Interviewed by Kathryn Linge
Paul Collins is best known for his fantasy and science fiction titles: The Jelindel Chronicles, and The Quentaris Chronicles (http://www.quentaris.com). He is currently the publisher at Ford Street Publishing (http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com), an imprint of Hybrid Publishers and his website is: http://www.paulcollins.com.au
1. The Quentaris Chronicles have been a great success, with 26 titles in the series through Lothian, and another, second series that you’ll be publishing yourself. What was your inspiration for creating this shared world? What differences will we see with the second series?
The shared-world scenario was initially Michael Pryor’s idea. He called me one day and asked if I’d like to collaborate. Michael studied renaissance Florence at university and has visited Florence twice. So we had the architecture, and even the political system, population, guilds, etc. Basically Quentaris is a replica of that city in the early 1300s. What makes Quentaris a fantasy city is the mountain range behind it which is dotted by a thousand caves, all of which take travellers to other worlds. In the new series, Quentaris is lifted from its bedrock by the Spell of Undoing. A saboteur (think Zachary Smith) gets the spell wrong. Instead of unravelling the city’s prosperity, it lifts the entire city, throws it into a vortex, and hurls it through the rift maze and into another world. Quickly the citizens of Quentaris must transform the city into a galleon with propellers, sails, rudders etc. New powerful guilds emerge. Unfortunately, the spell also uproots Tolrush, an opposing city. This city becomes a marauder pirate ship, forever chasing Quentaris from world to world, while Quentaris flees and has other adventures. This second series is sequential whereas the first series are stand-alone books. Series #2 will also be illustrated by Fernando Molinari. Jeremy Maitland-Smith is also illustrating the new city. Alyssa Brugman has written the sequel and Isobelle Carmody will be writing the third book.
2. You have a long history in publishing SF in Australia, starting with Void magazine in 1975, a succession of anthologies and novels in the eighties, but then giving it up to concentrate on your own writing. What, then, has motivated you to set up your new company Ford Street Publishing? You’ll be publishing children and YA fiction – did you feel there was a gap in the market you could fill?
As you point out, I started out as a publisher. I only ceased because a shonky distributor disappeared with all my stock – including A Bertram Chandler’s last book – and money. In those days independent presses could only get small press distributors. So: one or two salespeople across Australia. When I realised I could get a major publisher distributing my books, I jumped at the chance to get back into publishing. I doubt there’s a “gap” I can fill, but the two books I’ve published so far were both rejected by Australian publishers, yet both Before the Storm (Sean McMullen) and Pool (Justin D’Ath) have received rave reviews. Pool sold 1550 copies before its release. Publishers make mistakes – go no further than the Harry Potter phenomenon – rejected by who knows how many publishers (I’ve read between ten and nineteen) and yet the series is one of the world’s all-time bestsellers. It’s these books that slip through the cracks that I primarily hope to pick up on. Doubtless once I’m established, authors will send their MSS to me first.
3. You do school visits and workshop with school children and libraries. What value do you see in these visits – both to yourself and to the kids?
All modesty aside, students get to meet authors who they consider celebrities. For that one-hour session, the students will pay more attention to someone they admire than their standard teacher. I bring to the table thirty years of experience in publishing, where to get ideas, writing, editing, presentation and marketing. Teachers aren’t expected to know all of this stuff. Many teachers tell me afterwards how good the workshop was in that they could take away practical exercises that they’ll be able to re-use time and time again. I even get teachers emailing me for further resources. As for me, I keep in touch with my market. I get instant feedback. I even gave out questionnaires to students around the country regarding the title to my book The Forgotten Prince. I gave a thousand or so students a list of six titles and asked them which one they would choose as the best title.
4. Enough about the writing (and publishing), what’s the best thing you’ve read this year?
Take your pick of Colfer’s Artemis Fowl or Reeve’s Mortal Engines books. I’m also fond of The Edge Chronicles.
5. Finally, and certainly most inappropriately, you’re given the opportunity to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most. Who will it be and why?
Easily Modesty Blaise. She’s Lara Croft but much, much more. Amazonian, intelligent, ethical. A well-rounded woman who has foibles. Let’s not forget she was head of a criminal organisation! I’d gladly be her Willie Garvin.