{Interview} Shadows On The Wall: Australian Shadow Award Winner Steven Paulsen talks to Kendall Reviews.

An overview of Steven Paulsen’s writing and editing in the SF field can be found on the eidolon.net site: Steven Paulsen Biography.

For those of you wanting the ten-second version here’s a mini bio from the Aussiecon 3 Souvenir Book (edited by Marc Ortlieb) for the 57th World Science Fiction Convention“Melbourne writer Steven Paulsen has an encyclopedic knowledge of Australian science fiction and, when he’s not writing the stuff he’s writing about it. He was an assistant editor for the Melbourne University Press’s Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction and wrote the children’s book The Stray Cat, which has seen several foreign language versions.”

He was born in Melbourne in 1955 and has loved reading and writing as far back as he can remember.

Steven’s latest collection Shadows On The Wall recently won the Australian Shadows Award for Best Collected Work.

Shadows On The Wall

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: IFWG Publishing International (January 15, 2018)

KR: Coffee?

KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

I was born and grew up in Melbourne, Australia. I spent much of my childhood buried in books and comics. In my youth, my reading dropped off for a while because I was more interested in partying. Then I travelled by truck from Kathmandu to London in 1979, where I lived for a year or so and started reading again and writing. Since then I’ve travelled the world whenever I’ve had the opportunity and I’ve never stopped reading and writing.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

Read, listen to live music, travel, eat good food and drink good wine, and watch movies.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

Only one book, that’s too difficult! When I was very small there were lots of Little Golden books. Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree, Famous Five and Secret Seven series followed soon after. From there I fell in love with the Biggles books by W.E. Johns and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels. After that, I discovered SF and Horror and the rest, as they say, is history.

KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

My favourite album is The Beatles’ Revolver. I love music and I certainly get inspired by it, but I don’t listen to it while I’m writing. I like to have a quiet space to write without distractions. I probably listened to David Bowie when I wrote a lot of stories in my collection, Shadows on the Wall, so it’s reasonable to say his music was an influence. John Lennon’s song “Watching the Wheels” from his Double Fantasy album was also an influence, because “people say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing”, and I like that he also sang that he was “doing fine watching Shadows on the Wall”.

KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?

I can’t do just one thing. Off the top of my head, my favourite horror movies are Alien, Jaws, The Exorcist, The Mist, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Silence of the Lambs, Get Out, Zombieland, Dawn of the Dead… I’d better stop there before I fill the page!

KR: What are you reading now?

I’m currently reading three books by “Aussie” writers (resident in Australia, anyway): Collision, a collection of dark speculative fiction stories by J.S. Breukelaar. War of the Worlds – Battleground Australia, an anthology of stories based on the premise H.G. Wells’ Martians also invaded Australia, edited by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira and Bryce Stevens. Hidden City, an urban horror noir novel by Alan Baxter.

KR: What was the last great book you read?

The best two novels I’ve read so far this year are The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren and The Fisherman by John Langan. Both are great books.

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KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

All of the above. I own more books than I care to admit. When I’m travelling, I prefer reading on my kindle, but aside from that paperbacks are my preferred book. I do own quite a few hardbacks, but they’re often too big or heavy for easy reading, so I tend to collect them in special editions.

KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

There are so many, these are just some: Joan Aiken, Stephen King, J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Brian Aldiss, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, William Gibson, and Gene Wolfe.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

For many years, I was a “discovery” writer rather than a “planner”. I would typically start writing based on a character or setting or “what if” idea and see where it led me. Using this method, I wrote some successful stories but I abandoned more manuscripts than I finished. These days, I do a bit more planning. I like to have a rough outline and structure in mind before I start, and an idea of how the story will end.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I like to be able to smell, taste and hear things as well as see my characters and places before I start writing. I work hard to get the location and historical facts correct. Sometimes the research can take years, including visiting the locations, trawling the web, watching movies and documentaries, and reading books. For “Ma Rung” (published in the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Dreaming Down-Under edited by Jack Dann and Janeen Webb), a ghost story which is set during the Vietnam war, I probably read about a dozen books. But for other stories based on places I know well, there is minimal research because things come alive in my mind’s eye based on my memories and personal experience.

KR: How would you describe your writing style?

I’m not conscious of having a single writing style. I try to find the right “voice” and shape the narrative depending on the characters and setting. One reviewer of my short story collection observed that I have the ability to write horror from a number of different angles. I frequently write contemporary dark fantasy and ghost stories, psychological horror, and Lovecraftian cosmic horror. But I also write humorous stories, futuristic science fiction, and quieter stories that use subtlety and understatement.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

I don’t have a usual writing day. On any given day I’ll find any excuse to avoid writing, I’ll clean the toilets, vacuum the cat, whatever. On another day, I’ll ignore important things I’m supposed to be doing and write instead.

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

My favourite story is always the one I’m currently working on. But if I look back at my published work my best-selling children’s horror book, The Stray Cat, is a favourite because it established me as a professional writer, was published in half a dozen countries, and gave me the opportunity to collaborate with Shaun Tan, an amazingly talented artist.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

Yes, I do. I think it’s good to learn what readers like and dislike about my work. In a world where we are spoilt by choice, reviews play an important role in helping readers decide what to read.

KR: How do you think you’ve developed as an author?

I’ve come an enormous way with my writing, but I’ve still got a long way to go. My early stories were unpublishable. Today, I’m lucky to have won some awards and received some great reviews for my work, but I’m still learning my craft. There are times when I read something by another writer I admire and just shake my head in awe and admiration at what they can do with words.

KR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding your writing?

Four pieces of advice, actually.

1. Read. Read everything: comics, short stories, novels, non-fiction. Observe how other writers do things.

2. Write. I’m not an advocate of setting a fixed writing schedule or the “you must write every day” notion because in our busy world they’re often not practical. But I do believe you must write whenever you can. Late at night, in your lunch break, ten minutes here, an hour there.

3. Get professional feedback. Join a writer’s group, link up with beta readers, find a mentor, or whatever else you can to get honest informed comment and advice about your work.

4. Edit and polish. The first draft of everything most writers write is shit. But by carving away the unnecessary, reshaping and polishing, the story within will gradually emerge.

KR: What scares you?

In a word, the Unknown… Unseen things that crouch in the shadows. Things that go bump in the night. Malignant things that lurk beyond our perception.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

My latest release is the short story collection, Shadows on the Wall (IFWG Publishing Australia). It is subtitled Weird Tales of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and the Supernatural and contains the best of my previously published work plus new stories written expressly for the book. It is a collection made up of ghost stories, dark fantasy, Lovecraftian cosmic horror, supernatural horror and SF tales. I was thrilled and honoured when it recently won the Australian Shadows Award, selected by an independent panel of judges from the Australasian Horror Writers Association, as the Best Collected Work of the year.

KR: What are you working on now?

I’m close to finishing a Young Adult Historical Fantasy novel tentatively called The Dream Weaver, set in 15th century Ottoman Turkey. It begins when a teenage boy called Ali starts to experience dreams he believes are predicting the future. Before long, however, he learns that rather than predicting the future his dreams are actually creating the future. The adventure takes off there.

KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

You can choose…

a) One fictional character from your writing.

None. When I’m done with a story I’ve usually spent more than enough time with the characters. Not to mention most of them are flawed in some way.

b) One fictional character from any other book.

Joe Lansdale’s Hap Collins and Leonard Pine because they’re resourceful and even if they couldn’t find a way to get us off the island they would keep us entertained.

c) One real-life person that is not a family member or friend.

Bear Grylls because if he couldn’t find a way save us he would hopefully keep us alive (without resorting to eating me!) until someone else rescued us.

KR: Thank you very much Steven.

Shadows On The Wall

Shadows on the Wall contains the very best of Paulsen’s dark and weird tales, plus stunning new fiction written expressly for this volume.

Glimpse a future where population controls force families into terrible choices.
Visit Colonial British India and experience the awakening of an eldritch horror.
Walk the steaming jungles of Vietnam alongside the spirits of the forest.
Light an ancient oil lamp but beware, the shadows on the wall.

Steven Paulsen’s stories have appeared in award-winning anthologies, and have been published around the world.

You can buy Shadows On The Wall from Amazon UK & Amazon US

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