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Book Trailers — Are they worth the effort?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on September 17, 2011

This week George Ivanoff, Award Winning author of the Gamer’s Quest series (YA fiction) talks about book trailers ….

Watch out for the give-away at the end of the post.

George Ivanoff


There has been much debate about the relevance of book trailers. Are they a worthwhile investment of time and money for publishers and authors? Do they actually sell books? Does anyone watch them?

Well, I don’t have any definite answers for you. Sorry! But I do have a few observations based on personal experience.

I had my first trailer made for my 2009 teen novel, Gamers’ Quest. I had no idea if it would be worthwhile. And I had no budget. After an aborted attempt to make it myself (it was pretty crap), I got some help. Friend and computer animator, Henry Gibbens stepped in and produced a trailer for me, with my brother-in-law, Marc Valko, writing and performing the music. I wanted it to look a bit computer-gamey, as the novel is set within a computer game world, and I wanted music that sounded a bit like a 1980s sci-fi tv show theme. This is the result…

It has been up on YouTube since October 2009, but has had only a little over 800 views. Does that mean it’s a failure? Perhaps if I had spent lots of money on it, it might be considered a poor investment. But I didn’t. So even though it has only had a relatively small number of views (compared, for example, to Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters which has views in the hundreds of thousands), it has at least had some people watching it, and it’s not languishing at the bottom of the heap, as so many trailers are, with views not exceeding 100.

YouTube aside, it has been a very successful trailer for me in another way. As a writer of books for kids and teens, I do school visits, and the trailer has proved to be a great way to capture the interest of a young audience. Starting a school talk with a short video that has computer game-like visuals can seize the attention of the most bored and uninterested of teens. So for this reason alone, I was keen to have a trailer for the sequel, Gamers’ Challenge.

I showed this trailer to a couple of school groups last week. The reaction was fantastic! The trailer is more dynamic that the first, and the music deliberately more upbeat and techno. The feedback from the audience was very positive.

Currency did exchange hands this time around — but I already consider it money well spent, purely because it will be a useful tool in school presentations.

But what about YouTube? The trailer has been up for a little over a week and still has not broken the 100 mark. What do I do?

I’ve posted it on FaceBook and Twitter, and on my blog. But this doesn’t seem to have done a huge amount. In fact, reaction has been slower than when I posted the Gamers’ Quest trailer two years ago. You know what? I think people are gradually paying less attention to videos on FaceBook and Twitter. So much crap has been posted over the last two years, that people are more reluctant to click on a vid, and, in fact, will often bypass them without even registering what they are.

Certainly, my use of FaceBook has changed over the two years that I’ve been using it. When I first started, I used to religiously log in every morning and check my friends’ updates… and again at the end of the day. As the months rolled by, and my ‘friends’ list expanded, I started to skim rather than read. Another few months down the track I divided my friends up into groups, so that I could keep track of those who made interesting posts, while bypassing those who status updates consisted of what they had for breakfast. And still, FaceBook was eating up my time (it is, I am convinced, the Black Hole of the Internet)— time that should have been spent writing. So now, I glance at the status updates every couple of days, and look up genuine friends when I’m thinking about them and wondering what they are up to. Do I ever look at videos posted to FaceBook? Rarely!

If this is the way I use FaceBook, how can I expect to get lots of people looking at the videos that I post?

So where does that leave me and my trailer with regards to YouTube? I’m not a big-name-author with a high-profile book published by a large publisher that can afford a big-bucks trailer that is guaranteed immediate and constant attention. But I need to get people to watch my trailer… otherwise why bother having it up there?

Talking to other authors and trailer makers, I’ve discovered something. Even though a book trailer is a piece of promotion for a book, it also needs to be promoted. You need to let people know that the trailer exists… and you need to tell them repeatedly. If they see a link to it often enough, and if you tell them interesting things about it, then they are more likely to invest their time in watching it.

But I hardly have enough time to promote my book, let alone a video about my book! I hear you scream. But promoting your book trailer is simply another way of promoting your book. And believe me, after the umpteenth interview and gazillianth guest blog post, I need something a little different to say in order to interest my readers and maintain my sanity.

And so, here I am, telling you about my experiences with book trailers in the hope that you, my dear, dear, readers, will all spare a couple of minutes to go and watch my latest book trailer. And hopefully, if you actually like it, you may tell other people about it. Or, if I’m very lucky, it may inspire you to seek out and purchase a copy of my book (titled Gamers’ Challenge, just in case you’ve forgotten).

But I’m not relying solely on the readers of Ripping Ozzie Reads to boost my YouTube status. I will be writing about this trailer whenever I get the chance, to as many different outlets as possible. This article is the first of many!

Will all of this boost the trailer’s views and hence sell some more books? Time will tell! In the meantime, excuse me while I go check YouTube to see if anyone else has watched it.  😉

George is giving away 2 copies of Gamer’s Challenge.

Give-away Question: If you could replace the music on the Gamers’ Challenge trailer with a pop song, what would it be?


George Ivanoff is a Melbourne author and stay-at-home dad, best known for his Gamers series of teen novels. Gamers’ Quest won a 2010 Chronos Award and is on the reading list for both the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge and the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge. Gamers’ Challenge was released this month by Ford Street Publishing.

George spends most of his time writing books for the primary school education market, and also writers a regular bookish blog, Literary Clutter for Boomerang Books online bookstore.
More information about the Gamers books is available on the official website.
More information about George and his writing is available on his website.

Posted in Artists, Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Launches, Book Trailers, Collaborating, Creativity, Musicians, Nourish the Writer, Promoting your Book, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Sales, Visiting Writer, Writing for Young Adults | Tagged: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Paul Mannering: How did I get here?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 11, 2011

For the first time ever, Angry Robot opened its doors to independent submissions. New Zealand based Paul Mannering – along with thousands of other hopeful writers – submitted the first five chapters of his SF/Zombie-horror manuscript Tankbread.

A long-time member of Vision, Paul has since been asked to submit the whole MS.

Today he talks about the journey up to this point.


As a writer I always thought that the worst thing in the world was a rejection letter from an editor. Now I realise that the rejections are nothing. It’s the responses that give you a reason to hope that will kill you inside.

In the first weekend of June I got a response from Angry Robot Books requesting the full manuscript for my novel Tankbread because they liked what they had read of my submitted sample. Less than 48 hours later I won a SFFANZ Sir Julius Vogel Award for Brokensea’s third season of Doctor Who audio dramas.

My immediate reaction to this second Cool Things That Sometimes Happen To Writers was to find perspective in the wisdom of Douglas Adams: “No one likes a smart arse”.

These days it feels like the chances of being published by a real international publishing house are on par with dying in a plane crash. And then being eaten by a Uruguayan rugby team. So I’m not planning any book-tour destinations yet.

As David Byrne and Talking Heads once asked, “How did I get here?”

Tankbread came to me in as a complete concept one day while walking home from work. I saw the opening scene, and heard the opening lines in my head. The post-apocalyptic diner. The cooked dog on a plate. The Asian across the table tearing chunks out of the girl’s neck.

From there I fleshed out the first act. The story progressed slowly as I took breaks to write other things, short stories and audio dramas.

The Sir Julius Vogel award winning 3rd season of BrokenSea’s Doctor Who was written in a frenzy of creativity and stress after the main script writer for our previous two seasons quit after delaying us for months. We had very little time to put something together and I work best under pressure.

The first three chapters of Tankbread were written in two drafts. I hate re-writing anything. My best ideas come to me in the first rush of discovery. The rest is editing.

I finished the story in February 2011, during the dark weeks following the Christchurch earthquake when we were off work and felt like we were living in our own localised apocalypse.

From initial concept to completion took four years.

Early on I posted the first chapter, pre-edits and re-writes to a couple of writing lists for critique. It got plenty of feedback and it was all good advice. Vision Writers members suggested it fell a little flat after the opening scene. So I kept working on it, adding a new scene that helped expand the universe of the story. The story took me on its own journey. What I ended up with was a character driven post-zombie-apocalypse story with lots of pulp-horror adventure. Of all the critique groups I’ve worked with over the years, Vision and Writing and Publishing (both Yahoo groups) have provided the most consistent critiques.

Once I finished the first draft I started seriously editing it. I got other people to read it and I put it down for a month and then came back to it and edited again. This process fixed all kinds of errors. Then near the end of March the sample went off to Angry Robot. I edited it again while they were considering the first 15,000 words.

Stories reach a point where they are good enough. From here I’ll re-write and make changes only based on editorial feedback.

As David Byrne and Talking Heads once asked, ‘How did I get here?’

  1. Write every day write a shopping list, a to-do list, a poem, an email, a blog, a short story a chapter a character bio. Write on a PC or Mac, a tablet, a napkin, in the sand. Write in ink, pencil, crayon, blood, condensation. Write in tongues, write non-fiction, write porn, write revenge, lust, passion, action, descriptive passages, dialogue. Write screenplays, radio-scripts, first person, third person, second person, write under a pseudonym. Write at a desk, in your car, upside down, in bed. Write in your head if you have to.


  1. There is no such thing as writers block. If you have no idea where your current project is going – go back to the point where you knew where it was going and start writing from there. If that doesn’t work for you – see point 1.


  1. Love Rejection but Don’t Luuurve Rejection. Rejection is part of writing. Every writer get’s rejected. Usually by incompetent morons who couldn’t edit a tombstone inscription! At least that’s our immediate and emotional reaction. We hate rejection. If you learn to accept rejection, you lose a lot of the fear that comes with not writing and submitting to markets. When rejection comes with good advice – treasure it. Remember the editor is rejecting the work – not you as a person. The flip side to that is that your mum, partner or writing group are probably praising you, not your writing. Blanket praise should be regarded with suspicion.


  1. Read critically. Read everything. Read it for the usual reasons you read things (to be entertained, informed, aroused, incensed, or just because there’s nothing on the telly). When you come to a bit in a book you really enjoy – read it critically. Why does that passage or line or dialogue strike you? On the flip-side of that – when you read something that sucks – think about how it could have been written better. A lot of crap does get published, and it sells. It’s not about writing Shakespeare or Theroux. It is about writing something good enough to achieve the purpose it is intended before. Mostly (and no writer will ever admit this) the purpose is to make the writer very rich and smug at cocktail parties.


These simple approaches to writing are what got me to where I am today. Always learning, always practising and always having fun with exploring new ideas and enjoying other people’s great stories.


Catch up with Paul here.



Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Awards, Characterisation, Collaborating, Editing and Revision, Fantasy Genre, Genre TV Shows, Movie/TV Adaptations, Nourish the Writer, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Visiting Writer, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Update on Above and Below Competition

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 2, 2011

Okay guys, it looks like no one wanted to do their homework. The give-away question was:-

‘All you have to do is write, in five hundred words or less, what your hobby would be if you lived in a city that floated in the sky.’

Ben’s come up with an easier, breezier question. For a chance to win a copy of Above/Below Ben asks:

‘What album would you drop on people you didn’t like?’

Most interesting album and explanation wins!

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Collaborating, Visiting Writer | Tagged: , , , | 32 Comments »

Dynamic Double Novella from Twelfth Planet Press

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on January 29, 2011

Following on from the Washington Association Small Press Short Fiction Award for Siren Beat, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, Twelfth Planet Press (TPP) have released Above and Below, available here.










Today we have the Dynamic Duo of Ben Peek and Stephanie Campisi to talk about the writing process behind these linked novellas. (Watch out for the give-away at the end).

A city has fallen from the sky.


Above , the alphabetic first half of Twelfth Planet Press’s latest release, focuses on Devian Lell, a window cleaner. Living in one of the many the floating cities that form Loft, he is drawn into the political turmoil that erupts when Dirt sends a diplomat to negotiate the trade of minerals that keep their cities afloat. Below, the alphabetical second half, features Eli Kurran, a security guard mourning the death of his wife to the toxicity of Dirt. Blackmailed by his former employer, he is forced to provide security for a diplomat from Loft, a woman three times his age, and easily the oldest living person ever to come to Dirt.

Above, written by Stephanie Campisi and Below, written by Ben Peek, is designed to be read in any order, to be read twice, in fact, and is a novel that will challenge your certainty of who, in Loft and in Dirt, is right.

Speaking together, the authors claim that the idea to write the book together was Campisi’s. “Alisa Krasnostein, the publisher of Twelfth Planet Press, was looking for proposals for her double press line,” Campisi says from her apartment in Melbourne. Currently working as a freelance writer, she has a reputation for quirky, beautifully written short fiction, and will feature in Twelve Planets, a series of twelve short story collections promoting female authors in Australia by Twelfth Planet Press. “I asked if Ben watched to pitch something with me and we came up with the idea of Above/Below pretty much on the spot. When we emailed Alisa, all we had was the title and the idea of a city falling from the sky, but it didn’t take long to go from there.”

Ben Peek

Peek agrees that the start was very organic. “We divided the two halves of the book on the strength of our prose,” he explains from the outskirts of Sydney. Splitting his time between teaching and writing, Peek is the author of a pair of critically acclaimed novels. “Out of the pair of us, Steph has the more beautiful, elegant writing, and so she ended up with Loft, a city that is essentially full of refined and cultured people. That left me with Below, the ugly, dirty secret. That kind of suits me, y’know? So I stripped back my style, left it lean and sparse, and wrote about a culture of people who really don’t have very long to live and whose life is dominated by death.

“After we had worked that out, the pair of us pretty much went off and wrote our piece, with no real hassle.”

“He’s lying terribly,” Campisi interjects over skype. “I must have gotten sixty emails in the first week from him, each with a new idea, each changing the previous, altering his plot and his world. I really had no idea what he was doing. They would appear at odd hours, too. I took to turning my phone off at night, just so I could sleep.”

“I would get emails about fruit,” Peek admits. “I got a text messages about the economy. That was about the time I started thinking of how I could blow her city up.”

Steph and Jono

“I was busy trying to work in air strikes at that stage. The quicker I destroyed him and took over his land, the better!” Campisi laughs. “No, seriously, we set up a google wave and left notes for a while before writing our pieces. We would send emails to each other every now and then, explaining a character we had created from each others city, or an event that we were working in as important history, but that was about it.”

“We actually made the decision early on not to worry too much about what the other was writing at the start,” Peek explains. “Well, I made the decision. The way I write involves a lot of editing, with me going back and forth and shifting and fixing and trashing. Nothing really stays the same after a while. Steph, though, she works a little differently, with her first drafts being much more polished and to the point than mine, so it was really a better deal to just get out of each others way and come back once we had finished.”

“When that happened, we actually found we had done a lot of things that just meshed really well,” Campisi continues. “Our two protagonists had a lot of similarities that allowed the two books to resonate throughout, and when the rewrites began, I tweaked little bits here and there to make it stronger. Devian’s wife, for example, had a much larger presence in Above after I had read Ben’s.”

“Yeah, I remember going back and altering a lot of descriptions after I read Above,” Peek adds. “Tiny things that most people probably won’t notice, I suspect, but I thought they made the two parts to mesh better. I also made my world a little dirtier. There is a moment in Above where Devian meets the diplomat, Dhormi, and Devian comments on how filthy he was. I realised that I had not allowed for that to be part of Below. I didn’t really think of crusted nails, skin with dirt lodged in the lines and wrinkles, but after I read Steph’s I thought it was pretty cool, so I went back. It was hard to do, though, because no one sits around and thinks that they’re a filthy. I worked with a guy once who had the worse body odor I had ever smelt, but he was fine with it because to him it was very natural. He was pretty cut when management spoke to him about it. So finding the right balance for that was hard, but I think I managed to strike it well enough―though it is a much stronger and more striking moment in Above, something I didn’t want to detract from.”

After they had done that, Alisa Krasnostein took the two pieces and began editing. “She did a fine job,” Campisi says. “From the outset she was really concerned with the quality of the book and did not want to put out something bad. It’s her brand, so she watches it keenly. When what we gave her meant that we would put out something inferior in the first deadline, she wasn’t afraid to push it back and push us. It was very important that the three of us stood behind the work.”

“Very much so,” Peek agrees. “While Above/Below has come out in the double press line, we want it to be considered as a novel, not just two novellas joined together. The double press format is really neat and allows for you to do something really quite different if you put the time and effort into it, and that’s what we did. We deliberately aimed to create a co-written novel that was co-written in a very different way, avoiding that style that emerges when two authors mesh their words together. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and some authors do it very well, but we were allowed to do something different in terms of co-writing for Above/Below and we embraced that idea.”

“The final product is something we’re all proud of,” Campisi adds. “Everything meshes so well together, it has little Easter eggs buried in it, and on top of that, it is a cute book, with beautifully designed covers by Amanda Rainey.”

“Yeah, we cannot give Rainey enough credit for what she does,” Peek says. “She will probably go down as a bit of a forgotten champion for the look of the book, which is a shame because without her, I don’t think it would be the object of desire that it is.”

Above/Below is available now from the Twelfth Planet store, where it can be purchased in either its paper form or an electronic from. In conjunction with the ROR site, the authors have organised a competition that will give a book away to one reader. All you have to do is write, in five hundred words or less, what your hobby would be if you lived in a city that floated in the sky. The best idea wins a copy of Above/Below.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Awards, Book Giveaway, Collaborating, Covers, Nourish the Writer, Publishers, Visiting Writer, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The Holy Grail … Movie/TV Series options on Books

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on January 22, 2011

Who hasn’t been watching Alan Ball’s brilliant adaption of the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris?

It must be such thrill for a writer to see their characters and story realised in an excellent TV series. Kudos to Alan Ball and the team.

And we have the HBO George RR Martin Fire and Ice series to look forward to. Trailers here and here if you can’t wait for a taste.

But all is not plain sailing for authors whose intellectual property gets optioned for film and/or television. Firstly only a very small percentage that are optioned. My agent, John Jarrold, is associated with the Gotham Group in Los Angeles, a management production company. John says:

‘One in 1,000 books are actually optioned for medium to large amounts of money.  One in 100 of those actually have a film made from them.  Those are rough figures, obviously!  The agency has had film interest in a number of titles, but NONE have actually had a serious option payment made on them.’

Here, Ally Carter, author of the Gallagher Girls series and Heist Society talks about her experiences with three different production companies on three different film options.

She starts with a disclaimer. eg.  if you say authors never have a say in what happens to their books when they get made into movies, then someone will point to JK Rowling. Then she covers the different types of options and the other things such as the script, timing and talent (actors).

Here is a list of books that have been made into movies. And Here is a list of 20 good books that were made into not-so-good movies. Many of these are spec fic.

And here we have a look at what makes a good book to movie adaptation. They say:

‘a good bookish movie is more than a sum of the total of the book’s parts — the Watchmen proved that beyond any doubt. Watchmen stayed true to the book’s plot with slavish devotion, portrayed the characters with flawless accuracy, and even duplicated the look of the original illustrations. Yet, despite all of that, the magic Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons managed to work with pen and paper didn’t translate to the big screen. It was a good movie, but it certainly wasn’t great.’

They go on to say achieving a great adaptation is not about slavishly following the book, it ‘ lies in the film’s success at concentrating and magnifying the feelings readers have when they read the book.’ And they go on to analyze five examples. I would have to agree with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. When Jackson adapted the book to the movie, he did what I did while reading the book to my children. He cut out the boring parts and condensed the action, sticking to the strongly emotive moments.

Unless we are JK Rowling, we authors usually have very little to do with the adaptation of our book into a movie or TV series. Books and film are completely different mediums and what works in one, will not work in the others. I teach script writing, storyboard and animatics and I am constantly saying to my students how are you going to show what your character is thinking? You’ll need a flashback. How are you going to convey the character’s realisation? You’ll need a visual metaphor. Don’t try to cover a story that takes 20 years, compress, set a time limit if possible.

When you do get someone who is able to crystalise the essence of the book and even improve on it, then it is a joy as with True Blood and Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings.

Not every author’s experiences are so uplifting.  Here Ursula Le Guin talks about how the Sci Fi Chanel whitewashed Earthsea. She says:

‘A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, which were published more than 30 years ago, are about two young people finding out what their power, their freedom, and their responsibilities are. I don’t know what the film is about. It’s full of scenes from the story, arranged differently, in an entirely different plot, so that they make no sense.’

One of the main disappointments for her was the use of white actors to play coloured characters. Here on her own web site, Le Guin talks about her experience and how she felt the director was putting words in her mouth. She ends with:

‘I wonder if the people who made the film of The Lord of the Rings had ended it with Frodo putting on the Ring and ruling happily ever after, and then claimed that that was what Tolkien “intended…” would people think they’d been “very, very honest to the books”?’

The message seems to be for authors to go into movie/TV adaptations with their eyes open . You can be incredibly lucky and have a director/script writer who takes the best from you book and makes it more accessible to the general public, or you can be left wondering if they read the book at all.

What adaptations have you seen that impressed you?



Posted in Agents, Collaborating, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre TV Shows, Movie/TV Adaptations | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Meet Dirk Flinthart …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 28, 2010

Way back when the VISION writing group was in its infancy, Dirk Flinthart walked into a session and life has never been the same since.  I think of Dirk as the Greenman of pagan mythology. Larger than life and full of life! His stories have been a finalist and received an Honourable Mention in the Aurealis Awards, and has been working on a libretto ‘Bedlam’ which the operetta company hopes to premiere in Brisbane in 2011 (subject to grant funding).

Dirk has a copy of Worlds Next Door to give-away. Watchout for the question at the end of the post.

Q: While studying Entomology at UNI, I believe you led a rather dissolute life which led to the publication of ‘How to be a Man’ co-wrote with John Birmingham? Have you considered doing any more forays into contemporary humorous self/help books?

I’d argue it wasn’t dissolute so much as anarchic, bohemian and poverty-stricken. Birmo took all the worst and ugliest parts for ‘He Died With A Felafel In His Hand’, simply by asking all of us for share-house stories. That the book did so damned well is a testament to his ability as a writer – and to the resonant, shared nature of those stories. Everybody who share-housed through the eighties and nineties had lived through the dark heart of that book, which only goes to justify my earlier statement regarding my putative dissolution.

Look it was the tail-end of Whitlam’s free tertiary education era. We were the children of early baby boomers. We were smart, and we were fairly savvy because of our exposure to modern media culture… but we had nothing. No money. No venerable ancestry. No old-school ties. All we had was our brains, our attitude, and most importantly, each other.

Felafel’s a good read. Funny as hell. The movie not so much. But the movie manages to touch one thing the book doesn’t really dwell on strongly enough: the trust. The sad, brave, desperate, hilarious trust that kept us all going, all living together, bickering with each other, struggling, and eventually, escaping into some kind of adult life.

I don’t think it’s really possible to put that kind of thing into a book. Not if you really plan to do it justice. John made a brave attempt, particularly with the sequel (The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco, in which yours truly plays a larger-than-cameo role as a somewhat exaggerated caricature of himself) but the truth is a lost country, a past that binds together some of the cleverest and most influential people in Australia today.

The book I wrote with Birmo was How To Be A Man. It was, yes, an informative and funny sort of guide to getting one’s manly shit together in the late nineties and early noughties. It did surprisingly well.

Birmo’s gone on to bigger and better things. I’ve gone on to… oddities, actually. But both of us now have kids, and being parents plays a big role in our lives. I haven’t told him yet, but I’m giving serious thought to How To Be A Dad. What do you reckon?

Q: A while ago you put a humorous upper primary novel to the ROR group for feedback. How is it going and are you planning to write any more books for children?

Lots of good feedback from various publishers and editors, but no serious bites. You win some, you lose some. I’m not giving up on the novel, but I’m moving on to other projects, as one must. I’d love to revisit it, however. Perhaps if I can put the Flinthart name out there on the back of a few novels, someone will pick up “The Farnsdale Incident” and its truly odious alien invaders.

As for writing for kids yeah, why not? I’ve got three, and they love the things I write for them. Including The Farnsdale Incident, by the way. Kids are fun.

Q: You have edited ASIM and Canterbury 2100, a themed anthology. What did you learn from this process?


Yeah. Okay. Editing is not writing. But it is closely akin. And if you have to have a certain sensitivity when allowing your work to be edited, then you need fifty times that to edit another’s work.

I’m fortunate in some ways. I read quickly, with a very high rate of comprehension, and I have a knack for working within the style of other writers. There were a few stories in Canterbury that I altered with permission and co-operation from the writers, naturally and I’d defy you to pick which ones purely by reading the text.

Editing ASIM was just plain fun. Mostly I got to pick good stories and run with them. However, with A Day In Her Lives, I had the distinct pleasure of helping a new writer take a very interesting story and lop about three thousand words off it, making it sharper and stronger in the process. That was a real privilege. I wouldn’t mind doing more editing work, actually. The collaborative side of it is truly rewarding.

Canterbury was a major challenge. It was an homage to the Canterbury Tales: a collection of oral stories by travellers on a stranded train in the year 2109, on their way to Canterbury in an England trying to recover from a century of climate change, ecodisaster, economic catastrophe, plague a collapse of the worldwide civilisation we have today.

I prepared a simple outline of a future history for the writers, and asked them to riff on it any way they wanted. The proviso was that we were not telling the future history, though: we were telling the STORIES of that future history. So they had to be tales that travellers might share, to pass the time, and to bond with one another in the face of a night of storm and fear.

I was really pleased with the collection in the end, but it nearly did my head in. So much of basic SF technique had to be thrown out! Historical exposition, for example: why would characters who’d lived through history bother explaining it to each other? The truth is that they wouldn’t so I had to teach myself to see that kind of thing, as an editor, and then remove it.

It had to be that way. The goal was to create a collection of stories that challenged readers to wonder; to imagine what kind of century led up to the events of the train journey. Answering those questions in the stories would have been counterproductive which is completely contrary to the usual SF storytelling technique.

On top of that, I had to come up with a framing narrative to hook the stories together. When Chaucer and Boccaccio did it, they were only creating a frame for their own stories, and to be honest, their narratives are pretty weak. The stories are great, but the framing tales are just fluff.

The problem for me was that I was putting together a collection of disparate stories from twenty different authors. If I’d written a piece of ‘fluff’ to frame them, it would have been a disaster. It would have seemed forced, and false.

In the end, I created a narrator character, and gave him a reason for being on the train, and for observing the storytellers carefully. I also gave him his own adventure, which weaves in between the others, and allowed me to write a kind of ‘afterword’ without actually breaking register.

It was a monumental challenge, actually and I count myself lucky that all the writers were so very wonderfully helpful and supportive. I hope that means I did something right!

Q: Your novella ‘Angel Rising’ was published by Twelfth Planet Press. This was an unusual premise for a story and you wrote it as a novella. What led you to write ‘Angel Rising’?

I fell into the New Ceres stuff by helping out as an assistant editor. ‘New Ceres’ is a setting dreamed up by several writers and editors, including but not limited to Gillian Polack, Alisa Krasnostein, and Tansy Rayner-Roberts. It’s an interesting, challenging kind of setting – a planet some seven hundred years in the future that deliberate restricts itself to 18th century technology and manners – and as I edited, ideas started to roll.

I figured a planet which eschewed visible, conventional technology might be prepared to accept biologically altered humans who were, in a way, victims of that technology. Equally, it was obvious that such a planet would need a very effective spy system to defend itself from infiltrators.

In this fashion, George Gordon was born. He’s appeared in three tales, now, as Proctor General of the planet. His job is to monitor offworlder incursions, and to eliminate them where they represent a threat to planetary security. It isn’t a nice job, but Gordon wasn’t genetically engineered to be a very nice man.

He’s a fun character to write, because he’s smart, cynical, incredibly dangerous, but flawed as hell. He isn’t exactly human, and he will never be a simple, comfortable human being, but he desperately wants to believe in humankind, and the possibility of some kind of redemption.

‘Angel Rising’ pits him against one of his fellow Proctors, on a group of islands where the inhabitants try to mimic 18th-century Japanese culture. A refugee from the ongoing space war between two major forces in the human expansion falls to New Ceres, bringing with her information which can change the whole face of the war – and possibly even more. Gordon gets to fall in love, fight lots of bad guys, discuss Zen and ethics, and maybe save his world. Oh – and he also gets to take sides in a pitched battle between ninjas and Zen Buddhist nuns. What else could you ask for?

Q: You put your Libretto to the ROR group for feedback last time we met and it has since been turned into an operetta called ‘Bedlam’. This opera is set in bedlam and two of the main characters are Lord Byron and Mab, Queen of the Fey. Tell us a little about how this project came together and what your inspiration was.

I’m not certain she’s Mab. She’s certainly a Faerie Queen; if not the very last, then one of them. And she’s been trapped in Bedlam Asylum for three generations, due to the machinations of the doctors that run the place the Monro family.

Inspiration is a quirky thing. I never know where it’s going to come from. I do know this: the more restrictions you place on me, the more likely I am to come up with something quickly. I don’t know why that works, but it does.

In this case, an old friend rang and asked if I’d write something for her. Intrigued, I asked what she was after. She told me the setting she wanted, and the kind of thing she was after, and while we were still on the phone, the outline started to come through.

I want to say that it was all obvious. Bedlam is a legendary place of madness, and of course, there’s a long history of association between madness and the Faery folk. To be ‘elf-shot’, for example, is an old term for being mad. And then there’s the term ‘fey’, which is often used interchangeably with faery or fairy or elf but also means eccentric, mad, ‘doomed’, ‘fated’, and so forth. I want to say it was an easy leap from there to trap an elf-queen in Bedlam, and to put the famous Lord Byron into the role of rescuer. And why not? Club-footed Byron (obviously marked by the faery at birth!) is as fine a role-model for the elf-shot, mad, romantic hero as ever you could want.

But the truth is, I suppose, it wasn’t obvious. Except to me. Inspiration is about what’s in your head, and how it interacts with what you see and hear. So it happens I knew enough about Bedlam and Byron and the fey/mad thing to see a shape, and to cut at it until it emerged.

I’m delighted with the direction it’s taken, in the end. The emerging story is complex, with a range of powerful themes and archetypal characters, working towards a gratifyingly tragic and heroic conclusion. I get to play with Elizabethan language for the characters of the Bedlam Court of the Faerie Queen, and I get to play with that lovely, formal, poetic language of Byron for the rest. If I can get away with this, I’ll be over the moon!

Q: What was it like collaborating? There were singers, dancers, a director and set designers, all interpreting your vision and bringing their own vision to the final production. It must have been a real change of pace from writing away in your study.

Collaboration is fascinating. It didn’t get me out of my study, though!

This isn’t the first time I’ve worked with stage or screen folks. Dragonwood Studios worked one of my stories into a short film a few years back, and I’ve written stuff for radio and for stage shows and so forth. Plus there was the book with John Birmingham, and the highly collaborative effort on Canterbury 2100.

I enjoy the challenge of collaboration. Whenever someone else picks up a piece of my work, or vision, they invariably bring something new and unexpected to it. The stories that came out for Canterbury gave me pictures and images of the Dark Century (ahead of us!) that I had never even considered, and I was absolutely delighted.

With Bedlam, I sketched out a storyline for my opera-producer friend, and talked her through the major themes over the phone. I explained the nature of the central conflict, and the role of the three major players Byron, the Queen, and Thomas Monro, the Iron Doctor and how they would have to develop in order to allow for a meaningful arc of conflict, resolution, and development.

Next thing I knew, I had an email from her: all stuff I’d put in front of her, neatly bundled into ten scenes. And could I please create dialogue to bring those scenes to life?

Right away, it was a challenge. Because, of course, I’m not just writing dialogue. This is a libretto. The composer (David Lazar) chooses the lines he wants and creates the song lyrics therefrom. Naturally, the first proviso is that the dialogue must be the primary means of storytelling. And almost as important, those lines of dialogue have to resonate. They have to have rhythm. They have to be singable: no clumsy, expository tongue-twisters.

After a quick exchange with David, we agreed that I’d write something like a play and that it would probably run a lot longer than necessary. Poetic language and imagery is difficult to do well, and even more so if you’re working with archaic versions of English, such as are called for by this work. Rather than trying to boil it all down and refine it to the the sharpest, clearest moiety, I decided to offer David a range of imagery and poetry. I wanted him to be free to choose the elements which worked best for him in terms of rhythm, vision, and musicality.

Once I had the opening scene in decent shape, it went to David, and he very quickly put some music behind it. When I saw the demonstration video that Outcast put together, I was completely taken aback. I mean… sure, yeah, those are my words, but… that music! The dancers! The staging! The lights, the costumes! Holy crap!

That’s way past collaboration, there. I couldn’t even dream of taking credit for the gorgeous stuff those people have done. The story is a framework, and a good one. I’m proud of that. The words, though the poesy is only one element of the operatic effect, and quite a small one, I personally feel.

Seriously: have you seen that video? Those people are amazing!

Hopefully, ‘Bedlam’ will premiere in Brisbane late in 2011. Assuming we manage it, I am absolutely, totally going to be there for the opening night. I will even wear a tuxedo for the occasion!

Q: Your Red Priest stories have been very popular and I know you put a Red Priest novel to ROR. With three small children and a wife who is a GP in the wilds of northern Tasmania, you don’t get much time to write. Have you had a chance to polish the Red Priest book?

No, dammit. Not to my satisfaction, anyhow. I’ve had a difficult stretch for writing over the last eighteen months. Kind of burned myself out over the fiendish Christmas period, and took too long to get my act back in gear. But I am very much looking forward to the year coming. All three kids will be at school five days a week, and all I’ve added to my personal schedule (which includes studying Iaido, and teaching ju-jitsu, as well as maintaining the property, helping out at the school, feeding the family and so forth) is a Masters degree. That shouldn’t be too much, should it?

So goals for 2011 include finishing and polishing the opera; finishing a bundle of short stories requested by various people; polishing the Red Priest novel actually, novels, thank you RORians very much for that; and at least one other moderately new project. I also want to manage my 2nd dan in ju-jitsu, and take another grading in Iaido, if I can. Oh, and the Masters degree, of course. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Q: When Marianne and I approached you back in 2006 to see if you’d like to join ROR, you agreed and have been part of the group ever since. Did you find ROR helped you in developing or directing your writing? And if so, in what ways? (I felt we needed a question about ROR. Feel free to change the focus of it, if you like).

ROR is a bit of a lifesaver. Living out in the boonies, it’s hard to feel a connection to the community of writers and editors. Sure, I get to one or two conventions a year, but my daily life revolves around handling a fifty-acre property, holding three kids in check and running a household, teaching and practicing martial arts, and being a part of a busy rural community. It’s easy to lose the necessary focus on writing and storytelling.

A good writers group is a thing beyond value. Getting solid critical feedback on your work is indescribably important, and nearly impossible to acquire from the people around you. The ROR group has given me considerable confidence, and helped me maintain my determination to write, create, and publish. The insightful reading and sharp comments from dedicated professionals in the field is something I honestly feel it’s difficult to repay from my own moderate talents… which is one reason why I make the ROR retreat menus as special as I can!

One vital aspect of ROR is the very professional nature of the participants. All of you have more experience than I do at the sharp end of publishing, and your advice with regards to dealing with publishers and the various meta-aspects of writing and publishing have been like the very Word of the Lord unto me. You folk remind me that I’m not just writing stories because I like doing it: I’m writing them to be published, and there’s a vast and complex dance of behaviours which go with that particular territory.

I’m not good at those behaviours, I know. I’m storyteller, because I’ve always been one. But a storyteller is not the same thing as an author, and the ROR folk are my go-to source whenever I’m trying to make sure I’m on the right track, there.

Q: What are you currently working on?

The opera libretto. Five different short stories. Four novels. Various potential webcomics. (Know any comic artists who feel like collaborating?) A lot of silly animation, here at home with the boys, because it’s fun. (All you need is a digital camera, a computer, and some software – most of which you can get free on the Web. Animation is HUGE fun!)

I’d like to be more specific about the writing, but I find I prefer to keep things close until I’ve written them. Talking too much about them before I’m done is a sure way to kill my interest. I hate that.

Q: At ROR we always do our realistic goals and our dream goals. So what are your realistic goals (what are you currently working on) and what are your dream goals?

I’d like to make enough money to live on, thanks. But… writing, publishing, and seeing people enjoy my works is where it’s at.

I don’t really have dream goals. Things come as they will. Up until recently, I never even considered writing for opera. Now I’m having the time of my life watching my words and ideas become song, music, and dance. How good is that?

And the giveaway question:

Among the range of things I do, cooking rates highly. (So the ROR folk tell me, anyhow.) I enjoy cooking, and I like both learning and creating new dishes. Today, for example, I discovered that fresh, ripe raspberries dropped into gin will rapidly perfuse both colour and flavour through the spirit, turning it a delicate shade of pink, and imparting an utterly delicious raspberry tang. I therefore give you

Mr Flinthart’s Raspberry Gin and Tonic

Take 300gm of fresh, ripe raspberries. Place them in a sealed container with 500ml of reasonable gin. Refrigerate for half an hour. Now use the gin to make gin and tonic exactly as normal, but without the twist of lemon. Serve over ice, with a couple of extra raspberries thrown in at the last.

So what’s your favourite recipe? Whether it be newly created by yourself, or stolen from the oldest, hoariest volume of Escoffier, so long as it’s a personal favourite, I’m happy.

The person submitting the most interesting recipe will win a signed copy of Worlds Next Door, from FableCroft Publishing and I will do my damnedest to create the dish at the next ROR retreat!

Note – give-away questions will stay open until Tuesday of next week, when I’ll ask Dirk to select a winner.

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