Tales For Canterbury: Why You Should Buy A Copy


In just three months since the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February, editors Cassie Hart and Anna Caro have done an amazing job of pulling together Tales For Canterbury, a fundraising anthology to benefit the victims of the earthquake, with all proceeds going to the New Zealand Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. All the stories have been donated by their authors.

Tales For Canterbury is now published as an ebook (in pdf, mobi, and epub format) and as a paperback.

You can find out lots more info on the Tales For Canterbury Blog, but if you are wondering whether to buy or pre-order one, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I want to support Christchurch residents in the wake of the February earthquake?
  • Do I like reading work by any of these writers? (I won’t reproduce the full list here, but it includes names such as Neil Gaiman, Janis Freegard, Gwyneth Jones, Jay Lake, Helen Lowe, Tina Makereti, Juliet Marillier, Jeff Vandermeer, Mary Victoria, and Sean Williams, and there are 34 stories in all. One is by me.)
  • Can I afford NZ $12 for the ebook edition or NZ $24.95 for the paperback edition?

If the answer to the third question, and at least one of the first two questions, is “yes”, then I think you are building a strong case for buying a copy!

And if you’re fired up with enthusiasm, Anna and Cassie also have some ideas for how you can help promote Tales For Canterbury.

Here ends the sales pitch. If it hasn’t convinced you, go ahead and buy the book anyway. The quality of the fiction is the ultimate argument.

My Story “The New Neighbours” Is Included In The Apex Book Of World SF, Volume II

Earlier this year, I was delighted to hear from author and editor Lavie Tidhar that my story “The New Neighbours”, first published in my short story collection Transported (2008), had been accepted for inclusion in The Apex Book Of World SF, Volume II, scheduled for publication in mid-2011.

At the time, the news wasn’t public, and so I duly sat on it. But I sat on it too long – engrossed (embroiled?) in revisions to my current novel manuscript, I missed Lavie’s September announcement of the Table of Contents for the anthology.

Apex Book of World SF, Volume II: Table of Contents

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Philippines)–Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life
Ivor W. Hartmann (Zimbabwe)–Mr. Goop
Daliso Chaponda (Malawi)–Trees of Bone
Daniel Salvo (Peru)–The First Peruvian in Space
Gustavo Bondoni (Argentina)–Eyes in the Vastness of Forever
Chen Qiufan (China)–The Tomb
Joyce Chng (Singapore)–The Sound of Breaking Glass
Csilla Kleinheincz (Hungary)–A Single Year
Andrew Drilon (Philippines)–The Secret Origin of Spin-man
Anabel Enriquez Piñeiro (Cuba)–Borrowed Time (trans. Daniel W. Koon)
Lauren Beukes (South Africa)–Branded
Raúl Flores Iriarte (Cuba)–December 8
Will Elliott (Australia)–Hungry Man
Shweta Narayan (India)–Nira and I
Fábio Fernandes (Brazil)–Nothing Happened in 1999
Tade Thompson (Nigeria)–Shadow
Hannu Rajaniemi (Finland)–Shibuya no Love
Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexico)–Maquech
Sergey Gerasimov (Ukraine)–The Glory of the World
Tim Jones (New Zealand)–The New Neighbours
Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria/US)–From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7
Gail Har’even (Israel)–The Slows
Ekaterina Sedia (Russia/US)–Zombie Lenin
Samit Basu (India)–Electric Sonalika
Andrzej Sapkowski (Poland)–The Malady (trans. Wiesiek Powaga)
Jacques Barcia (Brazil)–A Life Made Possible Behind The Barricades

I’m delighted to be included in such a rich lineup of authors from around the world, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, with such fine authors as Ekaterina Sedia and Nnedi Okorafor, plus many others whose work I don’t yet know and look forward to reading. Science fiction is so often thought of as being an Anglophone preserve, and in particular the preserve of American and British writers: good on Lavie, and Apex, for demonstrating through this anthology series, and through the World SF blog, that this is not the case.

In the meantime, I suggest you check out The Apex Book of World SF, the first volume in the series, which received this detailed review by Andy Sawyer in Strange Horizons.

Getting Science Fiction And Fantasy Published In New Zealand. Part 1: Short Fiction

This is a post for NZ Speculative Fiction Blogging Week.

At Au Contraire, I gave a talk about getting speculative fiction published in New Zealand. This and the following post are an attempt to capture what I said at the workshop, and later said I would write up for SpecFicNZ. Part 1 focuses on short fiction. Part 2 will look at novels.

I am sure to have missed various things, so please give details of additional publishers and markets in the comments.

I’m in no way suggesting that speculative fiction writers should confine their efforts to submitting stories in New Zealand – but there are lots of guides to submitting to overseas markets, so you check these out if that’s where you want to concentrate your efforts.

Finally, I’m concentrating here on fiction written for adults, rather that written for the YA/MG/children’s markets.


There is one currently active magazine market for short speculative fiction (and poetry) that I know of in New Zealand: Semaphore Magazine. Semaphore Magazine is published quarterly, with an annual anthology. It pays for short fiction and poetry. Editor Marie Hodgkinson says “I want to further increase the proportion of work written by New Zealanders that is published in the magazine, with particular regard to the representation of non-Pakeha and LGBQT writers”.

Other paying sf magazine markets, like Prima Storia, appear to have come and gone. If you know of any others that are active, please let me know.

The good news is that it is possible to get speculative fiction published in several New Zealand literary magazines. JAAM, Sport, Bravado and Turbine have all published stories that can be considered speculative fiction, and Landfall’s recent themed issue on utopias and dystopias skirted similar territory.

Having said that, you probably wouldn’t get too far submitting that 9000-word interplanetary war story based on the latest developments on black hole physics to a New Zealand literary magazine, or for that matter your Xena-meets-Spartacus fanfic (though I’m there with bells on!). The softer, near-future end of SF; SF satires; urban fantasy; and stories which show an awareness of their own telling are more likely to appeal. If in doubt, add more irony – one writer told me that he sold two previously rejected stories to NZ literary magazines by retelling them in an ironic manner.


SF and fantasy will be a tough sell to most of the big New Zealand short story competitions, which tend to favour heads-down, no-nonsense mimetic realism, but the fiction section of the annual Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing has to be worth a crack – though this year’s deadline has just passed. Bugger!

Your chances of doing well in a competition are strongly correlated with who’s doing the judging. Check out what the judge writes, and what types of fiction they say they like, and then decide whether it’s worth submitting. (Of course, in a large competition, your story may have to survive a filtering process before it reaches the named judge.)


By their nature, anthologies are intermittent – other than the annual Best New Zealand Fiction series – so you have to keep a weather eye out for submission guidelines. I’ve had a number of stories published in New Zealand anthologies over the years: my first two published stories were in an anthology of sf stories for NZ secondary schools (though most of the stories had originally been written for an adult audience), and a new-writers’ anthology.

There have been occasional anthologies of New Zealand speculative fiction, such as Rutherford’s Dreams, and this year there’s a brand-new entrant in the field: A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction, published by Random Static. Random Static say that another short story anthology isn’t on their immediate horizon, but they will be looking to publish novellas.

I’ll return to Random Static when I cover markets for novels.

Just as the identity of the judge is the most important thing to know in a competition, so the name and inclinations of the editor are the most important thing to know when considering a submission to a general fiction anthology. Have they written SF or fantasy or horror, or anything that isn’t set in our consensus reality? Have they said nice things about speculative fiction? Have they included speculative fiction stories in previous anthologies?

Do the research, and then go for it.


You’ll be doing very well to get an entire collection of speculative fiction published by a mainstream New Zealand publisher. My recent collection Transported is about 1/3 sf and fantasy, and I think that hurt it with some mainstream reviewers (though others liked the mix).

However, in the publishing industry, all is in flux. As with any other aspect of publishing, you need to keep your ear to the ground, your eyes peeled, your shoulder to the grindstone, and in general contort yourself in strange ways to get the best picture of what’s going on and where the opportunities are.

“Hah!”, you might be thinking, “I don’t even get out of bed for less than 80,000 words”. In that case, stick around for Part 2, where I’ll look at the options for getting speculative fiction at novel length published in New Zealand.

The Saturday Serial: Win A Day With Mikhail Gorbachev, Part IV

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Part IV: Expedition To Earth

After the evening meal, Raisa and Mikhail would normally head out to the theatre or a movie, or invite a few friends round for a Pepsi. Tonight, however, they’re off to Sheremetyevo Airport to greet the winner of the U.S.-Soviet Friendship Society’s “Win a day with Mikhail Gorbachev” competition. This competition attracted over 10,000 entries, despite unfavourable comment in the U.S. media, and represents a significant propaganda victory for the Soviet Union. Contestants were required to write an essay on the subject “U.S.-Soviet Relations: Where to from here?”, and as a tie-breaker had been asked to complete, in 25 words or less, the sentence “I would like to visit the Soviet Union because… “.

Although the tie-breaker had not in fact been required, as the winner’s essay stood head and shoulders above its competition, his sentence had read “I would like to visit the Soviet Union because I have in my possession complete design drawings of the prototype Strategic Defence Initiative antimissile laser system.” This sentence contains 26 words and would, had the tiebreaker been required, undoubtedly have been disqualified.

The winner calls himself Jim Beam, and he arrives from Heathrow Airport by Aeroflot. He is met as he steps off the plane by senior officers of Soviet military intelligence, who relieve him of a folder of drawings he obligingly presents to them, and after submitting to a final search he is permitted to meet the Gorbachevs and the press. After exchanging pleasantries, the threesome return to the Kremlin for a private get-acquainted chat in Mikhail and Raisa’s apartment. “That means private”, Mikhail insists, shooing away the lurking Kremlin guards.

When the door has closed behind the last of the guards, it is Raisa who speaks. “We have been awaiting this meeting for a long time, Anatar. But why did you choose such a public method of arrival?”

The Ambassador to Earth of the Galactic Federation peels off his false head, legs and genitals, places them in a small attache case, and squats before them in its true form. “An old Earth custom, I believe – of hiding in plain sight. How could anyone so public as Mr. Jim Beam be other than what he seemed? Well, we can dispense with Mr. Beam now. How soon can you leave?”

“I’ve told my colleagues on the collective farm that I’m taking a week’s holiday – I believe that will be sufficient? I’ve packed my bags, and we recovered the atmosphere suit and other equipment from the Tunguska a week ago. The matter transmitter brought them in easily. I’m ready when you are, Anatar.”

“Very well. Mr. Gorbachev, would you like to come with us to farewell your wife?”

“I certainly would. But there’s one thing I don’t understand, Anatar: why can’t the matter transmitter take Raisa all the way to Galactic H.Q.?”

“I don’t know, General Secretary. I’m a diplomat, not a scientist. But I’ve been told that both loci of the matter transmitter need to be on the same planetary body – something to do with frames of reference, I understand.”

“Science is a wonderful thing. I must introduce you to some of our more far-sighted writers on the subject.”

“Save the books for later, Mick,” says Raisa. “It’s time to go.”

The aliens’ ship is waiting in a forest between Shar’ya and Kirov; their matter transmitter, of which an embarrassed Academician Ivanenko is still trying to provide a convincing explanation to the military, sends them through one at a time. The ship is the conventional saucer shape. A ramp extends to the ground, and between the pine trees small figures on trolleys are moving through the mist, collecting specimens.

Before Raisa puts on her atmosphere suit and goes off to the headquarters of the Galactic Federation to present the case for Earth’s admission, she and Mikhail say goodbye. They stand at the foot of the ramp, holding each other close.

“Keep everything ticking over whilst I’m away, won’t you, Mick?”

“I don’t expect any major problems. I’m sure we’ll reach a compromise on the Zils without Andrei losing face. Nothing else should be too difficult – for me. You’re the one who’s got the hard work ahead.”

“Oh, I think I’ll manage O.K. It’s a formality, really, isn’t it?… Well, Anatar is looking impatient, probably. I have to go. I love you, darling. Take care.”

“I will. You take care too. I’ll take a day off when you get back, eh?”

They hold hands as long as they can whilst Raisa seals herself into the suit. Then they separate, and she walks slowly up the ramp as the returning alien scientists whir past her. When they have all returned, the ramp is closed and the spaceship rises silently upwards. As Mikhail turns to return to Moscow, the sky fills with light and a peal of thunder echoes over the sleeping land.

“Win A Day With Mikhail Gorbachev” was included in Best New Zealand Fiction 4 and then collected in my second short story collection, Transported.

Transported cover

You can buy Transported online from Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad. You can also read review excerpts and find out more about Transported

The Saturday Serial: Win A Day With Mikhail Gorbachev, Part III

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Part III: The Politburo

The Politburo had traditionally met in a sombre, marbled room, sitting six to a side along a massive table. Mikhail felt that this arrangement wasn’t conducive to increased productivity and efficiency, so had done away with the heavy table and got everybody to sit in a circle on the ground, on cushions lovingly sewn in one of the more obscure Central Asian republics. The older Politburo members weren’t entirely happy about this arrangement, and still grumbled about it when they thought themselves unobserved. However, the younger men (for there were no female members of this most exclusive club) seemed to like the arrangement, and at the moment it was these men – Vorotnikov, Egor Ligachev, Nikolai Ryzhkov, Chebrikov, Eduard Shevardnadze, and Gorbachev himself – who called the shots.

Everyone is in their seats by 2pm sharp, and Mikhail opens the meeting by pinning a big sheet of paper to the wall and asking for agenda items. Ligachev, who has charge of the minutes of the previous meeting, reminds everyone that the Geneva summit and the forthcoming grain harvest are matters that weren’t finalised at the last meeting. New agenda items include progress on the BAM rerouting, another increase in funds for technical intelligence, and the colour scheme for the Politburo’s new Zil limousines.

The meeting opens with a sharing session, wherein each member lets the others know how they’re feeling, so their private, personal problems won’t fester unacknowledged beneath the surface of the meeting. Nikolai Tikhonov announces that he has never felt better; Chebrikov winks at Gorbachev. Andrei Gromyko, who has become slightly deaf, queries why anyone would want to feel butter. Shevardnadze, newly appointed Foreign Minister, reveals he’s had an exciting day broadening his knowledge of geography, and now knows where Africa and Australia are. Someone whistles a derisory bar or two of “Georgia On My Mind”. Generally, everyone has had a good day, although Vorotnikov claims Gorbachev has obstructed him on a couple of key points -then must hasten to explain he is talking about the lunchtime squash game rather than matters of state.

The Geneva summit (where Mikhail plans to try for a propaganda coup by challenging Reagan to see who can stay on a horse the longest), BAM, a 25% increase in funds for purchase of Western microcomputers and microengineers, and the grain harvest (about which there was general agreement that having one would be a Good Idea) are all sorted out quite simply. As everyone fears, the big clash between Gorbachev’s new guard and the remaining old-timers comes over the Zils’ paintwork.

The matter had first surfaced under Gorbachev’s predecessor Konstantin Chernenko, and in keeping with the dour Siberian’s approach the normal black colour scheme had been approved. However, Geidar Aliyev had felt even at the time that something more dynamic was called for, and was now proposing a trendy metallic red with racing stripes down the sides. A reliable source who did not wish to be named claimed that Aliyev was originally planning to include mag wheels and furry dice in the package, but decided this might lessen Politburo members’ dignity in the eyes of the Russian people.

After Aliyev has put his proposal, there is an uneasy silence in the room. When Gorbachev, who is facilitating the meeting, asks if there is any disagreement, President Andrei Gromyko rises to his feet.

“For 25 years, I was the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union. For all that time, Soviet representatives maintained the most punctilious dignity and reserve. The western imperialists seek to portray us as barbarians, but we have shown that we are the true standard-bearers of civilisation. Our sober black Zil limousines have been an important part of our image as serious, responsible world leaders. I could never agree to such a proposal.”

“Does that means you’d be prepared to block consensus on it, Andrei?”

“Yes, Mikhail, I would.”

“Well, does anyone want to try to change Andrei’s mind?”

Ligachev, who has a reputation for over-enthusiasm, rises to his feet.

“Listen, Andrei, we’re living in the 1980s now, not the 1950s. We’re talking marketing, we’re talking positioning, we’re talking selling ourselves in the marketplace. Today’s Politburo needs to project a positive, up-market image, inspiring confidence amongst our customers. Professor Lysenko over at the Soviet Institute of Psychodemographics tells me their latest survey indicates that more Great Russians in the 16-25 cohort know that Wham! recently played China than are aware that the Central Committee recently approved the latest five-year plan. Our collective name-recognition factor, with the understandable exception of Comrade Gorbachev, is less than that of Elton John’s percussionist. The citizens of Ust-Kut have recently petitioned to have the name of their main street changed from Lenin Prospekt to Lennon Prospekt! When this sort of thing is happening in Ust-Kut, need I say more?”

(The citizens of Ust-Kut, a small but bustling city in the progressive Lake Baikal region, would doubtless have protested at this implied slur on their modernity, but as it has not until now been revealed, they went about their business in happy ignorance.)

“Egor, interesting as all this is, I don’t see why it means we have to have red Zils with racing stripes down the sides.”

“Because they’re new! They’re modern! They’re positive! They project the go-ahead image we need. Personally, I’d be prepared to compromise on the racing stripes, but after all, Comrade Gromyko, red is the colour of our Union’s flag. Are you suggesting we should change it?”

Mikhail senses that tempers are rising. A good facilitator must be able to strike a balance between non-interference when a meeting is flowing smoothly, and appropriate intervention when things are going off the rails. Now is a time for the latter.

“It’s obvious we have considerable disagreement on this issue, and I don’t think we can reach a consensus at this meeting. What I suggest is that a few people who’ve got strong feelings on the issue get together and see if they can work out a compromise proposal, or a new and better one, to present to the next meeting. I won’t join that group myself, but stepping outside my role as facilitator I’d like to suggest a dual fleet, one in black for the more ceremonial occasions and one in red, with or without stripes, for trips to the movies and so forth. Are there any volunteers for the working party?”

Aliyev, Ligachev, Vorotnikov and, after some prompting, Gromyko, agree to meet soon to come up with a solution which can be presented to the next Politburo meeting. The present meeting closes with an evaluation; everyone (even Gromyko) agrees it has gone well. Under Brezhnev and Chernenko, everyone would have headed off for a few vodkas at this point, but the fate of Grigory Romanov and other victims of Gorbachev’s anti-alcoholism drive persuades them all to settle, in the public interim, for tea, coffee and Milo. After the last cup has been smashed in the fireplace, there’s just enough time for Mikhail to pick up his dufflebag from the office before heading home to cook tea.

“Win A Day With Mikhail Gorbachev” was included in Best New Zealand Fiction 4 and then collected in my second short story collection, Transported.

Transported cover

You can buy Transported online from Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad. You can also read review excerpts and find out more about Transported

The Saturday Serial: Win A Day With Mikhail Gorbachev, Part II

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Part II: Arthur C. Clarke

“Arthur C. Clarke, eh, Viktor? How do you rate him in comparison with Asimov?”, Mikhail, a subscriber to Analog, asks his security chief.

“Well, as an SF writer, I think Clarke’s got the edge. He brings a real quality of transcendence to his best work, so that it attains a numinous quality which belies his claim to be a writer of hard SF. Expedition to Earth showcases this well, I feel – stories like ‘Second Dawn’, ‘Encounter in the Dawn’, and, particularly, the title story have a haunting, evocative quality which derives in large part from the revelation of powerful contemporary motifs in unfamiliar and often ironic settings. ‘The Sentinel’ is of course of special interest as the progenitor of 2001: A Space Odyssey – have you seen the film, Mikhail?”

“I have. Almost as good as Solaris.”

“If you make allowances for its crypto-bourgeois philosophy,” Viktor said severely.

“But as for comparing Clarke with Asimov – Clarke’s a fine writer, but I can’t go past the fact that Asimov was born here.”

“True, Viktor, although I don’t think we should let national chauvinism influence our literary judgements.”

“If you say so, boss. Anyway, getting back to Expedition to Earth, there’s one story in it which appears particularly relevant in the light of Academician Ivanenko’s recent investigations. Called ‘Loophole’, it’s cast in the epistolary form – “

“Letters, right?”

“Letters, yes. It starts with an exchange of missives between the ruler of Mars and his chief scientist. The Martians have just noticed the first atomic bomb test here on Earth, and – well, perhaps you’d like to read it for yourself, Mick?”

As Mikhail Gorbachev reads of the Martians’ plans to dominate and eliminate the humans through their control of interplanetary space, and of the loophole through which the humans strike first, Viktor Chebrikov’s gaze strays to the window at the other end of the room. On the other side of that window, the Lubyanka waits to receive its unwilling guests, three faceless bodies lie just beneath the melting snows of Gorky Park, and Arkady Renko and a small group of friends sit watching a smuggled videotape of Hill St. Blues.

In the snows east of Irkutsk, workers on the Baikal-Amur Mainline take care to prevent their skin freezing to the track, and in the Tunguska the trees are again laid flat. Nude bathers are causing a stir in certain Black Sea resorts, whilst in a dacha just outside Moscow Nikolai Tikhonov gives his all in the arms of his beloved as KGB cameras record the scene for posterity.

And more coffins return through the mountain passes from Afghanistan, and Vladimir Arsenyev roams through the taiga with his friend Dersu Uzala, and Stalin’s daughter leaves and returns in pain, over and over, as the birches nod their heads in the breeze above the rich black Russian soil.

Mikhail Gorbachev finishes reading. “Hmmm, matter transmitters, eh? What a bright spark that Arthur C. Clarke is. Well, Viktor, any other news? Can my doctors be trusted?”

“Not a disloyal thought in their heads, Mick. I think you’re safe there. But I must be going. I have an ethnic minority to oppress.”

“Which one?”

“Why, the Russians, of course!”

“One of these days we’ll have to stop laughing at that joke. Well, Viktor, show that story to our good friend the Marshal. Our team at Tyuratam may be able to make something of it.”

“O.K., boss, I’m away. See you at the Politburo meeting.”

Mikhail spends the rest of the morning going through his paperwork and reading his mail; there are five circulars, two chain letters, one misdirected subscription to Krokodil and no invitations to the Vatican. At lunchtime, there’s time for a brisk game of squash with Vitaly Vorotnikov before the 2pm Politburo meeting.

“Win A Day With Mikhail Gorbachev” was included in Best New Zealand Fiction 4 and then collected in my second short story collection, Transported.

Transported cover

You can buy Transported online from Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad. You can also read review excerpts and find out more about Transported

Saturday Serial: Win A Day With Mikhail Gorbachev, Part I

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

I’ve posted a number of my published short-short stories on this blog, but I’ve held off from posting longer works. Then I had a bright idea: how about serialising a few stories?

So, for the next four Saturdays, I hope you’ll enjoy “Win a Day with Mikhail Gorbachev! A Melodrama in Four Parts”, which was included in Best New Zealand Fiction 4 and then collected in my second short story collection, Transported. I’ll add links to Parts II-IV as they are published.

Part I: Off To Work

Mikhail Gorbachev’s day begins much like that of any busy western executive. After a vigorous session of sexual intercourse, Mikhail and his wife Raisa (a former student of philosophy at Moscow University who now drives a tractor in the Ukraine) enjoy a leisurely shower together before descending the central staircase of their modest Kremlin apartment to a hearty breakfast. Mikhail, trained as a lawyer, puts on the toast whilst Raisa brews up a stiff samovar of tea.

Over the breakfast table, Mick and Raisa chat about the news in the morning’s Pravda and the hot gossip amongst their circle of friends – mostly the latest titillating details of Soviet Premier Nikolai Tikhonov’s infatuation with a 22-year-old Intourist guide – before sticking the dishes in the machine and heading off to work. For Raisa, it’s now just a matter of setting the matter transmitter for the banks of the Dnieper and stepping through to the collective farm; for Mikhail, it’s a brisk walk across the back yard to his regular job as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Wednesday the 15th of May is a comparatively light day for Mikhail, who arrives at the office at 9am sharp, exchanging quips about last night’s dismal tour performance by Moscow Dynamo (they lost 1-5 to Punta Arenas F.C.) with his guards as he pushes open the swing doors of the Central Committee’s open-plan office and heads for his desk at the back. After taking a quick look at the morning’s intelligence bulletins – it appears Ronald Reagan has fallen off his horse again – he welcomes in the man ultimately responsible for preparing them, KGB Chief Viktor Chebrikov.

Viktor, who wears a terrible line in spectacles, is an affable, balding secret police professional. Today, he’s looking more than usually pleased with himself, and the reason appears to be contained in a book he’s carrying in his one good hand (the withering of the other is a legacy of the Sverdlovsk anthrax epidemic). The book, it transpires, is Arthur C. Clarke’s Expedition to Earth.

Transported cover

You can buy Transported online from Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad. You can also read review excerpts and find out more about Transported.

Lost In Translation: New Zealand Stories

Waitangi Day, the 6th of February, is New Zealand’s national day, commemorated by official ceremonies at Te Tii Marae and elsewhere.

In Wellington, it was the second and final day of the Wellington Sevens, an event which (apart from being a seven-a-side rugby tournament) doubles as Wellington’s version of Mardi Gras; and also the day of the One Love music festival.

While all these good things were going on, a short story anthology with a new story by me was published. Called Lost in Translation: New Zealand Stories, it’s edited by Victoria University academic and translator Marco Sonzogni.

As the Random House web page for Lost in Translation says:

Lying at the core of our interactions, words are both salves and weapons, they can be simple and fork-tongued. How we read, how we misinterpret each other, can reveal the nature of our society – its diversity, complexity and richness. These stories riff on this ambiguity of understanding: there are vivid scenes from our colonial past right up to the current day; a previous prime minister tries to dodge a photographer; a writer reworks a film premise over and over again; taggers express themselves in their own language; couples lock horns while strangers are brought together. There is humour, there is poignancy, there is terrific writing. This is a collection that will provoke, stimulate and delight.

My story in the collection, “Thank You Very Much” – and yes, for New Zealand readers who may recognise the phrase, it does include a scene set at Telethon – is about a fictitious Dunedin 1980s rock band, from back in the days when Dunedin seemed (at least to a Dunedinite) to be the centre of the musical universe, and Flying Nun ruled. I’ve always been fascinated by announcements that a band has broken up due to “musical and personal differences”, and this story explores what those musical and personal – and lyrical – differences might be.

James Dignan kindly helped to supplement my memories of that time with actual facts about who played what where when, although I should stress that the characters and situations in the story are entirely the product of my fevered mind.

I don’t yet know how well my story fits with the other stories in the book, but I’m pleased to be included in a lineup of authors that also includes Michelle Arathimos, Ben Brown, Ellie Catton, David Eggleton, Travis Gasper, Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Briar Grace-Smith, Charlotte Grimshaw, Peter Hawes, Fiona Kidman, Tze Ming Mok, Kelly Ana Morey, Paula Morris, Sue Orr, Vincent O’Sullivan, Alice Tawhai, Apirana Taylor, and Albert Wendt. I’m looking forward to reading the anthology.

An Interview with Sue Emms

Sue Emms is the fiction editor of Bravado magazine, and also a novelist and author of short fiction. She made a big splash with her first novel, Parrot Parfait, and subsequently published her second novel, Come Yesterday. I interviewed her recently about her past and current writing, her plans for the future, and the bubbling literary scene in Tauranga.

You’ve had two novels published to a good response, Parrot Parfait and Come Yesterday; you had a story included in The Best New Zealand Fiction: Volume 3; and you’re the fiction editor of Bravado magazine. But would it be fair to say that things have been a bit quiet for you lately on the literary front, and if so, would you mind saying why?

Two things happened at more or less the same time. Along with fellow writer and editor Jenny Argante I was asked to create a writing programme for the Waiariki Institute in Rotorua. We first created a Certificate in Creative Writing, developed it to Diploma level, and added manuscript mentoring. I must have written about 400,000 words for the courses, and it’s been great fun – plus we’ve had excellent feedback from writers who have taken part (always good), but it has been time-consuming. I’m hoping to cut back from course development to just tutoring and mentoring this year, to allow more time for my own writing.

At the same time, things were going to custard on a personal level. I was nursing my mother through a long illness and, a few months after her death, my brother was diagnosed with brain tumours. I cared for him until his death, which arrived far too quickly – only 5 months from diagnosis. I was left fairly shattered, to be honest, and unable to write anything that I’d consider fit for publication. It was all personal, cathartic stuff. Now, a year or so down the track, I feel I’m coming to a place where I can write for publication again.

When did you first start writing fiction, and what made you decide to become a professional writer?

When do writers begin writing … that’s a question! Formally, I made a start in the mid 80s, and even had some successes, but then I had a crisis of confidence and gave it all away. In 1998, I decided that the dream hadn’t died, and I was going to give it a go: if I failed, so be it. Why fiction, and why professional? Because I love reading, love nothing better than falling in to a fictional world that feels more real than the one I live in. I love the act of crafting a body of words so they make sense; because of all the things in life I can’t do, writing is the one I can.

Who are some of your favourite authors? Would you say that these are the authors who’ve had the most influence on your own writing, or do you have a separate set of influences?

Ah God. Favourite authors … I’m a gourmand when it comes to authors, not a gourmet. Worse, I am fickle. I fall in love with an author, and out again. But some enduring writers are Thorne Smith, Anne Tyler, David Brin, Kate Atkinson, Anna Quindlen, Janny Wurtz, Elizabeth Berg, Jasper Fforde and dozens of others depending on my mood. I’m not sure if any have had a specific influence that I can identify – I’ve never set out to write like anyone else. But sometimes I write something or get an idea, and am aware there is a subconscious nod to a previous writer. My work in progress is A Man of Many Lives about a man who has half-a-dozen skeletons for company. Thorne Smith wrote a book called Skin and Bone. That has to be an influence.

Other influences? Life. Because I’m the kind of person who is always trying to make sense of it all – I know, that’s the path to madness, but still. Doesn’t stop me trying.

I have never been to Tauranga — shocking, I know! – but there seems to be a vibrant literary scene there, with Bravado one of its most visible manifestations. Has the Tauranga literary community been an inspiration to you — or perhaps I should ask, have you been an inspiration to it?!

It’s fair to say it’s a two-way street, a kind of mutual generation of vibrancy. Jenny Argante is probably one of the driving forces around here. She’s the ideas lady – and I’m the one who putters quietly away behind the scenes. Having said that, I dropped out of the scene to a great extent with my family considerations.

Bravado is heading for its fifteenth issue, which is a considerable achievement — and it does keep getting better and better. How does the Bravado crew manage to do it?

We share ulcers! LOL. Keeping a lit magazine going is not easy. But we’re all passionate about writing and writers, and believe implicitly that writers need to be read. That’s our driving force. A great love of writing and writers.

What do you regard as the highlight of your writing career to date, if there has been a single highlight?

I don’t think there’s been a single highlight – I could say “my first novel” and it was, of course, a great moment. But writing is an accumulation of words to create something meaningful and in the same way, writing achievements are an accumulation of small things. Yes, I’m delighted every time a story or poem of mine is published, or placed in a competition, accepted for an anthology or broadcast on radio. The success of Bravado pleases me. My aim is to publish more books, and when that happens, I know I’ll be kicking my heels. But there is something about the day-to-day craft of writing that is enormously satisfying to me. If it wasn’t, publication wouldn’t be worth it.

Although you are best known for your fiction, you are also a poet, and there are some of your poems on your web site. Do you envisage writing more poetry in future, and who are some of your favourite poets?

I have written poetry, and I would like to write more but am very aware there is a large gulf between good poetry and bad. I have a lot of bad stuff tucked under the bed where it shall stay for ever and ever amen. In the hands of a craftsman, though, poetry is astonishing. I make a point of reading as wide a variety of New Zealand poets as I can. I don’t know that I like to name favourite poets – but Cilla McQueen, Allen Curnow, Kelly Ana Morey, Elizabeth Smither, Sue Wootton, Anna Jackson and Glen Colquhoun are just a few poets I’ve read and enjoyed recently.

If you’re willing to reveal them, what are your current plans as a writer?

The last few years my focus has been writing non-fiction in the form of creative writing tutorials. I’m happy with what I’ve done, but I’m missing fiction, and my big plan is to get back to writing it every day. I have two novels in progress, A Man of Many Lives and Council of Fools. I aim to finish those by the end of the year – to first draft status, anyway. I also have a completed novel, The Kindred Stone, which was accepted for publication but never made it to paper as the publisher, Hazard Press, fell over. I would like to find a new publisher for this manuscript. I’m keen, also, to compile a collection of my short stories. Not sure if there’s a real market for them but, at the moment, I have stories scattered far and wide. For my own satisfaction, if nothing else, I like the idea of creating an anthology of them.

It would be fair to say, I guess, that I want to put fiction writing back to the centre of my life and just see where it takes me.

“The New Neighbours” In Good Company

A little piece of good news from the tail end of 2008: I received confirmation that my short story “The New Neighbours”, first published in Transported, had been selected for inclusion in the Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories, an anthology edited by Paula Morris that covers the last ten years of short-fiction writing in New Zealand. It will be published in September 2009.

I’m very pleased to see “The New Neighbours” in such illustrious company. Here, to give you the flavour, are the first few paragraphs. All those references to high property values look nostalgic already.

The New Neighbours

High property values are the hallmark of a civilised society. Though our generation may never build cathedrals nor find a cure for cancer, may never save the whales nor end world hunger, yet we can die with smiles on our faces if we have left our homes better than we found them, if we have added decks, remodelled kitchens, and created indoor-outdoor flow.

Reaction in our street to the news that an alien family would soon move into Number 56 was therefore mixed. Number 56 was the proverbial worst house on the best street, and any family who could improve it — regardless of skin colour or number of limbs — was welcome, in my view. My wife Alison said she’d wait and see. Josh wondered if they had any kids his age.

Others near to the action, and particularly the Murrays at No. 54 and the Zhangs at No. 58, were less sanguine. “But it’s not as if they need a resource consent,” said my wife to Jessica Zhang, and she was right. Having bought the house at a legitimate auction through a telephone bidder, and paid the deposit, the alien family were well within their rights to settle in our street, and the rest of us would simply have to make the best of it.

But not everyone does try to make the best of it, and complications ensue … In my next post, a little about my writing and blogging plans for 2009.