Ends and beginnings, 2016 edition

Author with awardIn the spirit of recounting the good things that happened to me in this global annus horribilis, here’s my year in review. In (mostly) chronological order…

My writing year kicked off in earnest (I’m sure I wrote stuff before then, but I can’t be sure) in March, when I attended Contact. Held in Brisbane over the Easter long weekend, this was the 55th Australian National Science Fiction Convention and I enjoyed it heartily.

It featured the first Aurealis Awards that I was involved with (as judge for SF short story category) and much live-tweeting by me. I also won a Ditmar Award for Best New Talent, which was surprising and inspiring to my work since. (Except for the part where I dropped my pin on the floor of the stage, but I am at peace with my clumsiness.) To the Australian speculative fiction community, thank you for welcoming me and honouring me.

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2016: Nick Tchan

Nick TchanNick Tchan (writing as Nick T. Chan) is an Australian  writer. He’s sold stories to Lightspeed, Aliterate, 2nd and Starlight, Writers of the Future, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Galaxy’s Edge. In addition to random and malicious acts of authoring, Nick works as an instructional designer. Because he does not own a cat, he has long doubted his legitimacy as a speculative fiction writer.

Your most recent publication was in Lightspeed’s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction special issue. Can you tell us a bit about the story, and the magazine it’s published in?

My story, “Salto Mortal”, probably operates on two levels. The first level is a fairly simple tale about a wife who flees for her life from her abusive husband. Instead of successfully making it to the woman’s refuge, though, she encounters a nagual, one of the aliens who took over Mexico a number of years ago and turned it into a mysterious, uninhabitable realm.

The second level is about identity and disguises and the interplay between them. It is very much a story concerned with self-identity, cultural identity and the forces that seek to erase them. It deals with masks, lucha libre, domestic violence and shapeshifting aliens.

I play with the themes of identity in disguise throughout the story. The main character has both her identity and her culture stolen from her, there are aliens attempting to imitate human beings and luchadores use masks and personas in the ring.

Issue 73 of Lightspeed was called the People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! and was 100% written and edited by people of colo(u)r. It was led by guest editors Nalo Hopkinson and Kristine Ong Muslim and had writers like Steven Barnes, Octavia Butler, Sofia Samatar, Malka Older and Samuel Delaney. The idea was to bring together a team of writers and editors from around the globe to present science fiction that explores the nuances of culture, race, and history.

It’s not very apparent from photos, but I’m half-Chinese. It was a difficult question whether I fit into the magazine, but after discussions with my writing group (which is a pretty diverse group), I gave it a go. The story itself is a clear representation of how culture and look can be erased by a dominant culture and part of the story’s genesis arose from thinking about race in my own context. My struggles are different to someone who looks ‘”obviously” Asian. At the same time, I’ve had my own struggles with both overt and covert racial prejudice. (I’m also capable of tremendous clumsiness when it comes to matters of race and identity.)

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2016: Janeen Webb

Janeen WebbJaneen Webb is a multiple award-winning author, editor and critic who has written or edited ten books and over a hundred essays and stories. Janeen is a recipient of a World Fantasy Award, a Peter McNamara Achievement Award, an Aurealis Award, and a Ditmar Award. She holds a PhD in Literature from the University of Newcastle, and divides her time between Melbourne and a small farm overlooking the sea near Wilson’s Promontory.

I thoroughly enjoyed your 2014 collection, Death at the Blue Elephant, which was published by Ticonderoga and was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award. Two years on, how has the book been received?

Thanks for your kind words about Death at the Blue Elephant. I’m happy to say that the collection has been very well received: shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award, and also recommended in the Locus Best of the Year list. One of the stories, “The Lady of the Swamp”, was reprinted in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror (edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene). Readers have responded generously to the stories, and I understand the book has been selling well. I am, of course, working on a new collection, with new stories slowly making their way into print.

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2016: Helen Stubbs

Helen StubbsHelen Stubbs is an excitable fiction and feature writer living on the Gold Coast, Australia. She loves expanding the vibrancy of local arts and culture through writing and creating community arts projects (like Writers Activation and Contact 2016) and partnerships that operate inclusively and aim for a neutral or positive effect on the environment. Helen’s stories have been published in The Never Never Land, Next and other anthologies and magazines. Sometimes she wins awards and climbs things she shouldn’t. Chat with her on Twitter: @superleni or check out her blog.

 I wish I lived closer to the Gold Coast so I could get to Writers Activation, the writing space you curate. How did this project come about, and what has it been like to run?

You should come and hang out with us, Rivqa! Writers Activation is pretty amazing. We’re celebrating our first birthday at the moment. Our party was on 30th July, 2016 with pizza, trivia and fancy dress.

When Council started the Found project (which WAct is part of) they didn’t really know what they were offering… it was $2000 and an opportunity to create city-shaping projects (which sounds cool, right!). Then I was asked what I would do with a space. As a writer, I don’t need much space… I could stay in my tiny office for days.

I went into it asking a lot of questions – what does the local writing community want and need? How would they use a space? It turns out people want somewhere to write and to talk about their projects, or the book they want to write.

People seemed to want a writing centre. Council began to broker relationships between vacant shop owners and creatives, like me. Australia Fair offered me a really nice space with a street shopfront and a few small rooms. Lots of people came on board; old friends and new, bringing in furniture and chipping in to clean and move things in.

It’s been an interesting project because it’s grown naturally, to be what people needed. Meeting more local writers has definitely been a highlight, for me.

Although we started out with a three-month lease, we ended up being there for about ten months, until the shop was leased commercially. Then Australia Fair invited us to move next door. They’ve provided us with free space and electricity for a year.

Over the year we’ve hosted workshops, open mic nights, and stacks of meetings. We’ve collaborated with the city art gallery on competitions. We’ve promoted launches and performance events all over the Coast. Some people come in regularly to write. Some read the locally written books we have on our shelves.

The main challenge has been not letting it take over my life. Our opening hours aren’t all that regular, and at least one person is cranky about that.

WAct has started some people writing fiction and/or improved their skills, and it’s nurtured friendship groups, built networks and provided a productive space for people to write.

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2016: Gillian Polack

Gillian PolackGillian Polack has published five novels, two anthologies, two significant works of non-fiction, many far less significant works of non-fiction, and a historical cookbook. One of the novels (Ms Cellophane/Life through Cellophane) was a Ditmar Finalist, as was one of the anthologies (Baggage). She was awarded the Best Achievement Ditmar in 2010.

Her PhDs are in Medieval History and in Creative Writing. She still claims she needs a third. Until recently, her research was focussed on how writers think of history and how they use it in their fiction, but she is now working on how writers build cultural constructs into narratives. She has received two writing fellowships at Varuna, arts grants, and is in demand at SF conventions because she carries chocolate most of the time. She currently lives in Canberra, Australia, which explains everything. She can be found online on her website, LiveJournal, Twitter, Facebook, or her History Girls blog.

As well as writing, you teach writing workshops on a regular basis. What do you enjoy about teaching?
I enjoy classroom dynamics and working with interesting people. There is a special moment when a student has a breakthrough and a wonderful intensity about a class where everyone is absorbed in learning. Teaching is tiring, but it gives back enormously.

I love students and I love learning from them. Their questions and needs keep me thinking about why we write and how we write and what tools we need to write. Some of my best insights as a writer and as someone who studies writing comes from working with people ask thoughtful questions in class. It’s almost impossible for me to become self-satisfied with my writing when I teach. As I help my students grow and learn, I help my writing. It’s wonderful.

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