Felicity Dowker is an Aurealis Award finalist, winner of the Best New Talent Ditmar award for 2009, and an Australian author of speculative fiction. Dowker’s chapbook Phantasy Moste Grotesk was released in April 2009, and her short stories have appeared in Aurealis, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Borderlands and Midnight Echo. Felicity Dowker is a committee member of the Australian Horror Writers Association, a member of the ASIM Publishing Co-Op, and a reviewer for the Specusphere.
1. Congratulations on your recent Aurealis Award nomination. You also won Best New Talent at the Ditmars last year. How has this recognition impacted on you as a writer? What sort of reflections do you have on your writing career so far?
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the award recognition is gratifying and useful, particularly because I am relatively new to having my work published. Writing can be a lonely leap of faith, and so receiving validation – through awards, reviews, the encouragement of colleagues, the feedback of readers, etc – can help a writer feel encouraged to take that leap again and again, and ease the feeling of writing in a vacuum. The award recognition has gotten my name out there, and that has generated new opportunities for me that I almost certainly wouldn’t have accessed otherwise. It’s also provided me with the chance to meet and interact with people I admire, which I’ve benefited from enormously.
There’s an inherent danger, though, in placing too much value in awards. It can become a distraction, to the ultimate detriment of what should be a writer’s key focus: the writing. The benefits of award recognition may be undeniable, but awards are not the be all and end all, and there are other roads to writing success and personal fulfillment. The award recognition I’ve received has not actually improved my writing. It’s impacted on me as a person by making me happy, and it’s offered me chances to show my writing to a slightly wider audience, but at the end of the day, I still have to knuckle down and write, and what and how I write is not changed by awards.
Reflecting on my writing career to date, I can see how far I’ve come, but more importantly, what a very, very long way I have yet to go. I look back on my writing from one year ago, and I blush. Did I really write that? Did I really think it was good? Some of the stuff I churned out a while ago now appears to me to be the literary equivalent of a child scrawling her ABCs and kidding herself that it’s War and Peace. I think that this is a healthy reaction to have to my past work. It’s ok for a writer to fumble toward their own style and refine their writing chops over time (though I do think a writer needs to have something there to begin with in terms of talent, however humble). I hope that in another year, when I look back on the writing I’m doing now, I’ll have a similar reaction, because that would mean I’ve continued to hone my craft, and continued to improve. I can see the improvement happening in my own work, can feel it happening while I’m writing. I’m working what I’ve got and I think – I hope – that as a result, what I’ve got is getting better. I think that art never stops evolving, but its evolution isn’t entirely organic – you have to work at it, and work damn hard, all the while knowing that you may never get anywhere.
I’m down with that.
2. You review for Specusphere and are also heavily involved in the Horror Writers Association. How would you assess the local scene and what insights have you gained about writing, reviewing and the local industry from your involvement?
I’ve been reviewing for around a year and I’ve been involved with the AHWA for less than that, so I’m still a bit of a freshie in that regard. However, one thing I’ve come to feel confident of is that there is world class work coming out of Australia (I know this because I read and review that work), and there are people working tirelessly towards securing recognition for that fact (i.e. the immensely dedicated AHWA team, amongst others). Established writers such as Terry Dowling, Margo Lanagan, Richard Harland, and Kaaron Warren (to name but a few) are already household names, not just locally but internationally, and there are many others following closely in their footsteps, such as Paul Haines, Peter Ball, Jason Fischer, Chris Green – and I could go on naming names indefinitely here. We have a significant talent pool in Australia, consisting of a good blend of emerging and established artists, and the thing that I really find delightful is that the local scene is very willing to get behind that talent. Sure, there’s infighting and bickering, but overall, the spec fic scene is overwhelmingly closeknit, positive, supportive, and more than willing to put their money where their mouths are. So many of us give countless hours of our time to volunteer for various groups for the benefit of all. We have imports like Jack Dann who give so much to new writers and are a real wealth of knowledge and wisdom. We have fantastic indie presses such as Twelfth Planet Press (already earning well-deserved attention and praise on the world stage), and great long-running magazines such as Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. We have local awards such as the Aurealis Awards and the Ditmars, and we have more conventions than you can poke a stick at – Continuum, Conflux, Natcon, etc. It’s all happening.
Of course, like all good things, you can have too much of it. I’ve found it’s important not to get too involved in the fandom/volunteering side of things if I want to keep writing, and I know many other writers have been through similar learning experiences when starting out. Because it is a vibrant scene, it’s very easy to get too immersed and find yourself with too many balls in the air. I review for the Specusphere, I’m a committee member of the AHWA, and I’m a member of the ASIM publishing co-operative, amongst numerous other committments. It can be difficult to squeeze writing time in amongst all that! I feel it’s important to be involved and visible, as it’s part of a writer’s job to build their profile and promote their work and their brand, but I’ve learnt the importance of balance. If you’re so busy with the scene that you’re not writing, you’ve got nothing to promote, and you cease to be a writer and become entirely a fan. That’s fine if that’s what an individual is happy with, but that’s not where I want to be, so I’m learning to juggle effectively, and to say “thanks, but no thanks” to new offers and invitations where appropriate.
Ultimately, I find that all the lessons I learn keep coming back to one very simple lesson: JUST WRITE!
3. Where do yourself moving from here, as a writer? What goals do you aspire towards? And what drives you to achieve them? What are you currently working on?
My ultimate goal is to earn enough from my writing to write fulltime. This essentially means I need to have some novels published, and that’s what I’m working towards right now (and that has been my dream ever since I was a little girl writing stories in exercise books and illustrating them with crayons). I’m currently halfway through the first draft of my first novel, and whilst first novels seem to be the albatross around many writers’ necks, I’ve every intention of having mine published. (Feel free to scoff now.) There are also a few short story markets I’d like to conquer – Weird Tales and the Writers of the Future contest are two examples that immediately spring to mind, particularly Weird Tales as its pulpy delights flavoured my childhood – so I’m still working on a number of short stories. I get a great deal of enjoyment from writing short stories, so I doubt I’ll stop that anytime soon. It’s a good way to flex my writing muscles and do a mental workout without committing a huge chunk of time and energy (unlike a novel). I’d like to win an Aurealis (not just make the shortlist, although that was a huge honour and achievement in itself), and I’d like to have a few professional publication credits under my belt. Those are my short term goals. I’m keeping them to a small, achievable (?!) list, because I’m very time poor, and I’ve learnt to be a realist in regard to my writing. Long-term goals? Well, the usual – become a hugely successful internationally bestselling novelist with a few Stokers and Hugos to my name. Y’know. Nothing big…
I know my goals won’t be realised overnight, and indeed, they may never be realised – though I’m cautiously optimistic about the short-term ones. The important thing is to keep going, one literary foot in front of the other. What drives me, what keeps me going? I’ve often asked myself that question, and in truth I find the answer elusive. There’s all the usual responses – I’m a writer, therefore I write, I want to do it, I have to do it, I love it, I need it…and yes, all of that is true, but it doesn’t really capture the full explanation. If I’m honest, the answer is: I don’t know. When I find out, I’ll be sure to tell you. And if you find out before I do, could you tell me?
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?
Paul Haines’ novella “Wives” is the standout work of 2009, and deserves every award available. First and foremost, I’d love to see Haines’ masterpiece get Hugo recognition. It is the most worthy Australian work I’ve read. Also, Haines’ short story collection “Slice of Life” was brilliant. It, too, is more than deserving of recognition and accolades. Haines has already been acknowledged as a unique and exciting writer for some years, but he’s really smashing the ball out of the court now. He’s a force of nature and you’d better believe he’s to be reckoned with.
I also…well, “enjoyed” doesn’t seem to be the appropriate word, but Kaaron Warren’s “Slights” was a disturbing, subtly horrific, masterfully crafted read, and I’d be pleased to see it getting a Hugos nod too.
In terms of what I’ve enjoyed reading, there’s too much of it to name, and I know I’ll do many writers, editors and publishers a disservice by forgetting them here, but a few that spring to mind immediately: Peter Ball’s “Horn” was quirky, dark and tight; Jason Fischer’s “After the World: Gravesend” was pulpy, emotional and rich; Richard Harland’s “Worldshaker” was a wonderfully written, well-assembled adventure featuring some unforgettably big settings and characters; and in terms of magazines, the AHWA’s “Midnight Echo” has consistently been a polished, entertaining, diverse publication of an incredibly high standard – I look forward to more of the same.
I should probably insert the disclaimer that I personally lean strongly toward horror as my preferred genre, both to read and to write, so there are doubtless many other worthy works; but it tends to be the horror that really grabs me.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
I will be at Aussiecon 4 in September – wouldn’t miss it for the world! I’m already booked in to participate in a few horror panels, and I’m also involved in the theme and decorating for the AHWA masked ball. I’m looking forward to the atmosphere, to the things I’ll learn, to the new people I’ll meet and the old friends I’ll catch up with, to the wine I’ll drink, to the energy and passion I’ll be reinvigorated with, to immersing myself in all things writing, editing, reading and publishing – and to the unexpected!