I felt like such a jet-setter, getting on a plane yesterday morning for a single night in Sydney for the Aurealis Awards. I arrived in the early afternoon and met up with Tehani, Helen and baby Max at the airport so we could taxi in to the hotel together. It felt so decadent to hang out and chat with friends I normally don’t get to see more than once every few years – twice within a month!
We went down to the hotel restaurant for a (very) early dinner, correctly guessing it would be our last chance to eat for the night. Some familiar faces were already down there, with the same idea, and we added a table on the end of theirs – and as more and more people arrived, kept doing so, until we had at least 20 people there, and the table had turned into a long L-shape!
Then of course we all had to disappear to frock up, as the new arrivals were looking increasingly glamorous.
The Aurealis Awards were held at the Independent Theatre, a lovely venue only a few minute’s stagger (a bit longer in high heels, but I was wearing flats, hehehe) from the hotel. We met and mingled at the cocktail party (sponsored by HarperCollins), many of us marvelling at how utterly weird it was to be together again so soon after Swancon – when we’re used to an 18 month separation! Of course there were people there who hadn’t been at Swancon, too, so it was a general crowd of happy reunions, gossip and hugging. With champagne. I had lots of lovely conversations with lots of adorable people, though the highlight for me was getting to meet IN PERSON the amazing Nicola, who has edited all three of the Creature Court books with me, one way or another. To get to talk to her in person about the choices we made and how much we love each other’s work was very, very cool.
And oh, the fashions! We are a gorgeously dressed bunch. Tehani referred to it as the ‘night of necklaces,’ and there was certainly some spectacular jewellery on display. Kirstyn wins the prize, of course, for her bird skull necklace that made people go ooh, and then, erkhhhh when they looked more closely…
The theatre itself was the perfect size for an event like this – grand but cozy at the same time, if that makes sense? Tehani and I decided to start a trend by sitting in the front row, since we knew I had to go on stage at some point to present (and we knew Helen would be going up too, but more on that later!). Spec Faction deserve a huge amount of kudos for the event – it ran smoothly, with any dramas rendered pretty much invisible to the rest of us. Cat had put together a hilarious and touching montage of Aurealis Awards photographs (the overall theme was people we knew looking overheated, a bit drunk and terribly happy) which broke the ice marvellously, and there was a really good vibe in the theatre, all that community spirit stuff.
Rob Hood had put together the powerpoint presentation for the awards presentations, with a bunch of quirky images and animations, which added a lovely tone to the whole thing. Garth Nix was a dapper and eloquent MC, and the whole thing went very well I think with a different presenter for each pair of awards. There were some very nice speeches from various presenters, and some lovely ones from the winners. I cannot stress ENOUGH how important it is to prepare what you’re going to say at these things! I felt so much more calmer than my last in-person AA ceremony because I had my little just-in-case speeches there. As I did say eventually in my acceptance speech for Best Fantasy Novel (ahem, because yes, there was that) I think we all learned at Swancon that I in particular lose all ability to improvise when actually winning an award.
I was delighted with all the winners, which seems silly, but isn’t really. I think in most cases there were such strong shortlists that I had many opportunities to be delighted, whatever the outcome. Obviously I knew the results of the Children’s section up front, because I was a judge (and didn’t I panic quietly to myself when Nick Stathopolis, dizzied by the presentation of two tropies, announced it was a tie! But no, in fact there was a trophy for the writer and illustrator of Best Picture Book which was a lovely touch)
Kaia and I lost Best YA Short Story happily to Margo Lanagan, for one of my favourite short stories last year, “A Thousand Flowers,” and it was totally worth it to see Garth Nix (himself Team Unicorn) give both the unicorn salute and the much ruder zombie salute. Poor Tehani was kicking herself she didn’t have her phone ready to snap that particular picture! (you so got off lightly there, Garth) I was also hugely excited to see Karen Healey win Best YA Novel for Guardian of the Dead, not only because it was a book I loved and championed last year, and because Karen’s a friend, but also because I had spent my plane trip to Sydney reading her new upcoming (and amazing!) novel The Shattering, so she was very much on my mind.
I wasn’t familiar with the work or author which won best Graphic Novel, but Helen was squealing beside me, and delighted with the result!
Then it was my turn to present Best Collection and Best Anthology, which was a little nervewracking, especially as I realised at the last minute that my little speech about the importance of indie presses to a thriving short story scene was actually more appropriate to Best Anthology than Best Collection, so I had to extemporise another speech for the first award! I think I was mostly coherent, and was delighted to present Best Collection to Angela Slatter, even if a small part of me would have preferred her to win it for Sourdough because I loved that book so much last year!
Best Anthology was the big one I felt so honoured to present, because I knew Jonathan and Alisa and Marianne were at home together, hanging out for that particular result. And while I was a little wistful for Sprawl, I am delighted that Marianne won her first work nominated for an Aurealis Award! That’s so exciting. Obviously it’s nice for Jonathan too, but he has a lot of trophies at home already 😀 Deborah Biancotti gave a very nice speech on behalf of Jonathan and Marianne.
It is a lovely thing about our community that you get to be happy for the winners no matter what, because you end up in a situation where almost everyone on the shortlist is a friend! So I was delighted to see Richard Harland win for Best Horror Short Story (the second ROR win for the night!) and for Kirstyn McDermott to win for Madigan Mine – especially because they were both there to collect, which makes it extra special.
Then we got up to Fantasy and I stopped relaxing again! The short story award was won jointly by Angela Slatter & Lisa Hannett for “The February Dragon,” a gorgeous story that I think was my favourite from Ticonderoga Press last year – dragons and Ancient Rome; and also Thoraiya Dyer for “Yowie.” Now, you all KNOW how much I love Yowie, right? It’s a story I have been raving about for, oh about a year now, so it was hugely exciting to see Thoraiya win for it. She also got bonus points for her lovely speech in which she mentioned how she had been practicing her “Congratulations Angela” face for the last five minutes, and credited Alisa with rejecting several stories from her, without which she never would have written “Yowie” at all!
Then Tehani and Helen started getting all excited about Best Fantasy Novel and I was shushing them to stay cool because you CAN’T get excited about these things, because then if they don’t happen, you look silly. So, you know, I was practicing my best ‘congratulations Glenda/Trent’ face for non existent TV cameras! Hee. So much for staying cool. It was very exciting to have my name read out, and to go up again on stage and see everyone grinning at me! And BOY OH BOY was I glad I had written a just-in-case speech. Extra hooray that Stephanie Smith & Nicola were both there to hear me credit them for their work and support – and Richard was beaming at me from the front row when I thanked ROR for their, lets face it, YEARS of work & support getting this damn book as good as it was.
So yes. That was rather awesome. Thanks everyone who was there to share that with me! It was especially inspiring to have Sean Williams whisper that I was only the second person to have taken out Best Novel Ditmar and Best Fantasy Novel Aurealis with the same book – and he knew that because he was the first. So that’s a rather stylish & exclusive club to be in.
Science fiction was next, and while everyone was laughing at Rob’s exploding robot animation, I still couldn’t relax because I was still nominated in one category! But then I lost gracefully to KJ Bishop (congratulations face), and hooray, I was done for the night! But the Aurealis Awards, weren’t of course. Richard and I still had another ROR flag to fly when Marianne won Best Science Fiction Novel for Transformation Space, the final book in her Sentients of Orion series. This was wonderful, as I know how proud she is of those books, and how they haven’t always received the critical attention they deserve. I think it’s also worth noting how rare it is for the last book of a series to win an award! First and standalone books have a much better chance generally because it’s unfair to expect judges of a particular year to have read all previous volumes… but I liken this one to Return of the King winning all the Oscars. It feels like an award for her entire series, and it’s a magnificent endorsement that she won for this one.
Next up was the Peter Mac – hilariously I had completely forgotten that this award existed and that this was why Helen Merrick had come all this way for the awards. I knew she was the winner because I was one of the convenors who AWARDED it to her, but I was ditzy enough to have forgotten in the mean time. So she legitimately pointed and laughed at my surprise, earlier that afternoon, when I realised. Anyone who knows Helen knows how much she has done, academically and personally, to advance the discussion and critical appraisal of science fiction in this country so yes, she was an obvious winner of this particular award and it was delightful to see her get up and receive it, and know how much it meant to her.
It was also lovely to see the Kris Hembury Encouragement Award continued, from Fantastic Queensland, presented in this case by Kate Eltham to Jodie Cleghorn. I only met Kris a couple of times, but I taught him at EnVision and was so inspired by his commitment to his work, and to the Queensland writing community – very fond memories.
After that, it was party central! We drank the Independent Theatre’s bar dry and then tripped back to the hotel for a very cruisy and relaxed after party. The bar could have done with more staff (HOTELS NEVER LISTEN) but it was really hard to pick any holes in the event at all. As an attendee with little to do but presenting a couple of awards, I have to say that Nathan and Susan and the team did an extraordinary job, and if you didn’t know it was their first time putting on the AAs in Sydney, you would never have guessed. From a professional point of view, I can’t help but think that having it Sydney-based for a while will be excellent as far as increasing the profile with publishers, editors and authors. I know that a big draw for me in coming was a rare chance to see the people I work with in person, and I’m sure that’s the same for many others.
Tehani demanded everyone say happy birthday to me just after midnight!
I crawled into bed at 2am, and rose in surprisingly good spirits for the recovery breakfast – well, Helen and I had to start earlier than most because I had morning plans & had to rush away from everyone (when she FINALLY woke up!). She was an utter sweetheart, though, and as well as getting to chat about Wiscon and academia over eggs & mushrooms, she sneakily got a bunch of people to sign a makeshift birthday card for me, made out of a placemat stolen from the hotel room! I got a present, too, but she has to post it to me because my tiny suitcase was already overstuffed.
Then for the final leg of my whirlwind weekend, I met @zeft for the first time IN PERSON, despite the fact that she’s among the half dozen people I speak most to online, and has been for the last 5 years or so. Since my previous trips to Sydney have always been on the way somewhere and lacking in tourist satisfaction, she took me down to the river and we caught a variety of ferries back and forth, so I could admire the bridge, opera house, Darling Harbour, Luna Park and Circular Quay from a variety of different angles. She also got to laugh at my extreme geographic ineptitude as I repeatedly lost my bearings.
It was a brilliant sightseeing tour packed into only a couple of hours. We also saw giant Lego statues at the Aquarium and failed to steal pieces even though it was RIGHT THERE and so tempting. (Audrey Hepburn would so have walked off with a wodge of Lego horse’s rear in her handbag) Also after we missed one ferry we got to accidentally witness an opening ceremony for a Wall of Welcome at the maritime museum, complete with circus acts and (apparently) celebrity chefs. Oh and entirely by accident, I completed a pilgrimage to the site of the 1996 Aerobics Oz Style episodes, by the fountain in Darling Harbour. Hooray!
A fabulous weekend, but nothing beats that feeling of the plane skimming over the water, coming into Hobart airport. I got home to little girl hugs, stories of family dramas while I was gone (including car disasters and nappy explosions), distributed presents (yes even though I was gone only a day and a half, I’m just awesome like that) and received chocolate, champagne, oysters, pickled octopus and birthday cake.
Raeli’s present to me was a gorgeous Doctor Who picture, which she refused to give me straight away because, spoilers! She and Daddy had already seen The Doctor’s Wife (which went out on the ABC during the Aurealis Awards) but now I got to sit down with them and finally, FINALLY watch it myself. It was worth the wait, as was Raeli’s drawing, which included a little picture of Idris saying ‘hello’ out of the TARDIS as well as pirate Amy (I think Raeli will be drawing her in that outfit for perpetuity and why not?) Rory with cross hatch marks on his hands, River and her gun, the Doctor saying “I’ve got mail,” the Silence and an Ood. Her art makes me happy.
All in all, it was a birthday weekend that will be hard to top in future years!
Pics all by Cat Sparx except the following: Helen & Richard by Tehani, Sydney Harbour & Raeli’s Doctor Who pic by TansyRR