Interview by Stephanie Gunn.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald is a freelance editor and owner of Earl Grey Editing. She runs a book blog (www.earlgreyediting.com.au/blog) and is serving out her fourth term as the Secretary of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. An unabashed roleplayer and reader of romance, her weaknesses are books, loose-leaf tea and silly dogs. She tweets @elizabeth_fitz
I tend to view all these different activities as part of the same thing: my abiding love for books. For the most part, I find they work well together. Reviewing helps me as a writer to remain aware of current trends in publishing and offers great opportunities to network with authors and publishers. Likewise, my writer self would be collating links anyway by gathering resources on writing and looking out for publishing opportunities. Offering them to readers of my blog works on a selfish level by drawing in more traffic while also helping to support the community.
There are a couple of places where these facets work against each other to the detriment of my writing. The first is my inner editor and critic make it increasingly difficult to write. I take forever, overthink everything and rarely manage to finish anything. I recently had the opportunity to write some material for Wyrd Games’ role-playing game Through the Breach. It was pure world-building, a sort of creative non-fiction. I was surprised to find it easier than story writing. I think there were a few reasons for this: the deadline meant I had no time to overthink things; I was working within strict parameters which kept me focussed; and the format made me slightly less concerned with writing style.
The other problem with having all these difference facets is time. It’s a lot to juggle. Anything connected to other people or my professional persona gets priority, which generally puts writing last.
However, I love doing all of it and especially enjoy promoting Australian books to an international audience.
As someone who writes, works as an editor and reviews books, what are your opinions on authors who also review books? Would you like to see more authors reviewing books, or do you feel that it’s something that authors should stay away from?
I don’t see a problem with authors reviewing books, provided they approach the practice sensibly and sensitively. Yes, authors may come with biases—particularly in relation to friends and contacts in the industry or to aspects of storytelling. But reviewers and book bloggers have their own biases, for example favourite authors and tropes they hate.
The key thing about reviewing is that it works best through transparency. A good reviewer (no matter their background) will state these biases so that the reader can figure out how to interpret the review. This means explaining how I acquired the book and my connection to the author or publisher, where applicable. It also means stating where plot or character elements didn’t work for me; I might not enjoy love triangles, but other readers adore them.
I’ve not had any really negative experiences of reviewing books where I’ve known one or more of the contributors. However, I’m aware it can be a difficult line to walk. On one hand, I strongly believe I have an allegiance to the reader. On the other hand, I’m also aware that my reviews could potentially impact on my relationships with other people in the industry. I try to be as fair and as transparent as possible. I won’t shy away from being critical (though it sometimes makes me feel a bit guilty if I know the author). Having said that, I’m not a fan of scathing reviews, be they from other authors or reviewers. If I can’t find at least one good thing—however small—about a book, I won’t review it.
It can be tricky to balance, so I can understand why authors might shy away from reviewing.
Do you have any plans for upcoming projects?
Nothing concrete at the moment. This year I’m a judge for the Aurealis Awards. Juggling the reading schedule for that with my review schedule and freelance work is keeping me busy at the moment. I do have a couple of stories on the backburner that I’d like to finish off. I’d also love to edit another anthology at some point in the future. I feel I’ve learned a lot since I published Winds of Change.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
C.S. Pacat impressed me with the conclusion to her Captive Prince trilogy earlier this year. Being a m/m romance with BDSM elements, it’s breaking new ground for the big publishing houses. I thought it balanced the romance perfectly with a strong political fantasy plot, and it shows Pacat to be an intelligent and subtle writer. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
I’ve also been enjoying Amanda Pillar’s urban fantasy series Graced, with the most recent novella being Survivor. Like Pacat, she does a good job of balancing fantasy adventure with romance. I particularly appreciate the thought she’s put into her world-building, mixing her fantasy with judicious servings of sci-fi. She’s also built up a great cast of characters I’m looking forward to hearing more about.
I regret to admit I’m a late-comer to the work of Jennifer Fallon. Her most recent novel, The Lyre Thief, was excellent, so I’ll definitely be going back to tackle her earlier novels. I appreciate an epic fantasy where the characters aren’t entirely likeable but that also steers clear of being grimdark.
The presence of hope was also one of the things I loved about the anthology Defying Doomsday, edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench. It’s a book of post-apocalyptic stories featuring chronically ill or disabled protagonists. The anthology actively steered away from inevitably delivering these characters tragic endings. Instead, the character’s disability or illness ended up being a key component in their survival in many cases, even allowing them to be agents of positive change.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Diana Wynne Jones. Her Fire and Hemlock is one of my favourite books and she wrote such a wonderful range of material. All the accounts I’ve heard tell me she was a kind and generous person. I’d love the chance to chat about books, writing and folklore with her.