Stephanie Smith worked for some twenty years as an editor and publisher at HarperCollins and was the Associate Publisher of Voyager books for 14 of those years. Early on at HarperCollins she spent some years working on children’s books and also worked on a range of adult literature through the Varuna/HarperCollins Manuscript Development Program. Stephanie left HarperCollins at the end of March 2012 to relocate to Tasmania and set up a freelance business in structural and copy editing, proofreading, and manuscript appraisal and reports. She was awarded the Peter McNamara Achievement Award at the 2003 Australian National SF Convention at Perth’s SwanCon. She was one of the panel of five judges for the 2013 World Fantasy Awards.
1. Having officially ‘retired’ from your editorial position at HarperCollins and moved down to Tasmania for the quiet life you continue to do freelance work. Could you tell us about the most recent series you have been working on?
Since moving to Hobart I’m working at home (yaaay, no more commuting four hours a day) editing, proofreading and doing manuscript appraisals/reports. I work in fiction mainly, but have worked on some narrative non-fiction. (Lucky for me, the lovely Rochelle Fernandez at Voyager sends me work, so I still get my hit :-)).
Most recently in the speculative fiction genre, though, I’ve worked on the third book of Amanda Bridgeman’s fabulous Aurora series from Momentum. Excellent scifi/military space opera series, and also a thriller. Carrie Welles realises a dream to work on Space Duty Division and finds herself on the Aurora under Captain Saul Harris. Aurora: Darwinis the first book, where the ship is sent off on a rescue mission; the crew find themselves in a terrifying situation for which they are not prepared. Each book deftly builds the tension, uncovering betrayal and murder and raising the stakes in surprising ways. The series engages the reader on many levels and is well-paced and intensely gripping, while also canvassing serious questions about science and genetics, the military and industry, complicity and duty, love, honour … all the good stuff! The author doesn’t sacrifice character for overly technical details or description … relationships are as messy as they can get between a group of people (male and female) on a spaceship anywhere. The third book, ‘Meridian’, is due to be released on 11th September, so if you haven’t already, find the first two books now. Book two, Pegasus ended on a shocking and very emotional (for the reader) cliffhanger …
I’ve always loved scifi and, although not undergoing an explosion as fantasy did, science fiction has always been hovering. I think it’s gradually easing back into favour with readers, and it seems space opera is continuing to provide that broad link into the scifi genre and to provide writers with the opportunity to be somewhat subversive. The more that is written and published in any genre, the easier it is for a breadth of storytelling and styles to make their way out into the world. Stories build upon stories; the zeitgeist breathes, is alive, not just in terms of what is in or out of ‘fashion’, but as an organic process of action and reaction over a period of time.
2. You have worked with many of the best-known and loved SF and fantasy writers in Australia. Looking back, what have been some of the highlights of working in Australian spec-fic publishing?
It’s wonderful to work closely with so many different writers, who were all keen to talk about their work and quite happy to be edited … for writers, it can feel very intrusive, so when they had me on the other end of the phone, they no doubt felt quite frustrated at times, but invariably managed to keep their humour and manners intact :-). Then there were the wonderful people I met at conventions and the conversations about writing and reading; so many ideas float through those gatherings and people make ‘what if’ ideas happen more often than not. It was wonderful to watch the growth in number of local conventions over the time I worked for HarperCollins on the Voyager list. So many people in the speculative fiction community give a great deal of time to keep these communication channels alive and kicking. Also great to see the growth of small press and magazines, and the growth in online publishing; the continuing opportunity to publish short stories gives authors a chance to experiment and think about the business generally.
3. Do you have any plans for your next project? Have you ever considered writing fiction yourself?
The project in hand is editing Steve Wheeler’s third book: Obsidian Maul (third book in the series, A Fury of Aces). I’m looking forward to this one too … space technology, survival, politics, humans and aliens.
I don’t have any all-encompassing projects in hand; freelance editing is what I intend to keep doing for the next few years. Always open to ideas though :-). As to writing fiction … in short, no, no plans in that regard.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Apart from what I’m working on, I haven’t done a huge amount of reading, and what I have read is often in the crime and general fiction areas. But I’ve just finished reading some unpublished manuscripts, so I have a stash of books I intend to start on, which includes Glenda Larke’s new book, The Lascar’s Dagger, Mitchell Hogan’s A Crucible of Souls and Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl. Then there’s Death at the Blue Elephant, Janeen Webb’s new collection and, on the crime front, Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko.
Thinking back (some, not all, that follow are from the WFA judging): Margo Lanagan’sThe Brides of Rollrock Island was a beautiful and disturbing read along with her collection Cracklescape. I really enjoyed James Bradley’s ‘Beauty’s Sister’, a beautifully written novella, and also ‘Tapestry’ a time-slip story by Fiona McIntosh. Lisa Hannet and Angela Slatter’s Midnight and Moonshine and Anna Tambour’s Crandolin. A fun and fast read was Livia Day’s (aka Tansy Rayner-Roberts) A Trifle Dead … a crime novel set in Hobart. And, not an Australian writer, but I’ve recently read Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn, the first of a trilogy; a crime/thriller with a dystopian theme.
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?
The way I work hasn’t changed. I’ve been editing onscreen from way back, so that will continue … I guess it’s mostly the writing styles and the interests of writers and readers that changes. Publishing is going through change, but editors remain a valued part of the process.
In five years … I’ll no doubt still be reading the wonderful George RR Martin’s series! I’ll keep an eye on the Aurealis Awards as they’re useful to hear about new Australian works (plus the online blogs, reviews, etc). I find Keith Stevenson’s reviews on the Newtown Review of Books site useful (so my list of to-buy has Rjurik Davidson’s Unwrapped Sky and Max Barry’s Lexicon on it). I’d like to think that in five years I’ll be reading some excellent cross-over between fantasy and science fiction. The speculative fiction genre is maturing and has a huge amount of potential to reach a very wide range of readers.