Set phasers to fun, because it’s time for a good ol’ fashioned SF convention. But leave your Spock ears at home, kids, because this is a convention for the pros. Conflux 8 is a SF convention run by writers and for writers and it kicks off on Friday 28 September.

In the lead up to the AWM GenreCon in November, Speakeasy is getting to know some of the non-profit Community Partners who have signed on to support our inaugural conference and exist to help aspiring Australian genre writers. This week, we introduce you to Conflux, which will also host the 52nd National Science Fiction Convention (Natcon) in 2013.

Conflux is Australia’s premier SF writers’ convention and this year it boast an array of local and international writing talent, as well as a variety of other industry professionals. If previous years are anything to go by (and I’m assured that they are) then this year’s convention will be an enjoyable and invaluable experience for the aspiring, emerging, and established SF writer, or fan.

Speakeasy managed to grab a few minutes with Nicole Murphy, author and President of Conflux, to chat about the upcoming convention and the Australian SF landscape in general.

Speakeasy: Can you tell us a little about the history of Conflux and its place in the Australian SF community? What have been some of the past Conflux highlights for you?

Nicole Murphy (NM): Conflux began back in the early 2000s, when some passionate fans here in Canberra got together to run the Canberra Spec Fic Cons. They got ambitious and applied to be the Natcon (National Science Fiction Convention) in 2004 and thus was the first Conflux held. We’re about to have number eight, and Conflux 9 next year will again be the Natcon – ten years after the first (yes, the numbers don’t match; we skipped a year).

Conflux is known as the writers’ con. There’re some who don’t like that, but we happen to believe that there’s a room for all tastes in SF fandom, and that there should be different options for different people. Besides, pretty much everyone who has been involved with running Conflux conventions is a writer, so it was inevitable we’d run cons that catered more for our fellow kind.

I’ve had some great times at Conflux but undoubtedly the highlight for me was the first convention I chaired – Conflux 4, in 2007. I got to know some amazing writers through that con (one of our guests was science fiction giant Kevin J. Anderson and I still count him as a mate and he hugs the life out of me when we catch up). That convention was the second with our historically-accurate banquets and that year it was Regency and it was awesome – people dressing up, the food was incredible, it was the most amazing night. Then there’re the discos – we at Conflux are the dancing queens.

Of course, personally, Conflux was where I met and got to know Stephanie Smith, then the publisher of Voyager at HarperCollins, who in 2009 bought my trilogy. So professionally Conflux has meant a lot to me as well.

Speakeasy: With over half the Conflux panel items aimed at writers, can you tell us a little bit about what sort of information/opportunities might be available to writers?

NM: Firstly, there’s the workshops, which are almost exclusively focused on writers. This year we’re running five: topics include writing backstory, teaching history, writing for children, writing for game, and writing the fight right. Jack Dann does his fabulous ‘Keys of the Kingdom’ workshop every year and it’s a very valuable experience for any writer.

Then during the convention there’s panels about the craft, and the industry. You’ll get to meet with other writers and talk the business. There are often publishers and other industry professionals there. And Conflux regularly runs short story competitions, to help encourage and support new writers. And we’re still dreaming of things we can do.

Speakeasy: Besides writers, what other SF industry professionals are you expecting?

NM: Conflux often attracts a lot of publishers, both small press and major, and our reputation is growing with publishers and readers from other genres (e.g., romance) looking to us to find the crossover. We’re working on getting agents as well, and working on developing pitch opportunities and so on. Conflux is always a work in progress.

Speakeasy: What benefits (aside from the good times) might an aspiring/emerging SF writer derive from attending Conflux?

NM: There’s nothing more valuable than being able to chat to people who have been there, done that – you can learn from their mistakes and take advantage of their wisdom. People who will be at this year’s convention include New York Times bestseller Keri Arthur; World Fantasy Award winners Jack Dann and Janeen Webb; multiple award winning short story writer and novelist Kaaron Warren; and editor and publisher Keith Stevenson. It doesn’t matter your interest – writing novels, writing shorts, major publication, self-publication – you can find someone who’s done it and who’s willing to chat to you about it.

Speakeasy: What are you particularly excited about seeing or getting involved in at this year’s convention?

NM: I’m delighted that Keri Arthur is our guest and as a result we’re really getting into the crossover between spec fic and romance (e.g., paranormal romance and urban fantasy). As someone who often toys with that line, it’s great to see it being given prominence and importance on the spec fic side of things. In that respect we’re behind romance, who embraced it long ago.

We’re also doing a major book launch on Saturday night – five books in one event at one of our local bookstores. I think it’s going to be sensational. And we’ve got a local band coming along, The Fildenstar, who sing science fiction songs. I think it’s going to be a really inspiring event.

Speakeasy: Conflux 9 will be the Natcon for 2013. Can you tell us a little about what that means for Conflux and the Australian SF community in general?

NM: Donna Maree Hanson and I are co-chairing Conflux next year and we’re delighted it’s the Natcon. 2013 is the centenary of the establishment of Canberra, so it’s great to bring Australia’s premiere SF event to Canberra that year.

The Natcon is a very important event; for many, it’s the only convention they attend that year. Natcons are all about community and so Donna and I are working hard on issues like inclusivity and disability access to make it as welcoming as possible. We’re also looking at how to get folks who can’t make it to take part.

As I said earlier, it’s ten years since the last time Canberra hosted the Natcon and it’s about time it came back. The last Natcon (which Donna chaired) was absolutely awesome. It was my first ever SF convention, and created what will be a life-long love. Next year is going to be the last convention Donna and I organise and we’re determined to go out with a bang. So it’s going to be fun, innovative, extraordinary and will hopefully help everyone love Australian SF a little more.

Speakeasy: Can you tell us a little about how you see the state of Australian SF writing and publishing right now?

NM: Man, Aussie SF writing and publishing is FREAKING AWESOME at the moment. It doesn’t matter what level you look at, interesting things are happening. New writers are being picked up. Small press is a particularly interesting thing at the moment. Over in Perth, Twelfth Planet Press (TPP) and Ticonderoga are producing some remarkable books. TPP is currently doing the Twelve Planets series, focusing solely on Australian female writers, and the work that they’re publishing is astounding. Meanwhile, Ticonderoga is giving a lot of great authors their first collection and is also moving into novels. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s ever been a better time to be a SF writer and publisher in Australia.

Speakeasy: Just for a bit of fun, if you could pull together any SF icons (alive or dead), who would make up your dream convention panel and what would they discuss?

NM: Well, I’ve GOT to have Tolkien there. He’s a remarkable man and writer and let’s face it, every fantasy writer is still trying to emulate what he achieved. The breadth and depth of his work is inspirational.

Ursula le Guin would be another must-have – so inspirational, so down to earth. One of the first and greatest of the female writers in the genre and thus with a view point of the industry that’s unique.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is becoming a hero of mine, with her blog on the business for writers – so upfront about the trials and tribulations of this great career we’ve undertaken to strive for.

But all in all I’d say – my friends. The writers I know here in Canberra. Some of the most talented in the business, and some of the funniest and most generous. Kaaron Warren, Maxine McArthur, Matthew Farrer, Gillian Polack, Ian McHugh, Simon Petrie, Donna Maree Hanson, and lots more. I’d gather them together and we’d drink and talk writing until our voices gave out.

Now THAT would be a convention.

Speakeasy: Is there anything else you might like to mention to our readers?

NM: Buy my books :)

I’d say – writing can be a lonely, lonely business and we writers tend to be the type to live in our heads and overdramatise everything, which makes for good stories, but makes for a bad mental state. So find your tribe. Whether it be the mess and noise and full-on-ness of a convention, or a quieter writer’s group, or online, but find your tribe then share yourself. It will be worth it.

Julian Thumm is a freelance editor and writer. He has degrees from The University of Queensland and The University of Adelaide. He has worked with the Australian Journal of Communication, The University of Queensland Press, and Corporate Communication International through The City University of New York. He is currently based in Brisbane.

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