Tony Bradman talks about writing

Last week I posted part 1 of my interview with anthologist, Tony Bradman. But there is more to Tony than anthologies. He is also an accomplished writer with dozen of books to his credit. Today, Tony is back at Literary Clutter answering my questions about writing.

You are a writer as well as an anthologist. Do you ever include your own stories in the anthologies you put together?

I did once or twice early on, but haven’t for a long time. It’s partly to do with being busy, partly because I thought it just looked bad, almost as if the editor had created the anthology just so he could publish himself, and partly out of a belief that it’s good to have plenty of variety and offer opportunities to others.

What do you prefer — working on your own writing, or working with other authors on their writing for an anthology?

I’m a writer first and foremost, and one of those who doesn’t talk about enjoyment – I find the whole process of writing very tough, an endless struggle with self-doubt and intractable material, words and plots that just won’t do what you tell them to! Although when it all comes together it’s brilliant, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had moments of real joy when a particular line or paragraph or chapter or even whole story works well and I know it. Working on anthologies is much easier. I like editing other people’s stuff, and have also edited some novels in recent years – I’m thinking of doing that on a rather more professional basis this year. I also think I’ve learned enormous amounts from editing other people’s work – a lot of editors know when a story isn’t working, but it’s knowing why and how to fix it that’s important! I sometimes feel like one of the mechanics I used to have to rely on to fix our old bangers – ‘Sorry, mate, I think your big end’s gone and your transmission is shot. You’ll have to get a new plot entirely…’

As an author, you have written a wide variety of material, from picture books to novels to non-fiction. Do you have a favourite type of writing?

I like writing anything that kids like reading. But recently I’ve been feeling that it would be good to write some poetry again – it was my first love and I published a couple of collections of poetry in the 1980s. And at the other extreme I’ve just written a long Viking fantasy novel, which has given me a taste for working on an epic scale. As we say over here in south London – ‘Huh, what is he like?’

Your latest books, the Happy Ever After series from Orchard Books, look at what happens to certain fairytale characters after their fairytale is over. I particularly loved Mr Bear Gets Alarmed, in which Mr Bear is left somewhat paranoid about break-ins after the whole Goldilocks incident. They must have been fun to write. Can you tell us a little about how these books came about?

I had the idea years and years ago, maybe as far back as the mid-1990s. I just always wondered what had happened to some of the characters in famous fairy tales. I started with Mr Wolf – I mean, what if he had a family he needed to feed? Three little cubs who would starve if he didn’t bring home the bacon? And it all just flowed from there. I’m really pleased you like Mr Bear Gets Alarmed as the central character is definitely a portrait of myself; and I also have a soft spot for The Three Little Pigs Go Camping (more autobiography).

What’s next for Tony Bradman?

More of the same, really – there are a number of possible projects bubbling under at the moment. But I’m also hoping to work a bit less! We’ll see…

Tony with his latest grandson.

My thanks to Tony Bradman for stopping by and answering my questions. For those readers who have young kids, I’d highly recommend the Happily Ever After series — my seven-year-old daughter loves them.

Tune in next time for a post about lists. Lists? ‘What sort of lists?’ I hear you ask. Lists of books, of course!

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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Tony Bradman talks about anthologies

Hey folks… HAPPY NEW YEAR! I thought I’d start 2011 off with an interview. Last year I blogged about some kids’ anthologies including the wonderful Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change edited by Tony Bradman. Tony has put together numerous anthologies over the years, on topics as diverse as asylum seekers (Give me Shelter) and primary school experiences (My Kind of School). As well as being an anthologist, he is also an accomplished author in his own right. Today it is my great pleasure to welcome Mr Bradman to Literary Clutter as he answers my questions about editing anthologies.

How did you get started as an anthologist?

It was when I first went freelance as a writer. A couple of publishers I wrote books for also did anthologies, and I realised that editing an anthology would add another string to my freelance bow and bring in some extra income – very important for the family breadwinner!

You’ve put together quite a few anthologies on a variety of topics, over the years. Do you have a favourite?

I’ve enjoyed them all, but I think I’ll always have a soft spot for Skin Deep, the collection about racism I did about seven or eight years ago. There are some great stories in it, including “The Pavee and the Buffer Girl” by Siobhan Dowd. I liked this story so much I sent it to my agent and told her she should meet Siobhan. My agent took Siobhan on as a client, whereupon Siobhan wrote four books in three years and won just about every award going. Sadly Siobhan died of breast cancer in 2007, but she left her royalties to set up The Siobhan Dowd Trust, of which I’m the chair – the Trust’s aims being to try and bring the joy of books to under-privileged kids. All from a single short story in a paperback anthology!

Has there ever been a topic for which you have had difficulty selecting an appropriate set of stories?

They’re always difficult, mostly because I’m a really picky editor! I worked out early on that a lot of anthologies aren’t that good – they often include stories that have been published a lot before, and sometimes editors settle for stories that aren’t very good, but which actually cover the theme. I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I have very high standards, and won’t take a story unless I think it’s very good indeed. So if you get into one of my anthologies you’re in with the best!

Is there a topic for which you would like to create an anthology but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

I’ve got two or three ideas with publishers at the moment. Will keep you posted…

My thanks to Tony Bradman for stopping by and answering my questions. But it’s not over yet. He’ll be back next week to chat about writing… So, stay tuned!

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Why not start the new year by following me on Twitter?

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Some kids’ anthologies

The Melbourne Cup has been run but the horse I backed is still running. Oh well. I’ve got to say that even though I’ve grown up with it, there is something quite surreal about living in a state that gives its residents a public holiday for a horse race. But on to more important things… short story anthologies.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I like short stories and that I love reading short story anthologies. (See my previous posts on this topic here and here). I recently read three children’s anthologies that I thought were worth blogging about. The three anthologies I’m writing about today all have something in common — the fact that I submitted stories to them… although only two of them ended up using my stories. You win some, you lose some — and as an author I’ve developed a thick skin over the years. 🙂

Let’s start with my favourite — Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change, edited by Tony Bradman. Originally published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books in the UK in 2009, it was released in Australia by Walker Books in early 2010. Bradman is an experienced anthologist with many books to his name, and he has done very well in gathering together a cohesive set of stories for this one. The eight stories are set in different parts of the world and take different approaches to the theme of climate change. But they are all linked by a sense of optimism and hope… that no matter how bad things get, there is always something that people can do, if only they would try.

Next up we have Worlds Next Door, edited by Tehani Wessely and published here in Australia by the small press FableCroft Publishing. This anthology contains 25 speculative fiction stories aimed at children. This is the anthology to which my submission was rejected. But I’m okay with that, as they have a terrific line up of stories. Although some are better than others, there are no clunkers in there. I’ve already reviewed this book on the Australian Spec Fic in Focus website and fellow Boomerang Books blogger Dee White has also written about this book on Kids’ Book Capers. So, I’ll move on to the next anthology…

Short and Scary, edited by Karen Tayleur and published by Black Dog Books. This is an odd little anthology. Although I did enjoy it, I didn’t love it… and I did so want to love it. There are some really great little stories in this, including Sheryl Gwyther’s “Corn Dolly Dead”, Sally Rippin’s “Bonnikins” and Shirley Marr’s “Destiny Meets Girl”. But I found that too many of the stories just didn’t do it for me. I realise the book is called Short and Scary, but some of the stories were just too short — feeling under-developed and leaving me thinking, “damn, this could have been really good if it were only a little bit longer”. But it is a valiant effort and there is still much to enjoy within these pages, including some good poetry and some creepy illustrations.

Even though Under the Weather is my favourite of the anthologies, my absolute favourite story from all three is “The Best Dog in the World” by Dirk Flinthart in Worlds Next Door. It’s science fiction, but with an emotional core — a story to make kids ponder if the end can justify the means; a story that almost had me in tears.

So there you have it, my thoughts on three recent anthologies. Has anyone else out there read these books? Leave a comment and let us know if you agree with my assessment, or if you think I’m way off base.

And tune in next time for a post about autographed books.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… my tweets are shorter than your average short story.

Short stories

I love short stories! I love reading them and I love writing them. So I’m going to take a couple of posts to blather on about them.

I adore the way a short story can force a writer to cut through the waffle and get straight to the core of the plot. With a novel you have umpteen thousand words to create your world, set the scene, introduce your characters and slowly unravel your plot. But not so with the short story, because… well… it’s short.  🙂

I’ve read a lot of short stories over the years and there are a few writers who really stand out for me as masters of the form. Neil Gaiman, for instance. Yes, I know, he’s best known for his novels and comics, but it is as a short story writer that I believe he truly excels. “Murder Mysteries”, a story about the angel Raguel, who was “the Vengeance of the Lord”, is one that comes to mind. But my absolute favourite is “Nicholas Was…” — a Christmas story with a difference, that is exactly 100 words long.

“Nicholas Was…
older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.”

If you’re able to locate a copy, I’d highly recommend checking out Gaiman’s collection, Smoke and Mirrors.

The late, great Sir Peter Ustinov is probably best remembered as an actor, but he was also a masterful writer of short stories. Loaded with wit, compassion, interesting characters and an incredible depth of knowledge, his stories are a joy to read. “Add a Dash of Pity” (the title story from his collection Add a Dash of Pity) is my favourite of his stories, and here’s my favourite sentence from it:

“He looked at her as though seeing her for the first time, and kissed her as if they were not yet married.”

Short and ScaryAs a writer, one of the things that I love about short stories is that I’m able to dip in to many subjects and many genres. Just look at my three most recently published short stories.

“Trees”, published in Short and Scary, edited by Karen Tayleur, is a YA horror about two teens in a forest of vengeful trees.

“Feather-light”, published in Belong, edited by Russell B Farr, is a fantasy about a straight guy who falls for a gay angel who has been exiled from exile.

“Future Dreaming”, published in Under the Weather: Stories about climate change, edited by Tony Bradman, is a kids’ story about climate change and how the actions of individuals can influence the future.

A number of years ago, my wife and I went on a holiday to Egypt. While there, we climbed Mt Sinai and visited St Katherine’s monastery, situated at the foot of the mountain. This visit inspired me to write a science fiction story, called “The Last Monk”, which was published in 2002 in issue 30 of Aurealis – Australian Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’m very happy to say that this magazine, now at issue 42, is still going strong. I invited Stuart Mayne, the current editor, to tell us a little about the mag.

Aurealis is Australia’s most successful science fiction and fantasy (SF) magazine. When the first issue appeared in September 1990 something began that had never been produced before in Australia: a professional mass market SF magazine. Before Aurealis there were hundreds of thousands of avid SF readers in Australia, but the amount of Australian SF they were reading was miniscule. Aurealis has changed that, and launched dozens of new writers, who have become established writers. Now, most of the major publishers in Australia have a local SF list. In addition, the Aurealis Awards for Excellence in Australian Speculative Fiction were established in 1995 and have become the premier SF awards, highly prized by producers and publishers alike.

Aurealis began when Stephen Higgins and Dirk Strasser met in a short story writing class. Stephen and Dirk shared an interest in science fiction and fantasy in the face of a teacher and fellow students who, at best, viewed them with a total lack of comprehension. Then, one evening, sitting, around one said, ‘I’ve always wanted to start a science fiction and fantasy magazine’ to which the other replied, ‘Me too.’ That was the moment when Aurealis was born. This year Aurealis celebrates a record breaking twenty years of continuous publication: a remarkable contribution to the Australian literary landscape.

Aurealis focuses on publishing Australian SF. It provides Australian SF writers with a steady, reliable market and continues to play a defining and pivotal role in the promotion and acceptance of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror. We have kicked off the careers of many bestselling speculative fiction authors, including Michael Pryor, Shaun Tan and our beloved former Art Director, Trudi Canavan.

Thanks for stopping by, Stuart. To find out more about Aurealis, and to see their submission guidelines, check out their website.

And tune in next time for some more short stories.

Catch ya later,  George