Last week, I touched upon five people who have had a direct impact upon turning points in my career. This week, I thought it would be interesting to consider another five people who have had an impact: not on specific turning points, this time, but in a more general sense.
Here, then, are five people who are in my writing karass not because they intruded at a specific time or place, but because they diverted the course of my river gently, or persistently, or in ways that cannot be singularly identified.
Five for Friday: A Karass of Career Twists
Ms Philp was not an artist, or involved in the industry. She was a teacher: my year 12 English teacher, to be precise. She was the first person to notice that I had a facility for words, and to encourage me to create fiction. I received a few passes on choose-your-own-text assignments that allowed me to write a story instead of an essay. She asked me to write a story for the Yearbook. She encouraged me to think about the arts for a career. As a result, I graduated as the top English student of my year (having failed in my first attempt at year 11), and became the first member of my family, ever, to gain University entrance. I had been due to enter the military. Instead, I ran off to learn to be a poet. The nature of teaching being what it is, Ms Philp moved on from my High School, and I never crossed her path again.
Many, many years later, I told the long version of this story at a Perth Writers Festival panel where I was sharing the stage with Carole Wilkinson and Andy Griffiths. At the end of the panel, two very nice ladies approached me in a very excited state. They worked for the Education Department, they told me, and Karen Philp, was their supervisor. They wanted to let me know that they were going back to work on Monday to tell her my story. So she did get to find out, I hope, that she was the inspiration that set me on my way to my career.
Isn’t that nice?
I had the misfortune to study under Ms Jolley during my University career: a writer who loathed speculative fiction; delighted in belittling anyone who tried to write it; and whose ideas of fiction were so narrow and limited that she was as willing to viciously dismiss garbage like Le Guin, Russ and Amis as she was to praise reference to Drabble, Bronte, and Christie. For an aspiring author whose perceptions were being assaulted by the 1960s New Wave, Brechtian theory and absurdism, her teaching methods and philosophies were a difficulty. For an aspiring author who was desperately reaching for a sense of voice and stylistic frame of reference, her toxicity, contemptuous nature, and acid unpleasantness were injurious. As an educator, and a teacher of writing, she was the worst possible person to be put in charge of a disparate group of aspiring artists.
In one particularly delightful episode, she pulled me aside to inform me that I should give up any idea of being a writer: I simply was not equipped for it. Even if I did manage to finish something decent, I’d never sell it, and even if I did, nobody would want to read it. Anything I ever did would be forgotten, and rightly so.
For the first 5 years of my career, I sent her a copy of everything I published. I never found out if she read any of it. But, for giving me something to push back again, for giving me a face to want to smoosh every success I’ve had to fight for into, she remains a member of my karass.
I first met Kate and her partner, author Robert Hoge, in the line for a Joe Haldeman signing in 2002. Much geekery ensued, and lunch, and excited chattering. We’ve remained fast friends ever since. They’ve put me up when I’ve been in Brisbane. We’ve had numerous dinners together when we’re co-located. I’ve had Kate present to my local community as part of my day job. They hired me for their Clarion South boot camp. Our professional and personal lives have intertwined for the last 15 years to the extent that Lyn and I think of them as “our” Brisbane couple: they’re our couple from another… uh… mupple?
Throughout it all, Kate has been a constant believer in my talents. I don’t know why that is: as a former chair of the Queensland Writers Centre and CEO of the Brisbane Writers Festival she’s been surrounded by names as big as Australia gets. Yet, for whatever reason, she’s one of the very few people in the industry who seems never to have lost faith in me, who has remained vocal about my attributes and my work, and has always seen the best in me (And let’s face it, I can out-whine, out-sook, and out-arsehole just about anybody in the room).
She’s my friend, yes, but it’s more than that. And I remain grateful. I’ve been trying to get her to be my agent for well over a decade know, but she keeps doing things like getting better, more rewarding jobs. Selfish sod 😉
It’s hard to know what to say about Doctor Stephen Dedman. He’s my oldest science fictional friend: we met when I asked him for advice after a Perth Writers Festival panel in 2000. He invited me to join him on my first panel at my first ever Convention. We’ve published each other, passed work opportunities to each other, been to dinner, argued, competed for positions, shared tables of contents. He was best man at my wedding to Lyn. Stephen’s been a feature of my entire career. I don’t really have one single anecdote to sum up what he’s done for me over the years, but I will always remember that he was the one who went out of his way to make me feel welcome when I was taking my first, uncertain, steps into the SF industry; that he provided advice, mentorship, and most importantly, friendship, at a time when I was in danger of being overwhelmed by my place in this new– and most intimidatingly insular– world.
I’m happy to call him not only my colleague, and my peer, but my good friend.
Back when I was a mere boy, in the times before the internet, when dinosaurs roamed the parking lots and carrier pigeons were the only method of contacting mythical lands beyond the horizon, I acquired me a copy of the first Writers of the Future anthology. Inside its somewhat love-worn pages was a card that could be filled out and sent away to receive a copy of the competition’s entry guidelines.
Being an excitable boy, I did so.qq And having just read Who? and his amazing novel Michaelmas, I took the opportunity to send head judge Algis Budrys a gushing fan letter, in which I ironically referred to myself as ‘The world’s greatest unpublished 18 year old.” (I was 18. SHADDUP!)
Not only did Budrys reply, he sent me a signed copy of that year’s anthology, signed To Lee Battersby, the world’s greatest unpublished 18 year old. Did I enter the competition? Did I bloody ever. It became an overriding career goal, to enter and win.
Life got in the way, and it was another 12 years before I managed to finish a story I thought worthy of entering. And when I finally entered, of course, I won: placing 3rd in my quarter. Travelling to the United States to take pat in the workshop for winners meant that I was going to meet Budrys, and that I could tell him how his moment of kindness to a teenage nobody had led me to that point. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the States, Budrys was extremely ill, and we never met. But I was able to have a short letter passed to him, to let him know what he had done for me.
So there was that, at least.