2005 Snapshot Archive: Stephen Dedman

Interview by Ben Peek

Never Seen By Waking EyesStephen Dedman’s new collection of fiction is called Never Seen by Waking Eyes. He has also written the novels Art of Arrow Cutting, Shadows Bite, and Foreign Bodies.

1) How do you go about assembling a collection of short fiction when your publication record begins in 1977, has been impressively prolific in the last fifteen years, and has also yeilded a previous collection, a book of non-fiction, and three novels. Are there stories you simply won’t allow to be reprinted, themes you want to develope, and how much does where they appeared originally motivate your choice?

One thing that’s made the job easier is that two publishers have expressed an interest in bringing out collections of my work — one just of horror, the other just of sf. Never Seen By Waking Eyes, and Other Stories is the horror collection; when I’ve finished work on that, I’ll get to work on the sf collection. So I went through my bibliography, sorted the stories into categories, and picked those horror stories that I wanted to see reprinted for Never Seen. I ended up about 20,000 words over the length that the publisher wanted, so I excluded four stories, and kept 22.

I included a few from The Lady Of Situations (and will include a few others in the SF collection), because it’s out of print and the stories aren’t readily available elsewhere. AFAIK, the only story in the collection that is still in print is ‘Never Seen by Waking Eyes’ (in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror), but I think that’s my best horror story and it had to go in.

There are some stories of mine that I’m not particularly interested in having reprinted, though I might allow it if someone was sufficiently interested. And there are others — mostly sf stories — that I’d rather weren’t reprinted, either because they haven’t aged well, or because I’ve incorporated that material into my sf novels. I’m not consciously trying to develop any particular themes, and I don’t think I was enormously influenced by where the stories had first appeared, though I tried to include several stories that had previously only been published in Australia and are unfamiliar to US readers (the book is being simultaneously released in the US, UK and Australia).

2) Tracking your publication records, what interests me is the self published Dirty Little Unicorn in 1987. It appears to exist right before you emerge with an impressive display of publications. How important was that to your development and psyche at the time?

I’d sold two stories to aphelion before writing Dirty Little Unicorn, but aphelion folded in (IIRC) 1986, and no Australian short sf magazine came along to replace it until the end of ’89. I’d become hooked on writing and being published, so we decided to self-publish Dirty Little Unicorn. This proved a rather expensive whim (it took many years to sell the entire print run), but it did score me my first Ditmar nomination, possibly because there was so little Australian sf being published at the time.

The book was enormously important to my psyche, I suspect, though maybe not to my development. I’ve never written anything else quite like it, though Keira (the illustrator) and I did discuss doing another book once upon a time. Instead, I finally started selling to the US small presses just as the Australian sf small presses revived.

3) Given your time around the Australian scene, you must have seen a lot of turn over in writers and publishers and artists and fans. What’s kept you here as a writer who still publishes in Australia, but also takes an active role in the production of magazine, Borderlands?

Mainly the fact that my wife has joint custody of sons from an earlier marriage, and couldn’t have come with me if I’d left. The youngest is nearly seventeen, so when he leaves home, we’ll be able to move, and we might… or might not. I rather like Perth; I like the climate better than any other I’ve tried living in, I like the size of the city, I like the air and the food, I have a lot of friends here, and I can afford to live here on my income as a writer. And thanks largely to e-mail, I’m not out of the loop when it comes to publishing, the way we were last millennium.

I still sell as much fiction to the US pro-zines as I can, but I’d rather sell to the Australian semi-pros and small presses than to the US semi-pros (or to Interzone). For one thing, I get more feedback from the local sf community. For another, bank fees take a huge bite out of small foreign cheques. And I edit Borderlands largely because I still remember those three years when there were no Australian sf markets, and I don’t want that to ever happen again.

4) You’re dead. That last hostel didn’t clean as much as they promised, and you got the rare disease with all the bleeding. They called you the plague carrier, before the end. Still, dead is dead. You go to Heaven, you see God. You say?

Nothing, at first. If He’s omniscient, as His press agent claims, then He already knows what I’m thinking anyway — which is that I hope they treat illegal immigrants a damn sight better here than they do in Australia. But there’s there’s probably been some sort of bureaucratic cock-up and I’m better off not drawing attention to it, or I’ll be thrown out.

If God is sufficiently merciful that She does let a heretic like me stay in Heaven, then I’ll eventually get around to asking the way to the library. And the SFWA meeting. There’s going to be a lot of books I want to read, a lot of writers I didn’t get a chance to meet…

5) Favourite swear word?

Fuck. Wonderfully versatile; it can be positive or negative, verb or noun and easily turned into an adjective, and forms a part of so many useful compound words.

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