Crazy times at Conflux 13

Well, wow. That was intense.

Conflux 13 is over & it was amazing. I feel like I’ve been operating on overdrive for a week now. Where should I start? OK, highlights.

1. Meeting Ellen Datlow. Idol from my youth. Giant of the fantasy & horror genres. Hard not to spend the weekend in a total fangirl tailspin.

2. The panels. What’s not to like about spending the weekend talking with like-minded and fascinating people like Angela Slatter, Kirstyn McDermott and Aiki Flintheart about things like Fairy Tales With Teeth and ClawsBeastly TransformationsMagic Schools and Deadly Dance?

3. Winning second prize in the CSFG/Conflux short story comp for my story Flawless! (Which I’ve now been invited to read at the next meeting of the Canberra Fairy Tale Ring. as it fits neatly with the AFTS November theme of Snow White.)

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4. Interviewing Zena Shapter for the launch of her new novel, Towards White, out from IFWG Publishing.

Zena Towards White
Photo courtesy of Cat Sparks

5. Drinking creme de violette bellinis and planning a live-tweeted rewatch of The Lady and the Highwayman and perhaps also A Hazard of Hearts (both movies based on Barbara Cartland novels made in the 1980s).

6. Discovering who was the mysterious origami master leaving perfect tiny dragons and unicorns all over the con.

7. Watching our guests of honour Ellen & Angela, & MC Kaaron opening their thank you goody bags to reveal a beautiful cast glass key by Canberra Fairy Tale Glass artist Spike Deane. I’m given to understand they were well received.

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8. And last, but definitely not least – because this is what it’s all about when it comes down to it – is spending time with beloved friends and kindred spirits, both new and old, talking about writing, publishing, reading, movies, games, art, history, research, language and anything else that moves us and connects us and makes us part of the same tribe.

(All photos, except the first four, by Cat Sparks.)

 

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Conflux 13: Grimm Tales

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Conflux 13 is almost upon us! I have been a bit swamped the last few days putting the final touches on the program and scheduling all our wonderful panellists, but it’s almost there! And I am SUPER excited for this year’s con.

Firstly, what’s not to love about a dark fairy tale-themed SF con? *Swoon*

Secondly, the Guests of Honour this year…

Ellen Datlow and Angela Slatter! Hell, if I swoon any harder I’m gonna give myself consussion.

It was reading Ellen Datlow’s fairy tale anthologies in my early twenties that basically showed me that fairy tales were not just dragonflies locked in amber for all eternity, and that writers were still using all my favourite tales as inspiration for new stories. Which kinda inspired me to start writing my own stories…

And I will let you in on a secret and tell you Angela has been one of my author crushes for a while now. If you are into stories that draw on fairy tales and folklore all twisted up with a large pinch of darkness and more than a few shreds of cobweb, Angela is your gal.

So. Conflux! When I’m not running around troubleshooting or recovering from all of that in the con bar, here is where you’ll be able to find me:

Friday

10am – Con 101 with my good friend Elizabeth Fitzgerald. New to cons? A bit shy? We’ll have tim tams.

11am – Magic school. I’ll be talking magical education both real and imagined with Angela, Lyss Wickramasinghe and Dion Perry.

2pm – Fairy tales with teeth and claws. I’ll be moderating this conversation between Ellen, Angela, Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung.

4pm – Beastly transformations. A subject dear to my heart, you might say (boom-tish!)

Saturday

11am – Not for children. I’ll be talking about the dark roots of classic tales with Ellen, Angela and Kirstyn.

Sunday

9am – It’s early for a Sunday, but I’ll be soaking up the company at the Conflux 13 Guest of Honour Breakfast.

11am – Anthology makers. I’ll be honest, I put my hand up to mod this discussion between Ellen, Cat Sparks (who is launching her anthology with Liz Grzyb, Ecopunk, at Conflux) and Michelle Lovi of Odyssey Press hoping to get some hot tips for editing A Hand Of Knaves at the end of the year.

1.00pm – Deadly dance. I am really looking forward to this one. Dance & death in SFF fiction with Angela and Aiki Flintheart.

3.30pm – The Canberra Fairy Tale Ring agreed to let Conflux  host it’s September meeting (just a teeny bit later than usual). Conveniently this month’s tale is The Girl With No Hands, as that was the title story in one of Angela’s earlier collections of twisted fairy tales. So she’s going to come along to that too.

If you’re in Canberra over that weekend, come along to the Vibe Hotel & say hi. It’s going to be spectacular. (Ticket info on the Conflux website here.)

 

 

Noted Festival imminent

Noted Writers Festival starts on Wednesday and I am operating on full warp to get all my stuff done in the lead up. (Example tasks include drafting writing prompts for kids about exploding koala bums and spiders with no pants on, and emailing writers to ask them to describe themselves as a bottle of wine.) But I have also had to wrestle with several Excel spreadsheets in the process, so it’s not all fun and games.

It never rains but it pours, so as well as all this I’ve had a major bit of work to do for this year’s Conflux, plus some other secret writers’ business that just happened to come up at the same time.

I think I’m almost on top of it. Who needs sleep anyway?

So if you’re in Canberra next week and you feel like doing some free writing workshops…

Or you want to hang out with some fascinating writerly types and hear what they have to say on stuff…

See some live art (and maybe even get involved in making it)…

I would love to see you at one of the events! The pics above link to the program, which is wildly diverse and amazing.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer to participate from the comfort of your own internet connection, we have a genuinely awesome program of digital events for you to check out, such as…

I’m so excited! It’s going to be fab and it’s nearly here!

Aurealis and Swancon revisited

Just in case anyone thought I wasn’t still wallowing in the pleasure of my first ever award…

Aurealis 2016 PJG

Here’s a few of my fave pics from that evening.

The OMG moment… And celebrating with my gorgeous family afterwards.

And here’s a few other snaps from the evening (courtesy of Cat Sparks, whose full album of Swancon & the Aurealis Awards is on Flickr).

Other fave moments from the evening included getting to see Sam Murray pick up her Aurealis for Best Science Fiction Short Story; watching Sam deliver Tim Napper’s speech for his win for Best Horror Short Story; and having the honour of accepting Kaaron Warren’s award on her behalf for Best Horror Novel. (If you’re interested, the #fauxcon hashtag chronicles my Canberra crowd’s celebration of the evening from back home. Made me wish I could be in two places at once.) All the winners are up on the Aurealis website.

And here’s a few pics from the day I spent at Swancon in Perth (again, thank you Cat Sparks!). I caught a GOH talk with Traci Harding, attended *two* book launches, a panel debating various thorny issues that arise in SFF fandom and I got a short excursion to a local bookstore to catch sight of Cat’s new novel Lotus Blue in the wild. Plus I spent some serious quality time with my tribe in the restaurant and the bar.

I rounded it all out with a delicious dinner with friends under a spectacular, purple, fairy-lit tree. As always, the very best thing about going to a con was the people. *sniff* I love youse all.

The birth of a short story

Seeing my name on the 2016 Aurealis shortlist a couple of weeks ago was pretty bloody thrilling. There is a writing goal I’ve had my eye on ever since the moment when I first held a copy of Winds of Change – the anthology in which my first-ever published story appeared – in my hot little hands.

What made the nomination even sweeter was seeing how many of my really good writing buddies were on that list with me. The Australian Speculative Fiction community is pretty small and (in my experience anyway) a really collegiate, supportive bunch of people. I know a fair few people on that list now. But, among all the nominees I know and admire, it was very satisfying seeing how many of my fellow Canberra writers and members of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild appeared on the list:

  • Ian McHugh (nom for Best Science Fiction Short with The Baby Eaters in Asimov’s)
  • T R Napper (nom for Best Horror Short with The Flame Trees in Asimov’s)
  • Dave Versace (nom for Best Fantasy Short with The Lighthouse at Cape Defeat in Aurealis)
  • Shauna O’Meara (nom for Best YA Short for No One Here Is Going To Save You in In Your Face)
  • Kaaron Warren (noms for Best Horror and Best Sci Fi Short for 68 Days in Tomorrow’s Cthulu and Best Horror Novel for The Grief Hole)
  • Simon Petrie (nom for Best Sci Fi Novella for All the Colours of the Tomato in Dimension 6).

Echoing these sentiments, my mate Tim (aka T R Napper) tweeted:

Which got me thinking about the important role my writing community has played in getting Pretty Jennie Greenteeth this far. In fact, in getting all of my stories published.

Just looking at Pretty Jennie Greenteeth, I found out about Belladonna Publishing and the anthologies they were producing through my writing group. Someone (I think it was Dave Versace) pointed me at their submissions call for their Black Apples anthology, which they knew was right up my alley. I didn’t end up getting a story into that anthology (damn), but I was instantly on it when Belladonna put their next call out. That willingness to share information about opportunities is something invaluable about my writing crowd, the CSFG. Especially to a rank rookie writer who had no idea who was who or what was anything. And not only did they help me figure out where in the industry I needed to be sending my submissions, but they also helped me figure out how to submit.

Start at the top. Work your way down. You’re never going to know what level you’re writing to if you don’t start at the top.

 – Ian McHugh

^^That’s one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever been given. Submit to the best markets first. Where do you want most to be published? Go there first. You just won’t know if your piece was good enough for them if you don’t send it.

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Ian McHugh & Tim Napper, celebrating Aurealis noms

Then there’s the frank and fearless feedback offered by the CSFG critiquing circles. I’ve had my work critiqued by almost everyone on the list of nominees above. In fact, these guys are basically my go-to peeps outside the organised critiquing circle, especially when a deadline is looming, or I just want to sit & talk through a piece and really hash out the issues. Pretty Jennie Greenteeth went through CSFG’s short story critiquing circle. I got some really useful feedback on it, including, from memory, advice on dealing with a continuity issue, comment on a difficult-to-pronounce name and warning flags on cliches. But a good critiquing partner will also tell you where you’re going right. We’re all suckers for metaphorical pats on the head in this business, but damn it feels good when someone whose work you admire says they like your story. (Thank you Dave Versace and Tim Napper in this case.)

Then there’s what happens after your story gets published (if your luck is in & you get that far.) Tim Napper, in particular, is fairly tireless in his commitment to spruiking stories by Australian authors that he rates well. He regularly posts about good Australian fiction he’s read and he put this great post up recently with his recommendations on Australian stories that came out in 2016 that are eligible for the Ditmar awards (these are Australia’s fan-voted genre awards, the Aurealis awards are the juried awards). Even if you’re not necessarily eligible to vote in the Ditmars, it is worth checking out his list, because he’s recommended some fantastic fiction. (If you are eligible, you should get your skates on and vote – noms close tonight, 19 March, 11.59pm AEDST: list of eligible works, online voting form.) Full disclosure: he’s recommended one of mine, Breathing (Aurealis #95). But I am far and away the junior partner on that list, so I have no hesitation in adding my voice to his exhortations to read the others’ work.

I’m far from the first to point out writing can be a lonely business. And trying to judge for yourself whether your piece of fiction needs more work or is ready to send out into the world is a tricksy business. Finding your writing community, the right writing community for you, is a gift of incalculable worth. And it can make bringing your stories out into the world just that little bit easier.

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A little announcement

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Here’s a thing I’ve been waiting to announce for a couple of weeks now…

Noted Writers Festival has just announced its production team and look who’s on it! Oh, wait, that’s me!

I’ll be filling the position of Creative Producer – Professional Development.

I’ve loved working on Conflux so much, I thought I’d try and get involved with some other writing festivals and – Voila! They said yes!

I am a bit excited about this.

Now I have something like 90 artist applications to sift through to help decide who we’re going to feature. Wish me luck (and maybe see you there in March 2017?)

Cheers!

HARDCOPY 2016 – Intro2Industry

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I have spent the last few days on my couch recovering from a truly horrible flu (seriously: I can’t recall ever having been this sick, even with appendicitis.) But, before that, I was very privileged to be able to attend the second part of Round 1 of the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY 2016 program, Intro2Industry. This was an extended 3-day weekend’s worth of seminars on all aspects of the publishing industry, and it was fascinating. And, I have to confess, sobering in equal parts.

First up, a big shout out to the ACT Writers Centre and the wonderful Nigel Featherstone for convening the course. I could not have asked to be placed in more generous, professional or gentler hands for the weekend. Thank you, Nigel, you are a star.

We had presentations from just about every aspect of the industry you can imagine, from publishers, established authors and agents, to writers festivals, booksellers, reviewers and government arts funding agencies. Catherine Milne from Harper Collins gave the opening session on “What do publishers want?” This was both inspiring and daunting, as she described how publishers fall in love with manuscripts and then have to pitch them to the dreaded acquisitions board – a process that sounds just as terrifying for the publisher as pitching to them is for the author. I loved hearing about how half the time the manuscripts they lose their hearts to are ones they didn’t know they were looking for. “Publishers are like two-year-olds,” she said at one point. “We don’t know what we want, but we know we want it!”

Alex Adsett from Alex Adsett Publishing Services was as charming and engaging as always (I’ve seen a couple of her presentations now) – which is not necessarily what you’d expect from a lawyer delivering a session on copyright and contract law. Seriously, if you get a chance to see her in action, do it. She is great. Jacinta Dimase from Jacinta Dimase Management took us through some case studies from her stable of authors. She also got us to do a fascinating exercise in pulling out seven key themes from our novels and posting them up on a wall of the theatre. Seeing them all grouped together from a field of 28 authors writing across a range of genres was fascinating.

One of the most talked-about presentations was from Patrick Lenton from Town Crier Digital Marketing. He talked to us about the importance of authors having an online platform and talked us through a few different options. He was insightful and deeply knowledgeable and I got a huge amount out of his presentation. A key learning is that whatever online presence you decide to have, it has to be authentically you (otherwise you’ll never sustain it.)

A surprise learning from Allen & Unwin rep Deb Sevens and owner of Dymocks Canberra City, Alison Kay, was that “good sales” for a new author from one bookshop might be only one or two books over a month. This was a very sobering presentation, when us starry-eyed, emerging authors all learned just exactly how many books there are in a bookshop competing for each customer’s attention and how there is only room for a few of them to be placed face out. We also talked about the importance of a good cover. It was frustrating to learn how small the window is for a book to be considered a “success” in sales in bookshops, and even more so when we heard from Linda Funnell from the Newtown Review of Books about how sometimes review scheduling can miss this mark.

But…

For me, in amongst it all was this strong thread of love for the written word. Even the in the moments when we or the presenters gave way to their most jaded or frustrated thoughts, everyone who was there was there because they love books. Because they adore stories and they want to get more stories out there to the readers who will treasure them. Even though every pearl of wisdom we received over the weekend came with a warning about the hard reality of the current times, I think we all finished the course in the spirit of “pragmatic optimism” that Nigel took care to foster throughout. I certainly feel as though I’ve been given the best possible preparation for what (hopefully) lies ahead.

I wish all my fellow HARDCOPIERS all the very best for the next stage of their literary journey. (Photo courtesy of Alex Fairhill)

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The Never Never Land is out!

The Never Never Land
The Never Never Land

Hooray! On Sunday evening we launched The Never Never Land, containing my new story “Adventure Socks”, at Conflux 11. Nicole Murphy did the honours, noting that “Everything is better with dinosaurs”,  and that happily Never Never Land does not disappoint on this score. We had readings by Cat Sparks, from her story “Dragon Girl”, and Shauna O’Meara (who also did the amazing cover and interior artwork) from her story “To Look Upon A Dream Tiger”.

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Nicole Murphy – “Everything is better with dinosaurs”
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Editors Ian McHugh, Mitchell Akhurst and Phill Berrie
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Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Shauna O’Meara

I am really proud of my story in this anthology – and I’m thrilled to be sharing a table of contents with such a talented bunch. There are a swag of authors in Never Never Land with established and even award-winning careers, along with a handful of new authors for whom this is their first publication. Congratulations CSFG and everyone involved for putting out another fantastic anthology.

*All photos by Cat Sparks, used with permission.

Conflux approacheth

Conflux-11

Conflux 11 is almost upon us! I’m especially excited about it this year, as I’ve been part of the organising committee and had particular responsibility for pulling the program together. There are still a few bits and bobs to sort out, but we are almost there.

Unfortunately I’ll be travelling for work on the Friday and Saturday, so despite it having completely taken over my spare time in the last few weeks I’ll miss those days. But I will be at the banquet on Saturday night, and there all day Sunday and Monday. Here are  the panels you’ll be able to find me on:

2.30pm Sunday – I felt that – vivid prose, with Shauna O’Meara, DL Richardson and Alan Baxter.

4.30pm Sunday – Messing with mythology, with Amanda Pillar, Rob Porteous, Jane Virgo and Alis Franklin

10am Monday – Food in fiction, with Alis Franklin, Gillian Polack and Garry Dalrymple

4.30pm Monday – Fairy tales: princess complex, with Val Toh and KT Taylor

Plus…!

On Sunday at 5.30pm, the CSFG will be launching their latest anthology, The Never Never Land, containing my latest story “Adventure Socks”!  Hope to see you there!

The Never Never Land
The Never Never Land