2014 Snapshot Archive: John Birmingham

First published at David McDonald’s blog.

John Birmingham is a writer, journalist, and winner of The National Award for Non Fiction. He has twice been named Columnist of the Year by the Magazine Publishers Association of Australia. Mostly though, he now writes the sort of books that improve with altitude.

Looking back at the last Snapshot, you spoke about the upcoming release of the fourth Axis of Time book as a digital only release, and some of the possibilities and challenges this new territory might bring —as well as the uncertainties. In retrospect, what are your thoughts now on the concept, and what is the verdict on its success?

The verdict is still out. Mostly because I got distracted by other work and didn’t put in the effort needed to give the ebooks a real chance. To make that kind of publishing work you have to go back in time to the days of serial novels, releasing one a month or near a bouts. I didn’t do that because I got caught up in the long form novels I’ve been writing, and the ever churning chemical toilet that is journalism.

I suspect, given the figures I did get back, that my original plan was a good one. I should get back to it.

On your blog you have been talking about your current WIP, a new trilogy. It seems as if the process has been very different compared to the last one. Could you tell us a little about the trilogy, and some of the differences you have noticed?

Hugely different in some ways, quite similar in others. This next series is a mash up of some of my fave elements in genre fiction. Fantasy, alt history and technothriller. Long story short, magic and monsters come back into the world and we have to kick their arse.

I originally envisaged this series as a sort of tanks vs orcs saga, but I’ve enjoyed writing the superhero elements so much they’ve come to dominate. Probably because my hero is great fun to write. He’s a terrible, terrible arse of a man.

As well as your fiction, you are also a well known journalist. Do you find moving between the two areas of your writing a challenge, or do they feed each other?

The only clash is scheduling everything. I used to prioritise the media work because it was regular, reliable and rather well paid. Increasingly, that’s no longer the case. Not since Google ate our business model. A while ago I decided to focus in tight on book writing and because of that I’ve been winding back my media stuff.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I’ll always be a huge fanboy for Peter Corris’s Cliff Hardy novels. I knocked over a couple of them I’d missed a while ago. I’ve also been reading Matty Condon’s literary evocation of the Fitzgerald era in Qld. It’s amazing.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

As I said earlier, I’ve decided to double down on book writing and reduce my exposure to media work. The Dave Hooper series I’m finishing right now is part of that. Pan Mac will release three full length books in three months next year (Jan, Feb and March) and then I have another five ebooks lined up to follow. This is what I hope to do in future. It’s partly based on the rise of ‘binge’ culture, which we think of as being mostly related to long form TV shows, but which also applies to books, especially e-books. You get a long running series and it’s very easy to just hit that buy button if you’ve been reading them on a Kindle or iPad. This tends to apply to genre fiction more than literary fiction, of course. I still buy my big, thinly hardbacks, my shelf-worthy books from ye olde book shoppe.

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