2011: Paul Collins

A. Bertram Chandler Award 2011 presented to Paul Collins at Swancon 36 (50th Australian National Science Fiction Convention on 21-25 April 2011)

Paul Collins
Paul Collins

The roads to science fiction are almost as varied as the authors who write it, but as a rule the journey starts early.

At the age of twenty-one Paul Collins began with a Western novel in 1975, Hot Lead – Cold Sweat, then decided to support his writing career by publishing a science fiction magazine, Void. While the magazine did not provide Paul with anything like a viable income, it actually broke even. This was a near-miraculous achievement for its time, and was typical of Paul’s future work, because he showed Australians how transform science fiction and fantasy publishing from a labour of love to a viable business proposition.

Paul published Void from 1975 to 1977, providing a venue for new authors, encouraging established authors like Jack Wodhams and Wynne Whiteford to begin writing again, and even reprinting works by overseas authors. In 1978 the magazine morphed into the Worlds anthology series, in which original Australian science fiction was showcased beside some early works of Australian fantasy. Paul had a particular interest in fantasy, and was the first to spot it as a strong, emerging field. His first professional fantasy story was published in the US magazine Weirdbook in 1977, and the Worlds series was pivotal in establishing fantasy in Australia.

The Worlds series was joined by science fiction and fantasy novels after 1981 when Paul teamed up with artist Rowena Cory to form the publishing venture Cory and Collins. In all, fourteen books were published under various incarnations of the company, featuring such authors as Keith Taylor and Russell Blackford for fantasy, and A. Bertram Chandler, Wynne Whiteford, Jack Wodhams and David Lake for science fiction.

In 1985 Paul wound up his publishing activities to concentrate on his own writing, while supporting himself with a second-hand books and records shop. Two of the twelve dozen works to come out of this period were his cyberpunk novel Cyberskin, which was also published in America and Germany, and the short story collection The Government in Exile. In 1994 he took up the editorial blue pencil again as editor of Metaworlds for Penguin, which was an anthology of Australia’s best recent science fiction. This was soon followed by Strange Fruit, an anthology of rather more outré, literary fantasy.

The 1990s were the years that Australian fantasy and science fiction were discovered by commercial publishers, and Paul was a major player in this boom. His commercial success with fiction was such that he had to sell his shop because he was losing money by not writing full time. In 1999 he edited The Encyclopedia of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy for Melbourne University Press (MUP), a work which became a major resource for teachers and librarians in search of Australian authors for school reading lists, and which won the William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review. In 2001 he won the inaugural Peter McNamara Award for lifetime achievement in SF, even though many of his greatest achievements were still ahead of him.

From the mid-90s Paul began to concentrate on children’s and Young Adult literature, and this has remained his main area of interest ever since. His Jelindel Chronicles and Earthborn Wars novels were highly popular in Australia and were republished internationally, while his shared world series the Quentaris Chronicles provided many opportunities for other authors to be published. In all, Paul has had a staggering 140 adult and young adult books published, in addition to a similar number of short stories. Two of his books, The Dog King and Home Run were named as Notable Books in the Children’s Book Council awards, and the series Spinouts Bronze, edited jointly by Meredith Costain, won the Aurealis Convenors’ Award.

In 2007 Paul returned to publishing with the launch of Ford Street Publishing. This specialist children’s publishing venture has, not surprisingly, been very successful, and provided an excellent market for both authors and illustrators. Justin D’Ath’s Pool and Dianne Bates’s Crossing the Line were short-listed for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and Shane Thamm’s My Private Pectus, was short-listed for the Territory Read Award.

Whether by giving writing workshops in schools, providing publishing opportunities for fellow authors, work for artists, or editing anthologies showcasing Australian science fiction and fantasy, Paul continues to be a major force in the promotion and recognition of Australia’s genre literature. Back in the years when writing science fiction was largely a hobby industry in this country, his writing success showed local authors like me that one can make a good living from writing science fiction and fantasy without moving overseas. If Australian science fiction and fantasy authors today can afford to write full time, expect a strong market for their work, and be sure of recognition, it is to a large degree because of the contribution that Paul has made in every facet of the field.

- Sean McMullen, 9 February 2011