Interviewed by Kaaron Warren
Trevor Stafford is the chair of the ACT Writers Centre, the founding president of Conflux Inc. and chaired the Conflux 3 convention. He is a co-organiser of a project promoting Australian speculative fiction writers and editors overseas—find out more at: Http://www.conflux.org.au/wfc
Q1: Trevor, you’re centrally involved in organising events for Australian writers in New York this year at the time of World Fantasy Convention. Can you tell me how you got involved with this project, what your aims are and how you stay motivated, promoting other writers?
In 2005, Garth Nix and Jonathan Strahan organised a catalogue that promoted forthcoming Australian speculative fiction works, which was distributed at a party at the World Fantasy Convention in Madison, Wisconsin. The catalogue was enthusiastically received, with US and UK publishers and agents remarking how it alerted them to books and authors they weren’t aware of, and how valuable they found the contact information for rights holders or representatives. Many non-Australian authors also remarked it was an enviable marketing exercise. One British agent took much convincing that there were only a handful of Australians at the convention, as the party had created such a terrific buzz for Australian authors and books. The project didn’t generate much fanfare in Australia, but then it wasn’t meant to—it was aimed at bringing Australian works to the attention of key decision makers in the international book publishing industry. Putting together and promoting this catalogue struck me as one of the most worthwhile things being done to put Australian writers and editors on the world stage. Being able to play a small part in Garth and Jonathan’s 2005 undertaking, along with Deborah Biancotti and Justin Ackroyd, was a real privilege.
It seemed, therefore, like a natural progression to put my shoulder to the wheel in 2007. Like before, the aim of the project is to get Australians book deals in foreign markets. While a catalogue of forthcoming works is again being put together, this time it will also include an appendix for all Australian speculative fiction writers, whether or not they have forthcoming works, and whether they are writing novels or short fiction. In addition to the catalogue being promoted at a party at the World Fantasy Convention, it will also be promoted at a reception at the Australian Consulate in New York, the annual Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) reception and other events. The potential of the project to have tangible outcomes for Australians has been recognised by Copyright Agency Limited and the Literature Board of the Australia Council, who are providing financial assistance.
There are many Australians who deserve to be more widely read and the thought that the project will assist writers to become published overseas is motivation enough for me to be involved. I think it becomes all of us to do as much good as we can within our sphere of influence for the things we find worthwhile.
Q2: How do you feel your experience chairing Conflux last year has guided you in your choices this year? What was the best and worst you took from that convention?
Conflux was a large undertaking and I took many different things from the experience. In particular, I found creating opportunities for fellow writers rewarding. I think conventions play an important enabling role for writers, offering them the chance to participate via panels, presentations, interviews, debates, workshops and readings. In addition, the convention environment provides opportunities for networking, artistic development and collaboration. It’s a positive thing for writers to appear before their local community alongside—and on par with—their national and international peers, and to take pride in themselves and their achievements. While many Australians will be unable to attend World Fantasy Convention in person, it’s great to think that they can be represented in the catalogue.
The best I took from Conflux? Perhaps taking the fight for recognition of the legitimacy and respectability of speculative fiction to the establishment via the funding decision-makers—and that they listened. Conflux has received tens of thousands of dollars in government funding and significant sponsor support that previously had not been available to speculative fiction conventions in Australia. This level of support enabled Conflux 3 to have considerable scope and a public relations and advertising campaign with a circulation of more than three million in print publications alone. I think it’s important to be visible, to get out of the ghetto, and that this helps revitalise the scene with new participants coming in and greater readership resulting. The worst? That after being involved in organising conventions for four years I no longer have the time to be actively involved.
Q3: Where to next for you? You seem to enjoy the promotional part of the industry and have a flair for the big idea which makes people take notice. Are you planning to continue to concentrate on Australian writers, or will you broaden your focus?
Time will tell, but I would like to think I’ll be in a position to continue to promote Australian writers into the future. Of course, I’d also like to find some more time to pursue my own writing, which has been neglected for a while now.
Q4. Enough about the promotion of writers, what’s the best thing you’ve read this year?
The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld. It’s like an ode to New York at the end of the world—brought about by a vampire apocalypse.
Q5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’re given the opportunity to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most. Who’s it gonna be and why?
Sounds like a great opportunity…for someone else! Just so as you fictional characters know—I’m just not that into you…