Your blog, Adventures of a Bookonaut, aims to promote Australian speculative fiction through reviews and interviews. Why did you decide to start the site? What have been the challenges and rewards in writing for it?
I have been blogging since about December 2006 in various forms. I never thought it would stick. I have a shelf full of empty journals because I love the idea of recording my thoughts but writing down something that no one ever read kinda felt a bit silly, pretentious even.
I think the difference with blogging was the interaction and the exchange of ideas, the connection to a wider community that shared my passions.
In March 2008 I started blogging about an abusive Ministry that promised an all in one solution to various issues affecting young women, from unwanted pregnancy to mental health issues. From 2008-2010 I helped a group of abuse survivors get the Ministry closed in Australia, it still operates internationally.
After those 2 years I was suffering from burnout, it’s very hard to blog when all you have to write about is injustice and bad news. Adventures of a Bookonaut was initially a way to enjoy blogging and talking about my love of books, and it’s mostly good news stories.
The blog started in August 2010 but I decided to focus on Speculative Fiction around the time I got a chance to review Trent Jamieson’s Death Most Definite. So yeah you can blame Trent. I had also finished some studies in Journalism so I was eager to use some of my training.
Promoting the Australian speculative fiction scene seemed to be both a natural extension of my personality and I had a couple of very good role models in Marianne de Pierres and Rowena Cory Daniells who despite their heavy workloads, promoted other authors and writers, and were brilliant at building community (still are).
The challenge has been keeping a balance. A balance in my blogging and in my reading. It’s cool getting review copies for about the first 3 months then the reality sets in that you really have quite a bit of reading to do and it never stops. The rewards have been meeting and interacting with authors, fans and other book bloggers.
You’ve been pretty vocal on your blog and other social media sites in promoting and encouraging other people to get involved with the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2012. Why did you decide to take the challenge on board? How do you feel about it, five months in? What have other people’s reactions been?
Now this one I can blame on Galactic Suburbia. In 2011 after having listened to Galactic Suburbia for a few episodes I ended up doing a Gender Audit of my reading. Sadly the original post was lost in a blog move instigated by hacking; but the results were very poor, much poorer than I’d led myself to believe. Somewhere in the 18 % Female author range was the end result – pretty ordinary for a reviewer. So that year I made a conscious decision to focus on trying to get a 50/50 split. I managed 40/60 due to a loss of focus and the fact that a lot of my review copies were by male authors.
So in 2012 Elizabeth Lhuede started the Australian Women Writers challenge in response to the poor reviewing that Australian female authors were getting from traditional reviewing sources. I was engaged in a couple of posts about gender, and implicit bias and decided to put my money where my mouth was and give myself a very structured approach to achieving gender parity in my reading and reviewing. Nothing like fear of failure to motivate.
I truly think the only way that you can tackle cultural bias is through fairly blunt and blatant approaches like a challenge or instituting some sort of systematic approach. Left to personal whim you’ll just end up reverting to what is ingrained.
I think it’s important to be vocal about it because we need to show men reading, reviewing and enjoying books by women. It’s going very well by the way. I finished the challenge a couple of books back but will continue until the end of the year.
There’s no sign of quality female speculative fiction running out.
As well the as the blog, you’ve been contributing to Galactic Chat, a podcast of interviews with – mostly – Australian authors. What has it been like to record interviews rather than write them? What are its challenges? Do you find ‘live’ interviews more rewarding than written ones, or do they both have things to recommend them?
A lot more work for a start. Writing questions for written interviews is generally fairly easy; the interviewee has to do all the work (unless it’s transcribed from audio, which you’d have to pay me to do – two finger typist).
The challenges are generally technical. I got over my nerves when I interviewed Kelley Armstrong.Everything seemed to be going wrong that day. I had the wrong number, I was recording in my lunch hour, people wanted to use the room I was in. Nothing like interviewing a New York Times bestseller as your first. She was lovely though.
I do enjoy the live interviews as they feel more dynamic to me and you can take advantage of the ebb and flow of conversation. Sometimes questions just naturally flow into one another. I still do some written questions of course, it’s handy if you want to ask a group of people the same questions to get a consensus or to form a large picture on an issue.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
Gotta love goodreads, it makes answering this much easier. When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett, I thought was brilliant. Kind of sad it didn’t make it to the Ditmar ballot. It just blew me away with the vision of a world with genetically engineered wings- the physical, social and cultural changes that would be a result of such an innovation.
Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts was another book that showcased her skill and playfulness, I wrote of it: “Reading Lanagan is like watching the world through aged glass. The world and its characters are identifiable but there is a ripple, a distortion that separates us.” And she makes me feel like this with most of her work.
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth was just one of those joyful surprises you get as a reviewer. I’d never read her work before and Bitter Greens tickled several of my fancies – historical fiction and mature fairytales being two of them.
The Shattered City by Tansy Rayner Roberts was a bloody good second book, not a bridge between book 1 and 3, but upping of the ante in what is a very unique tale.
Bad Power by Deb Biancotti just makes me want to read an expanded novel length version of the world that’s been created.
Roil by Trent Jamieson, I think is his best work to date. I could go on.
What would you like to see happen in the Australian speculative fiction scene over the next couple of years?
I have only been participating in and observing the scene for a relatively short time, so take what I say with that in mind. I’d like to see it more connected. By that I mean, I get the distinct impression that in fandom at least, there are distinct communities within the larger community. I think this is the result of geography to a large extent and I am not sure that we have taken full advantage of online resources to address this. I think things are beginning to coalesce though, podcasting seems to be growing and fanzines once consigned to the printed form are getting easier to find online. But perhaps fans are happy, I come from a culture of isolation, living in remote communities most of my life.
I’d also like to see a deeper appreciation of our Australian Speculative Fiction history. I do get the sense that we might be too forward looking, focussed on the next best thing. Have you tried finding copies of George Turner’s work, even his Miles Franklin Award winning book? Very difficult.