Interview with the President of the Australian Horror Writers Association

Reader Logo by Amanda Atwell

A good horror story doesn’t need to be horrific. Any horror writer will tell you that what it needs to do is create fear in the reader. After talking with Leigh Blakmore, President of the Australian Horror Writers Association, it is evident that there is nothing to fear when joining a writers association.

AHWA is a non-profit organisation that provides a space for like-minded writers of horror to forum their stories to an encouraging audience. Many stories that were first read and enjoyed by fellow members in one of AHWA’s critique groups are now published. If you have been thinking about how to take the first step in distributing your story, look for a group or association and get mingling! Join an online group with a specific purpose and focus such as this, or scope out your local area for a writers group. It’s the perfect way to start!

The AHWA specifically focuses on one genre. What influenced the decision to create an association for writers of the horror genre?

There have been horror writers' groups in Australia previously, such as The Gargoyle Club: Sydney Horror Writers' and Artists' Association (which I helped found, with Bryce Stevens and Chris Sequeira, editors of Terror Australis magazine) and the Melbourne Horror Writers (later Horror Writers of Australia) founded by Bryce Stevens, Chris Masters and Steve Proposch, editors of Bloodsongs magazine. However, AHWA (Australian Horror Writers Association) was founded by Dr Marty Young in 2004 with a broader agenda of bringing together horror writers from all over Australia. Because horror is a niche genre in which many writers struggle to get published (especially in Australia, where although the population reads a vast number of books, we can't support huge numbers of books being printed locally), it was felt a strong support network could help the horror writing community.

What is the purpose of the association?

The association promotes horror as a genre in all its forms - writing, film, gaming, and so on. The AHWA exists specifically as a networking and support hub for Australian writers.

How many members do you have, and what are the benefits of being a member?

We currently have around 300 members. The benefits of being a member include discounted access to our official publication Midnight Echo, which has published four issues so far (and number 5 is on the way); mentoring and story critique services; competitions relating to horror fiction and films; chatrooms where members get to chat with leading lights in the horror scene from overseas; forums where they can discuss issues of local concern; a website with member pages which promote their work; and many other features! The AHWA also presents the annual Australian Shadows Award for horror writing, which is designed to encourage excellence in the genre.

How does the association help members who are seeking publication?

The AHWA's website provides useful links to other sites relating to horror and horror writing. In terms of becoming published, the main helpful aspects of the association are the Critique and Mentoring programs, whereby members can criticise each others' work, receive advice, and discuss issues relating to publishing and trends in the marketplace for horror. Specifically, the Critique group is designed to have more experienced writers in the field assisting emerging writers to improve the quality of their work. It functions as a roundtable where ideas can be thrown around, prose style can be worked on, and quality, publishable writing can be nurtured.

What does the future hold for the AWHA?

The AHWA now has links with the major overseas associations promoting horror, such as the British Fantasy Society and the Horror Writers Association (USA). These links will provide cross-fertilisation and international contacts which will assist Australian horror writers to participate more fully in the international horror community. As the new President of the AHWA, I also want to further develop partnership deals and sponsorships with Australian publishers in order to strengthen the focus of these publishers on horror and dark fantasy writing. The Australian Shadows Award is an integral part of that process and the award has gained much critical recognition over the years it has now been running.

What advice do you have for readers that would like to create their own group?

The AHWA functions primarily as a labour of love, with committee members fulfilling various functions in their spare time. Running or establishing a group can be quite difficult and may take some time to ‘find its feet’. The best thing is to strive for excellence in everything you do, and mutually support everyone that is part of your group, no matter what you are doing, whether it's a small reading group, a local writer's club, or a national association. Be organised, be kind to everyone and appreciate their efforts, and most all, have fun!

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