Grant Watson is a writer, critic and playwright. While in the past his professional writing has included copious amounts of speculative fiction, in recent years he has shifted to more down-to-earth matters (including his award-winning 2009 play Cry Havoc). As a fan he has been attending and organising fan clubs and conventions since 1991. He likes Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Alien 3 – as well as arguing with people who don’t sufficiently appreciate Alien 3. He blogs atangriest.blogspot.com and podcasts at Bad Film Diaries and Panel2Panel.
You’ve been working on the Bad Film Diaries podcast for a couple of years now, originally by yourself and more recently with Sonia; you’ve also been recording a podcast about comics, Panel2Panel, with Kitty. What do you get out of doing podcasts, and what has the response to them been?
Well of late I’ve been remarkably tardy with my podcasts due to illness, so at the moment I suppose I’m not getting much out of them at all! I think podcasts are marvellous things: basically they’re old school radio, only you can listen to it whenever you want and it’s always about the stuff you’re actually interested in. The big advantage they have over other mediums (particularly actual written bits of criticism) is that there’s no ambiguity over tone. You can be funny with podcasts, you can rant and rave, you can do all the sorts of things that are often quite hard to express in text but when spoken aloud become remarkably easy.
They also feel a lot more personal – particularly the conversational ones such as Shooting the Poo, The Writer and the Critic or (of course) Galactic Suburbia. By hearing *how* someone says something, rather than simply paying attention to the words said, you get a much better insight to where they are coming from.
I really enjoy the conversational aspect of my own podcasts: talking about films with Sonia or comics with Kitty is highly illuminating, because they always point out intelligent, interesting things that I’ve never noticed myself.
Over Easter you had the very awesome opportunity to go to one of the major British conventions, Eastercon, and it’s hard to describe how jealous I am of that! So, make me properly jealous: what was it like? How is it similar to or different from an Australian con? Who did you schmooze?
One person I absolutely didn’t schmooze was Christopher Priest. I passed him in a corridor, recognised him, and was immediately too star-struck to say a word.
The convention itself was remarkably fun, and broadly speaking very similar to the conventions I’ve been to here in Australia. I probably went in knowing less than five people in the building, and came out knowing a good thirty or more. I suppose my personal highlight was probably doing a panel on Shakespeare’s fantasy plays, where I was the only male panelist out of five. It was an odd contrast to a panel one day earlier, where I explained why Philip K. Dick’s work display a certain amount of misogyny from an all-male panel to a mostly male audience.
Another highlight was the ridiculously well-stocked dealer’s room. I’m not sure what made me happier: buying a t-shirt with “Don’t panic” written on the front in large, friendly letters, or finding a signed hardcover copy of a Steve Aylett novel I’ve been hunting down for the past few years.
British fandom is very friendly and welcoming, and have only a mildly frightening obsession with beer.
Anyway… recently you announced that you’re starting a fanzine, doubleplusgood, that will exist both electronically and in hard copy. What’s the rationale behind that? What does the fanzine format allow that, say, your blog and podcasts don’t? And where do you see its audience coming from?
The big difference between blogs and podcasts and fanzines is that the fanzine is a self-contained, discrete object. It doesn’t get updated down the track, or expanded, or continued. Each issue is published as a single object for the reader to engage with. Being all put together has a particular effect as well. The breadth of the science fiction and fantasy genres is really quite apparent when you put a group of disparate reviews and articles together. There’s a huge element of nostalgia to editing this new fanzine, since I used to write for and edit fanzines an awful lot in the 1990s.
I think a core appeal of the fanzine is that it isn’t transient. Individual episodes of podcasts and blogs in particular feel very ephemeral and disposable. Since each issue of a fanzine is a discrete, concrete object, it feels like is has a bit more weight to it than other media.
I don’t think fanzines are likely to ever go away, but they’re certainly never going to be the predominant form of fan expression ever again. One thing that’s definitely keeping them around is e-publishing: there’s a fantastic resource called www.efanzines.com where you can download a regularly updated range of fanzines from the UK, USA, Australia and other countries. Anyone who says “I’ve never read a fanzine, I don’t really get what they’re about” should definitely go download a few and get a better idea.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
At the moment I’m really digging what Twelfth Planet Press is doing with the Twelve Planets range on short story collections. I like short books, and always have: they match my short attention span very well. Since most short story collections feature five exceptional stories, and usually another 10 stories or so of filler, it’s refreshing to see a publisher cut the chaff away and sell a smaller, cheaper volume that’s all wheat.
One book that I’m really looking forward to in the coming year is Lee Battersby’s debut novelThe Corpse-Rat King. I’ve been a huge fan of Lee’s work since he first sprang onto the scene about a decade ago, and can’t wait to see his prose style expanded to a fuller length. Hopefully it won’t be *too* long a novel though, so it can match my short attention span…
Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
To be honest I don’t think too much has changed at all. One big shift in the paradigm has been an increased awareness of gender bias (and to a lesser degree other cultural, sexual or racial biases) in our field and our community. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to solving some big problems in the culture of science fiction fandom, but I do think we’re beginning to become more aware of them. That’s a positive step, and a difficult one to achieve.
I think there does need to be a significant change taken as to how we as fans develop and present our conventions. The current model of SF convention has remained pretty static for as long as I’ve been attending them, and I think there’s huge scope to improve how they’re done. We shouldn’t allow “it’s a tradition” to become a barrier to new things.