Donna Maree Hanson has been around the spec fic scene for a while, starting writing in late 2000. She’s been President of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, editor of anthologies, Chair of a National Science Fiction Convention and a small press publisher. The circle is complete because in 2013, she is back as co-chair of Conflux 9, the 52nd National Science Fiction Convention to be held in Canberra in April 2013 (http://confluxnatcon2013.wordpress.com/). Donna’s website ishttp://donnamareehanson.wordpress.com and she tweets at @DonnaMHanson.
1. You’re undertaking an intensive course in editing, in addition to continuing to work on your own manuscripts. How are you benefitting from it, both as a writer and an editor, and how do you hope it will contribute to your long-term goals?
Yes, I’m currently undertaking a post graduate certificate in Professional Writing (Editing). I have finished the two editing specific components. The editing was to help me to improve my self-editing, improve my understanding of structure, and increase my skills in analysing text etc. This is important for me in my day job (I generally spend 6 months a year working on reports) and also useful for my writing generally. I would like to edit professionally as well. I really enjoy it. I love anthologies too and I may scout around for another one. However, taking on editing roles and working and writing at home is a bit of a difficult ask at the moment. I developed RSI late last year while working on a report at work. The onset of this has curtailed my activities in all aspects. Work has also been very intense to the point that I couldn’t bear to sit a my PC when I got home and was often just face planting myself in bed, with my family passing me morsels of food. The RSI is on the improve ( I also use dictation software at work and at home) and it is possible that I can retire in a few years, which means I could take on more editing and writing. Positioning myself for that is what I’m currently thinking through. (I’m on the scout for an internship if I can do it part-time and from home). This year I studied English Grammar and I loved it. Also, the English Grammar is about analysis and understanding language and I have found that useful. I think I have also gained some insight into my own habits and I realise I can be a lazy writer at times. If anything the last two years have opened my mind to paying more attention to what I’m doing and taking the time to polish my work.
2. Last year you read partial and full submissions of Angry Robot’s ‘Open Door’ submissions period. How did you get the opportunity to be a reader of Angry Robot, why did you do it, and how has it influenced your own writing (and/or editing?)
Reading for Angry Robot probably gave me the greatest leap forward as a writer. I learned so much during that intense six month period. How did I get the opportunity? I met the Angry Robot boys, Marc Gascoigne and Lee Harris, at the Worldcon in Montreal a few years back. My partner, Matthew Farrer, knew Marco from the Black Library days and we were very excited to be there at the launch of the imprint (and for the launch of Slights by Kaaron Warren). Since then I’ve been a loyal Robot friend. While visiting the UK in late 2010, we headed up to Nottingham and caught up with Marco (we caught up with Lee in York) and they are great, friendly guys. They love speculative fiction and they love books. Marco kindly gave me feedback on a manuscript Angry Robot had rejected. So when I saw they were doing the March Madness open door submissions, I thought they could use a hand so I volunteered. I thought it would be a good opportunity to add to my editing CV and I was happy to help. Having said that, I was totally unprepared for the enormity of the task and also the addictive habits I developed. I’d tell myself I’d read 50 partials, then it was 100, then it was 200. I negotiated with myself that I’d stop at 250 and then I’d keep on going. I’d write to Lee and say I’m done but I’d leap back in. It was insane really. At the end there, I was reading every spare minute. My ipad earned its keep. I read in bed, in doctor’s waiting rooms, in my lunch break and in cafes. I was excited by a lot of the submissions. I wanted the ones I passed up to get published. As a writer I was daunted by the competition out there and the high quality of some of the submissions. I actually saw what a well-polished manuscript was meant to look like.
As for what I’ve learned, I blogged quite a few of my observations on what does and doesn’t work. I recollect that way too much backstory in the openings really slowed things down, drained tension etc. I’d be so worried about a manuscript of mine, I read it quickly and sigh with relief when I saw it had virtually no backstory in the opening sequences. Phew! I also learned a lot about tension and a lot about detail and word choices. I hope these insights stay with me. I hope I’m a better writer because of it. I think I developed my diagnostic skill about what is working and what’s not in an manuscripts, so I’m thinking of doing manuscript assessments in future. I just have to get organised. I should add that reading is a subjective activity and my observations were just my opinion. Also, it is still hard to be objective about my own work.
About the same time as doing all of this, I also had a bit of a breakthrough in my own writing. I know I can be really imaginative and creative with short stories. I can also write commercial fiction both long and short form. I’m happy with both. I’m gearing up to flex my writing muscles. Now, it is just a question of the RSI and learning to adapt to dictation software. I’m not giving up. Writing, reading and the spec fic scene is just so much a part of me. I love it. I want to keep going, despite setbacks.
3. You are chairing Conflux 9 next year, along with Nicole Murphy. What do you enjoy about running conventions, and why do you think they’re so integral to the Australian SpecFic Community?
Despite the fact that both Nicole and I are possibly insane for taking on a convention, we both really love them. We like attending them and we like organising them too. Both of us had moved away from convention running to concentrate on writing-related activities. However, last year there seemed to be a need to have a Natcon in Canberra and I liked the idea of inviting interesting people to be guests. The best part are choosing guests, choosing panels and activities, like the steampunk-themed high tea. You don’t know how much people’s excitement for that one has buoyed me. I’m so excited I want to have a steampunk-themed high tea every week. I also love the Regency period, being a very big Austen fan, so the Regency banquet is another thing we are both excited about. So we both like going to conventions and we like running them but they are hard work. A lot of people like going to conventions. I wish more of them were interested in organising or helping to organise them. However, I’m very grateful for the great team we have so far. Deciding what panels to put together and also working with the fantastic panellists we have here in Australia is a real highlight for me. As we are starting to gear up for programming our excitement is increasing. In Australia, we have a great lot of talented and generous people, writers, academics and fans who are willing to share their experiences and insights with others. SF cons are the place to do that. They also get a chance to promote their work, ideas or just meet new people. Conventions are a great place to meet like-minded people, meet your favourite author or hang in the bar.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I tend to read a lot of Australian spec fic. There’s a great variety and it is interesting to see what new authors are out there and what my favourite ones are up to. Recently, I’ve read The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood. (Woot! to Kim on taking out the Aurealis Award), When We Have Wings by Clare Corbett, which was a lyrical SF novel that was fresh and different. I was given a freebie book at the Aurealis Awards courtesy of Harper Collins – I scored The Rook by Daniel O’Malley and I’m enjoying it. For an outstanding and different read, I experienced Mistification by Kaaron Warren. I like how Kaaron bends all the rules and comes up with something unique. I also like what’s happening in the small press scene both from a writer and reader perspective (Coeur de Lion, Ticonderoga and Twelfth Planet for example).
Next on my to read pile is Debris by Joanne Anderton and The Shattered City by Tansy Rayner Roberts. I’ve still to get my hand on a number of books that I want to read by Margo Lanagan, Rowena Cory Daniels and Marianne de Peirres (There are more but my want to buy list is rather long.)
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think have been the biggest changes to the Australian SpecFic scene?
I’m not sure I have noticed big changes in the spec fic scene. Since Aussiecon 4, there has been massive changes and upheavals in the book retail market, with flow on effects to the wholesale book market and publishing. From my perspective, the changes that happened after Aussiecon 3, have matured. We are more comfortable in ourselves. Also, I think that more of the Aussie speccers are heading overseas to experience worldcons in other countries. I don’t have hard evidence to back this up, of course. It is my feeling about how the scene is. I also think that we are better known internationally after Aussiecon 4 and more of my spec fic friends have been published, which is always a good sign. I have noticed that the spec fic community is growing and new people are joining in and adding their individual flavour to the mix. I’d describe the Australian spec fic scene as vibrant and exciting.