Daily Archives: June 3rd, 2012

Snapshot: Sean the Bookonaut

Sean Wright (AKA Sean the Blogonaut, Sean the Bookonaut) considers himself an aspiring writer, he tends to do quite a lot of aspiring and not much writing.  He co-wrote a novella in a weekend with two school friends in the early 90’s called Goldfish, French Fries and Space Invaders which ended up being published for the Adelaide Fringe Festival along with a number of other teen writers – the highlight of his writing career. He blogs at Adventures of Bookonaut in attempt to keep himself sane and connected with other humans who share his tastes in fiction and to comment on and support the Australian speculative fiction scene.He has lived remotely for most of his life and currently lives rural South Australia, in the midst of wheat fields, in a 120 year old farm house which has its own history book but no ghosts.Sean has worked as a teacher librarian, pizza delivery driver, a security guard, a workplace trainer for an international company and as an activities coordinator for a community mental health service. He currently does casual relief teaching  to pay the bills while he puts all his effort into aspiring to write. He holds a 2nd Dan in Chung Do Kwan, a Korean School of Shotokan Karate, and consequently can speak about 10 korean words and can break pine boards with just his mind.He is currently working on two manuscripts and studiously managing to avoid finishing any of the short fiction he’s attempted.

Your blog, Adventures of a Bookonaut, aims to promote Australian speculative fiction through reviews and interviews. Why did you decide to start the site? What have been the challenges and rewards in writing for it?

I have been blogging since about December 2006 in various forms. I never thought it would stick. I have a shelf full of empty journals because I love the idea of recording my thoughts but writing down something that no one ever read kinda felt a bit silly, pretentious even.

I think the difference with blogging was the interaction and the exchange of ideas, the connection to a wider community that shared my passions.

In March 2008 I started blogging about an abusive Ministry that promised an all in one solution to various issues affecting young women, from unwanted pregnancy to mental health issues. From 2008-2010 I helped a group of abuse survivors get the Ministry closed in Australia, it still operates internationally.

After those 2 years I was suffering from burnout, it’s very hard to blog when all you have to write about is injustice and bad news. Adventures of a Bookonaut was initially a way to enjoy blogging and talking about my love of books, and it’s mostly good news stories.

The blog started in August 2010 but I decided to focus on Speculative Fiction around the time I got a chance to review Trent Jamieson’s Death Most Definite. So yeah you can blame Trent. I had also finished some studies in Journalism so I was eager to use some of my training.

Promoting the Australian speculative fiction scene seemed to be both a natural extension of my personality and I had a couple of very good role models in Marianne de Pierres and Rowena Cory Daniells who despite their heavy workloads, promoted other authors and writers, and were brilliant at building community (still are).

The challenge has been keeping a balance. A balance in my blogging and in my reading. It’s cool getting review copies for about the first 3 months then the reality sets in that you really have quite a bit of reading to do and it never stops. The rewards have been meeting and interacting with authors, fans and other book bloggers.

You’ve been pretty vocal on your blog and other social media sites in promoting and encouraging other people to get involved with the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2012. Why did you decide to take the challenge on board? How do you feel about it, five months in? What have other people’s reactions been?

Now this one I can blame on Galactic Suburbia. In 2011 after having listened to Galactic Suburbia for a few episodes I ended up doing a Gender Audit of my reading. Sadly the original post was lost in a blog move instigated by hacking; but the results were very poor, much poorer than I’d led myself to believe. Somewhere in the 18 % Female author range was the end result – pretty ordinary for a reviewer. So that year I made a conscious decision to focus on trying to get a 50/50 split. I managed 40/60 due to a loss of focus and the fact that a lot of my review copies were by male authors.

So in 2012 Elizabeth Lhuede started the Australian Women Writers challenge in response to the poor reviewing that Australian female authors were getting from traditional reviewing sources. I was engaged in a couple of posts about gender, and implicit bias and decided to put my money where my mouth was and give myself a very structured approach to achieving gender parity in my reading and reviewing. Nothing like fear of failure to motivate.

I truly think the only way that you can tackle cultural bias is through fairly blunt and blatant approaches like a challenge or instituting some sort of systematic approach. Left to personal whim you’ll just end up reverting to what is ingrained.

I think it’s important to be vocal about it because we need to show men reading, reviewing and enjoying books by women. It’s going very well by the way. I finished the challenge a couple of books back but will continue until the end of the year.

There’s no sign of quality female speculative fiction running out.

As well the as the blog, you’ve been contributing to Galactic Chat, a podcast of interviews with – mostly – Australian authors. What has it been like to record interviews rather than write them? What are its challenges? Do you find ‘live’ interviews more rewarding than written ones, or do they both have things to recommend them?

A lot more work for a start. Writing questions for written interviews is generally fairly easy; the interviewee has to do all the work (unless it’s transcribed from audio, which you’d have to pay me to do – two finger typist).

The challenges are generally technical. I got over my nerves when I interviewed Kelley Armstrong.Everything seemed to be going wrong that day. I had the wrong number, I was recording in my lunch hour, people wanted to use the room I was in. Nothing like interviewing a New York Times bestseller as your first. She was lovely though.

I do enjoy the live interviews as they feel more dynamic to me and you can take advantage of the ebb and flow of conversation. Sometimes questions just naturally flow into one another. I still do some written questions of course, it’s handy if you want to ask a group of people the same questions to get a consensus or to form a large picture on an issue.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Gotta love goodreads, it makes answering this much easier. When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett, I thought was brilliant. Kind of sad it didn’t make it to the Ditmar ballot. It just blew me away with the vision of a world with genetically engineered wings- the physical, social and cultural changes that would be a result of such an innovation.

Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts was another book that showcased her skill and playfulness, I wrote of it: “Reading Lanagan is like watching the world through aged glass. The world and its characters are identifiable but there is a ripple, a distortion that separates us.” And she makes me feel like this with most of her work.

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth was just one of those joyful surprises you get as a reviewer. I’d never read her work before and Bitter Greens tickled several of my fancies – historical fiction and mature fairytales being two of them.

The Shattered City by Tansy Rayner Roberts was a bloody good second book, not a bridge between book 1 and 3, but upping of the ante in what is a very unique tale.

Bad Power by Deb Biancotti just makes me want to read an expanded novel length version of the world that’s been created.

Roil by Trent Jamieson, I think is his best work to date. I could go on.

What would you like to see happen in the Australian speculative fiction scene over the next couple of years?

I have only been participating in and observing the scene for a relatively short time, so take what I say with that in mind. I’d like to see it more connected. By that I mean, I get the distinct impression that in fandom at least, there are distinct communities within the larger community. I think this is the result of geography to a large extent and I am not sure that we have taken full advantage of online resources to address this. I think things are beginning to coalesce though, podcasting seems to be growing and fanzines once consigned to the printed form are getting easier to find online. But perhaps fans are happy, I come from a culture of isolation, living in remote communities most of my life.

I’d also like to see a deeper appreciation of our Australian Speculative Fiction history. I do get the sense that we might be too forward looking, focussed on the next best thing. Have you tried finding copies of George Turner’s work, even his Miles Franklin Award winning book? Very difficult.

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1st June to 8th June  and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at:






Snapshot 2012: Penni Russon

Penni Russon is fascinated by adolescence and the intersection that exists in that period of life between language, bodies, reality, imagination, poetry, sexuality, and ideas, which is why she mostly writes literary fiction for teenagers. She sometimes writes for boring grownups too, now that she is one. She has a story forthcoming in Island Magazine #129 called Softly the Fall.
Your novel Only Ever Always is a finalist for the Aurealis Awards for 2011 – congratulations! Thanks. (Edited to add: and won the Young Adult Novel category!!)
One of the really intriguing aspects of this novel, aside from the plot itself and its changes between characters, is that you alternate between first, second and third-person voices throughout the novel. What did this technique allow you to do that staying with one narrative voice wouldn’t? And was it difficult to keep track of?
Only Ever Always was an exploration about where stories come from. You know those big narrative dreams you have, where the world is ending, or where you’ve been kidnapped and you are trying to escape, that stay with you? Where you wake up and feel you’ve just read a novel, or watched a movie? Well, I was wondering, what are those dreams for? What are stories for? And then that also led to an inquiry into how stories are told. The second person came about after teaching a subject called Radical Fiction at Melbourne University. One student used second person to great effect (before then my experience of second person had been mostly confined to Choose Your Own Adventure books, with the exception of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler). Second person is actually First Person when you think about it, a narrator is still implied. So this intrigued me – who tells the story? Who is the dreamer? The reader, the writer, the character?

It was occasionally difficult to track. I decided that when Claire entered Sedge that it would be third person, to highlight a further disconnect (the waking dream), but also to make it really clear to the reader that a significant shift had happened. There was one scene where Claire and Clara occupy the same space and I had a lot of trouble deciding what POV that should be from!

Your trilogy from a few years ago, Undine, Breathe and Drift focussed on a teenaged girl and her discovery of magic. What drew you to working with this particular mythology, and bringing it into the modern world?

I grew up in Tasmania which is where Undine is set. I was fascinated by what it meant to grow up on an island – I am still curious about this, as I come to realise actually just how socially disadvantaged Tasmania is compared to Melbourne where I live now. Anyway, to me it seemed natural that magic would be linked to the ocean. I once commented on Twitter about experiencing ambivalence with regards to the ocean. Another writer scoffed (I’m paraphrasing), ‘The ocean makes me feel many things, but nothing so wishy-washy as ambivalent.’ But I am happy to embrace my wishy-washiness! I am fascinated by ambivalence, ambiguity, halfway states, where you linger between, not quite one thing or another. Undine is all about being halfway between – human and magical creature, love and like, the thing and the reflection of the thing and so the Undine myth (which is not literally in the novel) is a metaphor for this.

I love Margaret Mahy’s YA fiction, so I wanted to write something with “magic in the real world”. Writing Undine was a very organic process, I really didn’t understand much about the practical aspects of writing fantasy when I began. The Undine books are actually incredibly autobiographical in parts, many incidents in the books actually happened to me.

You’ve written both speculative fiction and what might be called mainstream YA as part of the Girlfriend series; do you see yourself having to choose between genres, or continuing to cross them, in the future?

I think all my books belong together, despite the genre crossing. They are really all about those halfway states, about what’s real and what’s pretend. In The Indigo Girls the girls go night surfing – this is very similar to the way Undine experiences power and her body. In Little Bird Ruby-Lee falls in maternal love with the baby she is babysitting, and then transfers these feelings onto the baby’s single father in a romantic way and then has to try and figure out what is real and what is part of her fantasy life. I don’t think I will ever tire of this theme

What are some works by Australians that you’ve been enjoying recently?

I loved Queen of the Night, Leanne Hall’s excellent sequel to This is Shyness, with its comic book aesthetic. The FitzOsborne’s at War, the third book in Michelle Cooper’s Montmaray trilogy, made me cry and smile and laugh – these are historical fiction, though Montmaray is a made up island. I really admire Cooper’s world building, the way she stitches her fictional world and history together so seamlessly. Also this year I loved Foal’s Bread, which I read as magical realism.

Also I am reading Emily Rodda’s Fairy Realm books aloud to my six year old! Emily Rodda and I will be on a panel together at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival – my daughters are very excited!

It’s been two years since the World Science Fiction Convention was held in Australia. How do you think the speculative fiction scene in Australia has changed since then?

Well, the biggest change in Australia in the last two years is the loss of Borders and Angus & Robertson, the “middle” market, and at the same time many publishers are dropping their sales staff, instead having booksellers go to the website to select stock for their stores. I think as a result we are going to increasingly see a bigger divide – a lot more trashy trash, and some really interesting, experimental “literary” spec fic that works hard to catch a bookseller’s eye. Perhaps as a result of this, I think publishers are more focussed on “The Pitch” than on “The Talent” (though I don’t think a talented author will ever be overlooked). Still, it’s easier for publishers to sell books that can be summed up in a sentence, not just to customers, but to their own marketing departments, to booksellers, to reviewers, to overseas markets. It was really hard for me to sum up Only Ever Always in a sentence, and the exercise seemed artificial, nothing to do with marking art. It was actually the rights manager, Angela Namoi who crystallised it by describing it as ” a meditation on grief”. Of course the question I started out asking was where do stories come from? And Angela made me realise I had answered that question: “from lack, from absence, from loss. From the spaces between where the lost things dwell.”

This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1st June to 8th June  and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at: