Perth-based writer Martin Livings has had over eighty short stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies both locally and internationally. His short story collection, Living With the Dead, was published by Dark Prints Press in 2012, and an original story from it, “Birthday Suit”, won the Australian Shadows Award for Best Short Fiction for that year. Carnies was his first novel, first published by Hachette Livre in 2006 and nominated for both the Aurealis and Ditmar awards, and has recently been reprinted by Cohesion Press.
1. Your novel ‘Carnies’ has recently been republished in both ebook and print forms by Cohesion Press (congratulations!), with new scenes and a tweaked ending. What was your inspiration to approach Cohesion (or did Cohesion approach you?), and did you always want to tweak the story?
I knew Geoff Brown from Cohesion Press during his tenure as president of the Australian Horror Writers’ Association (AHWA), so when he announced he was starting his own publishing house, and was looking for reprints to relaunch upon the world, I took that as an opportunity to resurrect my little book. CARNIES did pretty well when published by Hachette, but I don’t feel it ever got the publicity I would have liked it to, despite its big publisher. It got distributed EVERYWHERE, but not really noticed by anyone. Geoff showed a genuine enthusiasm for it, which made me enthusiastic all over again. And the rest is history.
And yes, I’ve wanted to tweak the story for years now, mainly based on some very insightful reviews of the book that made me take a long hard second look at it. I was always unhappy with some of my secondary characters, especially the female ones. It was a first novel, which sounds suspiciously like “I was young and needed the money” as excuses go, but I really wanted to do better by the two main female characters, especially poor Jasmine who was a cool young woman who I thoughtlessly relegated to a minor villain crazy woman kind of role (and then forgot her altogether!) when she deserved so much better. The changes weren’t enormous, mostly more tonal than anything, and also giving both Jasmine and Rachel significant things to do rather than just be an object of Paul’s pathetic lust or a demented harpy. I’m really happy with the changes I’ve made, and I hope readers will be too, it’s a slightly more mature book for it. Slightly.
2. You have been coordinating the AHWA Short Story and Flash Fiction Competition for a couple of years now. What do you enjoy about the position? For the 2013 Awards you provided a very interesting breakdowns of the entries. What was your motivation to provide the breakdown?
Running the AHWA Short Story and Flash Fiction Competition came as a surprise to me, I only signed on originally to run the AHWA day to day competitions, DVDs and books and movie tickets and the like. It was only afterwards that I was told I’d have to devote seven or eight months of my year to the short story and flash competitions as well! But what I’ve enjoyed about it, apart from the obvious fun of giving out awards to worthy winners, has been streamlining the whole process, trying to find ways of making it easier to enter correctly. This year I implemented a web form so that I’d always get the information I needed, automatically entered into a spreadsheet, and a template entry file so that the formatting would be consistent. That’s made my life much easier over the last six months. What I DON’T enjoy, I have to say, is how many entrants still manage to willfully get it wrong, even with all the instructions and templates and guidelines in place. It’s dismaying to see just how many writers simply don’t read or pay attention to submission guidelines. But I’m way too soft, I just reformat them myself and make sure the entries still get read.
As for the breakdowns, I initially just did that for myself, for my own interest. Then I thought, hey, why not make them public? There’s nothing confidential in them, and hopefully nothing too controversial, it’s just interesting to see what kinds of people are entering these competitions.
3. At the last Snapshot you were working on a series of zombie action spy thrillers, in the style of James Bond. How are they going, and what other projects do you have on the boil?
Ah, yes, YOU ONLY DIE TWICE, or SLEEPER AWAKE, or whatever I end up calling it… it’s still on the back burner, ready to be moved to the front at a moment’s notice. I’m going through a bit of a fallow period at the moment, even in terms of reading, let alone writing. The main issue is that I’ve written the first half of the first book, only to realise I wrote it completely wrong and have to start again. So it’s a question of summoning up the strength to go back and work through that initial draft, rewriting it entirely as I go. I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m determined to make it happen.
As for other work, there’s not a lot. I have a story in an upcoming anthology from Permuted Press in the US, which I believe is actually my first ever published zombie story, but apart from that, it’s quiet times for the time being. Hopefully all that will change, if I can just get my act together…
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Weirdly, the Australian work I’ve loved most recently was one of my Hachette stablemates from 2006, PRISMATIC by Edwina Grey. I finally got around to reading it, after putting it off time and time again, I think maybe because it pipped CARNIES at the post for the Aurealis Award that year and I was subconsciously hoping it wasn’t actually better than my book! But I read it at last this year, and it was a knockout piece of work, I’m so impressed with it. Again, this is a book that deserved much better than it got (though it DID get that AA!), and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
5. 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?
I don’t feel that as a writer I’ve really changed the way I work over the last twenty years or so. It’s great to have some eBooks out now, though, that was a barrier I always wanted to break through, and to have CARNIES on Amazon is a dream come true, though the recent issues there have soured that a smidgeon. Personally, I think I’ll just keep writing what I write, and if someone wants to publish it, that’ll be lovely, and if not, well, that’s fine too. And I think I’ll be reading more and more eBooks; I love physical books… the feel, the smell… but the convenience of having so many books on such a small device just can’t be ignored!