Interview with Paul Collins

Paul Collins has written around 150 books and well over 100 short stories. He is best known for The Quentaris Chronicles (The Spell of Undoing is Book #1 in the new series), which he co-edits with Michael Pryor, The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars and The World of Grrym trilogy in collaboration with Danny Willis. Paul’s latest book is The Only Game in the Galaxy, is the final book in the three in The Maximus Black Files trilogy. A trailer for the series can be viewed at: The Beckoning is Paul’s first adult horror novel.

He is also the publisher at Ford Street Publishing and runs Creative Net Speakers’ Agency.

Paul has been short-listed for many awards and won the Aurealis, William Atheling and the inaugural Peter McNamara awards. He recently received the A Bertram Chandler Award for lifetime achievement in Australian science fiction. He has had two Notable Books in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.

He has black belts in both ju jitsu and taekwondo – this experience can be seen in The Jelindel Chronicles and The Maximus Black Files.

Can you give us a potted history with regard to your involvement in the Australian publishing industry and your writing over the last 40 years?

I published a science fiction magazine in 1975. I’d only vaguely heard the name Asimov, but I was lucky enough to have support from established writers such as Frank Bryning, Wynne Whiteford, Jack Wodhams, David Lake and A Bertram Chandler, among others. Due to distribution problems, I switched to a hardback format, so each “anthology” was three issues of the magazine. In the early 80s I began publishing novels, too. During this period I wrote a lot of short stories. My first novel was The Wizard’s Torment (HarperCollins, 1995). Since then I’ve written quite a few books. I’ve returned to publishing with Ford Street, but now specialise in children’s books. I have national distribution via Macmillan and INT Books, so my earlier distribution woes have been resolved.

What are your latest books about? Can you give us an outline of each?

The Only Game in the Galaxy: In a galaxy of cutthroat companies, shadowy clans and a million agendas, spy agency RIM barely wields enough control to keep order.

Maximus Black is RIM’s star cadet. But he has a problem. One of RIM’s best agents, Anneke Longshadow, knows there’s a mole in the organisation.

And Maximus has a lot to hide.

So starts a rollercoaster of ups and downs for our anti-hero and heroine. To borrow a quote from Bookseller + Publisher: ‘it’s a cross between The Girl With the Golden Tattoo, Dexter and Total Recall’. Buzz Words said ‘it’s so fast-paced that it would give Matthew Reilly a nosebleed’.

It’s part thriller, space opera, humour, and dystopian fiction. Maximus needs an armada of dreadnoughts long since put into mothballs somewhere in the universe.

There are three sets of lost coordinates pointing to its resting place. Maximus fights all and sundry, even mighty cartels in his efforts to get the armada to realise his dream of ruling the universe.


The Beckoning: When the Brannigan family moves to Warrnambool, which is 263 kilometres west of Melbourne trouble isn’t far behind.

Unbeknown to the family, a religious guru by the name of Brother Desmond has lured them to Warrnambool where he has set up headquarters. His Zarathustrans follow the principles espoused by Nietzsche.

Brother Desmond knows that the power within Briony Brannigan is the remaining key he needs to enter the next dimension. With her power in his control, he will have access to all that is presently denied him. He conjures a being that unleashes a cold snap and murders Matt Brannigan’s wife. Luckily for Matt, he’s out that night, letting off steam with Warrnambool heavyweights.

He arrives home to find his daughter collapsed at the bottom of the stairs, and his wife’s frozen body.

Briony is led into the sect by Brother Desmond’s disciples. She is easily manipulated, or so the Zarathustrans believe.

Matt tries to drag Briony out of the headquarters, called Modewood, with a Care and Protection Application. Unfortunately for him a precedent has already been set in Sydney and the law is unwilling to enter Modewood in fear of litigation.

Matt calls on Clarissa Pike, journalist and former psychic friend of his wife’s. Together they gain access to Modewood, only to find they’re in way over their heads.

Better prepared, with psychic shields and other protection devices, they enter Modewood under cover of darkness and there begins a fight to the death with Brother Desmond’s legion of the Undead.

What was the difference in the process between writing both The Beckoning and The Only Game in the Galaxy?

I find writing for adults a lot harder than writing for younger readers. When I wrote The Beckoning, I had to interview a lot of people whose specialties I needed for authenticity. So I interviewed a detective, a lawyer, a priest, a former cult member, a psychic. So a lot of research went into it. I write books for younger readers straight from the imagination – I don’t need to research anything, really. I can use the knowledge I already have to write for kids, whereas I think writing for adults requires a lot more work.

Your books usually have humour, either black or otherwise. How important is this to your work?

Humour is a natural ingredient that authors either have or they don’t. I never deliberately set out to write comedy. I might think of a line that makes me laugh as I type it. Sometimes editors take these lines out, so perhaps they’re not funny to everyone. It’s a very subjective thing, is humour.

You’re both a writer as well as a publisher. Do you give writing workshops to kids? If so, how do you motivate them to read?

If you can interest them in writing, you’ll hook them on reading. That certainly worked for me. I was a reluctant reader. To some extent, I still am. But to write, you have to read. With workshops I show students shortcuts on how to write. I give them an interesting line like ‘Lightning flashed. In that brief, stark light, I saw someone standing at the window. But when I peered outside the grounds were empty’. I invite kids to write their own mysterious beginning, or use mine. And then they have to continue the story. Some interesting stories come out of this workshop. A more obvious ploy is to give them an interesting book cover and say, Write a story as though this is the cover to your story. When asked what I read I tell them action novels like The Mortal Engines and Artemis Fowl books. I’m not a fan of series like Goosebumps, simply because I think they’re poorly written and edited, but if they encourage kids to read, then more kudos to them!

This begs the question: do you primarily write action/plot driven books over character-driven?

The bigger novels, certainly. Each book in The Jelindel Chronicles is 100,000+ words long, and despite having a female heroine, there are two strong male characters that provide plenty of action around Jelindel. I wrote a post-holocaust trilogy called The Earthborn Wars, and they’re packed with adrenalin.

The Quentaris Chronicles is another series that I co-edit with Michael Pryor. Because it’s a shared-world,  many authors such as Isobelle Carmody, Gary Crew, Margot Lannigan and Justin D’Ath wrote them as well. They’re not all action-packed, but the seven I’ve written are. This series has its own website: I like to think I write strong characters. Sarah in The Earthborn Wars, Maximus and Anneke in The Maximus Black Files,

Jelindel, Daretor and Zimak in The Jelindel Chronicles are all rounded characters, I think. But I do highly value action and plot.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently writing six Lucy Lee books for Macmillan’s Legends in Their Own Lunch Box series. Lucy is loosely based on my favourite actress, Lucy Liu. Unfortunately, poor Lucy Lee can’t get anything right, despite thinking she’s the best martial artist around.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I jokingly say that I can’t do anything else. But writing used to be an enjoyable hobby. Suddenly it was making more money than my daytime job, which was running a clothing store called Tragically Hip. I don’t want this to sound like I just writet for the money, but when you love doing something and you earn more from it than doing something you don’t particularly like doing, then the outcome is obvious.

Ford Street Publishing:
Paul Collins:
The Quentaris Chronicles: