First story hits the airwaves

My first published story (Shipwrecked – published by the Antipodean SF website) has also been aired on the AntiSF radio show (with yours truly providing the voice “talent”). If you missed it on Nambucca Valley community radio station 2NVR, the podcast of the radio show (episode 163 alpha) is also available on the web.

Details of this and my other publications can be found on my bibliography page. Don’t get too excited – the list is distressingly brief so far.

Make Mine a Macchiato accepted for publication

Hot on the heels of my last news, Ion Newcombe, the editor at Antipodean SF, has also accepted another one of my flash fiction pieces for publication. Make Mine a Macchiato is currently scheduled for issue 166 of Antipodean SF, published in April 2012. I’ll also record a reading for the radio show/podcast, which will be broadcast some time in April.

That’s three publications so far. My bibliography page seems positively full! Many thanks again to Ion and the group of people that volunteer to help out with Antipodean SF.

The Gloriously Cunning Plan accepted for publication

Ion Newcombe, the editor at Antipodean SF, has been kind enough to accept another one of my flash fiction pieces for publication. The Gloriously Cunning Plan will appear in issue 165 of Antipodean SF, currently scheduled for March 2012.

It is very exciting to have a second story published – if for no other reason that I can start to tell myself that the first publication was not a complete fluke! Many thanks to Ion for giving me the opportunity.

But yes, this also means that I need to record another reading for the radio show/podcast. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to my voice eventually.

First publication available!

My first publication is now available on issue 163 of Antipodean SF, a flash fiction story called Shipwrecked. It is a short (500 word) piece I wrote while thinking about why humanity may not have been contacted by aliens (assuming pesky things like travelling faster than the speed of light could be overcome). I hope you enjoy it.

I also recorded a reading of Shipwrecked for the AntiSF radio show, which will be broadcast some time in January. I’ll post again once I know exactly which episode.

Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge

I’ve seen the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge mentioned in a few blogs recently. It seems like a very positive way of promoting more gender equity in literacy circles, so I’ve decided to give it a go.

I’ve chosen the purist (speculative fiction) genre challenge, and the Miles challenge level (i.e. read 6 books, review 3). In the back of my mind, I’m hoping I might get closer to the Franklin-fantastic challenge level, but I am aware that my day job and life generally can often get in the way of me reading as much as I’d like.

I’m not sure of exactly what my six books will be, but they will likely include:

  • Whichever books from the Twelve Planets series come my way in 2012, starting with Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti. I believe I should get at least 4 books through the Twelve Planets series.
  • I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood.
  • Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts (I really enjoyed Love and Romanpunk by the same author, so looking forward to reading some more of her work). If I like it, then I’ll probably read the second book in the series The Shattered City.
  • I’m not sure if this counts, but I’ll be reading the Above/Below double novella. Above is by Stephanie Campisi, which in my mind qualifies it. Below is by Ben Peek. Maybe that disqualifies it. We’ll see.

You can find all my reviews for the challenge here.

Some information from the challenge website follows.

Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge

Objective: This challenge hopes to help counteract the gender bias in reviewing and social media newsfeeds that has continued throughout 2011 by actively promoting the reading and reviewing of a wide range of contemporary Australian women’s writing.

Challenge period:  1 January 2012 –  31 December 2012

Goal: Read and review books written by Australian women writers – hard copies, ebooks and audiobooks, new, borrowed or stumbled upon by book-crossing.

Genre challenges: 
Purist: one genre only
Dabbler: more than one genre
Devoted eclectic: as many genres as you can find
 
Challenge levels:
Stella (read 3 and review at least 2 books)
Miles (read 6 and review at least 3* )
Franklin-fantastic (read 10 and review at least 4 books)*
* The higher levels should include at least one substantial length review

Speculative Fiction Festival wrap up

I managed to make it back from a work trip to Melbourne in time to attend most of the NSW Writers’ Centre Speculative Fiction Festival on Saturday. Overall impressions were good. It’s the first writing festival that I’ve attended and I enjoyed listening to the various speakers. Many of the themes discussed are explored in some of the podcasts that I listen to (the rise of the eBook, challenges facing small publishers etc), but it was interesting putting faces to names and hearing a few different voices (Australian spec fic podcasts seem to be dominated by a lot of the same circle of commentators).

I didn’t schmooze the crowd or try to make solid contacts, but I did get a chance to talk with some people and hear about what they were working on. One young woman, Lynda R Young, told me a bit about a story she was working on that sounded very interesting – I hope she gets it along further. I also caught up with a couple of people who attended a workshop with me earlier in the year.

The known authors and publishers tended to travel in packs, but when I bumped into individuals (lining up to get a cup of tea etc) they were unfailingly pleasant and generous with their time and attention. It had the feeling of a real community – not one that I am fully a part of, but not closed off either.

The festival was curated by Kate Forsyth.

Opening Address – Pamela Freeman

I missed the first part of the opening address, but from where I joined proceedings Pamela was discussing the history of speculative fiction, tracing its origins through Biblical fiction through ancient times and into a more modern context (although is fiction speculative if the people of the time actually believed it was a true account of the world?).

She explored the division between superstition and custom, then made an interesting observation about the relatively recent trend towards non-human adversaries (think vampires and aliens). She maintained that there was a competing tension between our recent ascension to the top of the food chain (since the advent of “portable ballistics” i.e. the repeating rifle) and the consequent disquiet we feel as our evolutionary instincts tell us there should be something out there that can eat us, combined with our innate sense that we are are the smartest thing around.

She contended that this has lead us to create external foes to fight – things that are at least as smart as us but even meaner, rather than rely on foes extrapolated from the natural world.

It was an interesting discussion which I quite enjoyed thinking about and made a good opening to the day.

Session 2 – Publishers Talk

Chaired by: Russell B. Farr (Ticonderoga)

Panel: Stephanie Smith (Voyager), Zoe Walton (Random House – children’s publisher), Claire Craig (children’s publisher – Pan Macmillan) and Keith Stevenson (Coeur de Lion Publishing).

Panel discussion, focusing on innovation in the publishing world.

Lot of talk about trends and the “by the time you can recognise a trend it is too late to jump on the bandwagon” syndrome (with the apparent exception of paranormal romance). I tend to think this is right – the timeframes involved in writing something and then getting it published means that even if you immediately started writing something “trendy”, by the time it could possibly be published the market would have moved on. A theme of the conference from both authors and publishers was to write the novel you want to, and accept the fact that you might have to wait for its time to come.

Someone did ask if the publishers didn’t set trends, who did? The general answer seemed to be “no one knows”. There are such a variety of factors that impact on what readers will get enthusiastic about including other media such as television, and sometimes those factors can be fleeting. Stephanie Smith from Voyager talked about writing that pushes and blurs boundaries as a possible trigger for a new trend.

The publishers all spoke about the factors taken into account when deciding on whether to proceed with a manuscript – the portfolio of books the currently have, how the book compares to current offerings, age balance (for young adult), series vs stand alone. I’ve heard similar discussions before, but you can always learn something new listening to different people talk. The take away was the usual one – rejections can be for a number of reasons, and even a good quality manuscript may be rejected if it doesn’t meet other criteria.

Some things I took away from the session included:

  • There seemed to be some agreement that in a world that naturally seemed to produce trilogies, there was some appetite for good quality stand alone novels.
  • There was some general enthusiasm for good quality humorous novels, but a general acceptance that genuinely funny writing is very rare.
  • That a letter from most manuscript assessment services means nothing to the publishers. If authors need to use the service to get an independent perspective that is fine, but it won’t move you up the priority list for consideration.
  • Recent economic turmoil has really squeezed middle tier writers – harder than ever to get started.
  • Social media is seen as an important channel for authors to build brand loyalty with readers, but is not always an indicator of future success.
  • For the young adult market, the new national curriculum specifically mentions speculative fiction which might provide some opportunities.

Session 3 – Different Voices, Different Journeys

Chaired by: Jack Heath

Panel: Paul Garrety, Stuart Daly, Dawn Meredith, Claire Corbett

This panel was made up of authors that have recently had their first novels published. Some interesting insights into their journey to publication, although as always the insights are so specific to the individual author as to not be applicable directly to anyone else. There were the usual differences in opinion about things like detailed plotting vs more free form writing, whether or not to use an agent and whether an agent will even pick up a first novel author (three out of the four panelists didn’t have an agent even after their first publication).

Still it was good to see another (former) public servant (Claire Corbett) make good.

The panel chair Jack Heath was entertaining and kept his own comments minimal and the focus on the panel members (probably one of the better efforts on that front for the day).

Session 4 – Spearheading New Directions in Speculative Fiction

Chaired by: Alan Baxter (author and publisher at Blade Red Press – in hiatus)

Panel: Keith Stevenson (Coeur de Lion), Stuart Mayne, Russell B. Farr (Ticonderoga) and David Henley (Seizure magazine)

Panel consisting of small press publishers and editors. I was interested in this session to see what people are looking at in the small press end of the market.

Engaging discussion about the changes for small press publishers over the last 15 years. Was particularly interested in the discussion on the economics of small press publishing. The improvement in print on demand technologies has been quite dramatic, and it seems like it is making the money side of small press publishing more manageable. Keith Stevenson showed an example of a print on demand version of his latest anthology, which looked really good.

There was some talk about the way authors can generate income streams from stories – looking carefully at print rights, electronic printing, audible printing, magazines and anthologies – Alan Baxter spoke about selling one story four times as a personal record.

Also raised was one of the issues I’ve been giving some thought to. The spread of eBooks has been quite phenomenal, but the increase in self publishing has had me wondering about how a reader goes about finding good quality works (e.g. there are over 35,000 titles in the Kindle store on Amazon in the Science Fiction and Fantasy categories). There was some discussion across the festival about social networks as a form of “word of mouth” recommendations (e.g. goodreads.com) but in this panel there was a lengthy discussion about publishers in general (and small press in particular) as a trusted brand – a way of sending a message about the quality of a particular piece of work.

Session 5 – Speculative Fiction: A Many Headed Monster

Chaired by: Karen Miller

Panel: Richard Harland, Leigh Blackmore, Kaaron Warren and Jack Heath

A panel discussion on the various sub-genres of speculative fiction.

This was an interesting discussion, but it mostly boiled down to:

  1. Classifications are arbitrary
  2. They help readers navigate the labyrinth of speculative fiction
  3. You shouldn’t pay too much attention to them when writing your stories – let the publisher worry about classifying the work after it is complete.

Seemed like sound advice to me.

Session 6 – Q&A – Best Sellers & Prize Winners

Chaired by: Belinda Murrell

Panel: Richard Harland, Margo Lanagan, Karen Miller, D. M. Cornish, Pamela Freeman, Kate Forsyth

Question and answer sessions with a group of experienced Australian speculative fiction authors.

My favourite quote from this session was “publishers don’t exist to make your dreams come true”. What really struck me here was the professionalism and pragmatism of the panel. By contrast, some of the questions from the audience were well meaning, but a little naive. There was some really sensible stuff in this session and an insight into how a “name brand” author approaches their work and relationship with publishers.

A lot of what they had to say made sense to me, in particular the stuff about developing a body of work and holding on to some stories until their time in the sun comes.

There was some questions about how you judge success as an author. Several answers ensued (e.g. sales, awards, the glistening tear on the cheek of a child etc), but I particularly liked Margo Lanagan’s answer where she spoke about the instinctively feeling something was right, then retrospectively applying an intellectual framework to say why it was right. That was sufficiently messy to sound like real life to me.

There was a long discussion about eBooks and the scope for further interactivity with story, especially for younger readers. Kate Forsyth seemed to be doing some very interesting work in that area, in particular covering the issue of providing an extra dimension of entertainment without jarring a reader out of the immersion required to make the main story work.

Launches

There were two launches through the day. One was at lunch time, and was the launch of a new anthology Anywhere But Earth edited by Keith Stevenson of Coeur de Lion Publishing. Three authors (Richard Harland, Alan Baxter and Margo Lanagan) read part of their stories out to the participants. It was very good. RIchard’s reading was very theatrical – I think he must do readings often. I enjoyed Alan’s story and he left it at a good spot to make you want to know more. The lyrical nature of Margo’s prose was quite mesmerising (and a little on the rude side!). All three readings were excellent and I bought a copy (and even got a few signatures in the process). I don’t buy many physical books these days, but I am looking forward to reading this one.

At the end of the day there was the launch on the sci-fi edition of Seizure magazine. Unfortunately I could only stay for 1/2 hour. At the time I left, the launch seemed to consist of a lot of people standing around and drinking bright blue bubbly alcohol. I’m sure it probably had a formal part – perhaps anyone who stuck around can leave a comment. I did buy a copy of the magazine, which I’m sure will make it onto my What is Mark Reading? page sometime soon.

Conclusion

All in all I had a very enjoyable time at the festival. I’d recommend future versions to anyone interested in speculative fiction and if anyone from the NSW Writers’ Centre is reading this, definitely put an extended version on in the future (perhaps with associated writing courses). I’m interested in hearing comments from anyone else who attended this (or other similar) festivals – I’m sure there are plenty of things I’ve missed.

Good head for radio

As mentioned in a previous news post, I recently had one of my flash fiction pieces picked up for publication in Antipodean SF. As a part of the process, the editor Ion Newcombe asked me to narrate my story for the corresponding series of weekly radio show/podcasts that he creates (as he does with all his writers). My story (Shipwrecked) will be published/broadcast in February 2012.

I produced the narration which came out better than I expected. Ion asked if I’d be willing to produce some audio for other stories, where the author isn’t willing or able to read their own piece.

When I said yes, he put me straight to work narrating a story for the November 2011 edition (issue 161) – Time Trip by Barbara J Holten. So, my voice is about to become part of the audio archives of the Internet. I’ll update the post once I know the exact podcast, but it will be some time in November 2011.

Many thanks to Barbara for allowing my voice to bring her story to audio life! As the title implies, the story involves a bit of time travel action, but I’ll let you read it (or listen to it!) rather than give away any details here.

Speculative Fiction Festival – 5 November 2011

This Saturday, the NSW Writers’ Centre is sponsoring a Speculative Fiction Festival at their premises in Garry Owen House, Callan Park, Balmain Rd, Rozelle in NSW, curated by Kate Forsyth (a successful Australian author).

I’ve got my ticket – this will be the first writing festival I’ve attended. There is a very interesting program of events and I’m looking forward to attending sessions (although I’m having trouble which “stream” of sessions to go to – there are several points along the way where I’d like to split myself into two).

I’m in Melbourne for work this week and I’ll be travelling home some time on either Friday night or Saturday, so I’m hoping that I don’t get stuck anywhere. I’ll post a review after my attendance (or my excuse as to why I couldn’t make it).

If anyone reading this is going along then make sure you introduce yourself and say hello. Tickets can be purchased from the NSW Writers’ Centre website ($55 for members, $80 for non members).

First acceptance for publication!

Well, it is all excitement here at Webb HQ. A little while ago I submitted a flash fiction piece to Antipodean SF, a long running website devoted to the publication of short form (flash) science/speculative fiction. I’ve been following the Anti-SF site for a while now, in particular through their weekly podcast which keeps me entertained on my walk into work.

(Flash fiction refers to very short stories that are usually in the 500 – 1000 word range. Antipodean SF focuses on the shorter end of that range, around 500 words. It is very interesting to write, because you can generally only explore one idea and you have to make every word count – it instills a real discipline in your work).

Last night Ion Newcombe (the editor of the site and presenter of the podcast) wrote back to me to say that my story (Shipwrecked) had been accepted. My very first publication! As well as the story getting published on the website, it will also be broadcast on the radio/podcast. I’m in the process of trying to work out how to use GarageBand on my Mac to record myself reading the story for that purpose. And I thought recording a voicemail message was stressful!

Ion made some very sensible editorial suggestions – it was interesting to go through an editorial process for the first time. The changes were small but did help the story track better. I can see why authors often talk about how invaluable an editor is – it was excellent to have someone read the story from a completely independent viewpoint, where the only criterion is making the story better.

So, Shipwrecked will be included in issue 164 of Antipodean Speculative Fiction due out in February 2012. And I’ve had to create a bibliography page on the website! And I’m having a day off work!! It doesn’t get much better than this.

(For more about Antipodean SF, have a look at the Magazines and Podcasts pages under the Links menu item on this website).

Writing Imaginary Worlds workshop

Went to the Writing Imaginary Worlds workshop with Richard Harland on Saturday 3rd September 2011, hosted by the NSW Writer’s Centre.

It was my first writing course of any sort, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Ten people came together to listen to Richard speak on the realities of writing in the speculative fiction genre in Australia. I found it really interesting – not just in hearing from Richard, but also being in a room with 9 other early stage speculative fiction authors.

It took me quite a while to steel my nerve enough to go along to a writing course. I was as much worried about interacting with the other writers (all of whom I was convinced would have oodles more credibility than I did) as I was about whether I was prepared enough to get a lot out of the session.

I’m pleased to say that my fellow writers were as pleasant a bunch of people that I could have hoped to meet. While my writing output was towards the low end (some people had done a very impressive amount of work) I didn’t really feel out of place after my initial butterflies subsided. Indeed I learnt a lot just listening to some of the other stories and experiences of the others. I’ve even made two email pals out of the process (you know who you are K and P).

The content of the workshop itself was very much aligned with Richard’s writing tips website, but it was interspersed with practical exercises which were very thought provoking.

Richard very generously stayed back to spend time with each of the students. I went through the basic plot of Unaligned with him, which was very useful. First time I’d tried to explain the plot to anyone. I found his feedback very helpful and have made some changes as a result.

Marks Tips for Surviving a Workshop

  • DO turn up 10 minutes early. I was there right on the dot and all the eager beavers were already half way round the table doing introductions!
  • DON’T be too concerned with how much writing you’ve done going in – obviously having done some is helpful, but there was a lot of encouragement in the room no matter how new to writing people were.
  • DO chat to your fellow writers in the breaks. Some of my highlights for the day came from those informal conversations.
  • DO take any offered opportunities to chat to the lecturer. By this I don’t mean try to sell them your book or anything, but it gives you a chance to ask some of those questions.
  • DO try and take the time to exchange contact details with anyone who is interested. I’ve had some great email conversations with two of my fellow writers in the weeks after the course and I wish I’d grabbed the details from even more people attending.
  • DO encourage people to add tips for surviving workshops or any other general thoughts on workshops in general in the comments sections below any posts you’ve written about the workshop…