As CEO of the Queensland Writers’ Centre, Kate Eltham runs writing and publishing workshops across the state. She’s involved with Clarion South, Fantastic Queensland, and helps organise the Aurealis Awards. Her commentary and reviews appear in the Courier Mail, and her short fiction has been published in numerous magazines.
Q1. You’re CEO of the Queensland Writers’ Centre, which seems to be going from strength to strength, one of the organisers of the Clarion South writing program, a convenor of Fantastic Queensland and you help to organise the Aurealis Awards. Firstly, how do you juggle all these responsibilities? What are the biggest challenges you face, and what achievements are you most proud of?
With the volunteer-run projects like Clarion South, FQ and the awards, sometimes I think the best metaphor is one of those circus performerswho spins dinner plates on wobbling stalks, because I tend to cycle through projects. Each of them have their own schedule and become a bigger priority at different times. And I’m not even a particularly talented dinner plate-spinner because there are plenty of times when I get overwhelmed, or tired, and and things slip by me. My energy for these projects comes in waves – there are times when I’m really firing and excited about them. Then there are times when the last thing I want to do is write that grant application, or fill in the BAS statement. It’s at these times that I eat ice cream and watch a lot of episodes ofThe West Wing.
As for the QWC gig, that’s my day job. But frankly, I’ve never actually had a job before that I get so much satisfaction from doing and sometimes have to pinch myself when I remember that they pay me to do it. My biggest challenge is my impatience – there are a ton of projects I want to do at QWC and I want to do them all right now, damnit. But we can’t afford to do them all at once, either in terms of cash or human resources, so I have to pace myself and do the things we can afford now and plan to do the rest over time. The same goes for Clarion South and Fantastic Queensland, where the main crunch is volunteer fatigue.
As for achievements, I’m proud as punch to have helped establish Clarion South. It can be really exciting finding talented new writers and each time we run the workshop I’m astounded all over again at the powerful impact it has on the students, teachers and, well, us.
Q2. You’ve had various short stories published yourself. Are you working on anything longer, or is the short story the form that you naturally use?
I’m a big fan of the short story form. I think it’s incredibly difficult to do well and I have huge admiration for those that can. Generally, most of the ideas I get seem to lend themselves to short fiction, and it’s what I most enjoy writing. However, I’m taking a crack at my first novel at the moment. It’s going very slowly! I hit a psychological barrier at about the 8,000 word mark, perhaps because I’d never written any fiction longer than that before, but now things are cranking again. It has had a good impact on my writing habits, too, because I’ve had to develop a more regular writing routine just to keep the manuscript moving forward.
Q3. Where do you want to be – both as a writer and as an educator – in five years, and how do you plan to get there? Would you like to be able to devote your time solely to writing, or are the other aspects of your work equally helpful to you?
I’ve actually thought about this quite a bit. I don’t think I would enjoy being a full-time writer. I’m not really wired for it. I have diverse interests and like to be doing lots of different things. But at the same time, I think about writing constantly – characters, plots, ideas. I do get a bit depressed when I can’t find the time to do any writing. So I guess the ideal set-up for me would be to keep going in a job I love but to not be so overloaded that all time for writing is crowded out. That’s happened in the last 3-4 years because I couldn’t get the balance right, but I feel like I’m getting closer to the ideal lately.
In five years, for myself, I’d like to be keeping up with writing daily, finishing a couple of short stories each year and submitting them to markets, and if it turns out I enjoy writing novels, I’d like to have finished one or two more of those. (However, I write at a glacial pace so these are pretty lofty goals).
I’d also like Clarion South to be more financially secure in five years. I don’t really think of myself as an educator, but for QWC, in five years I’d like to see an established ms development program of Varuna-calibre that has practical connections with publishers and literary agents, and an affordable (or even free!) peer-based mentoring program.
Q4. Do you read much from the Australian spec fic scene? What are the best things you’ve read this year?
In terms of fiction, I used to read almost exclusively spec fic, and most of that was Australian short fiction. I’ll seek out just about anything by Margo Lanagan, Trent Jamieson or Terry Dowling. From international authors, I look for new stuff from Kelly Link, Jeff Ford, Ted Chiang or Carol Emshwiller. In the last year or two, though, I’ve been reading more widely, partly to stay professionally informed, and have been delving into more Australian literary fiction and contemporary poetry.
I also enjoy a reasonable amount of “popular non-fiction” – The Undercover Economist, The Tipping Point, that kind of thing. I’ve always loved YA and continue to read a lot of it. The SF book I enjoyed reading most this year was Air by Geoff Ryman. I also just finished William Gibson’s Spook Country and loved it, although not as much as Pattern Recognition. The best YA I’ve read this year has been by Meg Rosoff. Both her books – How I Live Now and Just In Case – are fantastic.
Q5. And most importantly, if you had the chance to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most, who would it be and why?
It’s a complete geek grrl thing I know, but I go a bit gooey in the chest cavity over Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg) from the tv show Spaced. He’s a science fiction-loving graphic artist AND he makes axe-wielding robots. What’s not to like?