you of the future we might share.

How immature, and how poignant–to move beyond terror and self-doubt one must first abandon one’s self, and how hard that is when there are alternatives on all sides. Shallow, seductive things beat their butterfly wings against the lashes of every would-be lover, but I soon lost my appetite for them. I grew weary of disappointment when their promises turned to ashes. Only one could satisfy me, I knew–the one that I feared the most, for failure would destroy me. Without you, I knew even then, I would be as nothing. In that desperation–a word hardly strong enough to convey the sense of destiny passing me by–I found strength. And so I made my first, tentative approaches, feeble, guarded things at the start, growing more confident when my failures did not somehow mean my death, until you at last turned your eyes upon me, and our love affair truly began.

What an affair it was! Possession is no antidote to obsession: you consumed me, and I consumed you in return. Inseparable, we tangled together in an existence that felt as correct as I had always imagined, yet at the same time delicious depraved in its carnality. We could stop at any moment–so at least I told myself–but we never once did. The doubting glances of others deterred me not. You only mattered. You only, and the glorious life we would have together. Our dreams were boundless, not tempered in any way by reality. Only the nature of love itself could provide a much needed check.

Time changes all things, even passion. Familiarity, maturity, security–these daggers have stilled many a beating heart. And hot blood must be stilled, for passion is not enough. One cannot feast forever. Sooner or later one must leave the table and pay the servants.

I cannot lie and say, therefore, that our time has been entirely without blemish. Disillusionment–the banishing of dreams, by realizing those dreams or by realizing that they will remain eternally unachievable–pulls the chariot of heartbreak, and hatred closely follows. There were moments–yes, I will confess this–when it seemed that I had made entirely the wrong choice, and that turning my back to you might be better for us both. I tell myself in these darkest hours that one can only try so hard to secure your affections. One can only sacrifice so much. Each time that treacherous voice whispered: if I had anything left to sacrifice, then that meant I had never given myself wholly to you, and that if I hadn’t given myself wholly to you by now, then I never would. Better for us both to abandon the pretence and return to the butterflies. I would become as them, frivolous and weightless, my footsteps as soft as snowflakes. Leaving not the slightest mark. I would keep my dreams to myself, and in them alone, and the memories of our brief union, perhaps I would find some bitter succor.

Such is the reasoning of a fool, and I recognized the source of that foolishness for what it was: fear, again, of taking responsibility for what I had myself created, the bad as well as the good. Fear of change. Fear of growth. I had reached out to you, and in time you reached back, but our love-making did not end there. We have done so much more than touch hands. We have danced and we have fought like tigers. We have lived.

And now twenty-three years have passed, and I see no end to our dancing and fighting. Our dreams will pass and be renewed like the tide, tugged by the gravity of a radiant moon. You will be hard sometimes, seemingly without heart at all, although I know that not to be true, and I will be lazy, or take you for granted, or forget that you must be nurture d; you will dismiss my efforts one day only to shower me with affection the next; I will dream of a butterfly life when I am weighted by the anchor of your demands, but then I will look down and see that the anchor is made of gold, and that I was the one who fastened it.

In my heart and every waking moment of my life, I am yours, until words fail me.

Sean Williams is the award-winning, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of over thirty-five novels, eighty short stories, and the odd odd poem. He writes science fiction, fantasy and horror for adults, young adults and children, and enjoys the occasional franchise, too, such as Star Wars and Doctor Who. His latest book is Troubletwisters: The Monster, co-written with Garth Nix.

2012 Aussie Snapshot: Sean Williams

Sean Williams is the award-winning, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of over thirty-five novels, eighty short stories, and the odd odd poem. He writes science fiction, fantasy and horror for adults, young adults and children, and enjoys the occasional franchise, too, such as Star Wars and Doctor Who. His latest book is Troubletwisters: The Monster, co-written with Garth Nix.

Your collaboration with Garth Nix, the “Troubletwisters” series, has been receiving excellent reviews and it isn’t the first time you have worked with another author. Do you find it is something that comes naturally to you, or was there a period of adjustment? Are there any keys to a successful collaboration that you could share?

Collaborating is not an entirely natural thing for writers to do, which is why, I think, it’s so important that writers do it at some point in the career. Given our druthers, writers would happily keep on doing whatever the hell we want until we drop dead at our keyboards. It’s only through engaging with editors, critics and other writers that we improve in ways that will (hopefully) lead to better writing. Some people might be naturally good at regarding their work with an objective eye, but I’m positive that even those fortunate types benefit from someone poking their nose in and messing around. That’s what collaboration’s all about: having someone step into your kitchen and say, “Have you thought about adding a little chilli? Or maybe taking out the meat?”

A good collaborator will get you over the hump, revitalize your dead ideas, catch your blind spots, keep the project alive when it is dead to you, and creatively stimulate, challenge and surprise you. To work productively and happily, the members of a collaborative team must all trust each, respect each other, communicate with each other, have similar aspirations to each other, and be able to rely on each other absolutely. They must each bring something unique to the project, and they must also be prepared to give something up in the process of bringing it to fruition. A good collaboration never reads like any one of the people involved; it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of many parts that lives and breathes in its own right. That said, however, it’s important for one person to have the final say, and that everyone involved knows who this is before setting pen to paper. Make an agreement that all parties will sign. Stick to it. And have fun!

At the time of the last Aussie Snapshot you were embarking on your role as the Overseas Regional Director for the SFWA. How well do you think that international authors, particularly Australian ones, are represented by the SFWA? Are there any initiatives you are particularly proud of during your time in that role?

Well, you’ve touched on something I feel a little remorseful about , as I haven’t done nearly as much as I’d hoped with SFWA. Partly because of time constraints at my end, mostly because this has been a time for SFWA to get its house into order. I’m hopeful that in the year remaining of my term we’ll get something rolling or, if not even then, that the person who follows me will find it easier. I think international writers need a stronger presence in SFWA, and that SFWA could improve its servicing of OS authors on many fronts, so there’s definitely work to be done.

In general, I’m planning to drop all my extracurricular work in the coming months, as I’ve found it difficult to maintain on top of travel, writing and family. By 2014 I hope to be footloose and committee-free, and will therefore only need to emerge from my study for cons. 🙂

There are more “Trouble Twisters” on the way, but are there any other worlds you have written in that you would like to return to in the future?

I have sold a YA series that taps into a long-standing SFnal interest of mine (can’t say anything more about that at the moment, sorry), and there are a few other projects in the works. One is the TV series of my novel The Crooked Letter, which is at pilot-script stage. If that goes into production, I’ll be busy for a while to come, hopefully. And then there’s Star Wars, which I hope to return to soon. I have lots of irons in lots of fires. I’m limited only by the hours in the day.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read much Australian work lately–but then I haven’t read much recent fiction at all, in any genre. I’ve been researching my PhD, which has meant digging into a lot of old science fiction novels. Fun, but I’m looking forward to it being over and done with this year so I can get back to reading for pleasure.

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

Again, because I’ve been torn between my PhD and travel, I haven’t seen much of the local scene, and I completely missed Aussiecon 4 for health reasons. The community seems to be thriving, though, judging by Facebook and Twitter, not to mention the very strong showing in the 2011 and 2012 awards rounds. From very sketchy beginnings, it has become a vibrant, multi-faceted, constantly surprising thing that is now much larger than the people comprising it, and that’s absolutely marvellous. Nothing makes me prouder than to be part of it

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: