Back in 1995, when I arrived in the UK desperate to become a writer I was looking for a way “in” to the UK SF scene. I think it was Andy Cox (then editing The Third Alternative, now editing Interzone) who put me in touch with Tony Lee of Pigasus Press, editor of the small press mag The Zone. Tony didn’t buy any of my stories (at that time – he later bought my story “Insured for Murder” for the Premonitions anthology) he suggested, with charming naivete regarding national rivalries, that as a New Zealander, I might be interested in writing a profile of the Australian writer Greg Egan. Well, as it happened I was already a huge fan of Egan (we all were back then!) and that was the beginning of a non-fiction writing blitz that went on for nearly a decade.
Between 1996 and 2007 I wrote dozens of reviews and articles for The Zone, first the print magazine and then the website. I’d previously been working as freelance editor and journalist in New Zealand, and I’d been keeping a reading journal for a while so I was already tempered for this type of work, and I picked it up pretty quickly, I think. Among my favourites are my reviews of The Emperor of Dreams, the Fantasy Masterworks collection of Clark Ashton Smith stories, my double review of The Day of the Triffids and the authorised sequel, The Night of the Triffids, Lint by Steve Aylett and Jack Vance’s last novel Lurulu. I was also very pleased with some of my longer pieces, such as this overview of Jack Vance’s work and my interviews with Micheal Moorcock and Kim Newman (who were both utterly charming).
I wrote quite a bit about comics, too and was pretty pleased with my reviews of the marvel Essential volumes for The Fantastic Four and Howard the Duck, and some obscure eighties numbers I remembered from the 80s such as Skreemer and Kid Eternity. Most particularly, I wrote quite a bit about Alan Moore, including this profile that I was very happy with, a review of The DC Stories of Alan Moore, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen vol 2 and finally Black Dossier.
That was the last review I wrote for The Zone, an oddity in 2007 that came out of the extraordinary day I describe in the review, because by that time, I’d more or less given up on it and it was the first thing I’d written for them in nearly two years. (I wrote a variation on this piece for the Kapi Mana News, which I posted on this blog here.)
Why did I stop? Well, there are a few reasons. Most importantly, I’d only ever got started as a kind of distaff project to my own fiction writing, and I’d found that it was beginning to take over from fiction all together. As my life changed (kids, new job) I found that I didn’t have so much time for writing and I really wanted to concentrate on my fiction (a bit like this blog…). This seems to have worked and I’ve published stories in each years since then and written another novel, so I think I was right to give that more space.
I had also grown a little jaded with reviewing, for a few reasons. It had started to become a bit formulaic for me. I was getting tired of random “if you like x you’ll like y” style reviews, and I wasn’t interested in pushing the pseudo academic direction that seemed the only alternative to me then. I was also getting bored and annoyed with the books. I realised I took much more pleasure in old second hand things or reprints than i did in the new novels coming out. I wondered what the point of it all was – who cared what I thought? Who was I really writing for?
That review of Black Dossier is an important turning point. Because of the events surrounding it, and the influence of the MA in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths that I was in the middle of just then, I began to see another way. I began to think of books not as puzzles to be taken apart and solved, but as mirrors that reflect who we are when we read and that reflect into the past of our lives, and as experiences we carry with us into the future. I started this blog on the advice of David Marston (of David marston writes) and I’ve been influenced in this by his blog, especially his recent entries about politics and the election. I became interested in the idea of the letting the personal and subjective elements of myself leak in to my reviews, and that’s when I thought I might be ready to write reviews again.
So, my review of Shine is kind of an experiment. I’m reasonably happy with it, although I think I still felt perhaps overly obliged to address the work and not myself (perhaps it was just that sort of book). There’s a balance to be kept, of course, and I don’t think my reviews for The Zone will be as personal as the writing I do here about my reading, but I think I can do a bit more than I do on this occasion. It’ll be a bit more occasional than it was at my height (and I have a blog to care for now, as well!) but hopefully I can find new ways of thinking and writing about books in the future.