Paul Collins was born in England, raised in New Zealand and immigrated to Australia in 1972. He lives in a historic bluestone home built in 1851 with his partner, fellow author, Meredith Costain, and a menagerie of pets including a kelpie called Jack and Molly, a red heeler.
His many books for young people include The Glasshouse (illustrated by Jo Thompson) and series such as The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars, The Quentaris Chronicles and The World of Grrym in collaboration with Danny Willis. His latest is The Maximus Black Files (Mole Hunt and Dyson’s Drop). The trailers are available here and here. He is also the author of over 150+ short stories.
Paul has been the recipient of the A Bertram Chandler, Aurealis, William Atheling and Peter McNamara awards and has been shortlisted for many others including the Speech Pathology, Mary Grant Bruce, Ditmar and Chronos awards.
1. Your publishing house, Ford Street, has been forging ahead, matching it with the major publishers in high standard books. What are the biggest challenge, and greatest rewards, for you as a publisher?
The three big hurdles for any small press are time, money and distribution. Time-wise I share my publishing with running the speakers agency. I represent around 100 authors and illustrators across the country. We’re currently sending presenters around Australia in conjunction with The Children’s Charity Network, Carpet Court, Lions Clubs and mining companies. This in itself could be a full time job if I allowed it. During 2012 I’ve had 19 books going through the pipeline. Don’t get me started on time!
Money is for me is okay, as my writing is still paying royalties. And I’ve had some winners – mostly notably Trust Me!, an anthology is edited a few years ago, and several picture books that have sold exceptionally well. But most small presses do struggle financially. Although my books are distributed by Macmillan, it’s still hard getting small press titles into the shops. There’s always been a perception that books from a small press can’t be any good. If they were, they’d be published by a major publisher. Totally ridiculous, of course – many of the world’s classics and best-sellers were rejected by major publishers – the Harry Potter series is a recent example. My short-listed titles in Premiers’ awards were rejected by major publishers. So if you can’t get your books into the stores, they’re not going to sell. I get around this by organising festivals in schools and selling direct to the students, although this is time-consuming, and I rely on the good will of my authors and illustrators.
Rewards are many: I’m self-employed, so the more effort I put in, the more rewards; I love the challenge of doing something others think is impossible or hard, and small press publishing definitely fits this challenge; I enjoy working for myself – I have most of my adult life. My worst nightmare is to have stayed on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company (I lasted about three months, from memory!).
2. When we last spoke in 2010, you said publishing had taken precedence over writing for the time being, but last year we saw a new YA SF novel from you, Mole Hunt – can you tell us a bit about the book, and your inspiration for it?
The Maximus Black Files trilogy was started years ago. I had the first draft of all three titles when I started Ford Street. I sent them to major publishers, and although I received great rejection letters, the series was never picked up. I published Mole Hunt, book one, last year. It’s sold around 1200 copies, which isn’t bad for a small press. If a major publisher had picked it up, it would’ve sold twice that number and enjoyed respectable sales. I’ve now finished the second book, Dyson’s Drop. This will be published in August. I wanted to write about a villain – most books are written about heroes. I do have a hero – Max’s nemisis, Anneke Longshadow. But Max has few likeable characteristics, and I think this is what turned major publishers off. Who wants to read a book about a psychopathic killer? Well, the major publishers obviously missed Dexter. Regardless, Max is one such creature. Funnily enough, Bec Stafford interviewed me for Burn Bright and asked her readers if they needed empathy for the main characters. The consensus was a big no. Yet the perceived wisdom is that main characters have to be likeable. I obviously disagree with this. Regardless, here’s the outline for Mole Hunt:
Special Agent Maximus Black excels at everything he attempts. The problem is, most of what he attempts is highly illegal. Recruited by the Regis Imperium Mentatis when he was just fifteen, he is the youngest cadet ever to become a RIM agent. Of course, being a certified sociopath helps. He rises quickly through the ranks, doing whatever it takes to gain promotion. This includes murdering the doctor who has certified him, as well as a RIM colonel who Black deems to be more useful dead than alive. Now seventeen, he is a valuable member of a highly secret task force whose assignment is to unearth a traitorous mole. Unfortunately for RIM he is the mole, a delightful irony that never ceases to amuse him.
In the two years he has been with RIM he has only met his match once. Anneke Longshadow, another RIM agent, who nearly succeeded in exposing him. But nearly wasn’t enough. Now she is dead and he is very much alive to pursue his criminal activities.
Right now, Black has a new problem. One that will challenge him to the max. He has a lot of work to do and little time to do it but as with every facet of his life, he plans each step with meticulous precision.
Maximus needs to find three sets of lost coordinates to rediscover the power of the dreadnoughts ─ a powerful armada of unbeatable power, long since put into mothballs by the sentinels whose job it is to keep peace and harmony in the ever expanding universe.
Sadly for Black, complications arise. It seems Anneke Longshadow isn’t dead after all. Every bit his match, Anneke eludes the traps Black sets for her. Born on Normansk, a planet with 1.9 gravity, Anneke is more than capable of defending herself against Black’s hired help, the insectoid Envoy, and his professional mercenary and hitman, Kilroy.
Power-hungry, Black usurps the throne of Quesada, a powerful crime syndicate. His ultimate aim is to replace the Galaxy gate-keepers, RIM, with his own organisation. Matching him step by step, Anneke collects as her allies all those who Maximus has deposed in his march to becoming ruler of the universe.
3. What’s next for you, both as a publisher and a writer?
Publishing-wise I have a stack of books coming out. I’ve already published this year Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro and In the Beech Forest by Gary Crew and Den Scheer, a first time illustrator. Up next is a sequel to my best selling anthology, Trust Me!. This one’s called Trust Me Too!. It’s already receiving great reviews. Apart from Dyson’s Drop, I have Riggs Crossingby first-time author, Michelle Heeter, and The Down-under 12 Days of Christmas by Michael Salmon. I’m also delighted to be reprinting Isobelle Carmody’s Greylands. Next year I have the latest Marcy and Toocool books by Phil Kettle and Susan Halliday (ten titles in all); Michael Salmon’s Pirate Gold, a picture book from Patricia Bernard and Trish Oktober called The Lost Tail and another picture book from Susanne Gervay and Serena Geddes called Gracie and Josh. So far, that is!
As a writer, I’ve been commissioned by Macmillan to write a six-part series of chapter books. That will be a big test on my time, but my motto is ‘never knock back work’.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
To be perfectly honest, I’ve not read a book for pleasure – outside Ford Street’s of course! – since 2007 when Ford Street started. I’m sure there will be many to enjoy when I find time to retire. I have just bought Isobelle Carmody’s latest book, Metro Winds. As it’s a collection of stories, I hope to at least dip into it.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
I don’t see many, although some locals are mixing it heavily with the big internationals. Notably Trudi Canavan and Alison Goodman. Kate Forsyth and Richard Harland are also doing well, along with Garth Nix and Sean Williams. We do have world-class authors, and it’s great to see them on the international scene. World conventions can only highlight our talent, so huge kudos to those who lobby and win such conventions.