Katharine Stubbs used to be addicted to participating in NaNoWriMo but in recent years has become a faithful book reviewer. She is currently in her fourth year of being a judge for the Aurealis Awards, and has recently completed a year as a judge of the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. Some day, Katharine would like to be a published author but until then she is happy rewriting her many manuscripts, reading as much as possible, and travelling. She can ride a unicycle, can’t see 3D (movies or otherwise), and really loves noodles and dumplings.
You judged for the Children’s Book Council of Australia in 2013 and are judging this year for the Aurealis Awards in the Fantasy Novel section. Can you tell us about your experiences of judging and what makes a story stand out above the crowd?
My experiences have ultimately been good – so far! For me as a judge, a story stands out above the crowd if they try to do something differently and they do it exceedingly well. Though ultimately, a book is worthy of an award if it managed all elements that build a novel exceedingly well, sometimes regardless of the originality of the plot. As a judge on a judging panel however, a book shall do well in an award if it appeals to all judges as a whole, so you need to find the tricky balance of doing a fantastic job in a way where multiple people with all their differences shall agree that it’s done a fantastic job.
Sadly (or perhaps, thankfully), a lone judge on a panel of three or four or eight or however many, can read the best book they have literally read in their lives, and it still won’t win if the others don’t agree. Often, perhaps, a book shall be shortlisted or win because everyone can agree that it did darn well.
You’re a voracious reader and a highly rated reviewer on Goodreads. When choosing work to read and review, what guides you? If you don’t like a book, do you persist in reading and reviewing it?
These days I’m mostly busy trying to keep up with my favourite authors new releases or with whatever book a friend has recently loved. When I do get to choose, I choose work that catches me with a blurb that leaves me wondering, like V. E. Schwab’s Vicious – ‘Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognised the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities...’
I’m more than happy to admit that a decent cover aids the initial pickup of a novel, and a bad cover probably means I miss out on many fantastic novels. As for whether I continue with books I don’t like… it depends on what level the dislike reaches. If there are elements I morally feel I can’t abide, then no, I don’t finish it. I do try to review all books, though books I’ve truly disliked may have quite a short review and just be a brief summary of the plot, with a warning if there’s a particular reason as to why I didn’t feel able to finish reading it.
In 2010 your short story ‘Revelations’ was published in Shades Of Sentience. What was it about? Are you working on short stories or novels at the moment, and what style of writing do you lean towards?
My short story ‘Revelations’ dealt with how small the change can sometimes be between good and evil – how some can be convinced they’re on the side of good (in their opinion) whereas others see the exact opposite… but I don’t think I’m well suited to short stories. I’m character driven and all about character development, and it’s hard to do character development well in few words. I attempt novels mostly, in third person subjective or omniscient. I also think of myself as someday being a published fantasy writer, but my novels tend to trundle off into something with far more science elements than fantasy – if only my writing would obey me!
What Australian works have you loved recently?
This year is SUCH a good year for Aussie publishing! Glenda Larke’s new series, as well as Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Juliet Marillier, and new books from Sean Williams and Garth Nix. Tansy Rayner Roberts also has a web serial of gender-bent Musketeers set in space and it really brightens up my week – each Wednesday there’s a new instalment. I love her writing for the witty dialogue and just how fun it all is.
I think this year is going to be very interesting as far as awards go.
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 far as writing goes, it’s guiding me along as I’m no where close to attempting to get published, so I’m just trying to keep up with the new flow of the tide. As far as reading goes, I’m turning more and more to electronic copies, especially from small press. Where I live, we’re losing bookstores one by one and are currently left with two in the whole city, where as we used to have five. You know what I hope? I hope in five years you can browse bookstores for eBooks. Bonus points if you can bring in your eReader and browse, buy and load an eBook straight to your eReader in store in minutes.