Felicity Dowker is a speculative fiction writer, predominantly recognised for her work in horror. She has appeared in a number of Australian publications including Borderlands, Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Her first story collection, Bread and Circuses, will be launched at Continuum 8. She tweets as @HorrorshowFlick.
1. Congratulations on the imminent publication of your first collection, ‘Bread and Circuses’! Can you tell us what to expect from it? How much input did you have into which of your stories were included, and how did you find working with an editor on such a long-term project?
Thank you. Readers can expect horror/dark urban fantasy tales that explore themes of revenge, justice, love, feminism, dysfunctional families, fractured relationships, painful childhoods, and Very Bad Things. The stories are, largely, anchored in a reality I would hope we can all recognise, with the horror not always stemming from the supernatural (although it often does, at least in part). My editor, Russell B Farr at Ticonderoga Publications, is fantastic to work with, and as I think everyone who has worked with Russ will attest, he is consultative with his authors in all areas; that includes compiling TOCs. I trust, admire, and share his vision. I’m proud to be published by Ticonderoga Publications as I believe they are producing some of the best work in this country right now, as evidenced by stellar previous and/or forthcoming collections from Sara Douglass, Lucy Sussex, Angela Slatter, Lisa L Hannett, Lezli Robyn, and Jason Fischer, just to name a few off the top of my head (apologies to the other equally brilliant writers and works I’ve omitted to mention) – not to mention Ticonderoga’s recent Australian Shadows award win for Dead Red Heart! It’s exciting and humbling to be working with such an accomplished editor.
2. You have recently established Thirteen O’Clock, a dark fiction news and review site with fellow authors, Alan Baxter and Andrew McKiernan. Why was it important to you to be part of this initiative and what are you hoping to achieve through the site?
Alan, Andrew and myself hope to deliver value to the horror and dark fiction community with Thirteen O’Clock. There are of course other entities whose goals overlap with ours in some areas – such as the AHWA, for instance, an organisation I thoroughly admire and have previously been part of myself – so as to precisely where Thirteen O’Clock fits in, I guess it’s best summed up by our press release and site manifesto:
“Thirteen O’Clock is a weblog dedicated to sharing horror and dark fiction news and reviews. The site has an Australian bent, but we also enjoy and discuss work from around the world. Whether you get your kicks from short stories, magazines, poetry, novels, movies, games, or anything else – if it’s dark and weird, you’ll find it at Thirteen O’Clock.
“As a writer of dark fiction, I’m aware of the value of sites which get the word about our work out to the greater community,” says Baxter. “And as a reader, I want to help publicise the work of others. You can never have too many venues to provide news and reviews relevant to fans of dark fiction, so I’m really happy to be a part of this venture.”
Dowker adds: “We’re very excited about this project, and we’ve worked hard to make it happen. We really hope genre enthusiasts will warm to the site, and that we’ll attract some great contributors to join our team. We aim to give back to the local scene and to become the premier Australian source for dark fiction news and reviews.”
“Having been one of the founding reviewers for HorrorScope, I’ve always seen its untimely demise as leaving an enormous hole in the Australian dark fiction landscape,” McKiernan says. “Thirteen O’Clock aims to help fill that hole. Dark and weird fiction in Australia has never been better, and I’m very excited to be part of a project that hopes to bring those works and their authors to a wider readership.”
3. As a mother with a young family, do you find it hard to balance family commitments with your writing aspirations? Has social media and/or blogging played a significant part in how your writing career has developed (either through networking or enabling greater exposure of your work), and do you think the use of social media by writers could be improved?
This is three questions in one – sneaky!
Yes, it can sometimes be difficult to balance family commitments with writing commitments, as I’m sure every writer who is also a parent or carer knows. I also work fulltime Monday to Friday; again, I’m sure I am no different to many other writers in this respect. With my husband’s support, I structure writing time where I can squeeze it in around my main priority, which is and always will be my family. It can sometimes take me longer to get things done than it may take others whose situations differ from mine, but that’s life.
I don’t believe social media and/or blogging has played a significant part in the development of my writing career. It can have a role to play (especially when you’ve written just one story and nobody has ever heard of you or of it) but at a certain point that usefulness can become exhausted, and can turn into negativity and distraction. I personally found blogging was sucking up far too much of my time and creative energy – not just writing my own blog, but reading the blogs of others – with far too little pay-off, and so I made a conscious decision to cut that out of my schedule quite some time ago. It freed up a huge amount of time. I’ve replaced it with ventures like Thirteen O’Clock which I feel contribute much greater value to me personally and also to my community. Regardless, I have never identified as a “blogger”. I have always been a writer.
I wouldn’t say writers should “improve” their use of social media (although I will say it sometimes bemuses me that some editors, more so than writers, seem unable to spell or punctuate on social media!). I think they, and everyone else, can use it however they like. It can be an effective promotional tool, but if it’s used solely for that, without at least some personality in between, it becomes ineffective spam. Personally if I want to see promotional material and nothing else, I will visit a publisher’s website (for example). If I want to see the human being behind the words, I’ll look at a writer’s social media, if it’s available. I might then find I don’t much like the writer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still like their work (or vice versa). I prefer to see people being real people, not automatons. Go on with your bad self and cut loose on your social media. Use naughty words. Have fights. Whatever. At least it’s honest. I don’t really care!
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Everything from Ticonderoga! Their Year’s Best series (the second volume of which is about to be released) is fabulous, as are all their consistently excellent anthologies, and if I can mention something in particular that I’m looking forward to from them in future: Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter’s “Midnight and Moonshine” will be an absolute treat.
I’ve been re-reading a lot of Paul Haines’ stuff lately (particularly his “Slice of Life” collection and his novella “Wives”, both favourites of mine from Paul’s extensive catalogue of work). No wonder we all miss him so much, not just as an exceptional human being, but as a writer whose talent was burning at its brightest when he left us.
Further on the topic of things I’m looking forward to, I can’t wait for Martin Livings’ collection. He’s one of our best writers, I believe, and continuously underrated. I’ve never read a story by Martin that I didn’t absolutely love. I admire his talent.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think have been the biggest changes to the Australian SpecFic scene?
We lost Paul, and that left a vast scorched hole in the landscape of the Aussie spec fic scene. New writers, critics, and commentators have emerged in the scene, and it’s richer for their arrival. Some writers previously working predominantly in the short form have gone seemingly quiet, as they’ve withdrawn to work on longer pieces, and I can’t wait to see what they produce. Other writers have progressed in their careers and it’s wonderful to witness their growth. Some websites, publishers, and publications have folded, and new ones are slowly emerging in their place. I don’t think any of these changes are new in the grand scheme of things, they’re part of the recurring natural revolutions of any scene. I guess the emergence of e-publishing and e-reading as a valid (and increasingly popular) medium has strengthened since Aussiecon 4, but I don’t like acknowledging that, because I am a Luddite who will always prefer the smell, feel, and experience of actual books in my hands. Mmmmn, books…