Posted by: Natalie Hatch | June 9, 2009

Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing is in the house.

It’s my great pleasure to introduce Australian Author/Publisher Paul Collins. Paul has a writing history a mile long, he’s the successful author of the Quentaris series for middle school. He’s writing stacks of Science Fiction and Fantasy books, my favourites being the Jelindel series. He also is the editor/jack of all trades at Ford Street Publishing. He regularly teaches workshops on world building and how to survive life as an author. He’ll be presenting at the Childrens and Young Adults conference (CYA) in Brisbane on 12th September (book early because it’s usually a sell out). I met Paul last year and kind of did a little fangirl thing following him around. Luckily he didn’t call the police. He’s graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us today. So let’s get on with it.
  • Ford Street Publishing focuses on Young Adult/Middle Grade books that have strong themes involved such as Crossing the Line by Dianne Bates about adolescent mental health and trusting your care giver, and Big and Me by David Miller again regarding mental health. Why do you think these sorts of books are so well received at the moment?

They have obvious depth. Too, people aren’t just reading fiction, they’re reading fact and fiction combined. Depending on who writes such a book, I think the reader also enjoys — if that’s the right word — a sense of voyeurism. Dianne Bates writes from authority — she went down the road she travels in Crossing the Line. The old saying “write what you know about” comes through loud and clear because the author clearly knows what she’s talking about without the slightest didacticism. We live another person’s life by reading issues-based novels. I noted too that mental health organisations got behind both Crossing the Line and Big and Me. They urge their members to read such books to get a clearer understanding of what people with mental illness go through, and how to cope with it within their own families.

  • Are there any titles that you are publishing that you’re particularly proud of?
Both Crossing the Line and Pool by Justin D’Ath were short-listed for Premiers’ awards, so I’m obviously chuffed. Only a few titles are chosen from the hundreds published by major publishers, so for a Ford Street title to make such lists is proud-worthy. Every book I publish has a behind-the-scenes story. I’m fond of My Extraordinary Life and Death by Doug MacLeod. Not only did it keep me laughing after many readings, but it was sent to me as a pdf joke. I saw publication potential, asked to publish it, and believe it or not, the author tried talking me out of it! After a day or two of correspondence, Doug relented and let me have it. It’s received rave reviews and publicity. Two forthcoming books are They Told Me I Had To Write This by Kim Miller and My Private Pectus by Shane Thamm. Both are issues-based, and both are written by people who know their stuff.  I’m dabbling in genre books, too, but that’s a tougher field because you’re really up against the major publishers when you publish SF, fantasy, etc. Relating back to what I said about issues-based books, these are extremely individual, so can stand out against any title up against them. One such book is f2m written by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy. Ryan has transitioned from female to male, a rare occurrence. I believe this will be the first YA book based on a female to male transition. That sort of uniqueness will almost guarantee the book’s success.

  • How do you juggle being a writer, editor and publisher? Are there any secret pixies hiding in your office cupboards that take on your workload when you’re not looking?

Alas, no. It’s a seven day and night a week job. I do have a legion of friends and acquaintances who help — maybe they’re the pixies! My partner is children’s author and editor Meredith Costain, who occasionally proof reads and edits; interns and work experience kids come here free-of-charge for the publishing experience; an old friend, Grant Gittus, does most of my design work at mate’s rates; many authors review books for me and post them online via Buzz Words, PIO, Specusphere, etc, etc. So although Ford Street is a one-person show, it is run by many. Where my writing is concerned, I really am up against it. There is simply no time to write. I was scrabbling for half-hour blocks to write some non-fiction titles recently, and they’re extremely time-consuming because of the research involved. I have a novel, Morgassa’s Folly, due from The Five Mile Press, although that was written in collaboration with Danny Willis, so half the work was done (and my part was finished last year). I have a book called The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler due from Celapene Press soon, but that was also written last year.

  • You’re well known for your Quentaris Series and Jelindel Chronicles, and have been writing science fiction/fantasy for many years now, why were you drawn to that genre? Have you ever branched out and tried to write a thriller or romance?

I was drawn to SF/F by sheer fluke. In the early 70s I decided I wanted to publish a magazine. I was working at the Breakfast Creek Hotel (Brisbane) at the time, and a fellow waiter suggested I make it a science fiction magazine, because there wasn’t one published in Australia at the time. It could’ve been a mystery, a western, an adventure. Anyway, “Void” was launched in 1975. It went into hardcover when I lost distribution via Gordon and Gotch. I then started publishing SF/F novels. In fact, I published Australia’s first heroic fantasy novels in the early eighties, long before the major publishers here realised there was money to be made from that genre in Australia. During this time I started writing SF/F short stories, culminating in a bridged novel (joining up six or so stories) called Cyberskin. I do write other genres, though. For many years now I’ve been writing a great many chapter books. If a publisher wants mysteries, I’ll write them, if they want romance (they’ve never asked me lol) I’d write romance. People might turn their noses up at this attitude, but my reply would be that I’ve been a full time writer for ten years, and writing only what I’m passionate about would never have afforded me a full-time wage. If I wanted to be penniless and living in a rental, I’d have just stuck with writing fantasy.

  • I interviewed Michael Pryor the other week and he divulged the fact that he acts out scenes to get them right, Jack Heath also mentioned he acts out scenes. Have you tried this yourself? Perhaps creating a portal in your lounge room might not work too well, but maybe a fight scene?

Can’t say I act out scenes. I have two black belts in martial arts and was an amateur kick-boxer for a couple of years. I also worked as a bouncer for twelve years in everything from cafes through to hotels and night clubs. So I’m not your typical writer who hasn’t been in a real fight. I’ve lived that particular experience on many occasions. Over the years I’ve ridden horses, learned to fence, spent time as a stuntman with the Los Angeles Hell Drivers, served time in the Commandos, played A-grade rugby. Since my fiction is more action and plot-driven, rather than character-driven, I feel I have the experience to write with authority.

  • What advice would you give teens who are trying to write?

I’d suggest enrolling in a writing course somewhere. I doubt anyone can teach how to write as such, but they can certainly help with every other facet of becoming a writer, from presentation of MSS, to professional feedback and above all, where to submit your MS when you’ve finished writing it. Becoming a writer isn’t as easy as typing 60,000 words and plonking a manuscript in the mail box. I know for example that a lot of critically-acclaimed authors are coming out of the RMIT professional writing and editing course. That’s no strange fluke or coincidence. I think those writers have an advantage over someone living in solitary confinement and hoping for the best. Reading a lot is to me quite a cliche. I’ve never been a strong reader — I grew up in a house where no one read and there wasn’t even a book in the house — but I’ve had something like 130 books published since 1995. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt to read a lot, but of the two tips, I think enrolling in a writing course far outweighs reading a lot. If you have the time to do both as well as write, then you’re either awake 20 hours a day or you’re spreading yourself too thin.

  • The Young Adult genre seems to be pretty full on with vampires at the moment, are there any specific types of stories that you are particularly looking for as a publisher?
As previously mentioned, I’m usually open to all issues-based novels. I’m closed to submissions at this moment simply because a pile of unsolicited material was growing daily and guilt-ridden I paid for a reader to make it disappear. It was costly and to no gain for me since the reader didn’t find a manuscript suitable for Ford Street. One problem with taking on 8 titles in 2009 is that I pay a half advance sum on signing of the contract. If I’m publishing eight books in 2010, I have eight thousand dollars tied up with no hope to recoup that money till late 2010 or early 2011. So I’m trying to slow down that process by opening up to submissions closer to when I might need manuscripts. It’s strictly a financial decision.
  • Okay I am officially jealous, 130 books published since 1995. I think I need to become more organised. Paul was in the middle of editing books and trying to organise himself when I threw these interview questions at him. But in typical Paul Collins fashion he handled my interruption with grace and didn’t sic his dogs on me. If you  haven’t read any of Paul’s stories yet you really need to get them. Especially the Jelindel series, truly you’ll love them.
Thanks so much Paul, we appreciate you giving up your spare time to talk to us.


  1. Wow, fantastic interview! Paul, thanks so much for visiting us. The science fiction shelves at my local bookstores seem to be expanding by the day. It’s a great sign for the genre.

  2. […] Eagar, Tania Roxborogh, Kathy Charles, Scott Monk, Jacinta di Mase, Rebecca James, Jack Heath, Paul Collins, and Gwendolyn […]

  3. […] 2009: […]

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