Interview: with Alfie Simpson

Alfie Simpson used to write plays in the suburbs of Adelaide, and now lives in exile in the city of Melbourne. When not working on stories about being a very small thing in a very big universe, he fixes commas for Farrago Magazine. He still writes plays, but slowly. His story The Endless Below is featured in our second issue.

Do you have any particular writing rituals you are comfortable sharing?

I don’t know if it’s a ritual, exactly, but I always tend to read a bit while I’m working on something. I get caught second-guessing myself over things like characters and dialogue and even punctuation, and I’ll go ‘I wonder what Patrick Ness did to solve this problem’. Then I’ll pick up something of his and just read and get a feel for what good writing actually sounds like, and then go back to work. It’s sort of like untangling your brain – reminding yourself how sentences go.

Given the wide amount of fan fiction being published in countless places online, what are your thoughts on fan fiction in general?

There’s a bit of a stigma about fan fiction, I think. I’m not going to argue that it’s entirely unfair, but I will say that fan fiction is a great way for writers to start practicing and honing their skills. There are heaps of communities out there full of some very supportive people, and the fact that it’s online can help mitigate some of the fear that’s involved in sharing your work. Ultimately, if you’re writing, you’re learning. You don’t get worse at the craft because what you’re writing is a Twi-Potter Bellamione romance with guest appearances by your author-insert OC. And if you share that around, people will tell you what they think, and next time you’ll write it better.

What are your thoughts on indie publishing in Australia?

Indie publishing is starting to gather speed, here and in other places, and it’s a good thing. Ever since the rise of ebooks and Kindles and other forms of digital publishing, it’s become a lot easier for small publishers to distribute, and for writers to get noticed and get their work out there. Yes, you’re probably only going to get read by a few people, and you’re a long way off from the Stephen King movie deal you were imagining, but a couple of years down the track you can say to a prospective agent ‘oh, I’m published here, and in here, and here’, and that’s more valuable than you might realise.

Are there any horror/fantasy/sci-fi tropes or sub genres which you feel are played out? And vice versa, what tropes would you like to see more of?

Rebels. I’m tired of rebels always being the good guys. I know it’s the whole ‘buck society and stick it to the dominant forces’ narrative, but just once I’d like to read something where the empire or the administration or whatever you’re calling them are in fact totally competent leaders, and the rebels are just ruining it for everyone because they’re jerks. Having said that, if there’s one trope I can’t get enough of it’s the expedition/monster hunt story. Bunch of researchers go into a weird place looking for some weird stuff, and they all die one by one. Slow-paced, but suspenseful. Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation is pretty good. Also anything by Michael Crichton.

What books are beside your bed right now?

Let’s see… I’ve got Beyond Tomorrow and New Worlds 4 (some neat anthologies full of 70s sci-fi), Robert Jordan’s Conan Chronicles (amazing vocabulary, questionable female characters), Conversations with Michael Crichton (he talks about dinosaurs a lot), and The Little Green Grammar Book (really good if you stress about commas). There’s also a Kindle around here somewhere packed with YA bestsellers, most of which are astonishingly bad. We’ve got some work to do there, it seems.

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