Interview by David McDonald.
Gerry Huntman is a writer and publisher based in Melbourne, living with his wife and young daughter. He has sold over 50 short pieces of speculative fiction, many on the dark side, and has published a young teen fantasy novel, Guardian of the Sky Realms (Cohesion Press). He is the owner and Managing Director of IFWG Publishing and IFWG Publishing Australia, including the award-winning ezine, SQ Mag.
You recently announced the publication of your story, “Gerald’s Memory House”, in the upcoming series, The Refuge Collection. It looks like an ambitious and fascinating project—could you tell us a bit about it and where you story fits in?
I have written several stories over recent times that are a little more disturbing, a little more aligned to the horrors of the real world than I normally produce, and a few of these seemed right to align with The Refuge Collection. Certainly the editor, Steve Dillon, thought so.
The collaborative project is set in, and around, the town of Refuge – a place that has some quirkiness to it, and certainly layers that hint at an alternate world rather than our own, but also (like those stories I mentioned), revealing much of the dark side of humanity. A strong theme that runs through all stories in the Collection is that characters come to Refuge to find respite or a turnaround from the awfulness of their lives to date (either because they were truly refugees, or psychologically scarred, or many other alternatives). “Gerald’s Memory House” fits that mould perfectly. A second story of mine – even more closely aligned to some terrible aspects of our society (domestic violence in particular), titled “Old Bones, Young Bones”, will be published in Volume 6. I feel honoured to be part of this project, as there are some truly amazing writers who have contributed to it.
You’re the Managing Director and Chief Editor of IFWG Publishing and IFWG Publishing Australia, which is fast becoming a publishing empire! Where did this whole thing start, what are some of the exciting things you are doing, and what does the future hold?
IFWG stands for the ‘International Fantasy Writers Guild’, a group that I, and a bunch of other writers in the US and UK, formed for beta reading and critiquing purposes. Four of us had a conversation about how there was a mismatch between the number of publishers and quality writers who hadn’t yet received the recognition due to them. We felt there was room to create opportunities for more shelf space for these writers. In quick-time we formed IFWG Publishing and began to seek out writers. I was already a trained editor, and many of the skills of the others complemented each other – we were a good team but also wet behind the ears when it came to the industry itself. That was over six years ago. Since then a lot has changed. I became Managing Director, one member had to leave due to personal circumstances, and the final two members were happy to be submissions and content editors. I still hold the Chief Editor mantle, but I have several copy editors who work for me, several proofreaders, designers, artists, etc. etc. We are small, but we have grown sufficiently to make an impact, and know the industry well.
The exciting things that are happening are many. We have an Australian imprint that focuses on Oz, NZ and UK, we have a well received ezine of speculative fiction (SQ Mag), and we also have a wonderful title series called Dark Phases that publishes internationally respected dark fiction authors, and only their best, original work. The first was Peripheral Visions: The Collected Ghost Stories (Robert Hood – with illustrations by Nick Stathopoulos), and in August we will release Kaaron Warren’s The Grief Hole (illustrated by Keely Van Order). We are so very proud of these titles.
The future looks good. We have made a big splash in the US with a middle grade adventure series (The Garza Twins series, by David Bowles) that won an American Library Association Honor Award, and this has prompted us to make the move toward collaboration with an international distributor. This is the next logical step for us, and for all small publishers, the biggest they will ever make. Things look solid and our collaboration is likely to be set up by end of 2016.
You’ve been very successful and prolific in a number of areas—as a writer, an editor. and as a publisher. Do you find that skills in one area help in another, or influence your different roles?
Unquestionably, particularly the synergy between the skill sets and tools needed to be an effective editor, and how it allows me as a writer to be more thoughtful and precise in my storyboarding and writing. Basic skills, in the areas of grammar and style, also benefit immensely. Having said this, there are differences as well, where they seldom meet. Being a publisher I have to wear a business hat and every decision needs to be made in relation to the solidity of the business as a whole, while as a writer I tend to work to the micro – what inspires me, or what piece I am asked to write. Perhaps the final point to make is that juggling one’s private life with writing and publishing is a time consuming activity – and it can take its toll. One has to be every mindful to what and who is being affected by this mode.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Lots – and to risk presenting myself as nepotistic, I can honestly say that Kaaron’s The Grief Hole is one of the most intense and beautifully written novels I have read for decades – and very much the reason why I wanted to publish it, and do it justice. Aside from that, some of the work I have read recently include Alan Baxter’s Alex Caine series, the short fiction of Andrew McKiernan, Angela Slatter, Lee Murray (New Zealander, but I had to throw her in), Steve Dillon, and many, many more. I am also proud to have so many great Australian speculative fiction writers contribute to our ezine, SQ Mag, of which I have read, and enjoyed, every one.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Gosh that’s hard, when I am old enough to have loved so many. While 95% of my reading is oriented toward speculative fiction, I have to say that I have had a three decades plus love of Umberto Eco’s work – his story-telling, his passion for semiotics which runs vividly through all his narrative, and his rich imagination. I regret that I was never able to meet him personally, let alone have a good old fashioned yarn. I believe his intellectualism was profound and yet not distant from a reader – and learned much from reading his novels about how to inject themes and complex concepts over the breadth of a piece of fiction.