Simon Petrie hails from the South Island of New Zealand, and now lives on the North Island of Australia, where he gets paid to think about molecules. He has won a Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent (2009). His short story ‘Dark Rendezvous’ appeared in the 2010 Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror (Ticonderoga; eds Grzyb & Helene) and was given an Honourable Mention in Gardner Dozois’ Best Of the same year. He’s also received a coveted Dishonourable Mention in the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton awards. He’s had upwards of 70 spec-fic short stories published since 2006, many of which have been collected in Rare Unsigned Copy: tales of Rocketry, Ineptitude, and Giant Mutant Vegetables (Peggy Bright Books, 2010). He’s a member of the Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-operative, the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, and the SpecFicNZ core collective.
1. This year sees you and Edwina Harvey editing an anthology titled Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear, from Peggy Bright Books – where did the idea for the book come from, and what has the experience of editing an anthology been like?
I’ve worked with Edwina previously – she acted as subeditor on the first couple of issues of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine which I edited, plus she edited my short-story collection. So we figured out, quite a while back, that we worked well together. The anthology was essentially a natural extension of that … and we decided to shy away from too narrow or specific a theme, out of concern that it might limit the range of stories we’d receive. I’m a firm believer in variety of tone and genre. It was actually quite difficult to agree on something that seemed sufficiently broad, and yet didn’t sound bland. Anna Tambour gave us a terrific title / theme for the antho, and then rescinded it because she decided she’d rather keep it for her next collection (and I can’t say I blame her…) Eventually it was Edwina who suggested Light Touch Paper and Stand Back, which I tweaked so as to attempt some degree of creative control. Once we had the title, it became an anthology about that moment of ‘the spark’. And then we invited submissions.
It’s been fun to assemble the antho, and we’ve received some absolutely astonishing pieces for it. I reckon it’s a good mix. I don’t want to play favourites among the stories we picked … but it’s been thrilling to see some of the responses which the authors concocted. There’s also been, I must admit, a small amount of stress incurred, with needing to ensure that each story is letter-perfect, with organising the cover, the printing, and trying to have the whole shebang ready for release at the start of June. We would appear, I believe, to have managed this, which is a big relief. Now it’s just a matter of waiting to see whether the reading public likes the stories as much as we do.
Would I repeat the exercise? Yes (and see below). But I’d try to ensure I didn’t have any other competing editorial assignments (e.g. ASIM 54) on the go at the same time.
2. When we last spoke, Rare Unsigned Copy was yet to hit the bookshelves. What has your journey since the collection was published been like?
The collection has been well received, which is gratifying. Of course, there’s ‘well-received’ and there’s ‘million-selling’, and a bloody great big gulf between them, but ‘well-received’ is good…
In the wider context, things have been a bit topsy-turvy. There have been upheavals in my personal life (principally the divorce), and that knocked me, badly, for a bit – but I’ve come out the other side intact, and in reasonable emotional shape. Enough said, I think.
For about the first half of last year, I didn’t get anything written (despite a desire to be getting my thoughts down on paper, or on what passes for paper nowadays). I’m feeling like things are more back on track now, writing-wise, albeit without a whole lot to show for it in terms of recent publications (although I did earlier this year mark my first pro sale, to Redstone SF, which is a good feeling). And my efforts to crack the novel format remain unsuccessful (although I have two promising starts, which are currently stalled at about 10,000 words each); I have a couple of novellas (one deadly serious, a space opera murder mystery; and a Gordon Mamon pun-fest) more-or-less ready to unleash onto the world, provided I can find an outlet for them…
Mostly, my activities of the last couple of years have centred on editing, and on layout. I’m currently doing the layout for a twelfth ASIM issue – I think it’s the twelfth I’ve done – and I’ve tackled a few book layout assignments too, for CSFG and for Peggy Bright Books. I’m more of an enthusiastic amateur than a consummate professional when it comes to layout, but hopefully I’m picking up skills without making too many mistakes along the way. Same with editing – I’ve assembled ASIM 51 and 54 (which is hot off the press, or since this is a Canberra winter, slightly cold off the press, as I type) as well as co-chaired on Light Touch Paper. These are things I enjoy doing, and hopefully people enjoy seeing the end result – there’s a different kind of satisfaction from bringing someone else’s creative endeavours into the light, and with layout in particular there’s a very disciplined feel to it which I find fulfilling. Hopefully e-books won’t render the layout task completely redundant in the near future…
3. You’re still working with Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and we’ve already spoken about the forthcoming Peggy Bright anthology – what else is on the cards for Simon Petrie in the year ahead?
I seem to be arranging things very carefully to ensure I don’t have too much spare time for writing
I’ve put my hand up to be co-editor (with Rob Porteous) of the next CSFG anthology, to be called next. We’ve just started receiving stories for it – it’ll get to the pointy end come mid-October, when we need to start finalising the selection. It’s scheduled for launch at next year’s Natcon (Conflux 9), to be held in Canberra as a celebration of the capital’s centennial. I’m hoping we’ll have a really difficult job choosing the stories, because I’d like to see lots of brilliant submissions for the antho.
As I type this, I’m deep in the throes of last-minute preparations for con season – NZ Natcon (unCONventional) first weekend in June, Australian Natcon (Continuum 8) second weekend, Sydney Supanova third weekend. I’m looking forward to it, as an opportunity to spruik ASIM and Peggy Bright Books, and to meet like-minded individuals. I’d like to think there’ll be some time to get some serious (or not-so-serious) writing done once the cons are over, but I’ll have to see how that goes. I have plenty of things to write, but I need to be more disciplined in making time for it, these days…
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I have had shamefully little time for reading of late (well, ‘free-range’ reading, at any rate. These days, I’m feeling more and more like a ‘battery’ reader). I could trip off a quick list of my recent ASIM favourites without any significant difficulty, but that would seem very partisan. I loved Maxine McArthur’s and Robin Shortt’s stories, in particular, from the CSFG anthology Winds of Change; I can heartily endorse Patty Jansen’s The Far Horizon and Simon Haynes’ Hal Jr– there’s nowhere near enough book-length SF pitched at children, in my opinion; I’ve yet to read anything less-than-brilliant by Ian McHugh, Kathleen Jennings, Thoraiya Dyer … and I am tremendously impressed by several of the newer writers coming through the CSFG – Robin Shortt, Rob Porteous, Leife Shallcross, Natalie Maddalena. None of these lists is exhaustive, by any means. I think Keith Stevenson’s Anywhere But Earth antho deserves more recognition than it’s received – it has some terrific stuff.
I’ve read next to no local novels over the past couple of years, though I have several on my ‘to-read’ pile.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
Well, the zombie apocalypse seems to have fizzled out … and I also have the sense that the horror scene has been a bit quieter of late. In fact it sometimes seems as though the local spec-fic scene in general is in a bit of a lull. I mean, there’s still plenty happening, a good number of exciting new writers appearing on the scene. But there’s a sense in which Aussiecon 4 was a crescendo towards which the scene was building, and things have been that bit quieter since then. I haven’t been around fandom long enough to know whether that’s always the way it goes, but maybe it is.
On the flipside, I will miss Paul Haines, lost to us at the peak of his powers; and Jimmy Goodrum, who was just starting out as a writer. We should’ve had novels from both of these guys.
In terms of broader changes to the scene – the biggies would seem to be e-books, and the (related) proliferation and rehabilitation of self-publishing as a valid way of ‘getting the stuff out there’. I’d like to hope that these things will be a force for diversification. We need variety, we need people willing to take the genre into new and unexpected directions, and I hope that happens. Time will tell.