Australian Speculative Fiction: writers, editors, publishers
Interview by Ben Peek
Paul Haines' first collection Doorways For The Dispossessed is scheduled for release in early 2006. His story "Doof Doof Doof" is currently in Dark Animus #7 and "The Light In Autumn's Leaves" will be appearing in Borderlands #5. Over at NFG they love him and have published his work in 1, 2, 4, & 5. He also appeared twice in Agog! Smashing Stories, with one story by himself, and one story co-authored with Claire McKenna. He's just won an Aurealis Award. He's up for a Ditmar.
Paul Haines will eat your God.
1) You're a new writer on the scene, having emerged strongly in the last five years with an impressive string of publications, and have recently had your first collection purchased by prime, with a release for 2006. What, if anything, do you think ties your work together? What motivates you to sit down and write?
I haven't consciously tried to tie my writing together -- I like to write all aspects of SF and like to try different styles and sub-genres within SF. I just happen to be more successful with my nasty dark stuff. Geoff Maloney helped open my eyes to exactly what I was writing, when he helped me put my collection together earlier this year. Looking retrospectively, there is an undercurrent of the darker emotions and thoughts most people want to keep hidden from the world flowing quite happily throughout my work. (Thanks, Geoff!) I can't help it. I can't stop it. I try to write nice stories, but they just come out all tainted and Haines-like. You'll find a lot of bad language, explicit sex, drug use, violence and nasty people in my stories. Not really SF at all, come to think about it, sounds more like where I live.
Most times it's things that piss me off that make me sit down and write. My "Slice of Life" stories, about a gourmet cannibal who hangs out with an invisible alien scouting for an impending colonisation of Earth, have been a great way to vent some of this. Travel and having my brain smacked by other cultural experiences makes me want to write. And sometimes it's guilt that motivates me to sit down and write. I want to be a writer so why the fuck aren't I sitting down and writing!! Oh, and boredom in my real job as an IT consultant.
2) There's actually a nasty strand of humour running through a part of your work. Is that something you cultivated, or rather just a natural thing?
Cultivated or Natural? My mother says (proudly or dismissively, I'm not yet sure), "Paul has always had a weird sense of humour". I like British black humour. Most American humour leaves me cold. Hate sitcoms. Hate romantic comedies (most are formulaic contrived American shit, and then we have the Richard Curtis formulaic crap -- and I used to love that guy!). I look for humour in dark places. In sick places. In the wrong places. What I watch, what I read, what I prefer must in some way cultivate what I do, but then that's what I like, so that's natural, isn't it?
My stories are generally dark so I like to put humour into them to give it a little light. Humour is such a subjective thing though, that when I think I'm being funny I'm being offensive, and when I think I'm being extremely dark and nasty, I'm being funny. It's too hard to tell most of the time, so I just open myself up and let whatever surfaces hit the page.
3) Your honest opinion of the quality of the local scene, it's positives and negatives.
I think the short story scene is great. Internationally, the Agog! series has Hartwell and Datlow as readers, and ASIM is always getting good visibility in Locus. And with Aurealis, Orb, Dark Animus and Borderlands still printing, and a host of on-line zines available, we as Aussie writers have a lot of choice within Australia to sell stories. The downside of selling in Australia though is we don't have a wide readership or distribution, and you want your stuff to be read by as many people as possible. And bookstores don't stock them. Which makes it pretty hard to convert people to what's out there if they never get to buy it.
Of course, if you sell your stories overseas, then you run the risk of not being noticed in Australia, a good example being the Ditmars, which being fan-based, is almost exclusively locally published work. And there's no money in local sales (although Aurealis pay okay).
On the novel side of things, I'm sad to see all the bookshelf space used for fantasy trilogies. But of course that's because no one wants to buy sci-fi or horror written by local authors. There's no market for it. It's not up to scratch. What a load of fucking bullshit. (Am I committing commercial suicide here?) The BIG publishing houses should be taking chances. Richard Harland's Aurealis win for a horror novel with an independant press should be in the chain bookstores. Why does Sean McMullen have to sell his SF to America? There are exceptions to this of course, but not many.
4) You're dead. There was that nasty business with John Paul II's body being found in your living room, and you know how the Vatican is with this kind of stuf... Anyhow, You go to Heaven (assuming there is, blah blah) and God is there, waiting. What do you say?
He was a bit tight for a pope, wasn't he? Hey, can I have a look at the size of your cock?
5) Favourite swear word?
'Cunt'. It still manages to offend some people. And editors look twice at publishing a story with that word in it. Also, in Aussie and NZ colloquialisms, a cunt can be a compliment. He's a real good cunt, for example. Dunno if this is the same in other Western cultures.
I also enjoy the way old fellas in their 70s and 80s can put so much vehemence into the word 'bastard'. That word suits the Aussie accent. I'm a Kiwi, so I know.
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