Tom Skelton 2020 Visions (What if I hadn’t gone blind?)

Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes means to completely put yourself in a different point of view. To imagine a life adjacent from your own and understand how it could be seen through another’s eyes. But what if that person only has 5% vision? Enter: Tom Skelton.

Tom Skelton: 2020 Visions (What if I hadn’t gone blind?) is an insightful, hilarious, and at times sombre narrative of one man’s journey. As a VIP (Visually Impaired Person), Skelton puts the audience in his shoes, taking them on a 10 year journey in just under an hour. 2020 Visions begins with a prelude to the tale ahead, providing some minor details and encouraging the audience to laugh at the jokes being made at his expense (after all it is a comedy). Skelton then takes us from his initial diagnosis to where he is today.

The years are filled with challenges, romance, growth, and laughter. But he weaves in and out of this reality with an alternate one. A reality where he is not a VIP but a person with 2020 vision. Skelton creates a brilliant contrast as he navigates between the two and dissects his own “What if?”

In the real world he is learning strategies to better handle day-to-day tasks (such as making cups of coffee). But in the alternate he has successfully eliminated the energy crisis, obesity, and climate change in America by implementing one simple machine in every home. While he is searching for love in one, he was having a publicised romance with Taylor Swift in the other. Skelton can show you the hard realities one minute and having you laugh the next at his alternate life fantasy.

This unique perspective is one that sticks and ultimately poses an interesting question to Skelton where he asks himself what reality he wishes to inhabit. Tom Skelton: 2020 Visions (What if I hadn’t gone blind?) is an expertly crafted narrative and is a show that one takes pleasure in being in the seat for.

5 stars


Words by Isaac Freeman

Tom Skelton: 2020 Vision (What if I hadn’t gone Blind?) is showing until March 14

For more information and to purchase tickets click here

 

Shadowalker

Shadowalker

Catch Tilly

Stone Table Books 2017


Shadowalker is an engrossing fantasy you’ll want to read in a single sitting—I know I did.

After waking in Meldin with only a hazy memory and in world-altering pain, Uriel, daughter of the Death Lord, is in one of the most dangerous situations of her life. With her previous life lost, she is a victim to heraldic knowledge she can hardly handle. Abandoned on her uncle’s doorstep, she discovers half her family and most of Meldin want her father dead. It is imperative her identity is hidden from the Lord of the World – but how will that play out when the only one who can heal her is the Lord of the World’s son, Zanar? With Zanar’s help, Uriel escapes to Quislayn, one of the independent houses where she is a fosterling with her cousin Caraid.

In the process of healing Uriel, Zanar and Uriel’s closeness becomes a point of contention among the fosterlings. Caraid’s jealousy grows as she is forced to share her boyfriend with a cousin she doesn’t know or like.

Throughout the novel Uriel’s ignorance is the reader’s ignorance, together we discover this new world and how to navigate it. Meldin society often seems similar to being at court in medieval times, in particular among the fosterlings who squabble over social standing. Taking from Caraid’s lead, the fosterlings are suspicious of Uriel, not least because of her strange fits.

Shadowalker follows Uriel’s character as she uncovers more about her past, her father, and Meldin’s bloody history through the trauma of her peers. We see her grow up, taking the world of Meldin in her stride while forming bonds with her fellow fosterlings – bonds which may keep her safe.

Tilly has crafted the novel well, anticipating and the reader’s questions and allowing Uriel to find the answers. The book is well written and complimented by dragons, shape-shifters and death-magic – everything my younger self would have cherished. This book is perfect for fantasy lovers aged twelve and up.

 

3.5/5 stars


Words by Kayla Gaskell

Playing God

Playing God
Morton Benning
Stone Table Books, 2017


With a wry humour reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, Morton Benning treats the reader to a quest fit for any lover of role-playing fantasy games. Playing God explores the fallacy of making yourself a god – something ‘God Avatar’ Jeff created the entire digital world of Utopia to do. When the A.I. of Jeff’s game world malfunctions and turns on him, he finds himself trapped in Utopia. His quest to get back to the real world forces him into a party of rag-tag travellers including a cleric-in-training, an elf, a loveable little cat-creature, fairies of an aquatic variety and a surly goblin. Through a series of misadventures, Jeff is forced to unlearn his selfish ways and see the importance of helping others and working as part of a team.

This is a book that will certainly appeal to a teenage audience. It is easy to read and the story feels a lot like a madcap Dungeons & Dragons campaign. That being said, while the plot is plentiful in encounters with monsters and the odd flesh-eating tree, it doesn’t delve much into character. Jeff is easily the most developed character, but at times when he isn’t present the story feels a little more stagnant with other key characters such as Keenley, Turnshoe, and Miyako coming off as a touch shallow. This is a little disappointing given that Keenley is, arguably, the main character – not Jeff.

There is also a bit of ensemble-cast-syndrome going on as sometimes it feels a little like there are too many people in the party, to the point where none of them truly get to shine – something not uncommon in D&D style fantasies in which a big party is common.. The pacing can also be slow in parts, particularly when the characters are travelling, but this is made up for by the action-packed sequences peppered in-between.

The concept behind Playing God is a compelling one. What is it like to be one of the NPCs inhabiting a game world? It’s the kind of angle rarely examined – the exceptions being the likes of Viva La Dirt League’s Epic NPC Man series on YouTube. With a similar turn towards humour, Benning takes the NPC experience a step forward by looking at how the characters in Utopia react to their creator, Jeff, whose decidedly 21st century quips and analogies leave Keenley and co baffled.

Overall, this is a playful and enjoyable debut.

Playing God is available to purchase through Stone Table Books.

3/5 stars


Words by Lisandra Linde

In Conversation: J R Koop

J R Koop is a fantasy writer from Adelaide whose debut novel, Racing the Sun, was released on April 12 this year. Koop has spent years building up her world and her novel to the completed version we see today. The self-published book is available in paperback or as an ebook on all major ebook retailers. Racing the Sun is a queer throw-back to Sleeping Beauty and a tribute to her fiancé, Salsabil Hafiz, set in a South-Asian inspired land. Tulpa’s Kayla Gaskell had the opportunity to chat with Koop about the book and her writing journey.

Having already spent time shopping her book to traditional publishers, earlier this year Koop decided it was time to self-publish her long-time project, Racing the Sun. A stand alone in her fantasy world of Abrecan, Koop has spent four years developing the novel. From a first draft with a typically Western setting, Racing the Sun has come so far. Koop decided to alter the novel after feedback from Hafiz suggesting Koop make it “more interesting”.

And by interesting, she means diverse. Racing the Sun has a wide spectrum of characters ranging from the blind oracle, Taeng, through to the PTSD and chronic-pain suffering faerie Qadira. With plenty of input from a variety of sources and sensitivity readers, Koop says “a lot of people helped make this book what it is and made sure I’d written in a non-offensive and accurate way.”

Set in a South-Asian inspired land, Koop says that the conflict between the Praitosi Empire and Delorran was reminiscent of the conflict between India and Pakistan. While this is a fantasy, Koop was sure to discuss these allusions with friends and sensitivity readers, keeping in mind that the world is inspired by ours but at the same time very much its own. The novel turns away from a more traditional Western-centric fantasy vision, presenting more POC than not. When asked about this choice, Koop replied: “If I just wrote white characters it would be a boring world.”

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In terms of challenges, Koop’s greatest one was accepting that Racing the Sun was finished. She says: “I could keep staring at it for years, or I could put it out there.” Having done countless edits on the manuscript Koop says she was starting to wonder when it would be enough. Once the decision was made, Koop turned her mind to researching self-publishing where-upon she settled on a joint e-publication and print-on-demand package with publishing service IngramSpark. Koop didn’t want the limitations of e-publication to hold her back when so many readers who prefer physical books.

Koop goes on to discuss how expensive self-publishing her novel was, although she was lucky enough to engage an illustrator who has become a great friend. Sylvia Bi took to the project with enthusiasm and produced a gorgeous cover. Koop decided on an illustrator for her book because she wanted Racing the Sun to have a professional feel as well as take a little of the pressure off of the process.

In earlier drafts of the novel, Koop says there was a pronunciation guide to help readers with the many and varied unfamiliar terms, however, in the final version this was scrapped. “I kept adding to it, there are too many things in this list, people might get scared.” Like with many fantasy novels however, Koop confirms that you can easily pick up the terminology as you go.

The world of Abrecan is already a vibrant alternate world and Racing the Sun is just the beginning. A stand-alone within the world, Koop has plenty of plans in various stages of completion to bring more of Abrecan to life. As she says: “people are just coming across this one book, they’re not seeing the other works just yet.” With more than twenty folders of ideas on her shelf, there is always something to work on. Her next project is a circus novella set in a French-based area, although she also has plans for a Cinderella retelling and an Egyptian-based retelling of Cupid and Psyche.

 

To keep up with Koop, follow her on Twitter or Instagram or visit her website.


 

Words by Kayla Gaskell
Images provided by Jasmine Koop

Racing the Sun

44330028Reading Racing the Sun by J.R. Koop was like taking a deep breath of fresh air. Set in a Southern Asian inspired fantasy kingdom and with a queer love story at the centre, this Young Adult work is bright against its heavily heteronormative, and predominately Western-based peers. After the soul is stolen out of her secret lover’s chest by a sorceress bent on resurrecting the Ashen God, Rahat must race through the dangerous jungle to save both her lover and her kingdom.

Koop’s writing flows easily and is very fun to read. Her characters and their relationships, especially between family members, are engaging and well-formed. The passages with the faerie, Qaidra, were some of the book’s best they provided much of the lore and world-building background for the work. Qaidra is a being that has suffered and the glimpses into her past were sharply drawn and helped flesh out the faerie into a strikingly memorable figure. That said, I do think the world of Abrecan  could have done with a little more world-building in terms of the lore of the Gods and the significance of the faerie Rapture; at times it felt as though the author expected you to be privy to the inner workings of the world without the full breadth of that insider knowledge quite making it to the page. However, the world-building that was present was rich and interesting – Koop clearly has a vivid, active imagination and lots of love for the things she creates.

The politics of this novel – Rahat and Iliyah, her lover, are both of the ruling class but cannot be together: instead Rahat is promised to Iliyah’s brother to unite their kingdom – add tension to the plot and a desperation to Rahat that endears her to her readers. Although, again, I would have benefitted from a tiny bit more of an explanation about the things that prevent Rahat and the girl she loves from being together, especially given the reason for their separation – Iliyah’s service to a God as a dream weaver – proves to be easily dismissed at the end by the powers that be.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which felt like a good mix of Neil Gaimen, Garth Nix, and Audrey Coulthurst. There’s lots to love in Racing the Sun: the rich world of Abrecan; the sweet love story; the love and encouragement between family members; the unusual range of creatures and beasts (I loved the mechanical horses, they were my absolute favourites); the adventure. This novel is a refreshing addition to the YA genre, and I am excited to see what Koop produces next.

Four Stars.


 

Words by Riana Kinlough

An Overambitious Debut: ‘The Ruin of Kings’

The Ruin of Kings

Jenn Lyons



The Ruin of Kings
, the first title in author Jenn Lyons epic fantasy series ‘A Chorus of Dragons’, is structurally ambitious but fails to deliver on its own lofty aims. The story itself is standard fare for the fantasy genre, with dragons, magic and scheming nobles aplenty. The protagonist, Kihrin, is a seemingly ordinary boy who ends up entangled in intrigue and mayhem thanks to his secret noble heritage and much-sought-after magical item. This is all well and good. Fantasy readers are rather accepting of the old tropes, provided they’re given a fresh perspective. The question is, does Lyons deliver something new to the lost-noble-boy story?

Arguably, yes. In some ways Kihrin is a departure from the typical chosen-one lost-noble hero. For one, he isn’t insufferably righteous. In terms of the moral spectrum, he falls somewhere in the grey region: he has admirable values, like protecting his loved ones and disapproving of slavery, but he’s also up for butchering people without guilt when the situation calls for it. This places Kihrin somewhere between the goody-two-shoes hero and the darker, gore-splattered Grimdark hero. The mix is a rather nice one. Or, it could have been, if Lyons had given Kihrin the space to breathe and express himself on the page.

Kihrin is at the centre of the story, yet we never really get to know him. We know a great deal about him– in the same way a sleep-deprived university student might know a lot about King Henry VIII of England if they’ve read his whole Wikipedia page– but we know nothing beyond what happens to him. We don’t know who he is underneath it all. His thoughts and feelings rarely shine through, even though Kihrin narrates for half the book. One could argue that Lyons is merely showing Kihrin’s reservations about being open and honest about his thoughts and feelings when recounting his story – he is telling it all to a shapeshifting monster after all.

The shapeshifting monster, Talon, is the co-narrator of this book. In fact, their narrations switch from chapter to chapter. Talon recounts Kihrin’s early life –his noble heritage and the scheming world of the noble families of Quur. Talon has a little bit of sass, and her recount sometimes tends towards humour, but other than the smallest of changes, the two narration styles are almost indistinguishable. So much so that at times the only indication that we’ve switched from Talon to Kihrin is the switch from third person to first, which is a little jarring.

Besides the feeling that the characters were not fully fleshed out, there was another barrier to bar the reader from connecting with them, and this was the structure of the book.  It is, arguably, the most ambitious part of this novel. Where the story is fairly standard for fantasy, with little departure from well known tropes, the structure is vastly different from most fantasy novels. The book is split into two main storylines: Talon’s tale of Kihrin’s heritage and subsequent involvement in noble plots and Kihrin’s tale of what happened after. These two storylines are fine on their own. The problem arises when you consider that they are both told side by side. The constant switch between Talon’s storyline and Kihrin’s means that the reader spends more time sorting between the two timelines rather than engaging with the story. Something revealed in storyline A is already known in storyline B – which makes any feeling of surprise at a ‘reveal’ feel shallow. The chapters are quite short – usually only one or two scenes per chapter before the next chapter yanks the reader out of one story and into the other. The result is something over-convoluted and extremely hard to engage with. The fact that both storylines are about pieces of Kihrin’s journey means that the reader is constantly switching between the adolescent and adult versions of Kihrin, while never really getting to know either of them.

The most important part of any hero’s journey is the character’s growth in response to his or her experiences. Kihrin experiences a great deal – from encounters with demons to death cults, necromancers to evil wizards, and even dragons. All these experiences  shape his character but it’s difficult to trace these changes because of the baffling back-and-forth. In the end, who is Kihrin and why should any of us care what he’s going through?

So, was it structure alone that hollowed out Kihrin’s character and made the story suffer? Unfortunately, no. The structure of this book is certainly the height of overambitious writing, but there’s another insidious case of the author over-reaching her skill, to the detriment of her work. This is a book in which noble families and the families of magical beings plays a crucial role. This means that the reader has to learn about who was whose great-grandfather and who inter-married into which family. This complex exploration of family trees can be done well, as writers like George R. R. Martin have shown in the past. Unfortunately, in this case it was not. Lyons has constructed a network of families that are bafflingly overcomplicated. Not only are the families full of inter-related people, many of these people have multiple identities which change throughout the course of the story. It doesn’t help that her fantasy world involves magical stones that let people switch bodies with others or that every time someone switches, they change bodies with someone important to the family lines.

Consequently, there are multiple dramatic reveals of ‘oh my, he was this person all along!’ and ‘that means that person is actually that person’s dad/brother not their brother/dad’. Do this enough times in a 500+ page book and it starts to get tacky and even laughable.

Really, the problem seems to be Lyons trying to overcomplicate her story in order to make it clever. It’s an ambitious move, one that many epic and high fantasy writers are guilty of botching in the past. The sad reality is that a complex story is only as good as all the simple foundations the author has laid out to support it. If the characters and core story don’t resonate, then the book will ultimately fail: no matter how many lost princes and magical plots you throw into the mix.

Could this story have worked? Yes. It absolutely could have. Lyons had all the right pieces on the board – a fun story with some beloved tropes, characters who could have made it compelling and world building which was actually quite interesting and fresh. I believe that if she had focused on those core elements and honed them a little more then this would have been a solid start to a series. There are parts of the plot that were awkward and a little clumsily executed, but on the whole, there was enough positive content to make up for the blunders. It was the decision to turn the focus away from the foundations and onto making the book structurally complex that let the book down. It’s frustrating, really.

This was a promising book with a decent premise that lacked the needed pay-off because of the author’s overambitious approach. Will I be tuning into the next instalment? It’s a reluctant maybe from me.

 

2.5 stars


Words by Lisandra Linde

Quest Time!

For an hour, Improv Adelaide’s Quest Time! turned the Adelaide Room at the Duke of Brunswick into a mystical world filled with magic weapons and doppelganger monsters. Quest Time! is an improv comedy with fantasy roleplaying game (RPG) elements from games like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). It’s a weird combination, but it brought an evening of laughs, engaging characters and some unexpected WTF moments.
Although an odd combination, improv and RPG elements work very well together in Quest Time!. The main characters of the show are formed by the audience, common in improv, which is everything from their fantasy race( (eg. elf, dwarf, gnome) to their name. This show started in a day spa with two gnomes, one being a towel apprentice and her master, a great warrior. Where the D&D elements come into play is the use of the d20 die. It is here that I found the combination of improv and RPG elements at their best together. Whatever the game master rolled affected the outcome of the story, changing it before my very eyes.
The game master gave effective descriptions and brought me into the world. At one stage, I actually felt as though I were in the world myself, trudging through a swamp and sitting in a cave covered in bones and gore. The mixture of fantasy music also brought me further into the world, enhancing my experience overall.
The comedy worked very well in the show. The performers did a really good job improvising their act, which in turn made the show funnier. My favourites of these was a nonplayer character (NPC), who played an Irish/Scottish man searching for his daughter. The performer’s accent was down pat and had me laughing each time they made their appearance.
While I did enjoy the characters, acting, and comedy, I did find the story very difficult to follow. The randomised style made the main plot very difficult to follow and I couldn’t quite follow some of the character stories. This did bug me but it’s how the show is meant to be played out. The plot is not meant to be clear and changes with each viewing.
Quest Time! is a whole lot of improvised fun. I really enjoyed my version of the show and the improvised acting is very well done. If you enjoy improv comedy and RPGs then I highly recommend you see this show. It’s a whole lot of randomised fun!

 


Words by Cameron Lowe

Four stars

Quest Time! is playing at The Duke of Brunswick Hotel February 20-21, 26-28. Tickets available here.

 

Wundersmith

Wundersmith
Jessica Townsend


 

Book of the year at the ABI Awards in 2018, Nevermoor’s sequel, Wundersmith was recently released by Lothian books. As well as being a fantastic whirlwind fantasy it also has the added appeal of supporting a Queensland writer. Hailed by some as the next (and Australian) J.K. Rowling (minus every questionable decision since the publication of The Deathly Hallows), this is certainly one to get into.

Nevermoor we met the cursed Morrigan Crow, who was destined to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. However, her life was irrevocably changed by the appearance of the eccentric Jupiter North who whisks her away from her Eventide home and into the Wunderous city of Nevermoor where she comes to think of the magical Deucalion hotel as home. But Jupiter’s generosity isn’t random, and Morrigan isn’t just any cursed girl. She is a Wundersmith. She possesses a highly rare and feared knack. While carefully kept ignorant of her gift, Morrigan joins the trails for entrance into the prestigious Wunderous Society, competing against hundreds of other talented children for one of nine places.

Wundersmith follows on from Nevermoor, just as Morrigan is accepted into Society. She now has eight brothers and sisters, but could it really be that easy? With a nefarious Wundersmith among them, will the other children believe in Morrigan’s good nature or will the evil deeds of past Wundersmith’s affect their view? Charged with keeping Morrigan’s knack a secret, it isn’t long before tensions rise among the new society members. Coddled for her own safety and the safety of others, Morrigan finds that the Academy is not all that was promised and despite the best efforts of everyone at the hotel to keep her occupied, she grows restless. As she falls back into a pit of restlessness and self-doubt, believing she is a monster, a welcome distraction comes with the mystery of Wunderous disappearances happening all over the city. With Jupiter investigating, what is there for a restless Morrigan to do if not try to help?

Both books are filled with colourful characters and the fun of children finding their way in the world. An entirely accessible read, I would recommend the novel to children aged seven and up—although this is also the perfect book to read to people of any age. The novel truly is a magical, whirlwind adventure of self-discovery, resilience in the face or bullying, patience, and the wonder of curiosity. For anyone who loves Harry Potter or craves the magic of Diana Wynn-Jones, the Nevermoor series is a great choice.


Words and photography by Kayla Gaskell

In Conversation: Anthony Christou

 

During AVCon 2018, I had the pleasure of meeting fantasy artist, Anthony Christou. He had a wide variety of work on sale: all his original art, as well as his comic series, Luminous Ages, and card games in addition to the series. Recently, I was able to catch up with Christou to talk about his work and extensive successes as a working artist and illustrator.

Christou is a very driven person with a vibrant creative spark. He started off with a Bachelor of Visual Art before going on to do a Masters in Illustration at Uni SA. Christou soon after decided to follow his passion in game art and illustration. Christou began freelance work in the games industry and in 2012 decided to fully devote himself to this career. Christou worked with mentors such as Rob C. Richardson and Simon Scales, who encouraged him to further develop his work. Through exhibiting with Adelaide Illustrators, Christou secured enough freelance work to support himself.

In 2013, Christou worked on a New Zealand Kickstarter game called Path of Exile. It was here that he learned more about the games industry. For Path of Exile Christou worked on a number of aspects including illustration, 3D modelling, concept art, assets, and in-game artwork.  It was during this year that Christou began his convention work, attended Adelaide Supernova for the first time, and achieved insane sales for his original fantasy art. Christou now attends up to eighteen conventions a year, earning a profit large enough to make a comfortable living. Since then he has given talks at both Supanova and Comic-Con. The best part about conventions, he says, is that you get to leave the house and make new friends.

While much of his work is digital, Christou still works with traditional mediums as well. His piece ‘Dangerous Seas’ became the cover art for The Path Less Travelled’s album ‘Cast Out the Crowds’. Christou spoke about being approached by a lady who told him that every time she feels sad she looks at ‘Dangerous Seas’ and it reminds her she can make it through the storm. He was surprised to find that his work could have such an impact on people.

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Anthony Christou, ‘Dangerous Seas’

In 2014, Christou decided to explore his interest in making a comic series. Luminous Ages is now four issues in and remains the second highest funded comic Kickstarter in Australia with only 180 backers and a pledge of around $17,000. Thanks to this funding, Christou is able to hire freelance artists and editors to help bring his project to life. Rob C Richardson, Anthony Earl, Elena Lukina, and Christy Butt worked closely with Christou on this project.

Luminous Ages itself is a series set in a surreal world where dreams can become reality. Thirteen dragon gods are fighting for control of both the dream and real world plane. It is up to the main character, Thrakos, and a cast of dream mages to keep them at bay. The series blends cultures and mythologies together to create a multi-cultural fantasy which addresses environmental issues.

A mixture of cultures and mythologies, Luminous Ages presents a story which heralds both multiculturalism and environmentalism. The series gives Christou not only the opportunity to explore his interests but his artistic potential. Contrary to the American style comics which we are most familiar with, Christou works in a style which is very similar to French or Italian, providing richly detailed illustrations in a comic format.

As well as game design and illustration, Christou has also worked with a number of film companies including Disney, Two-tone Studios, and Wolf Creek Productions.

Christou recommends exploring your artistic freedom and not to work for free too much. He says, ‘creativity can be blocked when you work with the wrong people.’ He notes that there are lots of opportunities within Australia, plenty more than when he started out. He also stresses the importance of taking a break, saying he usually gives himself one day off a week and a couple of weeks each year. Without breaks you can’t generate new ideas.

Being an artist is an endurance race. You need to spend a lot of time developing your work and looking after yourself. And it needs to be sustainable.

He reminds us that artists and writers are a business, and you need to understand creative business. You can’t have everything for nothing and you can’t expect it to be easy. We don’t live in an age like DaVinci and Michaelangelo whose artistic development was sponsored by the church and the military respectively.

When asked about the most difficult aspects of being a working artist, Christou said it was the financial side, business, and the sacrifices you have to make for your passion. His favourite things about working full time as an artist are, of course, sleeping and travelling, but also creating images from his mind, he loves being able to “bring his imagination to life.”

Christou’s next major project is a Kickstarer for theme decks of his card game Dragon Dreams. The Kickstarter is due to launch at 5:30pm Adelaide time today. That’s in just a few hours! You can find it here: https://www.kickstarter.com/profile/luminousages/

Christou is also on Youtube and Patreon.

Check out his website here!

 


Words by Kayla Gaskell

Images property of Anthony Christou

In Conversation With: Joel Martin- Speculate

A few months ago, in late April, I made the pilgrimage to Melbourne for an exciting new writers festival called Speculate. As a writer and reader of speculative fiction, it was everything I felt had been missing from my other festival experiences, which tended to focus rather heavily on Literature, with the occasional Genre fiction panel almost as an after-thought.

Speculate, a festival focused entirely on speculative science fiction and fantasy fiction, packed into a single day an amazing line up of informative sessions with some excellent big-name guests, including Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff, Michael Pryor, Laura E Goodin, Alison Arnold, Trudi Canavan and more. The sessions covered everything from setting, language, character development and futurism, with some often surprising discussions. I was incredibly impressed by the quality of this festival – in its inaugural event – and the work of the relatively small but passionate team who made it happen.

In light of this, I spoke to Festival Director Joel Martin about why he started Speculate and what it takes to create a writers’ festival.

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What made you want to start your own writers festival?

Speculate was started because we felt there needed to be more speculative fiction discussed in the literary circuit, especially focusing on the craft of writing.

 

How long did it take to go from conception to the festival?

Ian Laking (our comms manager and my co-host on [my literary podcast] The Morning Bell) and I had a coffee at Flinders Lane after hearing a talk by Vince Gilligan (of Breaking Bad fame). I think that’s about the first time I actually verbalized my desire to make Speculate happen. That would have been July 2017. In hindsight not a lot of time to set up the inaugural event in April 2018 but I think we pulled it off!

 

Did you have any pre-requisite knowledge, skills or connections that helped you? Do you have a background or day job in arts or publishing?

I work as a freelance editor and through that and the podcast [The Morning Bell], I’ve been really lucky to meet some amazing people, including some of the talented authors that were at Speculate. But I think the one thing I’d want to highlight for the question is the team behind Speculate. Ian Laking, Rachelle Dekker, Alex Fairhill and many more people put plenty of work into the festival, working volunteer hours while juggling home lives, full time jobs, studies & newborn babies to make it happen (they didn’t literally juggle babies).

 

What were your biggest challenges in this journey? Any triumphs you’re especially proud of?

One challenge (and it’s a great one to have) was how to feature so many great spec-fic voices in one day! We’re quite spoiled in Melbourne to have some of the best spec-fic writers in the country and it was a real struggle to have to focus down on just five sessions. I never like picking favourites, but I was very proud of showcasing Dungeons & Development: Characters Under Pressure. It was an absolute pleasure to put together and it was a joy to be in the audience watching those amazing folks make something wonderful of it. I think tabletop, pen and paper and video games have unlimited potential to deliver great narratives and I want to see more of that on the literary circuit. Indeed, we should be embracing it!

 

What have you learned from this experience that you’ll take into next year?

So many things! A lot of that is on the backend side, as you learn to implement systems a lot more effectively the second time over and streamline the entire planning process. And we’ll have more time, which should be a huge help!

 

Do you have any long-term goals for the future of Speculate? Any particular guests you want to host? Any special venues you want to run it in?

I like to take things one project at a time, but I often think just like predicting the future of Science Fiction is a risky business, I wouldn’t want to guess at what shape Speculate might take in the future. Honestly, I have so many guest names I want to throw out, but I think the wisest course of action [is] for me to remain silent on that. Just be assured that we plan to always aim for the sky! We were very lucky to have the wonderful venue of Gasworks Arts Park. It really suited the community focused vibe that we hope to encourage at Speculate. As much as I know the question of venue is a serious one, let’s fantasise for a moment. If I had my pick of any venue in the world I’d want to hold a Speculate opening, I’d be hard pressed to think of a more impressive setting than Italy’s Verona Arena. Speculative Fiction is big on wonder after all!

 

What’s the biggest piece of advice for anyone else looking to start their own festival?

I’m going to cheat and make it two pieces of the same whole.

Identify clear goals in order to find your niche, and bring in people with likeminded passion, who will support you but also challenge and refine your vision. The team behind Speculate 2018 was critical to its success, and that might seem like an obvious statement but I can’t stress enough the importance of having a good group of people behind an idea like this. Writing often seems like a lonely profession, but a celebration like this need not be.

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It was great having a chance to chat with Joel about his process and team, after experiencing such an excellent festival as Speculate. I definitely recommend you all sign up when tickets are released for 2019.

And while often literary events and festivals seem like the stuff of magic, at the heart you’ll always simply find dedicated, hard-working people with a vision and a passion for books, writers and writing. I hope more dedicated festivals pop up around the country – especially here in Adelaide where our writing scene really could use some activity outside of Mad March – and that we remember that a robust writing community is the most important thing to keep our industry flourishing. Aside from actually writing.

 


Words and photo by Simone Corletto

20170920_080752Simone Corletto is an Adelaide-based YA and Science-Fiction writer. She’s performed her work numerous times for Speakeasy and at the National Young Writers Festival. Her first co-edited anthology, Crush, was published by MidnightSun Publishing. Her work has also appeared in Empire Times, Double Helix, RiAus, and the 2017 Visible Ink anthology “The End”. She spends her spare time crocheting lumpy hats, writing about teenage superheroes, and telling people about her science degree. She tweets at @SimCorWrites