2016 Snapshot: Damon Cavalchini

Interview by Helen Stubbs.

IMG_0040Damon Cavalchini doesn’t exist. He was allegedly a member of the Management Committee of the Aurealis Awards, Australia’s premier speculative fiction literary awards, for more than six years and served a three year term as the President of Fantastic Queensland, an organisation dedicated to providing opportunities for Australian spec-fic writers as punishment for his ongoing crimes against literature.

 Apart from his biography, his fiction has been mainly confined to acquittal reports and business documents. His short story, Renfield’s Wife, was published in the 2011 anthology, Dead Red Heart, and made Ellen Datlow’s Honourable Mention list for the year’s best horror. Other tales include the Tenth Life of Sargeant Tom in Journeys of the Mind – an Anthology of Speculative Fiction,The Twenty-Fifth Day in Ain’t No Sanity Clause, Furst Noel in Sanity Clause is Coming, The Second Death of Manya Akinova and Fairy Nights (both in Starburst), If I Could But Shiver in Grimmer and Grimmer 3 and Electric You and Shelved Desires (both in Andromeda’s Children).

 Should you still be reading, please wait for the people in white jackets to arrive.

 What are you working on at the moment?

I have several things in the pipeline at the moment. A steampunk Sherlock Holmes novel called Sign of V which is currently with a publisher and waiting final edits as well as a novella set in the same world that serves as both a prequel and sequel to the novel (if I can just sit down write that blasted denouement).

Somehow during *cough, cough* some years, I have amassed enough short stories to have a collection coming out when I can finalise the running order. It’s currently 120,000 odd (and, in some cases, very odd) words and needs a bit of a haircut.

And then there’s a piece for a secret squirrel anthology project in the UK that is very different to what I usually write that has me quite excited for the future. Sorry for the teaser but you’ll have to wait and see 🙂

Tell me about your past work and your work as programmer at Contact 2016, the national SF convention.  

Part of the reason 2016 has been a sparse year for me is mixture of work and Contact, the recent NatCon held in Brisbane in March. For me, it was a natural progression to be involved in the 2016 NatCon. I’m actually old enough to have been involved in Conjure, the last one held in Brisbane – 10 years ago.

One of the things that was important to me in delivering what I egotistically believe to have been a great, diverse and inclusive program was that we didn’t just want to make statements about what we believed in – the program had to be our statement of these beliefs. It was about balancing many different audiences and streams to ensure there was, hopefully, something for everyone across the program while still acknowledging and celebrating the fun, social aspects of the con. We tried to have a mix of voices and experiences from different field and backgrounds. There is no one way to publish and no one form. At the heart of the program was an opportunity to explore the how, what, why and when of telling stories. Because stories, however told, lie at the heart of every writer’s soul. We have a great but remarkably diverse community here in Australia which I love. It is refreshing and energising to spend time with much more talented people than me (even if I kind of forgot how to sleep during the Con).

Plus, on a personal level, I got to speak with so many wonderful, passionate and interesting people in pulling it all together. New voices I hadn’t come across before and familiar friends. My reading pile quadrupled in the space of four days and I still haven’t made a dint in it as people keep adding more.

While I like playing around with my own words, I have always been interested in the process and profession of writing linking all the way back to my time with Vision Writers Group. I also spent several years as the president of Fantastic Queensland, which served to promote and grow the spec-fic community here in Queensland and spent seven years on the management committee for the Aurealis Awards when they were here in the land of sunshine.

When you look back on yourself starting out as a proto-writer, are there any tips you would give past-you?

It is an oldie but a goodie – rejections matter. If for no other reason than helping you learn to distinguish whether it is you, your writing, your story or your timing that is being rejected. If you hide and run away from rejection, you will never grow.

It sounds trite but the ability to be rejected is key tool in a writer’s chest of goodies.

I actually have a hard copy of the first novel I ever wrote as a 16 year old schoolboy. It is a poor (very poor) mix of Star Wars meets StarGate except with more spaceships and Anubis as a good guy. Even though I can see all the flaws and know exactly why it will never be published, I can also see the germs of a passion for writing that has never been extinguished and a reminder the sheer fun I had writing it.

And that, I suppose, is the other thing I would tell myself. Remember that I love writing.

How is your work changing and developing across your career?

Everyone’s work evolves as they grow. From someone who once swore I would only ever do short stories, I now have three novels and a novella in various phases of completion. I started out writing fun, humorous fiction (which I still do) but have also played around with different genres. I can see the optimism of my youth being replaced with the measured hope of my middle age. For me, I want each project to stretch me rather being a rinse and repeat of what I’ve done before. I guess you could say I’ve become more understanding and less hypocritical.

Oh – and hopefully a slightly better craftsman. Did mention I wrote as a 16 year old? Even I can see that I’ve learnt the difference between your and you’re by now :).

What Australian work have you loved recently?

The list is way too long to put here. Everyone should sample some Kim Wilkins, Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett, Peter M Ball, Jason Nahrung, Kirstyn McDermott, Robert Hoge (seriously – if you haven’t read Ugly by now, stop what you doing and go and buy it), Lee Battersby, Garth Nix, Sean Williams, Kate Forsyth, Isobel Carmody, Kylie Chan and so, so many more.

Pick up a Queenie Chan, a David McDonald or Shaun Tan. Grab some Helene Young or an Anna Campbell. And try some Bec McMaster, Kylie Scott, Kylie Griffin, Mel Scott and Sandra Antonelli while you are at it.

Invest in our local publishers like Ticonderoga, Twelfth Planet Press, FableCroft, Tiny owl and Clan Destine.

And that’s just off the top of my head. There are hundreds I haven’t included. There is just so much and so varied richness out there to be enjoyed.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

 Hmmm…I am one of those lucky people who fall asleep as soon a plane starts to taxi. But assuming I want to stay awake I would ask for John Kendrick Bangs, a turn-of-the-last-century American humourist and journalist. His work still has a great influence on my stuff today and I often find myself dipping into his writing (especially the Houseboat series) for a great comfort read.



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