Lee Battersby is the Aurealis, Australian Shadows & Ditmar award-winning author of over 70 stories, with appearances in markets such as Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror Vol. 20, Year’s Best Australian SF & Fantasy Vol 3, Dreaming Again and Writers Of The Future Vol. 18. A collection of his work, entitled Through Soft Air is available at US publisher Prime Books. A prolific short story author, poet and teacher of writing, he lives in Mandurah, Western Australia, with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby. He blogs at The Battersblog
1. You’ve recently been working on editing issue four of Midnight Echo. What can you tell us about the forthcoming project? Is this your first foray into editing? What do you enjoy most about it?
This is the first time since Tic-On that I’ve had sole responsibility for shaping an issue, and it’s something I wanted to do once more before I stepped away from the Australian SF small press for a while. What’s easily the most enjoyable aspect of the job is being able to unearth a new gem and give them some light—I’ve got a couple of new writers within ME4, and I love the fearlessness of what they’ve written. There’s a wide range of dark stories within this issue—from subtle, humanist horror through to weird and creepy wrongness— and I’m hoping that readers will get to experience some distinct and disturbing voices when it comes out in April.
2. What would we have seen published by Lee Battersby since the last Snapshot? What achievements are you most proud of since then?
I’ve not published a huge amount, to be honest. A lot of my time has been taken up with working on the new novel, and writing a screenplay for a film adaptation of Lyn’s short story The Memory of Breathing, which is under development with a Sydney-based production company. I’ve had a few small-press pieces published, as well as a story in the Jack Dann-edited anthology Dreaming Again. My favourite piece, however, would be Claws of Native Ghosts, an 11 000 word horror story set in the early days of the Western Australian colony, which combined lycanthropy, ancient megafauna, and Aboriginal spirituality. It won the Australian Shadows Award and should be seeing print again in the upcoming Year’s Best Horror & Dark Fantasy anthology from Brimstone Press. A lot of reviews commented positively on the way I managed to portray the Aboriginal elements, and given it’s something I hear authors say they deliberately avoid, I’m pleased that I seemed to have done, if not a brilliant job, then at least not an insulting one.
These days I’m usually most interested in how a project’s going to challenge me: writing in an unusual milieu, or for an exciting project—I participated in the Remix My Lit project, for example, where I wrote a story under a Creative Commons license and participants were then encouraged to remix it as they saw fit. It was a very rewarding experience, and with such small pay rates available in the small press, a sense of reward is the least a writer should expect.
3. I know you’ve been working on a novel or two – what can you tell us about your novel projects? What do you find most interesting about the differences between writing short and long fiction?
I have 2 novels that have reached the editing stage. Napoleone’s Land grew from learning that Napoleon Bonaparte, as a teenager, applied to be junior astronomer on a scientific expedition that landed in Botany Bay six weeks after the colony was established. He failed by one mark. I’ve taken that as a jumping-off point and written an alternative history in which he comes to the colony, jumps ship, and exercises his revolutionary zeal amongst the local inhabitants. I took a complete draft to several agents and received a lot of encouraging comments, and am about to sit down and work their advice into a further draft.
And I’ve just finished the first draft of Corpse-Rat King, an ‘anti-phantasy’ fantasy novel in which the hero gets killed before he gets sent out on his quest, and everyone says ‘fuck’ a lot more than they do in your standard Phat Phantasy tome 🙂 I could perhaps best describe it as a bitter romp with consequences. If all goes to plan, I should have both of them out into the wide world by the end of the year and have finished the first draft of something Lyn’s been nagging me to get underway for a long time—a Father Muerte novel. I’ve got a whole bunch of ideas sorted out, and I just need to match them up to the narrative I’m beginning to filter out of my subconscious.
The most interesting difference, I’m finding, is the time needed to complete the project. I’ve become used to finishing several projects a year and seeing my name in print regularly. But I’ve barely done anything else in the last 18 months and I miss seeing my name attached to a magazine. I have to keep reminding myself that I began to write much more quickly as I learned the art of short story writing, and that the same thing will happen with novels. But I’m a black-hearted little egotist—I miss the shiny little buzz of regular magazine sales 🙂
I’ll be honest: I’ve read very little Australian SF in the last couple of years and don’t have much of an idea what’s come out this year that might be eligible. My own reading and writing tastes are moving away from straight spec-fic, so I’m losing touch with the zeitgeist a little bit—I only touch base if I’ve written something that fits, and my reading is largely tangential to the genre: Chuck Palahniuk and Jonathan Lethem rather than Cory Doctorow and Neil Gaiman.
I think we have a select few writers who comfortably belong in any mention of writers operating at the top of our genre, but I don’t think that list is as long as most people think. Perhaps we’ll see a new face break out from being a purely local phenomenon to something larger. I know several who’d like to think they were ready for that breakout, but I can’t really say who will come to prominence. My own interests and projects aren’t heading in that direction at the moment.
I wasn’t around when the last Worldcon came to Melbourne in 1999, but I’m told that there was a real explosion in the number of magazines that came into being in the Con’s wake—from 2 or 3 in 1998 to 13 in 2003 when I started to get published regularly. A lot of writers got a good grounding in that period, and I expect the same thing will happen again, as a lot of locals become enthused by what they see and want to be a part of it. If it results in a new Paul Haines or Deb Biancotti coming to light, then that’s no bad thing. It should be noted, however, that of all those magazines that came into being, very few are still alive—Fables & Reflections is gone, as is Borderlands. Agog has shut down, Potato Monkey is gone…. Off the top of my head, only ASIM has lasted the distance, and it’s fair to say that it has a quite unusual business structure and has cycled through a fair few members in the meantime. To last as long as it has, in a marketplace as small as ours, is a heck of an achievement.
But anyone who’s been around long enough will say that SF is cyclic, and I’m sure that the event will kick off a new cycle. Birth and rebirth is necessary for the health of the industry.