Pete Kempshall started out writing short stories for licensed properties like Doctor Who, before finding himself drawn to the darker side of fiction on the Australian scene. A member of the Australian Horror Writers Association, he works with – and benefits from – the AHWA Critique Group, and was recently nominated as both writer and editor for Aurealis, Australian Shadows and Ditmar Awards. He blogs irregularly at:
1) You’ve edited, you’ve written short fiction, you’ve been a freelance journalist. If you had your druthers what would a day in Pete Kempshall’s life look like?
At the moment I spend all day editing for the magazine where I work. Unfortunately that means the last thing I feel like doing when I get home is sitting in front of a computer and looking at more words! But I suppose, like most genre writers, I’d like to be able to make a living from fiction. If that ever were to happen, the perfect day would be to send the kids off to school and settle down somewhere quiet with the laptop. I’d probably choose the coffee shop where I write most lunchtimes in the week – they know me well in there and give me plenty of space! I’d get a decent number of words down before lunch then spend the afternoon on something different – perhaps editing what I’d written, perhaps researching – before collecting the kids again. If I could get in six hours a day, I’d be pretty pleased. At the moment the best I manage is around four hours a day on weekends, less than half that in the week.
2) What was it like working on 2000AD back then, many years ago (if you can remember that far)?
I started work in the 2000AD offices straight out of university – I’d been doing work experience there, and on the day I finished my final exam I dropped in to see if they needed a hand with anything. I walked out again with a job. I was actually working on the Judge Dredd Megazine and Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future, a spin-off from the Stallone movie that was about to hit cinemas. When the film tanked, the comic went with it, which was a shame – it rebooted a lot of the classic Dredd mythology for a new, slightly younger audience, similar to the way Ultimate Spider-Man did for Marvel, and I’d have liked to have seen it flourish.
I was working with editor David Bishop, who took me under his wing while I learned the business, and that’s where I picked up most of my sense for story structure and dynamics. Years later, after I moved to Australia and started making noises about how I wanted to write, David was always quick to encourage me.
Oh, and on a fanboy level I got to work with many of the comic creators I’d idolised when I was growing up. It was a pretty cool gig!
3) Not to put the pressure on, but when’s your first bloody novel coming out!?
I’m working on it! I made a decision to have a serious shot at the thing this year, and I’m about 20,000 words in. Thing is, I’m not a very efficient writer and I’ll probably end up rewriting 15,000 of them…
I’m also easily distracted by shiny things like short story commissions – I’ve just spent a few weeks on a couple of submissions that effectively ate up any time I’d set aside for the novel.
It’s also been suggested that I promote myself harder before trying to get the novel out – increase my profile a bit and make it easier to find a publisher. I’m rubbish at that, though, I find it hard enough just to blog! I’ve nearly got enough material together for a short story collection, so I might hawk that around first, see if there’s any interest. If there is, that’s something to build the novel on.
4) What Australian works have you loved recently?
Right now I’m reading Lisa Hannett’s Bluegrass Symphony – that’s a very impressive book. There’s any number of writers who can do a story that affects you deeply, considerably fewer who can do gorgeous prose, but it’s very rare to find both in the same place. And I’ve just re-read The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines – as have many people with a connection to the SpecFic scene, I imagine. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to edit Paul in Scenes from the Second Storey, and being very new to the local writing scene at the time, it was the first time I’d been exposed to his work. There are only a couple of writers of whom I’m properly jealous and Paul was one of them – every time I read something he wrote I realise how much further I have to go to be anywhere close to that good.
5) Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
From a personal point of view, I’m more in touch with the writers and publishers over here than I was in 2010. Prior to that, the majority of my writing was sold overseas, and Aussiecon was the first time I’d really got involved with the local community – and as a direct result I’m getting more work published in Australia now.
From a community standpoint, what does make me happy is seeing the increased success of Australian small press publishers abroad. Local publishers are winning awards on the global stage and attracting world-famous writers to appear in their anthologies, and international lists of recommended reads are counting so many more Australian stories in their number. That’s got to give you a warm glow. Plus I’m pleased that Australian publishers seem more able now to sell books abroad, either by internet stores or e-books. It’s not all that long ago that I had to source copies of books for people in the UK and US who wanted to read locally published anthologies. Now I can just point them to a website.