Continuum 10 – There and Back Again

Over the June long weekend, the 53rd annual Australian speculative fiction national convention was held. This year, the “nat-con” was hosted by Continuum 10, an annual SF convention held in Melbourne.

My decision to attend was a little last minute. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get away, even though I do like trying to get to at least one convention each year.

However, due to my very kind wife I was able to free up some time, so Saturday morning I flew down to Melbourne to attend the Con.

I had a great time, it was fantastic to sit in on some interesting panels, attend a couple of book launches (and snag a very limited edition of Kirstyn McDermott’s Perfections) and catch up with lots of people. Some highlights included:

  • Catching up with my fellow Galactic Chat podcasters Sean Wright, Helen Stubbs, Alex Pierce and David McDonald. And then winning a Ditmar with them!
  • Catching up with writers like Jason, Kirstyn, Jodi, Ellen, Sean and many others and hearing about where everyone is up to with their writing, getting some advance intelligence on what might be coming next and generally talking shop.
  • Having lunch on Saturday with Tess, who was new to the convention scene and with whom I had an absolutely delightful conversation about her writing ambitions.
  • Attending the launch of Kirstyn McDermott’s book Perfections, which had previously been released as an e-book but was in print for the first time. Unfortunately, the batch of books Kirstyn had just picked up from the printer had the last page missing, however Kirstyn turned disaster into a marketing triumph by promising new copies for anyone who purchased the book, as well as personally writing a little vignette ending in each book purchased (and renaming it “Imperfections“). It was a great reaction to what would have been a very stressful situation, and my copy of Imperfections is now sitting proudly on the book shelf.
  • Attending several panels where people talked about their own experience engaging with speculative fiction from a range of different perspectives than my own, including different religious beliefs, different sexualities, different disabilities and different mental states.
  • Two fantastic guest of honour speeches by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Jim C. Hines. Unfortunately due to my early departure I wasn’t able to hear Danny Oz and Sharon Moseley speak on the Monday.
  • Some great meals and some great bar discussions on a wide range of topics.
  • In between sessions and programs having some time to write and edit some of my work in the hotel room.

I had a great time, and I know the party kicked on after my departure (unfortunately I had to head back to Sydney Monday morning and missed most of the Monday program).

Thanks to everyone who I had a chance to speak with over the weekend, and to anyone I missed out on talking to there is always next time!

Conflux 9 – and that’s what it is all about

So, after some last minute travel plan changes (my wife realised that 4 days in Canberra with me attending a SF convention does not a happy holiday make… for her at least), I rose ridiculously early on Thursday and hopped on a bus. Yes, a bus. To Canberra. From Sydney.

I wasn’t convinced either.

But fortunately for me, not that many people had an urgent need to get from Sydney to Canberra via bus early on ANZAC Day, so I had plenty of room to myself and managed to do some reading and catch up on the Splendid Chaps podcast (well worth listening to if you enjoy Dr Who).

I arrived just in time for my first workshop, Writing to Sell with Patty Jansenwho talked in detail about issues around the publishing process, especially short story publication. A few takeaways for me:

  1. The importance of the start of a short story. Slush pile readers seldom get past the first paragraph. Jansen did an excellent exercise where she circulated the (anonymous) first 400 words of stories written by participants and asked people to select their favourite. Sadly, mine wasn’t mentioned as a favourite by anyone at all, but I could see why. With only the first page and a half, there wasn’t enough to grab any of them. I know that if people keep reading the first bit makes sense, but a slush reader just wouldn’t get that far. Fascinating stuff.
  2. Not even considering self publishing until you are an established author. I liked Jansen’s rule of thumb on this, qualifying for the Science Fiction Writers of America membership (i.e. three pro sales).

A splitting headache sent me for a lie down and then out to hunt and gather some form of pain relief, so I missed the opening ceremony. However, I did make it back out in time for two panels later in the evening.

  • The first was on the spectrum of horror, starring Jason Nahrung, Kaaron Warren, Kirstyn McDermott, Alan Baxter and Terry Dowling. It was an interesting discussion that meandered across the many topics, from “why do people end up writing horror?” to “what is this horror thing all about anyway?”. The discussion was helped along by an array of alcoholic beverages. It reminded me that there are some panel members that I like listening to, no matter the topic.
  • The second panel of the evening was on editing, with Ian Nichols, Patty Jansen and Abigail Nathan (actually there was someone else but their name isn’t in the program and I now forget it – apologies!). The focus of the panel seemed to be on whether self published authors needed editing, but there seemed to be some definitional problems (people couldn’t really even agree on what editing actually meant).

In the morning of the second day I had my second workshop, Polishing Your Turds with Ian McHugh. If you are a relatively new author and you ever get the chance to do a session like this with McHugh, I’d encourage you to take it up. I found his framework for self-editing very useful. I used a different short story from the one I used in Patty Jansen’s workshop the day before, and amongst other things I found that the start of this story also wasn’t really working. I’m now thinking of subtitling this post “The start of your stories suck, Webb”. Some of the information McHugh provided is on the “on writing” section of his website, I’d advise checking it out.

Lots of panels ensued, including:

  • The Smack down – Small press versus mainstream publishers (Jane Virgo, Russell B Farr and Marc Gascoigne) – interesting discussion but not actually much smack down, as no one actually counted themselves as a mainstream publisher. Some useful reflections on issues an author should take into account when deciding whether or not to go with a particular publisher though.
  • Where have all the Australian female fantasy writers gone? (Trudi Canavan, Karen Miller, Keri Arthur, Jane Routley) – some analysis of trends in fantasy (including graphs!), I was surprised at how few first time authors are published each year.
  • Am I not human? (Deb Biancotti, Kirstyn McDermott, Angela Slatter, Kaaron Warren, Martin Livings). Discussions of “body horror”, but I selected this one mainly for the panelists. May I say that Deb Biancotti is hands down the best panel moderator I’ve seen at any convention. She keeps things moving, keeps the focus off her and onto the other panel members, makes sure everyone is speaking etc. My advise: go to any panel she is moderating no matter the topic. Great interactions in this panel, discussing issues of how readers interact with being human vs humanity.
  • Guest of honour – Marc Gascoigne. Marc is the CEO of Angry Robot Books (based out of the UK). Gascoigne started in gaming spin offs (Fighting Fantasy etc) and he spent most of the hour talking about his career and the formation of Angry Robot. Fascinating to hear a broader perspective on the industry, especially from a UK perspective.
  • Podcasts and Multimedia (Jonathan Strahan, Kirstyn McDermott, Mihaela Marija Perkovic and Phil Berrie). Strahan and McDermott host podcasts that I like listening to, and my work with Antipodean SF narrating stories/articles for their podcast has whetted my appetite for all things multimedia. A very interesting session.
  • The business side of writing (Peter Ball, Karen Miller, Alex Adsett and Martin Livings with special guest star Jack Dann). I thought this session was going to speak to some of the business elements of writing, but it became more of a pep talk about navigating the difficult times of being a writer.

I went off for dinner with a group and spent a very enjoyable evening discussing all things speculative over some lovely Chinese food. The discussions continued late into the evening with a variety of people at the hotel bar, including a very memorable group tasting of a Singaporian staple chicken floss, introduced to us by Kaaron Warren. If I didn’t already know Kaaron was a horror enthusiast, that chicken floss certainly would have removed any doubts. She claimed she was merely trying to illustrate a complex philosophical point around the nature of normality and the need to accept the radical changes in preferences that can come from immersion in an alternate cultural paradigm, but I think she just liked the faces people made when they tried to eat the stuff. I have it on good authority that it tasted like fish food. Red flakes in fish food to be precise.

It was around this point that I realised that it was after 1:00 in the morning and that I had a workshop starting at 8:00am. I immediately exited, stage left. These discussions at the bar are the best parts of conventions.

My Saturday started early, with Vivid, Vivid Characters with Karen Miller at 8:00am. Miller went through a checklist of things to consider when creating and writing characters. As mentioned in a previous post, characters is one of my sticking points in fiction, and this rundown was very helpful. I even won a set of Miller’s books in the lucky door prize at the end, which she kindly also signed for me. I chose the Rogue Agent series, the first of which I reviewed here. I was planning to get the other three books anyway, so receiving them for free was an added bonus! Miller also mentioned that she is planning to put some material (including video) about her writing process on her website (link above) so it would be well worth keeping an eye out for that.

Wiping grains of sand from my eyes, I rolled into my next 3.5 hour workshop, The Keys to the Kingdom continued: what professional writers do to stay on top of the gamewith Jack Dann. Dann mentioned that this was the last time he planned to run this workshop for a while, so I’m glad I got a chance to attend. There were 9 other participants, all of whom were significantly further along in their writing (and with a bucketload of very impressive accomplishments between them). Dann handed out some very useful material for us to read. I’d signed up for this workshop to help get a feel for the industry more generally, and while it wasn’t tightly structured I did draw a lot of inspiration from Dann’s stories of his own experiences as well as those of the other writers in the room.

At this point I ducked out to catch up with some friends (I lived in Canberra for quite a few years in the late-90s/early 2000s), so missed the afternoon’s sessions.

The Ditmar awards have been covered extensively elsewhere, including this excellent piece by Sean Wright using tweets to tell the story of the evening. Deborah Biancotti was outstanding in her hosting duties (see my previous comments on her moderating – am I turning into an apologist for the Biancotti fan club?). For those living under a rock, the results were (with a few gratuitous comments from me thrown in):

  • Novel: Sea Hearts, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin) (my review here)
  • Novella or Novelette: “Sky”, Kaaron Warren (Through Splintered Walls) (very excited about this, loved this story and Kaaron even let me touch her Ditmar. Wait, when did I start writing dialogue for Carry On films?)
  • Short Story: “The Wisdom of Ants”, Thoraiya Dyer (Clarkesworld 12/12) (great story, still available at the Clarkesworld website)
  • Collected Work: Through Splintered Walls, Kaaron Warren (Twelfth Planet) (see above – this is the collection that the novella Sky was in and my review is here).
  • Artwork: Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, for Midnight and Moonshine (Ticonderoga)
  • Fan Writer: Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work including reviews in Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth
  • Fan Artist: Kathleen Jennings, for body of work including “The Dalek Game” and “The Tamsyn Webb Sketchbook”
  • Fan Publication: The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond (huzzah – my favourite podcast)
  • New Talent: David McDonald (very well deserved, David has been doing some very interesting stuff over the last 12 months on both the fiction and non-fiction fronts)
  • William Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism or Review: Tansy Rayner Roberts, for “Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That.” (

Other awards announced in the ceremony (not Ditmars but presented at the same time):

  • Norma K. Hemming Award: Sea Hearts, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
  • Peter McNamara Award: Nick Stathopoulos
  • Chandler Award: Russell Farr (Ticonderoga)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend any sessions on Sunday. Some more social obligations through the morning, combined with grumpy kids who just wanted to get back to Sydney, kept me away for the whole day (and there were some good sessions I wanted to go to as well, damn it). Also, I must admit when scheduling some of my non-con activities, I had assumed that it would probably wind up around lunch time for people to get flights etc, so hadn’t actually anticipated sessions going through until 5:30. Apologies to those I didn’t get to say goodbye to!

So, all in all it was a great convention. Didn’t get to chat to everyone I wanted to, but then you seldom do. I think in future I will try to not have parallel social obligations, it was difficult to do both justice. This con was much more writer focused than Continuum was last year, so clearly the different conventions still have different slants even when they are the national convention. Lots of book launches and general celebration of community, combined with engaging panels and useful workshops. Can’t ask for much more than that.

As the word count on this post is pushing 2,000, I might leave it there. Over to you. Did you attend Conflux? Do you wish you attended Conflux? If you attended, what was your favourite part? If you didn’t, what was the part you most wished you were there for? Any comments on conventions in general? Go on, leave a comment. You know you want to.

NSW Speculative Fiction Festival 2013

Yesterday (Saturday 16th March) I attended the second NSW Speculative Fiction Festival at the NSW Writers’ Centre.

I started off badly, having somehow got it into my head that the day started at 10:30am. I turned up to a full car park, but couldn’t find any people. Imagine the fierceness of my blushing when I realised everyone was in the first session, which had been going for over 1/2 hour. I decided to wait for the second session to save the stinging embarrassment of entering 5 minutes before the end. It also let me pre-order my lunch. Win-win in my books.

My second problem came when the lovely people manning the front desk realised my badge had been taken! An impostor was roaming the rooms of the festival, having stolen my identity and slipped comfortably into the persona of a complete neophyte writer with no paid publications to his name.

Wait, why would someone do that?

I was assured that they had seen my badge that very morning, but now it was nowhere to be found. A hastily constructed replacement around my neck, I set forth to conquer the festival.

But I kept an eye on every name badge I passed, I can tell you.

So, the second session of the day and the first I attended was titled Publishing Into the Future, chaired by Russell Farr (of Ticonderoga Press) with panel members Zoe Walton (Random House Australia), Joel Naoum (Momentum) and Dionne Lister. The general answer to the question “what is the future of publishing” seemed to be “buggered if we know”, but there was some interesting exploration of the mix of publishing options and a general expectation that the book would survive, in some form or another. Phew. I enjoyed the panel, although some answers were a little verbose, I think they could have covered a lot more ground in the time available. That being said, there was some interesting reflections on the changes in marketing that have accompanied the rise of the eBook. If I ever publish a novel in eBook only format, I’ll have a lot to think about.

I also got to hear Joel Naoum’s theory relating interactive books to masturbation. I can’t do it justice. Next time you’re talking with him, bring it up.

The second panel, The Allure of Epic Fantasy, was chaired by Ian Irvine and included Melina Marchetta, Pamela Freeman and Garth Nix (a last minute substitute for Duncan Lay). The panel ended up focusing more on the authors writing style (plotter vs pantster) and their general approach to writing. Garth Nix was a very polished presenter (obviously gets a lot of practice). Actually, all four panelists were excellent in this session, and while it was only tangentially covering epic fantasy, I found this the “inspiring” session of the day.

All inspired, I then enjoyed lunch with the inimitable Lynda Young. Lyn has been a great support to me in my writing and I always enjoy the chance to catch up. Lyn had a story published in a US based anthology (Make Believe) last year, and I really enjoyed hearing about her experiments in marketing in that environment (I had to admit that while I bought the anthology and read her story just after it was released, I hadn’t quite got to the other stories in the anthology and so hadn’t done a review on this website. Bad writing friend. Must fix that as quickly as possible).

Towards the end of lunch we were joined by Patrick Keuning, a relatively new writer who has recently got his first paid publication with a story in the new In-Fabula Divino anthology. Patrick was (justifiably) as pleased as punch, and I saw him actively promoting the book throughout the day. He has documented his experience of the day on his website, go and have a look to hear more! Rick has also provided excellent feedback on my work in the past, I’m looking forward to seeing more of his writing in the future.

After lunch I attended Oh the Horror! The Future of Weird Fiction. I was excited about this panel, it contained three of my favourite authors – Deborah Biancotti, Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung. Actually, now I’m worried that the fourth member of the panel, Robert Hood, might feel left out. Robert, I know you probably read the blog. I have to admit I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your work as yet. But I’m sure you would be one of my favourite writers if I had, based on nothing other than the company you keep.

In any case, I digress (did someone mention “too verbose” earlier in this blog? Friends, let’s not quibble). The panel tried to define “horror”, in contrast with “weird”. I really liked Nahrung’s characterisation – horror tries to take something known and make it unknown and leave the reader unsettled, while weird tries to take something known and make it unknown, but leave the reader with a sense of wonder (he said it better than that, but that is why he is a name brand author and I’m writing this blog post).

A very interesting dissection of the broad horror genre ensued. Horror is one part of the speculative fiction spectrum that I’ve struggled to grapple with and I always like the chance to hear skilled practitioners debate the craft.

This session was also notable because in it, while listening to a brief aside about the atheist nature of zombies, I was suddenly struck with a new angle to a story I’ve been struggling with for ages. I really liked the angle as well. To be honest, I would have considered the whole day a success just for that. Good times.

In any case, I ended that session suitably creeped out.

The next session I attended was Short and Not So Sweet: writing and publishing short fiction, chaired by Cat Sparks and including Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett and Dirk Strasser. An interesting discussion on the short story market was had, with some great thoughts on whether we were on the edge of another short story boom as people seek out bite-sized content to consume on the go. There was universal agreement that one should start submitting to the pro-markets immediately, but I did keep in mind that this was a group of multi-award winning short story writers. With their skills, I’d probably focus on the pro markets as well. I’m pretty sure there are no awards in my near future, but still the advice to aim high is good advice.

As an aside, Cat Sparks (who is the fiction editor at Cosmos, which is a pro market) noted the lack of Australian submissions to her publication. I thought to myself “Well, she’ll get a few more on the back of saying that“, but I notice that Cosmos is currently closed for submissions. As is Aurealis, where fellow panel member Dirk Strasser holds court. I suspect there are a lot of disappointed newbie writers out there today!

I popped out to stretch my legs before the last session, and bumped into Jason Nahrung. We started chatting about his new book (Blood and Dust, which I reviewed here and is available from Amazon or at the publisher Xoum’s website). It was an interesting conversation, covering everything from the challenges of marketing in the eBook world, through to my experience of reading Blood and Dust and even Jason’s process in working on his next novel (which I’m very excited about!). In fact, it was so interesting that I completely forgot to attend the last session of the day. Oops. I’m sure others have covered in admirably in other blogs.

Some further brief but interesting chats with Ben Chandler on his role in evaluating grant applications in South Australia and Richard Harland on his upcoming steampunk release (Song of the Slums). Before I knew it, the book launch of Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier from Ticonderoga Press had started. So over a glass of red, I had the pleasure of listening to some excellent readings and general discussion of the book.

Sadly, it being after 6:00pm and my wife having been stuck with enjoyed the company of the children all day, I had to head off. Just like last time, I found the festival to be a great re-charger of my enthusiasm batteries. I look forward to many more.

Next stop – Conflux.

Oh, and I never did find my doppelgänger.



GenreCon 2013 – now taking registrations

Regular readers might recall that I attended, and enjoyed very much, GenreCon 2012 late last year. Well, this year it is happening again. GenreCon Australia 2013 will be held in Brisbane in early October.

GenreCon is a more professionally oriented convention aimed more at writers, editors, publishers rather than fans. Last year’s program was excellent – filled with all manner of useful information and interesting speakers.

The organisers have just announced some initial details including the date (11 October through 13 October) and the two initial guests of honour, Chuck Wendig and Anita Heiss.

Registrations are now open and the first 50 will cost only $190. So if you are based in Brisbane or can get there, I highly recommend attending.

GenreCon 2012 – Sydney (2nd – 4th November 2012)

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the inaugural GenreCon in Sydney. This is only the second convention I’ve attended, the first being this years SF National Convention Continuum 8 (see my earlier series of blog posts for a blow by blow description of my fun and games). There was a remarkably different tone in this event, which was aimed at writing professionals (writers, editors, publishers, book sellers etc). The fan elements of Continuum gave a good community feel, but I must admit that at my stage of writing I think that the GenreCon program was probably better suited to my needs.

The program for GenreCon can be found here.

Unfortunately work kept me away from the opening night drinks on Friday 2nd November and late night panel discussion, although I’m told they went well. I showed up bright and shiny on the Saturday morning. The conference “kit” included a free book (always a good way to start off the morning) and before I knew it I was sitting in the main room waiting for the first keynote speech of the day.

Meg Vann (incoming CEO of the Queensland Writer’s Centre) opened proceedings with an upbeat description of the state of genre fiction and the process by which GenreCon had come together. She was extremely energetic. I personally would have needed a much stronger cup of tea to match those energy levels after my 2 hour public transport trip to reach the wilds of Parramatta. She turned over to Kate Eltham (the outgoing CEO of the QWC) who made some thoughtful comments on the state of the industry, including the concept that the current changes in markets more reflect the move from manuscript scarcity to plenty, rather than any particular technology issue.

The opening address was followed by a community showcase by the Romance Writers of Australia. While I don’t write in the romance genre, I have heard a lot of good things about the professional nature of the RWA. The talk certainly bore this out, it is clear that they provide their members with significant support. It is a shame that the broader speculative fiction genre doesn’t have a similar professional association (I did join the Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Association, but it seems to have vanished without a trace, and my joining fee with it).

Following morning tea, I attended a workshop entitled Kicking Off Your Writing Career by Peter M Ball (one of the conference organisers and a well known speculative fiction author) and Alex Adsett, a copyright and writing contract specialist. This was an excellent session, worth the conference price of admission by itself. Ball spoke articulately about the need to think of your writing career as a business, applying some of the planning techniques that I’m familiar with from my day job into the writing game. It was very thought provoking.

I enjoy my day job, and my goals with writing have never been to quit and have writing as my only profession. However, I have had the impression previously that if you’re not aiming to be a full time writer, some people feel you are not taking your writing seriously enough. Ball’s talk was an excellent antidote to that kind of thinking. His own goals were clearly articulated and combined his desire to seriously experiment with genre forms with the idea that writing would only ever be a part time gig for him (by design). Very interesting.

Adsett’s part of the session focused on copyright and various tips and traps for young players that come from assigning rights for your work. It was a very thought provoking discussion. Sadly I’ve not needed to delve into the wonderful world of writing contracts, but it did make me reflect on the kinds of things I’ll need to keep in mind if my work ever does move to that stage.

After this session we moved through to lunch. I might pause at this point and say this GenreCon was much more like the kind of conferences I would normally attend for work than Continuum 8 was. The morning tea/lunch/afternoon tea breaks were communal – by providing food in a common area it pushed people to mingle more. I found it easier to chat to people than at Continuum 8, perhaps a feature of the conference being relatively new and incorporating quite a few different genres (i.e. less “pre-established” groups of people). I’m still not entirely comfortable breaking into conversations, but the conference felt much more designed to encourage you to talk to new people.

So as a result of this communal eating arrangement I shared lunch with the writing power-couple Jason Nahrung and Kirstyn McDermott, as well as new acquaintance Chris McMahon. Jason and Kirstyn both have books coming out early next year through the relatively new publisher Xoum and it was exciting to hear about their engagement in the marketing and publishing of their books. I’m eagerly waiting to read both books (Blood and Dust by Jason and Perfections by Kirstyn). In conversation with Chris I realised that I had read and enjoyed some of his short fiction, most recently his story in the excellent anthology Anywhere But Earth edited by Keith Stevenson. A very enjoyable lunch where I had less to contribute, but had an excellent time listening.

In the afternoon there were three streams of panel discussions running. First up I attended What Writers Get Wrong chaired by Aimee Lindorff and featuring Simon Higgins, PM Newton and Charlotte Nash Stewart. The discussion focused on medical and crime related fiction (not my usual writing), but it was good to hear people with expertise talking about where fiction writing diverges (jarringly) from reality. Everyone always has problems with how their occupation is depicted in stories. What I took away from the discussion was that the amount of research required to give your work verisimilitude when dealing with modern occupations is large and perhaps beyond my attention span. I may have to stick with genres that allow me to make up occupations.

The second session of the afternoon was After the First Draft chaired by Irina Dunn and featuring Jodi Cleghorn, Sarah JH Fletcher and Bernadette Foley. This discussion focused on the rewriting portion of the writing experience, including the use of beta readers and how to keep an editor on side. There were some excellent suggestions for books to read to help make your work as polished as possible. I am getting close to the point where I’ll want to start seriously polishing some long and short fiction, so it was a timely discussion for me.

There were a lot of parallel sessions I would have loved to attend, as this was true of most of the GenreCon program.

Just before afternoon tea, the community showcase was for Conflux – the national speculative fiction convention for 2013. It was a great showcase which encouraged me to sign up for the convention, which is held in Canberra around Anzac Day next year.

After afternoon tea (where I caught up with Lynda R Young – a much more developed than me author who is excitingly on the edge of publishing in an anthology and has some advanced manuscripts just waiting to find a home), the last session of the day was the international author guest Joe Abercrombie in conversation with Jason Nahrung. I’ve read and enjoyed several of Abercrombie’s books, which I tend to think of as epic fantasy for adults – very gritty with flawed characters. I’ve drifted a little away from epic fantasy over the years, but Abercrombie’s work appeals in a way that shiny hero fantasy just doesn’t anymore. The interview was excellent – Jason had done his homework and kept the conversation moving smoothly. Abercrombie was funny and self deprecating and gave some interesting insight into his own writing journey as well as some good thoughts on what the modern writing and publishing scene looks like.

After the last session finished up, I stayed behind and had a great series of conversations. I don’t know that I added any stunning insights to any of these discussions, but is was fantastic listening to people in the industry talk and being able to ask questions. In particular I thought Jodi Cleghorn had some great thoughts on the current online writing community scene and how it could be improved. I hadn’t signed up for the banquet (always difficult to know whether to sign up for something like that when you could be sitting on your own in the corner) but there were a few people that similarly hadn’t booked in, so a group of us went for dinner at a local Indian restaurant. It was interesting and varied conversation, where I heard everything from the unorthodox way that Wollongong based author Alan Baxter used to prepare for rugby games in his youth through to the fact that author Martin Livings was launching his new collection Living with the Dead at the convention the next day. Good times.

Unfortunately, I had another event on Sunday which limited how much of the convention I could attend. I made it over for the first session of the day, a keynote talk by Curtis Brown agent Ginger Clark who was over from the US as the other international guest of the convention. It was a fascinating discussion about the state of the publishing industry in particular in the US, UK and Australia (a bit depressing at times, but still very interesting). I think if I was trying to make my writing a full time career it would have been even more depressing – things seem a bit dire at the moment. Clark also gave some insights into the changing role of the agent, the impact of the rise of self publishing, the changing nature of writing contracts and the difficulties of getting publishers to focus on mid list authors. She also spoke about the importance of understanding contracts and which rights you have sold or retained.

The community partner session before morning tea was by Sisters in Crime, which sounds like an extremely supportive and successful organisation made up primarily of women either writing or reading crime.

I had to leave after morning tea, so I missed the workshop (would have gone to Get Your Characters Moving with Karen Miller) and the afternoon panel discussions (absolutely spoiled for choice here – possibly would have attended Practical Worldbuilding and Text/Sub-Text but would have loved to attend several others as well). I also missed the Great Debate: Plotters vs Pansters which was by all account hilarious.

All in all this was an excellent convention. I understand they will run it again next year, this time in Brisbane. If I can at all make it up there I will be looking to attend (hopefully with some slightly more advanced writing under my belt next time!). If you attended I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or any musings on conventions in general.

Continuum 8 – Wrap Up

So, it’s been a few days since I got back from Continuum 8 and I thought it was about time I wrote a “wrap up” post (now that everything has had a chance to sink in).

Those that have been following along with my day to day posts (day 1, day 2, day 3day 4 and the awards ceremony) could probably tell that I enjoyed the convention immensely. I was attending more from a writing perspective than a general fan perspective, but the program was varied enough that there was usually always something on that I was interested in. It was also a great time to sit back and think about my own writing, while listening to experienced and knowledgeable people talk about the craft and the industry more generally.

Given the ongoing commentary about gender issues in the publishing industry, I was very interested to see how the gender balance on the panels went. A quick count over the sessions I went to comes to 53 female panel members compared to 21 male panel members, so certainly not male dominated (keep in mind this is just the panels I attended – the effort required for the task of checking the gender balance across the entire convention exceeds my laziness level).

Sydney seems to be quite fallow when it comes to speculative fiction events, but Jason Nahrung did mention GenreCon in Paramatta later in the year. According to Jason this is more of a writers conference than a fan conference. I’ve signed up for it, sounds like it will be very interesting.

I still have a bit of “credibility cringe” when it comes to approaching people at these kinds of events. It reminds me of the early years of my day job – you can’t help but wonder what on earth you could add to a conversation by people that are obviously experienced in their field. So I didn’t avail myself of the social aspects of the convention over the first two days. But even given my natural reticence, I did meet up with a few people that I had interacted with online. Sean Wright (Sean the Bookonaut to his internet fans) and David Golding made excellent dinner companions on Sunday night, and I really enjoyed my conversations with authors Jason Nahrung and Kirstyn McDermott on Monday. There were a few shorter conversations with some people who seemed quite cool and it would have been interesting to speak to for longer – Ian Mond (from The Writer and the Critic), Alex Pierce (from Galactic Suburbia and one of my favourite reviewers) and Russell B. Farr from Ticonderoga Publications to name a few.

My lesson for future conventions would be to explicitly organise to meet up with people I know earlier in the convention. From reading a few other convention round ups, the conversations in the bar seem to be a big part of the appeal. Hopefully next time I’ll know a few more people and I’ll be able to enjoy this part of the convention experience a little more.

I tended to pick which panels I would attend based on the subject matter the panel was covering. Without naming any names, there were panel members that were more prepared and perhaps slightly more thoughtful in their commentary. I think in future conventions I’ll be picking panels based as much on the people on the panels as the subject matter.

Attending the award ceremony was a good part of the experience. Because I’ve been paying a bit more attention to the Australian speculative fiction scene over the last year, I was more aware many of the works on the short lists and had voted accordingly. The atmosphere at the ceremony itself was great and it felt like a bit of a capstone for a lot of the reading and reviewing I’ve been doing lately. I’ll certainly be making sure I participate in the voting process again in future years.

All in all, I am really pleased that I attended Continuum 8. I feel recharged with respect to my own writing, and had quite a few interesting ideas inspired by the environment and the people I interacted with. If you are an aspiring writer in the speculative fiction field, I’d certainly recommend attending the national convention. In 2013 it will be based in Canberra, at the Conflux 9 convention. If you decide to go, make sure you let me know. We’ll organise to meet up on day 1!

Continuum 8 – Day 4 (Monday)

Last day of Continuum 8. Another later start, thank goodness. This convention attendance is exhausting!

First up was a bit of blood sucking with Vampires: From Horror to Heart-Throb. It was chaired by Narrelle Harris, with fellow panelists Jason Nahrung, Sue Bursztynski and Amanda Pillar. The session started off with some interesting historical perspective of the vampire in fiction. There was a lot of discussion about the way vampires have been used to reflect particular societal issues of the time, from sexual repression in Victorian times to issues of empowerment in more modern times. In examining the more recent shift toward viewing the vampire as a romantic interest, it was postulated the removal of religion from consideration of the vampire switched us to being a representative of the other – and with growing awareness of the exclusion of the other (racism, sexism etc) we have naturally drifted into a more sympathetic treatment of vampires.

Of course some of the panel just thought that teenage girls like sexy, immortal beefcakes who will allow them to become immortal as well. Takes all sorts I guess.

The panel covered a lot of other ground including what is next for the vampire (most people seemed to think a period of inactivity followed by a reinvention guided by whatever societal trends were in vogue), issues with choosing evil vs having evil thrust upon you and the choice of metaphor that guides your representation of the vampire as an author.

Next I went along to Suffragettes in the Citadel, Amazons in the Engine Bay moderated by Jane Routley, with fellow panelists Jo Spurrier, Lucy Sussex and Kirstyn McDermott. This session focused on the role of default sexism in the creation of speculative fiction, fantasy in particular. The panel discussed the drivers of a default male pattern on societies and noted how seldom speculative fiction built worlds that were free from the default biases that exist in our contemporary society.

I found this session very interesting from a writing point of view. There were a lot of issues raised regarding world building and societal structures, including the use of matriarchal societies to provide a critique of gender imbalance, deriving alternative societies that are still based on biological history, using how work is valued rather than division of labour as a way of creating different societies and thinking through the role of a mother as a protagonist and what impact that has on story telling.

This was one of the most interesting sessions of the convention from a writing perspective.

Next was the guest of honour session with Sue Ann Barber, interviewed by Emilly McLeay. This was a very informal session, with Sue Ann Barber interacting as much with the crowd as the interviewer. The session covered Ms Barber’s involvement in Lego fandom, her trip to Britain representing fandom at an English convention (EasterCon), her involvement with the Star Trek club The Neutral Zone in Western Australia and programming AussieCon 4.

After lunch, I went along to see The Awards Debacle compared by Dave Cake, with fellow panelists Robin Pen, Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung. Given some of the commentary about awards controversy I’ve heard over the last year I was expecting some Jerry Springer style antics, but it was disappointingly calm and respectful. The panel talked about whether there were too many awards (conclusion no – the Aurealis Awards and Ditmar Awards fulfil different purposes), should authors be able to remove themselves from contention for an award (conclusion no except in special circumstances – but they can refuse to accept the award), the value of the short list (conclusion – great way of spreading the word about works), do awards actually make a difference to sales etc (conclusion no – but publishers think they will), the nomination process and how it works in practice (conclusion – perhaps room for some changes), whether or not “block voting” occurs (conclusion – not as much as people think) and some interesting commentary of the history of awards in Australia.

The most potential for biffo came when one of the audience started criticising the William Atheling Jr Award for criticism as not including works that were substantive enough, with one of last night’s winners sitting directly behind him. Unfortunately for my personal entertainment, it didn’t come to anything with the crowd member conceding that the work that won was indeed substantial.

After this I went to the bar for a drink with Sean Wright, Jason Nahrung and Kirstyn McDermott. Quite a few people drifted through during the afternoon (including Stephen Dedman, Robin Pen, Russell B Far and many more. I found when you are sitting with “known quantities” it can make a difference to how involved you can get in conversations. I had a great afternoon, and I don’t think I embarrassed myself. Jason gave some excellent advice regarding writing and writers groups, how to organise them etc and there were some interesting discussions about the state of the speculative fiction scene in general. I had a fantastic time.

In fact I was having such a good time that I missed going to the closing ceremony (sorry Continuum 8!).

All in all it was a good convention. I learnt a lot, with some good panels and very interesting people. I think I’ll sit on my experiences for a few days, then write up some more general thoughts on the convention as a whole later in the week. But for the time being, my tram is rolling towards my stop so I think I’ll publish this and say “farewell from Melbourne”.

Continuum 8 – Day 3 (Sunday)

A later start this morning meant a bit of a sleep in (for which I’m very grateful!). I started the day with a session titled Everyone Loves a Good Murder, chaired by Laura Wilkinson, who was joined on the panel by Kaaron Warren, Tor Roxburgh, Stephen Dedman and Lindy Cameron. The topic was the joining of crime/murder fiction with speculative fiction. People seemed a bit blurry eyed from the night before and generally the sessions seemed a bit less well attended – probably a sure sign that the Maskobalo Ball went well!

Some interesting comments on the history of the crime story, including the different expectations of crime readers to speculative fiction readers, what makes a good murder mystery and the use of murder mystery to illustrate the general philosophical point of the underlying story.

The second session of the day for me was titled What’s It Worth chaired by Alan Baxter, joined by Jason Nahrung, Jonathan Strahan and Kate Eltham, discussing the price of eBooks and the various controversies that surround that pricing. This was one of my favourite sessions of the convention so far. There were some very interesting discussions on the process of “costing” an eBook, from the “it’s bits and bytes, it costs nothing!” musings of readers through to the “load it up with all the normal costs of producing a print book – editing, marketing etc” from publishers.

The session also covered Digital Rights Management, finding the right price point, how to create the perception of value – it was all very interesting.

I also met David Golding, who has provided comments on this blog before. Had a great chat with him, sounds like he is doing some very interesting stuff in his job with Scribe Publications.

Next was the guest of honour session with Alison Goodman, interviewed by Jason Nahrung. The discussion focused on Ms Goodman’s writing and publication process, with some good points about including sensory detail in your writing as well as some interesting story about her road to publication. Simultaneous editing with an Australian and American editor sounded exhausting!

After a quick lunch I attended Book Blogging and Reviewing chaired by Sue Bursztynski, who was joined by George Ivanoff, Alexandra Pierce, Gillian Polack and Sean Wright. The panel was mixed between people who were paid for their blogging (Mr Ivanoff and Ms Polack) and those who did it more for the love (Ms Pierce and Mr Wright). There was quite a bit of audience feedback, especially from a reviewer for one of the West Australian newspapers. This was one of the few panels that had some genuine disagreement (in particular over the issue of whether to review friend’s books), which was good to see. Everyone was very polite and respectful of course, but it was good to see people having a reasonable disagreement.

I’ve interacted with Sean Wright over the internet a bit (Sean runs the Adventures of a Bookonaut website, which is one of my favourite sources of Australian speculative fiction news and reviews). It was great to introduce myself to Sean in the flesh after the session.

Next was a live taping of The Writer and the Critic hosted by Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond, joined by special guests Alison Goodman and Kelly Link. It was fantastic to see the podcast (which is probably my favourite at the moment) live, complete with cutting room floor banter between Kirstyn and Ian.

This month’s podcast reviewed books brought along by Ms Goodman (The Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey) and Ms Link (The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater). I won’t spoil any of the podcast, go along and listen to episode 20 if you want to find out what everyone thought.

After that I was a bit panelled out and the last couple of sessions in the day didn’t grab me, so I grabbed a drink with David Golding and Sean Wright instead. While ordering drinks at the bar I had a great chat with Jason Nahrung, an excellent Australian author whose work I really enjoy. Jason was very encouraging, and pointed me towards Genre Con as being an upcoming event in Sydney that I should consider going to. Jason also has some very exciting work coming out over the next few months, which I’m very much looking forward to reading.

David, Sean and I then went and grabbed dinner while we waited for the upcoming Ditmar and Chronos awards ceremony. Sean was a nominee for a couple of the awards (Best Fan Writer and Best Fan Publication in Any Medium (for his work with Galactic Chat). It was great to hear about Sean’s writing and work in the community, and David is doing some very interesting work in both editing and eBook publication. A very enjoyable dinner.

I’ve documented the Ditmar and Chronos award session separately, so this is where I leave day three. It was a lot of fun and it was great to interact with some people as well attending some great sessions.


Ditmar and Chronos Awards

As a part of Continuum 8 (and the 51st National SF Convention), the Chronos Awards (for Victorian speculative fiction) and the Ditmar Awards (national voted awards for speculative fiction) were presented.

The awards were hosted by Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond (of The Writer and the Critic podcast fame), who were very amusing. As an aside, when returning from dinner, David Golding, Sean Wright and I came across a very ill Ian Mond outside, who had ate something dodgy for dinner and was feeling quite poorly. After making a quick trip out to see if I could find a chemist on Lygon St, I was forced to return with only aspirin and antacid from the only place open with any kind of medical supplies – the local Woolworths.  While none of these items proved to be useful at all, Ian went on to successfully host the awards, so I’m claiming partial credit for a successful night.

The award ceremony went well and quickly. Unlike the Aurealis Awards, most people seemed to have prepared a few words which made the evening run more smoothly. Amusingly enough, the actual Ditmar trophies hadn’t arrived as yet so people were awarded with a squeaking, fluro plastic octopus trophy as a placeholder.

As with the Aurealis Awards, I’ve listen these award results in the order the awards were presented.

The first awards of the evening were the A. Bertram Chandler Award for general all round excellence. The award went to Richard Harland, a primarily YA author whose writing workshop I went to late last year. Richard wasn’t there to receive the award. Apparently we are all to pay out on him when we see him next.

The second award of the evening was the Norma K. Hemming Award for excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy. The award went to two recipients:

  • Anita Bell (A. A. Bell) for Hindsight
  • Sara Douglass for The Devil’s Diadem

There were also three honourable mentions:

  • Meg Mundell Black Glass
  • Sue Isle Nightsiders
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts The Shattered City

The Peter McNamara Award for long term contributions to the speculative fiction field went to Bill Congreve.

Chronos Awards

The Chronos Awards looked cool, clock type awards that were very aesthetically pleasing. Almost enough to make you want to move to Victoria.


  • Best Achievement: Conquilt by Rachel Holkner and Jeanette Holkner (Continuum 7)
  • Best Fan Publication: The Writer and the Critic Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
  • Best Fan Art: Blue Locks by Rebecca Ing
  • Best Fan Written Work: Alexandra Pierce Tiptree, and a collection of her short stories
  • Best Fan Artist: Rachel Holkner
  • Best Fan Writer: Jason Nahrung
  • Best Short Fiction: The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt by Paul Haines
  • Best Long Fiction: The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines
  • Infinity Award: Merv Binns

SF Competition

Although the results of the SF writing competition had already been announced, the winners received their awards during the ceremony.

  • First place: Pattern for knitting a galaxy by Stephanie Lai
  • Second place: The Armour by Jessica Reid
  • Third place: Stitch the Sun by Liz Barr

Ditmar Awards

The William Atheling Jr Award for criticism was given out first. It went to Alexandra Pierce and Tehani Wessely for their conversational reviews of the Vorkosigan Saga.

  • Best New Talent: Joanne Anderton
  • Best Fan Publication in Any Medium: The Writer and the Critic by Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
  • Best Fan Artist: Kathleen Jennings
  • Best Fan Writer: Robin Pen for The Ballad of the Unrequited Ditmar (sorry Sean – you were robbed!!! Actually, the Ballad was pretty funny)
  • Best Artwork: Kathleen Jennings for “Finishing School” in Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories (although she had the only two nominations in this category so this wasn’t a huge surprise!)
  • Best Collected Work: The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines
  • Best Short Story: The Patrician by Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Best Novella or Novelette: The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt by Paul Haines
  • Best Novel: The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood

Overall a very enjoyable evening. Congratulations to all the winners and well done to all the finalists.

Continuum 8 – Day 2 (Saturday)

Up early for the first session of the day at 9:00am. Melbourne is cold!

The first session I attended today was titled Take the pebble from my hand exploring the benefits of mentoring for emerging writers. Chaired by Kaaron Warren (whose novel Mistification I reviewed recently), the panel also had Kimberley Gaal (mentee of Ms Warren’s), Jane Routley (mentor), Angela Slatter (mentor) and Louise Cusack (mentor).

I enjoyed the session – it was good to get both mentor and mentee perspectives on what makes a good relationships of this sort. While all the mentors were paid, Ms Warren and Ms Slatter seemed to mentor more through writer centre programs whereas Ms Routley and Ms Cusack seemed to run their mentoring as a business concern (hanging out their shingle when they have time to take on a client).

It was a bit worrying for me that at least two of the mentors look for that “spark of genius” in the people that they take on as mentees. I don’t think I’ll ever have that! Fortunately, the other mentors were a bit more willing to take on people to improve their writing regardless of their basic ability. Ms Cusack in particular seemed very open in her desire to work with a wide range of clients.

All the mentors spoke a lot about the willingness of the mentee to actually take advice, and noted that unsuccessful mentoring relationships tended to be more about attitude than talent. All in all a very informative session to start the day with.

Backyard Speculation was the next session attended, chaired by Jason Nahrung, who was joined on the panel by Tor Roxburgh, Gillian Polack, Claire Corbett and Lachlan Walter. The discussion focused on two main themes, a sense of landscape and culture.

On the landscape front, there was a focus on the inhospitable centre of Australia and the feeling that we were already half way towards an apocalypse, hence the tendency towards dystopia. But there was also some interesting discussion about the urban landscapes of Australia, including exploring the vertical elements of our cities. This also lead to some points about the Australian tendency to think of ourselves as second rate, with Ms Polack in particular pointing out that most of our larger cities rivalled American cities in size and age.

The issue of culture was also explored, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vs non-indigenous discussions as well as the Australian struggle for identity and dealing with patterns of immigration.

The third session of the day was titled The Big Bad – Fairytale Villians chaired by Peter M. Ball with Angela Slatter, Nalini Haynes and Margo Lanagan. Given the preponderance of fairy tale based literature and television of late (I’ve been enjoying the TV series Grim for instance), I thought this would be an interesting session looking at a currently “hot” topic. It was a well run session, with commentary on gender roles in fairy tale villianary, the evolution and sanitation of fairy tales, rediscovering the original “bones” of fairy tales and how to translate them into something that will still scare a contemporary audience.

Next was one of the keynote sessions with one of the guests of honour, Kelly Link interviewed by Kate Eltham. As well as being a celebrated author, Ms Link is one of the principals in Small Beer Press and had some very interesting insights into modern publishing trends. Her hypothesis that Amazon will end up with their own small bookstores, with full integration into their online ordering and delivery networks was thought provoking. As was her thoughts of the impact of Amazon dominance on the viability of mid tier publishing firms in the US.

Ms Link is a graduate of the Clarion workshops in the US, as well as being very involved in the organisation as a teacher and organiser. Her reflections made me even more keen to one day attend Clarion South (if it is ever resurrected) – it sounds like an amazing experience.

After a quick lunch break, the next session I attended was a live recording of one of the podcasts I like listening to, Galactic Suburbia. It needed to fit within a one hour session, so was shorter than usual. It was also less attended than I expected (although the launch of the anthology Ishtar was happening at the same time and I would have liked to attend that as well – perhaps everyone was over there). It was a fairly typical episode, although it was interesting to hear about where the three hosts had spent their time at the convention. Alexandria Pierce discussed Game of Thrones and the growing agency of the female characters over the arc of season 1. This corresponds with something I’d been thinking as well, in fact I’d go as far as to say that part of the point of the show is the growing agency of the younger characters in particular, especially the female characters. Fun to listen as always.

The next session was Playing God – A Guide for Beginners hosted by Michael Pryor and joined by Tansy Rayner Roberts, Trudi Canavan, Alison Goodman and Louise Cusack. This session explored the starting point the panel members used for world building, including academic research, physically visiting locations that were similar, looking to history and taking an “invent it as you go” approach. The panel members included some interesting anecdotes about mistakes they’d made (note to self – always draw any maps early to avoid embarrassment). I also picked up a few good tips e.g. finding an animating detail – some small detail from a time period that helps bring a scene alive. The session focused more on basing fantasy in time periods from Earth’s history rather than completely making something up from scratch, but was still interesting.

I then went to see the session All SF TV is Rubbish a comedy debate between Josh Kinal and John Richards of Boxcutters podcast fame. Mr Kinal took the affirmative position (risky at a SF convention) and Mr Richards took the negative position (as is fitting for a man who has written a TV show about a SF fan club – Outland).

Some excellent use of selective video clips was utilised on each side of the debate, and admittedly it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the good science fiction clips and the bad. However, I think Mr Richards clinched the argument when he demonstrated that a clip from what is universally acknowledged to be one of the worst Doctor Who episodes of all time was still better than any randomly selected segment of Packed to the Rafters. And it wins Logies.

By general acclaim Mr Richards was declared the winner.

My final session of the day was attending the A New Age of Australian Small Press moderated by Russell B Farr with fellow panel members Lindy Cameron and Amanda Pillar. Some very interesting discussion of the current state of small press in Australia, including comparisons with the kind of relationships authors can expect and some fascinating insights into how the three panelists got into the small press scene and what their future plans were.

I had a family event to get to, so I skipped out at that stage and didn’t go to the costume parade and Maskobalo Ball which is, I’m sure, still going as I write. Now it is off to bed to prepare for tomorrow, which will be a very long day (full day of conference activities followed by the Ditmar and Chronos award ceremony).