Alan Baxter is a multi award-winning author of supernatural thrillers and urban horror, and an international master of kung fu. He runs the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy and writes stories full of magic, monsters and, quite often, martial arts. He rides a motorcycle and loves his dogs. We caught up with Alan to get the lowdown on his 2016 Australian Shadows Awards win and to learn what makes a great short story collection
Your collection, Crow Shine, won Best Collected Work in last year’s Shadows Awards. Congratulations!
Can you tell us a bit about how the collection came together?
It’s a long and convoluted process to get a collection, but it all starts with writing enough quality work. Eventually I made it known I was keen to have a collection, and thought I was ready, so started courting publishers. Then Ticonderoga, through my agent, made an offer and Crow Shine was born!
You’ve been publishing short stories for thirteen years now and have an enviably vast back catalogue to choose from. What made you hold off until now to pull a collection together? And what was it about these particular stories?
I think a lot of people go for a collection too early in their career. It takes a long time to develop a voice and have enough quality and variety in your work to make a collection that’s both cohesive and interesting all the way through. Too many people jump too soon, I think, instead of being patient. Writing is a long game, not a short con, as the saying goes. When I had more than 60 published stories, I felt I was ready.
Why those stories? It was a process decided with the publisher. First of all, the majority of my stuff is contemporary horror and dark fantasy, so that was the theme to stick with. That meant any science-fiction and ‘high’ fantasy yarns were immediately out. Then I looked at what I thought was the best of the horror and dark fantasy – the stuff that had won or been nominated for awards, that had been reprinted in a Year’s Best, or that I had a particular soft spot for. Then I needed some original stories, as I think a collection should always offer something new to readers. Then the publisher and I whittled it away to the strongest collection we could make, with 16 previously published stories, and three new ones.
This isn’t your first Australian Shadows Award. Can you tell us about your 2015 win of the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction?
This is actually my third, which is hard to believe! In 2014 I won the award for Best Short Story for Shadows of the Lonely Dead, then in 2015 I won The Paul Haines Award for In Vaulted Halls Entombed. It was a particular thrill to win the Long Fiction Award, as Paul was a good friend of mine and I miss him so much. An incredible guy and a fantastic talent, dead well before his time. To win an award named after him for my own fiction is bittersweet, but so precious to me. I’m glad he’s being honoured this way by the Shadows Awards.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve got a few irons in the fire at the moment. There are three short stories on the boil, as I’ve been commissioned by a few places to write something for them, which is always an honour. So those are in various stages of completion. I’ve got a novella called Manifest Recall and a novel called Devouring Dark coming out this year from Grey Matter Press, so I’m working on edits for those, seeing the publisher’s cover designs and so on, which is very exciting! And in the meantime, I’m working with David Wood on our second Sam Aston book, the sequel to last year’s Primordial. So I’m keeping pretty busy! Oh, and another standalone horror novel is out with beta readers right now, so that’ll come back soon and need polishing up before it goes to my agent.
Many writers fantasise about the day they can pack in their day job and write full time, but very few have the alternate job title, ‘international master of kung fu’. How do you balance your writing life with running a successful kung fu academy? And how much do your work and your art influence each other?
The two are inextricably intertwined. The academy has classes at fixed times, so those hours can’t be changed. The rest of the time my wife and I take care of our son and work on our art – she’s a painter, I’m a writer, and those things fit around the other commitments. My wife is my assistant instructor and a master in her own right, so it’s a family affair! We’re very lucky to be in the position we are, doing these things we love, but we’ve worked our arses off to be here. And of course, we’d both like to see a little more success – sell more books and paintings – to take the pressure off a bit, but we wouldn’t change a thing.
What do you see as the value of the AHWA?
The AHWA is a hub for dark fiction in ANZ. It reminds you that you’re not alone at your desk, making up dark weird shit. It’s a place to learn, to be part of a community, to seek feedback and to offer help. Wherever you are in your career, there’s value in it.