Sunday, August 19, 2007


2007 Snapshot Interview: Kate Eltham

As CEO of the Queensland Writers' Centre, Kate Eltham runs writing and publishing workshops across the state. She's involved with Clarion South, Fantastic Queensland, and helps organise the Aurealis Awards. Her commentary and reviews appear in the Courier Mail, and her short fiction has been published in numerous magazines.

Q1. You're CEO of the Queensland Writers' Centre, which seems to be going from strength to strength, one of the organisers of the Clarion South writing program, a convenor of Fantastic Queensland and you help to organise the Aurealis Awards. Firstly, how do you juggle all these responsibilities? What are the biggest challenges you face, and what achievements are you most proud of?

With the volunteer-run projects like Clarion South, FQ and the awards, sometimes I think the best metaphor is one of those circus performerswho spins dinner plates on wobbling stalks, because I tend to cycle through projects. Each of them have their own schedule and become a bigger priority at different times. And I'm not even a particularly talented dinner plate-spinner because there are plenty of times when I get overwhelmed, or tired, and and things slip by me. My energy for these projects comes in waves - there are times when I'm really firing and excited about them. Then there are times when the last thing I want to do is write that grant application, or fill in the BAS statement. It's at these times that I eat ice cream and watch a lot of episodes ofThe West Wing.

As for the QWC gig, that's my day job. But frankly, I've never actually had a job before that I get so much satisfaction from doing and sometimes have to pinch myself when I remember that they pay me to do it. My biggest challenge is my impatience - there are a ton of projects I want to do at QWC and I want to do them all right now, damnit. But we can't afford to do them all at once, either in terms of cash or human resources, so I have to pace myself and do the things we can afford now and plan to do the rest over time. The same goes for Clarion South and Fantastic Queensland, where the main crunch is volunteer fatigue.

As for achievements, I'm proud as punch to have helped establish Clarion South. It can be really exciting finding talented new writers and each time we run the workshop I'm astounded all over again at the powerful impact it has on the students, teachers and, well, us.

Q2. You've had various short stories published yourself. Are you working on anything longer, or is the short story the form that you naturally use?

I'm a big fan of the short story form. I think it's incredibly difficult to do well and I have huge admiration for those that can. Generally, most of the ideas I get seem to lend themselves to short fiction, and it's what I most enjoy writing. However, I'm taking a crack at my first novel at the moment. It's going very slowly! I hit a psychological barrier at about the 8,000 word mark, perhaps because I'd never written any fiction longer than that before, but now things are cranking again. It has had a good impact on my writing habits, too, because I've had to develop a more regular writing routine just to keep the manuscript moving forward.

Q3. Where do you want to be - both as a writer and as an educator - in five years, and how do you plan to get there? Would you like to be able to devote your time solely to writing, or are the other aspects of your work equally helpful to you?

I've actually thought about this quite a bit. I don't think I would enjoy being a full-time writer. I'm not really wired for it. I have diverse interests and like to be doing lots of different things. But at the same time, I think about writing constantly - characters, plots, ideas. I do get a bit depressed when I can't find the time to do any writing. So I guess the ideal set-up for me would be to keep going in a job I love but to not be so overloaded that all time for writing is crowded out. That's happened in the last 3-4 years because I couldn't get the balance right, but I feel like I'm getting closer to the ideal lately.

In five years, for myself, I'd like to be keeping up with writing daily, finishing a couple of short stories each year and submitting them to markets, and if it turns out I enjoy writing novels, I'd like to have finished one or two more of those. (However, I write at a glacial pace so these are pretty lofty goals).

I'd also like Clarion South to be more financially secure in five years. I don't really think of myself as an educator, but for QWC, in five years I'd like to see an established ms development program of Varuna-calibre that has practical connections with publishers and literary agents, and an affordable (or even free!) peer-based mentoring program.

Q4. Do you read much from the Australian spec fic scene? What are the best things you've read this year?

In terms of fiction, I used to read almost exclusively spec fic, and most of that was Australian short fiction. I'll seek out just about anything by Margo Lanagan, Trent Jamieson or Terry Dowling. From international authors, I look for new stuff from Kelly Link, Jeff Ford, Ted Chiang or Carol Emshwiller. In the last year or two, though, I've been reading more widely, partly to stay professionally informed, and have been delving into more Australian literary fiction and contemporary poetry.

I also enjoy a reasonable amount of "popular non-fiction" - The Undercover Economist, The Tipping Point, that kind of thing. I've always loved YA and continue to read a lot of it. The SF book I enjoyed reading most this year was Air by Geoff Ryman. I also just finished William Gibson's Spook Country and loved it, although not as much as Pattern Recognition. The best YA I've read this year has been by Meg Rosoff. Both her books - How I Live Now and Just In Case - are fantastic.

Q5. And most importantly, if you had the chance to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most, who would it be and why?

It's a complete geek grrl thing I know, but I go a bit gooey in the chest cavity over Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg) from the tv show Spaced. He's a science fiction-loving graphic artist AND he makes axe-wielding robots. What's not to like?


This interview was conducted as part of the 2007 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We'll be blogging interviews from Monday 13 August to Sunday 19 August and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus.

You can read interviews at:

If you're involved in the Scene and have something to plug, then send us an email and we'll see what we can do!

Saturday, August 18, 2007


2007 Snapshot Interview: Brett McBean

Melbourne horror writer Brett McBean is a member of the Australian Horror Writers Association. His published work includes the novels The Mother and The Last Motel, the novelettes The Familiar Stranger and A Question of Belief, and short stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. His website is

Q1. You're currently working on a zombie novel that you first started in 2001. What made you return to it? Have the intervening years, during which you've published some very different work, changed your approach to the story?

It’s not so much a question of why I returned to the story, but why I stopped writing it in the first place. I wrote about two thirds (around 110,000 words) before I decided to stop work on the story – for the time being. I knew I would return to it one day, but at the time, the story was getting too big for me. Part of it was set in Haiti, the other in America, and I knew I needed to do a lot more research before I could finish the story. Also, the novel was only the third I had ever attempted, so I think the scope was too big for me at the time. The six-year gap has been immeasurable in terms of developing my writing to a point where I can tackle the subject matter and story with the proper maturity and knowledge. Reading over the first draft after all those years made me realise that I simply wasn’t ready in 2001 to develop the story to its fullest potential. I’m having a blast revisiting the characters and finally completing the story.

Q2. You've been nominated for the Ditmars and the Ned Kelly Crime Fiction Awards. How significant has this been in terms of raising your profile and reaching new readers? Is there anything that you wish you'd known, starting out as a writer?

I don’t think being nominated has had a dramatic effect in terms of attracting a great number of new readers – those people who are aware of such genre awards most probably would have heard of some of my work anyway. But being nominated certainly does look nice on the resume.I wish I had known that writing is a life-long learning process, that it takes years to develop your voice, and that success doesn’t happen overnight. Patience certainly is a virtue.

Q3. Where do you want to be as a writer in five years, and how do you plan to get there?

In five years, I guess I’d like to be writing full time, still loving the creative process, still pumping out the kinds of stories I enjoy writing and reading. How do I plan to get there? One day at a time. And by making sure I sit my arse in that chair and write every day.

Q4. Do you read much from the Australian spec fic scene? What are the best things you've read this year? Following on from your essay "On Research, Dead Trees and Horror in Australia," are there any pieces of writing that you feel really take advantage of the Australian landscape to create atmosphere?

I haven’t read a lot of Aussie spec fic this year (shame on me!). Most of my reading has been geared towards the coming-of-age and ‘last man on earth’ genres – research for the two stories I’m currently working on (the zombie novel and a novella). But as for which stories use the Aussie landscape to create atmosphere, you can’t go past the classic ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’.

Q5. If you had the chance to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most, who would it be and why?

Well, there’s a particularly saucy temptress called Zoe, from the Steve Gerlach books ‘Love Lies Dying’ and ‘Hunting Zoe’ – she’s a sexy, feisty woman who could really give you a night to remember. Also, I wouldn’t say no to being stranded in the woods with the five gals from Richard Laymon’s ‘Blood Games’ (or any Laymon girl, for that matter).


This interview was conducted as part of the 2007 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We'll be blogging interviews from Monday 13 August to Sunday 19 August and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus.

You can read interviews at:

If you're involved in the Scene and have something to plug, then send us an email and we'll see what we can do!

Friday, August 17, 2007


2007 Snapshot Interview: Shane Jiraiya Cummings

Shane Jiraiya Cummings is a Ditmar award-winning writer and editor. He co-founded Brimstone Press and the Shadowed Realms online magazine, has compiled anthologies, is the Managing Editor of HorrorScope, and is currently a judge for the Aurealis and Australian Shadows Awards. His dark fiction short stories have appeared in numerous magazines, and he has two forthcoming collections of short stories. His website is and he blogs at

Q1. When you first established Horrorscope, did you imagine it taking off as successfully as it has? How do you see it developing in the future?

HorrorScope has exceeded my wildest expectations. I had high hopes of a Boing Boing style horror publishing web log doing well but had no idea that the zine would attract such a diverse and high quality group of editors/reviewers, each with their own strengths. With HorrorScope's merger with the Australian Horror Writers Association news service and the addition of news editor Talie Helene - and now roving reviewer Rob Hood - to the team, I couldn't ask for more. The number of readers has really picked up this year, and I think HorrorScope is cementing its international reputation going by the surge in links from US and UK writers and publishers.

For me, the success has stemmed from each reviewer's distinctive 'voice' and the communal ownership of the site. Not all the posts are perfect but the uncertainty of content and review style adds to the charm, for me. It's also simplicity itself. Other projects I've worked on needed constant care and planning. Yet HorrorScope, once it was set up, practically runs itself. The ease of keeping the content ticking over, even if a few of the editors take time off, is just brilliant.

I'd love to see HorrorScope develop in a more commercial direction, with reviewers being paid for their contributions. This could have the effect of increasing the frequency of more substantial book reviews, which is probably one area that could be improved. This move could be on the cards down the track but depends on a couple of big question marks at this stage.

Q2. You're bringing the Shadowed Realms online publishing project to a close. What do you feel proudest of having achieved with it, and what lessons will you take from the experience? Brimstone Press are following on from the success of Shadow Box with a new anthology, Black Box - how is that coming along? (And how do you find the time?)

Shadowed Realms did many things - achieved SFWA pro market status, enabled a flash story to win an Aurealis Award (Lee Battersby's creepy "Pater Familias"), was the first online zine to be nominated for a 'Collected work' Ditmar, and published a bucketload of excellent fiction from the best in the business. Most importantly, Shadowed Realms was probably one of the primary catalysts for an Aussie horror surge. I'd like it to be remembered as a vehicle that helped kickstart a genre.

The zine also pushed the boundaries and hopefully raised the standards of online fiction. What people don't seem to understand is that the electronic medium is very different to print and offers many new and exciting alternatives to the presentation of text. Working on Shadowed Realms allowed me to enhance my graphic design skills - experience I'll be applying to future book covers and the Black Box e-anthology.

The table of contents has been finalised for Black Box, and I'm proud to say it is a stellar lineup (website to be updated soon!), proving Shadow Box struck a chord with a lot of writers. You'll see bite-sized stories by Will Elliott, Robert Hood, Stephen Dedman, Kaaron Warren, Paul Haines, Kirstyn McDermot, Martin Livings, Lee Battersby, David Conyers... the list goes on! Plus a hell of a lot more art and funky add-ons. I expect Black Box to be published in early 2008, once I get my awards judging and some important writing commitments out of the way. I hope it will be well-received. I expect it to be my last hurrah for flash fiction (once my collection Shards is published) and all profits will go to the Australian Horror Writers Association, so good sales will directly benefit Aussie writers and editors.

As for finding the time, something always gives. For too long, that was time with my family. This year, events forced me to realise this had to change and so I've pulled right back. Not all the way out but enough to regain some sanity and put most of the SF small press bickering behind me.

Q3. You're a graduate of the Clarion South writing program, you've published many short stories over the years, but I understand you've recently completed a novella. How would you say your writing style has evolved? Does the short story form come most naturally to you, or do your future plans involve novel writing as well?

Yeah, my latest story is a Cthulhu Mythos novella entitled "Requiem for the Burning God", my first true attempt at Mythos horror fiction. It was a hard slog but worth every word.

My writing has improved by leaps and bounds since I first started out a few years ago. At first, the grand plan was to quit the day job and finish a work-in-progress novel. I almost did it (about 80k words of it) but was distracted by short stories, which came very naturally to me. I can see myself as a novelist but I really need to recondition myself to writing at longer lengths. My recent publications have been novelettes ("Yamabushi Kaidan and the Smoke Dragon" in Fantastic Wonder Stories and "Beneath Southern Waves" in Daikaiju 2), so I think I'm on the right path.

My first twenty or so short stories needed a lot of work (in hindsight) but each was an improvement on the last. Attending Clarion South in early 2005, the editing work I took up around the same time, and Angela's advice gave me the insight to really understand the flaws in my work. Since then, I've been much more self-aware and I feel the work has improved. My output has slowed dramatically, but having edited all of my old stories up to a level at least close to my current standard, I'm still publishing work at a steady rate.

I think my writing has become less "purple" (less reliant on adjectives and adverbs) and I'm absolutely confident on the technical aspects of grammar, syntax etc. I haven't had a lot of reviews lately, so I can't really gauge whether readers are responsive to my current, more refined style. However, the greatest change has been psychological. I'm no longer hungry for approval of my stories from others. It's desirable, sure, but no longer something I feel when it isn't there. It's a liberating feeling.

Q4. As well as writing, editing and publishing, you're also an Aurealis Awards judge. You must have read a huge amount this year: what have been your highlights?

An Aurealis Award AND an Australian Shadows Award judge! I took on both this year because I'm reading the same material for both awards, so there is little to no extra workload. I believe in an efficient Australian awards system that rewards excellence, which is why I put my hand up in the first place. In some ways, it is more important that the Australian Shadows Award becomes a success because the AHWA has been doing excellent work in promoting Australian dark fiction and they are probably the best way forward for horror writers in this country. My involvement in the Aurealis Awards this year arose because the award has an established reputation with major publishers - one that should be improved upon to help small press writers take that next step with the majors - and despite the good intentions and hard work by volunteers, I disagreed with the half-arsed way the awards were handled at the end of last year and the disrespectful thoughtlessness that followed. I believed (and still believe) I could make a positive difference.

I've been enjoying reading Aussie horror in a more considered, critical manner this year. In fact, I've been reading all Oz horror short stories (and most of the F/SF stories) for the last three years, but for some odd reason, I'm enjoying it more this year.

I've just finished reading David Conyers' and John Sunseri's The Spiraling Worm collection, which greatly appealed to me - possibly because there is so few Lovecraftian style cosmic horror written by Aussies. What I've read of Jason Nahrung and Mil Clayton's novel The Darkness Within has been interesting, as has been Troy Barnes' self published novel Deadlight, but I'll go into detail about these in my upcoming HorrorScope reviews. I suspect my tastes may vary from most others.

To date, Russell B Farr's Fantastic Wonder Stories has been the Aussie anthology of the year. I won't name specific stories but the anthology has tremendous variety and more than a few surprises. Not a lot of Aussie short horror fiction has resonated with me. It looks to be a lull year, although a couple of anthologies may appear in coming months, and Shadowed Realms has two more issues to be published, so my hopes are high.

Q5. Finally, and most inappropriately, if you had the chance to get it on with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

I'm attracted to the dark side, which is probably not a surprise. Give me a vampy vixen like Selene from Underworld or Abby from NCIS... and a vial of blood, just to be sure.


This interview was conducted as part of the 2007 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We'll be blogging interviews from Monday 13 August to Sunday 19 August and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus.
You can read interviews at:

If you're involved in the Scene and have something to plug, then send us an email and we'll see what we can do!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Novel to film adaptations, or, drop the Susan Cooper and move away slowly.

They're making a film of Susan Cooper's book The Dark is Rising - and many people (warning: spoilers!) are incensed at the Hollywoodisation of what is a very English book. I'm surprised by the casting: Merriman Lyon, who I always imagined as an Ian Richardson-looking figure, is being played by Ian McShane. Yes - Lovejoy. Here's what he has to say about the book:
"I know they sold a few copies, but I couldn't read it very well. It's
really dense. It's from the 70s, you know?"

To use kiandra_fire's expression, as a student of English Literature my response to this is *headdesk*. Repeatedly. It's a young adult book! Yes, there is a lot of description, the sense of place is important and it may help if you know a little about the pagan/pre-Christian gods of Britain ... but dense? She has another great phrase that made me giggle ruefully - this emotional threat is directed at the filmmakers:
I hold this book very dear to my heart. If this movie decimates the book for me,
my heart will catch the shrapnel. I'm not saying I'll sue for emotional damages,
but please know I will be in pain.

By contrast, Neil Gaiman is very happy with the film of his novel Stardust - the challenge seems to lie in marketing it, though.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Reading, writing, and jumping at dinosaurs

It was a surprisingly good weekend - I read the new Jasper Fforde book about Thursday Next, First Among Sequels. As always, I admire the startling twists and turns of his BookWorld and the parallel universe where Swindon is the most exciting city anywhere in Britain ... but honestly, I was a little disappointed. 16 years have passed since the previous book so instead of finding out about married life for Thursday and Landen, we jump forward and they're middle-aged parents with teenaged children. SpecOps has been officially disbanded, and Thursday has been lying about the true nature of her carpet-fitting job to her loving husband for many years. It just doesn't quite ring true.

I made it to the Perth Museum, which has a moving gallery telling stories of the Stolen Generation (more to come in a future post) and a colossal statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex glowering down at you as you enter the gallery, its claws outstretched and jagged teeth dripping mucus. It's huge. You quail, looking up at it. And just as I was walking in, surrounded by families having an educational excursion for their toddlers and kids in pushchairs, the behemoth let out a ground-shaking roar. Now, I don't know if it's on a timer, or if there's some hidden curator snickering behind a screen who presses the "Growl" button when they see a group of susceptible looking children - but the response was panic. Shrieking, crying, needing to be picked up and bundled away ... that's the toddlers, not me, although I may have jumped a little.

I then took part in a random downtown drum circle (this is why I like Perth) and visited a couple of art galleries.

I am delighted to report that I finally moved out: I'm now in a much nicer (although more expensive) hostel. It's small - there are maybe 30 people there at the moment as opposed to over a hundred - and clean, and they grow their own herbs and mushrooms and have recycling facilities! It's surprising how few hostels do this, considering the amount of bottles and cans travellers seem to go through.

And in other news, I'm joining the ASif! crowd in an exciting one-week-only project. In 2005, Sydney writer Ben Peek interviewed 43 people on his blog to create a snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. This week, a group of ASif! reviewers are updating this, blogging interviews which will also be archived on ASif! as we go.

You can see the results so far at:

I'm very excited to be in such great company!

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