I was born in 1947, have two sisters, lived in the south-eastern Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh for the first eleven years of my life, and then our family moved to Syndal, then up the country for a few years (Melton then had 500 people; now it has 100,000) because of my father’s job. From Bacchus Marsh High School I went to Melbourne University, and finished with a BA and DipEd. I attempted to teach for two years up the country, in Ararat, but was saved from insanity by the fact that I had joined fandom in 1967 and began SF Commentary in 1969.
When I dropped out of teaching, I discovered the Publications Branch of the Education Department, and became a professional editor and writer. I also met there Gerald Murnane, a writer who has had a great influence on my life. Highlights after that included the Carlton flat I lived in from 1973 to 1976, the awards mentioned below, ten years of being a partner in Norstrilia Press from 1975 to 1985 (one of our books was Gerald Murnane’s much-reprinted The Plains), getting married to Elaine and moving to Collingwood, and bouncing along as a freelance editor. The great pleasures of my life still include publishing my magazines — whenever I have the money and the time. A most surprising move was to Greensborough in 2004, to a much better, bigger house, and the amazing trip to America, financed by American and Australian fans, in early 2005 (organised by Bill Wright in Australia, and Arnie Katz and Robert Lichtman in America). Fandom doesn’t offer much headier experiences than that.
My father died in 1989 and my mother in 2007. Today Elaine and I have five cats, and at the age of 65 I’m trying to retire. I suspect I can’t afford to retire. But I do need to find an inexpensive way to keep publishing frequently. Watch what happens!
Bruce Gillespie, 14 May 2012
1) What are the great joys and the great frustrations at producing a fanzine in this current age?
Joys? A fanzine is a minor artform, based on putting together a wide range of material from my favourite writers, plus response from letter writers from all over the world. The use of a computer limits the artform in some ways, but also offers design, editing and font possibilities that were impossible to access in the Good Old Days (pre 1990s) of using stencils and duplicators.
Frustrations? The expense. I will have little income from now on. It would be nice to keep publishing my fanzines in the traditional way, as a print magazine, but most of the copies still go overseas, and rapidly rising airmail costs are making it impossible for me to continue. Of course, I can publish electronically, using PDF files, on Bill Burns’ wonderful efanzines.com, but I know that many people download such magazines and don’t read them with the attention they would devote to a magazine they received through the mail.
2) Correct me if I’m wrong but you’ve won 19 Ditmars and have been nominated about 45 times (I might be slightly off there). You also won the Chandler Award in 2007 for your services to fandom. Firstly where do you keep all the awards? Secondly, which one do you treasure the most?
You have a much better idea of the statistics than I do! Thanks for that information.
A few years ago my wonderful wife Elaine bought for me a glass cabinet that contains and displays all the awards attractively. The only major award that is missing is the Hugo. (I’m told that I nearly won it in 1975.)
It is hard to beat the appreciation lavished on me by the Australian SF community by giving me the A. Bertram Chandler and Peter MacNamara Awards for Lifetime Achievement. The highest honour I’ve received from overseas fans is the FAAN Award for Best Fan Writer 2009, given by the members of Corflu that year, i.e. the people who are themselves the world’s best fanzine writers.
But the award I will always value most was my very first Ditmar Award, given in 1972 in Sydney at Syncon 2, and handed to me by John Bangsund. A very emotional moment, perhaps only repeated when Cath Ortlieb handed me the Chandler Award in 2007 at Continuum, having somehow kept it a complete secret for months.
3) What does fandom mean to you?
My whole life. Before I joined fandom I had almost no friends or anybody with whom I could share my interests. In fandom I found people who were not just another part of the mundane world, which I find stifling. During a weekend I spent at Lee Harding’s place in late 1967, I met for the first time many of the people who have had the most influence on my life, such as John Bangsund, Lee Harding, George Turner, John Foyster and Rob Gerrand. These were the people who were producing (in my opinion) the greatest fanzine ever, Australian Science Fiction Review (ASFR).
During 1968 I met Leigh Edmonds, who invited me to join the new organisation of fanzine publishers, ANZAPA. I had no duplicator, so he printed my very first fanzine. ASFR began to publish my reviews. The ASFR people printed and collated the first two issues of SF Commentary in early 1969. I acquired my first duplicator, and John Bangsund showed me how to use it. Trapped in Ararat attempting to teach, I produced 18 issues of SFC in two years, then back in Melbourne, produced the sparkling issues (Nos 19 to 38) that won my first Ditmar Award and gained my Hugo nominations (1972, 1973 and 1975).
All this time I was making more and more friends, both locally and overseas (through fanzines and letters). I went overseas in 1973, and stayed away five months, mainly in America and Britain. This cut me loose from fulltime employment, so I became a freelance book editor in 1974.
I doubt if ever I would have ever got over my own lack of self-confidence with women if I had not joined fandom. I was a Very Shy Person. Elaine was a member of the Melbourne University SF Association, with which I became involved in 1975. By a long process, I met Elaine and we got together, married in March 1979, and the same month we moved to our house in Collingwood, where we stayed until 2004.
My mundane career has never gone anywhere much, and I’ve often been nearly broke. But my career in fandom, which has never made me any money, has led to most of the good things in my life.
4) What Australian works have you loved recently?
No doubt, you refer to Australian SF books and short stories. However, what I still value most in Australia are our remaining fanzines, such as Chris Nelson’s Mumblings from Munchkinland, Van Ikin’s Science Fiction and the fanzines that appear every two months in ANZAPA, especially Bill Wright’s Interstellar Ramjet Scoop. They are personal documents, which seem far more interesting than anything found on the web.
My favourite Australian SF writer is George Turner, but his books are now out of print. There are some interesting people coming along. The real problem is to track down their works. The small presses of Australia spew out vast numbers of collections, many I never hear of until after they have disappeared. When I can (or when Justin lists them in the Slow Glass Catalogue), I buy single-author collections of people such as Kaaron Warren, Cat Sparks, Deb Biancotti and Terry Dowling. A remarkable new talent is Angela Slatter, at least to judge from the one collection of hers I’ve read. But most of the people who pick up the glittering prizes (such as the Aurealis and the Ditmar) I’ve never heard of, let alone seen their works.
5) Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
I would never use such an ugly and meaningless term as ‘spec fic’. It is a proud and lonely thing to be a science fiction fan. Not that I don’t read fantasy when it’s well written, but it is a different genre.
Has anything much changed in the Australian SF scene since 2010, except that the Print on Demand phenomenon, which has enabled the production of vast numbers of collections and novels I will never see, and perhaps will never be heard of again? It would be nice to know that Kim Stanley Robinson’s inspiring speeches at Aussiecon in 2010 have led to a major interest in climate change among Australian SF people, but I don’t find many people who are much interested in Big Picture Future. I’m allergic to the technology mania that has taken over people’s lives, but mainly because I can’t afford any of its products.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1 June to 8 June and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at: