Jenny Blackford’s science fiction, fantasy and ghost stories for children, YAs and adults have appeared in places including Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again, Random House’s 30 Australian Ghost Stories for Children, the NSW School Magazine, and Paul Collins’ Trust Me!. Jenny has reviewed for The Age, Cosmos and G magazines, andNew York Review of Science Fiction, and (with Russell Blackford) she ran the academic tracks of Aussiecon 2 and 3.
1. You were a World Fantasy Award judge in 2009 – please tell us a little about that experience and what you learned from the role.
Being a World Fantasy judge was an amazing experience, as well as an honour. My fellow judges were the wonderful Delia Sherman, Ellen Klages, Chris Roberson and Peter Heck. Just getting to know them (by email), and finally meeting up with them at the Montreal Worldcon and the San Jose World Fantasy was great. We were told that we were the most amicable group in many years, which was lovely. We didn’t agree about everything, but we negotiated well together, with never a cross word.
I was an Aurealis Fantasy judge (for both short stories and novels) back in the late 90s, which seemed like a lot of work, but judging WFAs is far more intense. Anything published in English, anywhere in the world, during the judging year, is eligible. The five judges are responsible for all these categories: short story, novella, novel, collection (original or reprint), anthology (original or reprint), artist, special award: professional, special award: non-professional, and two lifetime achievement awards. So as well as reading at least a sample of the enormous number of magazines, novels, collections and anthologies that turned up on the doorstep, plus stories on the net, we had to think about artists, editors, and other people worthy of an award.
I love fantasy, and I enjoyed the reading far too much; I got very little of my own writing done during the year. However, it has given me an excellent overview of the state of the market: the tastes of various magazine editors, the sort of novel that different publishing houses prefer, and so on.
2. While you’re known for your short stories in the speculative fiction genre, your first novel is a historical one (The Priestess and the Slave, Hadley Rille Books, 2009). How did that come about, and what are the different challenges in writing the different genres?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved the ancient world – from Palaeolithic through to Classical. My degree was in Classics, back when that meant four years of intensive Greek and Latin, as well as history and literature. (My honours subjects included Greek and Latin Epigraphy, Palaeography and Comparative Religion, and my unfinished PhD was titled “The Tripartite Godhead in Indo-European Religion”.)
So – when Eric Reynolds, of Hadley Rille Books, put out a call for submissions for an anthology about ruins, the obvious topic for me was the ruins of Delphi as described by 2nd century AD writer Pausanias (who wrote the ancient equivalent of the Lonely Planet Guide to Greece). Eric was impressed, and I was thrilled that the story (my first adult one) got an Honourable Mention from Gardner Dozois. Then, when Eric decided to publish a set of seriously archaeologically-based short historical novels, he asked me to do the Greek one.
The real difference between historical and speculative fiction, at least for me, is the research. I spent months immersing myself in the original sources about 5th century BC Greece, plus a huge range of arcane academic books (including, for example, The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks and Diseases in the Ancient Greek World.) Luckily, I love that stuff. There’s nothing in The Priestess and the Slave that’s not well-attested in the historical and archaeological sources.
3. What’s next for Jenny Blackford? What can we expect to see in the next year or two?
I’ve got quite a few short stories forthcoming, in The School Magazine, Kaleidotrope, Three Crow Press and Aurealis, as well as your own Worlds Next Door kids’ anthology and Mark Deniz’s anthology based on Assyrian mythology, In the Footsteps of Gilgamesh. There’s also a poem in the next issue of Midnight Echo.
My current big project is a novel about Medea, Bronze Age princess, sorceress, and grand-daughter of the Sun. It’s going to be a bit racier than The Priestess and the Slave, which is YA-friendly – lots of sex and violence, not just death.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year?
I haven’t read anything like enough Australian work from 2009. The WFA reading was for the 2008 year, and since that finished we’ve travelled far too much and moved house, so I haven’t had time to read much, apart from the books we brought back from WFC and review books. However, in my WFA reading, I confirmed my feeling that the standard of Australian work is very competitive by world standards. I was particularly impressed by work from Margo Lanagan, Scott Westerfeld and Alison Goodman.
One of the few Australian 2009-published books I’ve read since the judging wrapped up was Paul Haines’ Slice of Life, which was great, nasty fun; and I enjoyed the stories I read from Jonathan Strahan’s anthology Eclipse Three at Ellen Klages’ house. Damien Broderick has had an impressive bunch of publications lately in excellent markets, with several stories selected for international Best-of anthologies.
5. I believe you will be at Aussiecon 4 in September. What are you most looking forward to about it? What do you think Aussiecon might do for the Australian publishing industry as a whole?
It will be lovely to go to a Worldcon in the city where we lived for 30 years. We can catch up with old friends from Melbourne and the rest of Australia, as well as around the world. And, this time, we might even get to go to a few panels we’re not moderating: last time, we were frantic the whole time with the Academic Track.
There will be a flurry of Australian books published in time for the convention, including Worlds Next Door. This should certainly bring our excellent Aussie spec fic to the attention of the world audience, as well as, hopefully, expanding the readership for homegrown spec fic within Australia.