2020 Snapshot: Talie Helene

Talie Helene works with words, sound and music to tell stories. As a musician she has performed with many music artists, traversing many genres, and she sings in the Greek Chorus on Wendy Rule’s acclaimed ‘Persephone’ double album. Her co-authored short story, ‘The Last Gig of Jimmy Rucker’, with Martin Livings, won a Tin Duck Award. She has published music journalism and poetry. With Liz Grzyb she co-edited six volumes of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror (Ticonderoga Publications), the 2012 edition of which garnered an Aurealis Award for Best Anthology. She has been shortlisted for the Ditmar Award, Australian Shadows Award, Aurealis Award, Tin Duck Award, and twice nominated for the William Atheling Junior Award for Criticism and Review. Talie has served as short fiction judge and jury chair for the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement in Horror, she was news editor for the AHWA for four years, and she undertook an AHWA mentorship with the incomparable Paul Haines.

1. Tell us about your recent publications/projects?

There was a final The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror volume which made it to the shortlist stage, but not to author contract and publication stage. From a purely financial point of view, the anthology wasn’t a viable creative practice for me; that might have been different if it held lateral value in academic employment, but I’m not presently situated in such lofty echelons. I’m extremely proud of the books that made it to publication, and I’m still getting tagged on social media by lovely fans lamenting the demise of the series; while I would be very happy to take up the editorial mantle, it would need to financially support my creative career, not divert energy from my other talents for “hobby money”.

I contributed a slew of backing vocals to Wendy Rule’s ‘Persephone’ double album, which has been listed as a resource for comparative mythology study at the Joseph Campbell Foundation, props entirely to Wendy for that honour. The album was launched in February 2019 by an ensemble of talented artists – there were some notable speculative authors in the audience, which makes sense as Wendy’s mystical song craft sits happily in author “writing room vibe” collections. If you wish to obtain the album in a way that supports the artist, buying it on Bandcamp is a great way to go.


My Interactive Composition degree dominated my creative time in 2019, but my folio featured settings of Poe’s ‘The Bells’, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Ocean’, and H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘Nemesis’, so my horror and Gothic literary influences seem to be inescapable. (‘The Bells’ was going to be part of an exhibition in 2020, but many things are on hold or cancelled as the plague descends.) I also participated in an extremely fun immersive ‘Haunted House’ group exhibition at one of the VCA Red Sheds in 2019, which I have not documented online.

I had a polyphonic glossolalia composition, a collaboration with talented animator Annalise Palenzuela, featured in the Fabric Culture exhibition at the galleries of the Grainger Museum in 2019, which responded to the textile art of Percy and Ella Grainger; this is available to view at the Vimeo channel of VCA Film & Television.


I have a song, ‘The Howling Ages’, that debuted in June 2020 on triple j Unearthed, under my music solo artist persona Talie & The Lost Art – a name which circles back to being lost between music and writing, and surrendering to that. You can find me where I am lost! Adrian Bedford reviewed the song as “somewhere between a Kate Bush track and an Angela Carter wolf story, only unbearably beautiful.”


My next publication is an interactive composition collaboration with Jason Nahrung performing spoken word, with some voice recordist assistance from Kirstyn McDermott, which we remotely collaborated on between Melbourne and Ballarat. It’s a derivative work using Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ (published in 1842) as a lens for viewing our current Covid-19 pandemic. I first read the story as a teenager in Poe’s posthumous suspense collection ‘Tales of Mystery & Imagination’; when I revisited it, I found the repeated scenes with the ebony clock put me in mind of how massive a ventilator must seem to someone tethered to one for dear life.

Once the story was edited back to about 500 words, and Jason interpreted those words with his own considerable understanding of Gothic aesthetic – while I was layering up music and crafting sound design, the status of Coronavirus community transmission has been shifting in Melbourne from day to day, we are now in a six week “lockdown”, and overseas the virus is terrible, and our shifting reality makes different details in the story more resonant. Poe had become almost a meme figure in popular culture, but so much of his sensibility suffuses Gothic fiction. Poe lived through tuberculosis and cholera pandemics, and he experienced great personal bereavements – it never ceases to amaze me how a story can be pulled through time and speak to us anew. I never expected dusty old Edgar Allan Poe would rocket back to harrowing relevance.

Our audio arts version of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ is to be showcased in an umbrella event of the Melbourne Spoken Word Festival (Directed by Bennie Solah), presented as a podcast at the Words Out Loud website, released on July 30.


This is angling towards cross-disciplinary work I will be doing more of, but our lives in the arts are so tenuous, so to permanently borrow Lisa Hannett’s excellent concept of “failing quietly”, I won’t talk up specific projects until they are more than a wisp of a dream, but are funded or at some definitive point of assemblage or launch.

I’m working as research and production assistant for a few months, on a web series of music production tutorials presented by the awesomely talented producer and audio engineer Adam Calaitzis, so that’s a project to look out for at the Toyland Recording Studio website. The web series is being made with support from Creative Victoria.


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

This is a light and fluffy question, and I’m not going to give you a light and fluffy answer.

I wish I could say winning an Aurealis Award was my best experience so far, but it seemed ill-conceived to attend the ceremony at Conflux in Canberra to receive it, as that would have placed me in unsafe proximity to someone who had publicly assaulted me at the previous Aurealis Awards after party in Sydney, where I was also attending as a nominee.

Take a minute and re-read that sentence.

Aurealis Awards nominations aren’t supposed to come with a bonus assault, right?

This somewhat took the shine off the Australian SF/publishing community in my estimation.

I could hold forth at length about gender politics in the arts, but our community is overstuffed with virtuosic soap-boxers (and so much of that is pure misdirection); what the community lacks is practical skills in venues, so I’m inclined to suggest the Australian SF/publishing community is in desperate need of Bystander Training.

If people at every level were to undertake Bystander Training, when someone experiences violence at a publishing or SF community event, as I did, that individual would not have to contend with it alone and unsupported, or indeed have bystanders compound the trauma by responding inappropriately.

For an example of what Bystander Training might look like, this is the Access All Areas training I will be undertaking in August, facilitated by the Victorian Music Development Office and delivered by CoHealth.


That I am gesturing to safety, equity and inclusion efforts in the music industry, and indicating SF publishing seems to be falling below that standard, should be a wake up call.

It only takes a few toxic encounters to burn out your enthusiasm for something so personal as writing – and I’m slowly and painfully addressing a #metoo shaped Apocalypse that extends beyond my SF activity – so I find the best experiences are maintaining professional boundaries, maintaining critical distance from events and social media, and quietly working…

There are other wonderful aspects of the Australian SF scene – I have made some amazing friends in the community – but I think flagging the Bystander Training here and now, as an urgent and achievable undertaking in our community in 2020, this is the timeliest answer I can give. It’s also a self-interested call to action! I want to be able to go to events in the future and discuss cool books and projects and ideas with my awesome creative peers who inspire me so much! I don’t want to have to draw up a risk assessment before buying a membership to Conflux or Continuum or whatever, because some creepy SF guy feels he has special entitlement to override the human rights of women, and our community is content to bumble along in Tardis merch pretending everything is fine. Bystander Training could make the community so much more fun and wholesome when we reach a true post-Covid-19 reality.

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

If you have exhausted ‘The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror’ volumes one through six, and you wish to know my recommendations beyond that, that will require engaging me professionally as an editor, or reviewer, or broadcaster, or so on… (See above regarding professional boundaries.

You can find me online at www.taliehelene.com


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