2010 Snapshot Archive: Kate Eltham

First published at Alexandra Pierce’s LiveJournal.

Kate is Chief Executive Officer of Queensland Writers Centre. She has previously worked as a small business consultant focusing on micro enterprises, non-profits and individual artists in the creative sectors. As a consultant for Creative Economy, she worked with indigenous creative businesses to develop sustainable enterprise and participated in the development of policy and industry strategy for creative industries in Australia. Her website can be found here.

1. So… a zombie love story? What is it with zombies at the moment? – they seem to be everywhere! Why zombies, and what will your story add to the zombie canon?

More like a love story with zombies. And yeah, zombies are a popular trope, along with zeppelins and steampunk, although surely not as all-consuming as vampires and shapeshifters. And watch out, because here come fallen angels, oh my!

When I started working on the story I’m developing at the moment, I was trying to capture a “Breakfast Club-meets-apocalypse” flavour. I was looking for a useful vehicle that would enable me to explore the death of a town. It could have been a storm or a fire, but after a while I realised I could have a lot more fun if it was the actual death of a town via a zombie plague.

As a writer, I enjoy zombies more than other metaphor monsters. They can stand in for a variety of themes: consumerism, urban sloth, tribalism, conformity. Zombies are rooted in the fear of death, the inexorable slow shuffling towards decay, and hence tap pretty basic human fears. They are monsters made from completely ordinary people with no regard for race, class or morality so we identify with them – they could be us! – but that makes them all the more horrific. That’s all great material for a writer to work with. I’ve certainly been enjoying much of the zombie pop culture of the last few years (“you’ve got red on you”), but especially Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead graphic novel series and Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth.

2. You’ve been heavily involved, over the last few years, with running the Aurealis Awards. What’s that been like, as a process and an experience? How are you feeling about it now Fantastic Queensland is no longer the organising body?

I think it’s great FQ has handed the Aurealis Awards back to Chimaera and that someone else will take up the challenge. When we started, we set out to raise the profile of the awards, particularly with publishers and booksellers, and to make the awards ceremony the celebration it deserved to be with so much fine spec fic literature being produced in Australia. I believe we achieved that and we were proud to be custodians for six years, but that’s all we were, custodians. The Aurealis Awards weren’t “ours” and we did have that in the back of our minds throughout that time that someone else would inherit them eventually. It was the driving reason for us to seek improvements in administration of entries, streamlining of the rules, and adherence to consistent standards. Some of our experiments failed, like the Golden Aurealis, but others have become new fixtures like the anthology/collection categories and recognition of illustrated works. We also deliberately expanded and diversified the judging panels and folded the judges’ feedback into the process each year. As a result I think the AAs are in a strong position and that’s what you’d want to inherit if you were taking them over. I look forward to attending them in future years!

For me personally, I’m proud I was involved in the Aurealis Awards but I’m hugely relieved to hand the workload to someone else, and I only had a fraction of the tasks involved! Ron Serdiuk and the other awards convenors that came before him – Ben Payne, Lea Greenaway and Jason Nahrung – were the heroes of the AAs over the last six years.

3. As CEO of the Queensland Writers Centre, and with your interest in the publishing industry as a whole, I know you’re interested in digital publishing and future directions for publishing. Where do you think publishing will be at in, say, twenty years? Will things keep moving as quickly towards ebooks as they seem to be now – with Kindle, and iPad, and everything else – or do you think paper books will still be around for some time?

E-books and paper books are not binary opposites, so yes I think the market for ebooks will continue to grow rapidly and I also think paper books will be around for some time, certainly in 20 years. Whether paper books will be distributed and sold in the way they are now is a more nebulous question.

People buy ebooks because they deliver a different bundle of benefits to print: access, portability, convenience, connectivity. Kindle and the other dozen or so dedicated e-reader devices will help this market establish but, in 20 years, I think we’ll look back on them as short-lived technology. Why will consumers invest $300 plus on a device that only reads books when mobile convergent devices – such as smartphones and tablets – will deliver that bundle of benefits more effectively. Team that with an effective online retail solution (like, say, an Apple iBook store) and the right ingredients are in place for the e-book market to really grow.

People who complain that they would never read a book on a tiny backlit screen are missing the point. When it comes to the digital future, the question for writers and publishers isn’t whether people will read on screens. We already know they will. The question is whether authors and publishers will be able to migrate to the new business models that will earn them a living, before the current publishing business models break down.

4. With Aussiecon4 coming up this year, there has been a lot of buzz about nominating Australians for Hugo awards. Which Australians do you think have put out work over the last year that you’d like to see nominated?

I’ll be thrilled if some Clarion South graduates get a guernsey. So many of them, from across the years, are publishing stand-out fiction. And it will be a miscarriage of justice if Bill Wright isn’t nominated for Best Fan Writer.

5. Will you be attending Aussiecon4? If you are, what are you most looking forward to?

Yes! The bar.

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