2020 Snapshot: Stephanie Gunn

Stephanie Gunn is a writer of speculative fiction. Her work has been nominated for Ditmar and Aurealis Awards, and has won Aurealis, Norma K Hemming and Tin Duck Awards. Her latest work is the novella Icefall(Twelfth Planet Press). She is currently at work on sequels to Icefall as well as several contemporary fantasy novels. She lives in Perth, Western Australia with her family, too many books, and the requisite cat.

1. Tell us about your recent publications/projects?

Over the past few years, I’ve discovered a particular love for novella-length works. Because quite honestly, I’m terrible at writing succinctly, and because most of my writing happens, by necessity, with an energetic and needy two-year-old around, and between commitments my ten-year-old has. Not a lot of uninterrupted time, which means it’s easier to focus on smaller projects.

Icefall (published by Twelfth Planet Press) is a science fiction novella which follows a married couple, Aisha and Maggie. In the future of Icefall, Earth is no longer habitable, destroyed by climate change and war, and humanity has spread out to colonise the universe. Aisha and Maggie are both mountaineers, seeking to climb the highest and most dangerous mountains of the new universe. Aisha, once a priestess of a religion which worshipped mountains as sacred beings, was injured on a climb, resulting in her no longer being able to climb or to be a priestess. She must watch as her wife turns her sights on the Mountain on the planet of Icefall. The Mountain is home to a competition that has claimed the lives of all who have attempted the summit. Aisha must deal with her own losses, even as she faces the greatest loss of all.

Icefall is the first in a projected trilogy of novellas, the second of which I’m currently at work on. I’ve also written two short stories so far set in the Icefall universe (one, This Silent Sea, was published in Review of Australian Fiction; both are prequels to Icefall set during the exodus from Earth). I’m toying with the idea of expanding both of them into novellas as well, or making a mosaic novel of them.

My other recent publication is another novella, Pinion (Published by Ticonderoga Publications in the anthology, Aurum). Pinion takes place in a dystopia, in a place known only as the City. The City consists of four Towers, where the privileged live in a regulated and closed environment, and the Dormitorieswhere those who service the Towers live. Everything runs on clockwork and steam, and the engines need to be worked by hand, all other technology lost. Pinion follows a Girl whose job it is to climb a Tower and tend the water pumps. It’s a story about disability, about revolution, and ultimately, about hope.

Pinion is a companion piece to a short story of mine, Escapement (published by Ticonderoga Publications in Kisses by Clockwork), and I also have tentative plans for a novel set in the same world.

2. What has been the best publishing experience of your career so far?

I have been extraordinarily lucky in that the vast majority of my experiences in the Australian speculative fiction publishing scene have been positive. Hands down, though, the best experience I’ve had so far has been publishing Icefall with Twelfth Planet Press.

Some years ago, I sat down and wrote out a list of things I would like to accomplish in my writing career. Pretty high up there was to publish something with Twelfth Planet Press. I’d been following Twelfth Planet since they began, and like many others, was an avid fan of the Galactic Suburbia podcast. Listening to that podcast—trite as it is to say—changed me as a writer, and really helped me to focus on what I wanted my writing to accomplish (and opened my eyes to what could be accomplished as a writer).

I wrote Icefall with a lot of those ideas in mind, and always envisaged it as a Twelfth Planet book, and when there was an open novella call, I sent it in. And it’s been one of the best things I’ve done. Working with Alisa Krasnostein as an editor was a sheer pleasure. She challenged me to develop as a writer and worked with me to make Icefall the absolute best story that it could be. I came out of the other side a more confident writer and more certain of what I want to accomplish with my writing career – to write stories that people can find home and hope in, to write the stories that speak to me and mean something. I’m really proud of Icefall and the fact that it won an Aurealis Award and was nominated for the Norma K Hemming Award, as well as the fact that it was a Twelfth Planet novella.

3. Which recent Australian/NZ work would you recommend to international fans interested in expanding their Antipodean spec fic knowledge? 

The books that have absolutely blown me away recently are both of Claire G Coleman’s books – her debut Terra Nullius and The Old Lie. Coleman is an Indigenous author who writes Indigenous characters, and uses science fiction settings to explore issues of racism and colonialism. If you haven’t read Terra Nullius in particular without anyone spoiling it, go and read it now.

I also greatly enjoyed Aiki Flinthart’s Blackbirds Sing, a brilliantly written mosaic novel. The amount of research that Flinthart undertook for this novel is staggering, and she weaves the historical and fantastic threads deftly through the voices of her many female characters.

Juliet Marillier is one of Australia’s foremost fantasy writers, and her recent works continue an outstanding career. The Blackthorn and Grim trilogy is absolutely wonderful, and her new series is set in the same world, beginning with The Harp of Kings.

Jay Kristoff is an author who seems to have the ability to work on a dozen projects at once, all of them amazing, but for me his standout work is the recently completed Nevernight Chronicles, with incredible writing and characters in a darkly fascinating world.

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