Clarion South 2009


Look how happy they are...

These are the participants of Clarion South 2009. (Moments after being told there would be no refunds).

Like many of my fellow participants, I had been a bit uncertain about subjecting myself to an intensive six-week residential SF workshop. Especially when I could’ve been using that time to catch up on all those episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and other plastic-wrapped DVD collections waiting to soak up my spare time. Why put myself through the pain of writing and critiquing short stories for six weeks? I could’ve been sitting on the couch in my underpants, eating peanuts instead. But there’ll be other summers for that. The window for Clarion wouldn’t come around again (especially when it happens only once every two years). It was now or never.

Shortly after arriving, I’d wished it was never. I thought I’d made a mistake. I wasn’t sure I belonged among these people (see photo above). The funny thing was, they were all thinking the same thing.

The convenors, Rob Hoge, Kate Eltham, Rob Dobson and Heather Gammage, did a great job keeping us sane those first few days (and for the rest of the time). They are truly generous souls and I feel indebted to them (and I hate feeling that, dammit).

It took a couple of days before the value of this ‘bootcamp’ became apparent ($29.95 plus postage). But seriously, we were being forced to pick apart 3 or 4 stories every day, and listen to detailed criticism from 16 other writers (plus the tutor). This approach has to teach you to write better stories. It rewires your brain. It takes six weeks for the brainwashing to take effect, apparently. Then you’re free to go home and fail to fit back into normal society.

clarion-week1-classThis shot was taken on day two. That’s me writing on the board: “I will not be late to class again.” (I have similar photos from weeks 2 – 6)

The tutors were superb.

Sean Williams, Margo Lanagan, Jack Dann, Trent Jamieson and Jeff VanderMeer.

Between them, you’d think they’d know a thing or two about writing. Well, you’d be wrong. They know a bit more than that…

We even had the opportunity to perform public readings at Avid Bookstore. 


This is me reading to 1000 people crammed into Avid Bookstore (well there would’ve been 1000 people, but Jack Dann scared most of them away with bawdy references to poodles and smoke blowing fetishes).

clarion-crittersSteve, Jeff VanderMeer and Brendan Carson demonstrate the non-confrontational critiquing expression that is core to Clarion’s success.


Alex, Mac and Angela force Jack Dann to sign their books. Check out the size of Angela’s HUGE left arm (poking Jack). Intimidating…

clarion-laughsRob announces the bar has run out of booze. A moment later we realised he wasn’t joking…

The blogs of my buddies will tell you in more detail just how good Clarion was (see bottom). If you’re serious about writing SF, then you must do it. It’s a right of passage. It introduces you to the SF community (which is surprisingly nice). It teaches you a bit about yourself and puts your ego back in its place (surprisingly useful). And you get to make sixteen new friends who are just as weird and wonderful as yourself. 

clarion-week6Leave your sanity at the door…

Some of the (many) things I learned from Clarion:

  • writing stories is hard
  • successful writers work hard
  • the first draft is just the beginning
  • (more of these in another post – it’s way past my bedtime – damn this blogging thing to Hell!)

Thanks to Aidan, Mac, Amanda and others for taking these photos. 

I miss you guys.

Links to other blogs (is this how I do this?):


4 Responses to Clarion South 2009

  1. feathers says:

    Steve you really did make me laugh out loud with this, especially the comments about Jack. That man has the power to make people laugh even when he’s only being mentioned.

    Heh heh, you didn’t even mention the closed door thing. Hey, anybody reading this, I was one of Steve’s apartment buddies at Clarion. He had us completely intimidated that first week. Every time we walked past his door, it was closed. We were all convinced he was in there, slaving over a hot (and sweaty – gods it was humid!) keyboard. We were awestruck and a little scared by his work ethic.

    Turns out he was watching the cricket.

    Anyway, I have blogs (do I have blogs?) coming out my ears. That isn’t literally true. I don’t take very good care of them though. At the moment 3fatchicks is my main blog, but I think I’ll put together a proper WordPress blog and maybe give it the care and attention it deserves.

    oh, this is Amanda, by the way.

  2. Tracy says:

    Welcome to the internet, fellow artificial sentience! I too started a livejournal while at Clarion and now I’ve been absorbed into the matrix. Woo Hoo!

  3. Steph says:

    Miss you, too, Steve M 😦

  4. Aidan says:

    Hey Steve.
    Great stuff. Love the captions.
    Look forward to catching up with you in Melbourne.

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