“Who’s the writer who can produce horror as powerful and witty as the best of Peter Straub, SF as wondrously byzantine and baroque as anything by Gene Wolfe, near-mainstream subtly tinged with the fantastic like some tales by Powers or Lansdale? Why Terry Dowling, of course.” Locus (Nov 1999)
Born in Sydney in 1947, Terry Dowling is one of Australia’s most awarded, versatile and internationally acclaimed writers of science fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy and horror. He is author of Rynosseros (1990), Blue Tyson (1992), Twilight Beach (1993) and Rynemonn (2007) (the Ditmar award-winning Tom Rynosseros saga, which, in his 2002 Fantastic Fictions Symposium keynote speech, US Professor Brian Attebery called “not only intricate and engaging, but important as well”), Wormwood (1991), The Man Who Lost Red (1994), An Intimate Knowledge of the Night (1995), Antique Futures: The Best of Terry Dowling (1999), Blackwater Days (2000) and Basic Black: Tales of Appropriate Fear (2006/2010) (which earned a starred review in Publishers’ Weekly in May 2006 and won the 2007 International Horror Guild Award for Best Collection), Make Believe: A Terry Dowling Read (2009), Amberjack: Tales of Fear & Wonder (2010), and Clowns at Midnight (2010), which London's Guardian called "An exceptional work that bears comparison to John Fowles's The Magus." He is editor of the World Fantasy Award-winning The Essential Ellison (1987/ revised 2001), Mortal Fire: Best Australian SF (1993) and The Jack Vance Treasury (2007) among many other retrospective collections of Vance's work.
Dowling has outstanding publishing credentials. As well as appearances in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, The Year’s Best SF, The Mammoth Book of Best New SF, The Year’s Best Fantasy, The Best New Horror and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (which featured more horror stories by Terry in its 21-year run than by any other writer), his work has appeared in such major anthologies as Songs of the Dying Earth, Centaurus: The Best of Australian Science Fiction, The Dark, Dreaming Down Under, Gathering the Bones and The Oxford Book of Australian Ghost Stories and in such diverse publications as the prestigious SciFiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, Oceans of the Mind, Ténèbres, Ikarie, Japan’s SF and Russia’s Game.Exe. His fiction has been translated into many languages and has been used in courses in forensic psychology and Gothic literature in the US.
“Here is Jack Vance, Cordwainer Smith and Tiptree/Sheldon come again, reborn in one wonderful talent…you’ll purr and growl with delight.” – Harlan Ellison
Terry has also written and co-designed three best-selling computer adventures: Schizm: Mysterious Journey (2001) (aka US Mysterious Journey: Schizm) (www.schizm.com/schizm1/), Schizm II: Chameleon (2003) (aka US Mysterious Journey II: Chameleon) (www.schizm2.info) and Sentinel: Descendants in Time (2004) (aka Realms of Illusion) (www.dormeuse.info) (based on his 1996 short story, “The Ichneumon and the Dormeuse”), which have been published in many foreign language editions. He has reviewed for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Bulletin, and was the science fiction, fantasy and horror reviewer for The Weekend Australian for nineteen years under four different literary editors: Barry Oakley, James Hall, Murray Waldren and Deborah Hope.
Terry holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Western Australia (the first such degree to be granted and completed at that university), an MA (Hons) in English Literature and a BA (Hons) in English Literature, Archaeology and Ancient History, both from the University of Sydney. He has won many Ditmar and Aurealis Awards for his fiction, the Australian Shadows Award, the International Horror Guild Award for Best Collection, as well as the William Atheling Jr Award for his critical work. His first computer adventure won the Grand Prix at Utopiales in France in 2001 and he has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award twice.
The multi award-winning US magazine Locus regarded Terry’s first book Rynosseros as placing him “among the masters of the field” (August 1990). In The Year’s Best Science Fiction 21 (reprinting Terry’s story “Flashmen”), twelve-time Hugo Award winning US editor Gardner Dozois called him: “One of the best-known and most celebrated of Australian writers in any genre”, while in the Year’s Best Fantasy 4 (reprinting “One Thing About the Night”), editors David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer described him as a “master craftsman” and “one of the best prose stylists in science fiction and fantasy.” Terry has also been called “Australia’s finest writer of horror” by Locus magazine, and “Australia’s premier writer of dark fantasy” by All Hallows (February 2004). The late leading Australian SF personality Peter McNamara (on his SF Review radio show on Adelaide’s 5EBI-FM, 23 June 2000) called him “Australia’s premier fantasist.”
“A master craftsman…one of the best prose stylists in science fiction and fantasy.” – David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer / Year’s Best Fantasy 4
Terry’s fiction has been compared to that of John Fowles, Robertson Davies, Ray Bradbury, J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, Gene Wolfe and Frank Herbert, Dennis Etchison and Peter Straub, as well as South American writers like Borges and Cortazar. For the US edition of Rynosseros (1993), multi-award-winning US Grand Master Harlan Ellison said of Terry: “Here is Jack Vance, Cordwainer Smith, and Tiptree/Sheldon come again, reborn in one wonderful talent. If you lament the chicanery and boredom of so much of today’s shopworn sf, then like those of us who’ve been reading his award-winning stories for a few years now, you’ll purr and growl with delight at your great discovery of the remarkable, brilliant Terry Dowling. He comes from Downunder, and he knows how to stand you on your head with story.”
Terry has had many complimentary encyclopedia entries for his work, including entries in Twentieth Century Science Fiction Writers, the Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, John Clute’s Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia, the “Movers and Shakers” section of David Pringle’s The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the St James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers, and, significantly, in 21st Century Gothic: Great Gothic Novels Since 2000.
The entry in S. T. Joshi and Stefan Dziemianowicz’s Supernatural Literature of the World: An Encyclopedia (2005) calls him “a writer of formidable intelligence and admirable narrative control” and says that his “work in the supernatural forms the most sophisticated and extensive use of the weird mode in contemporary Australian literature.” This entry also mentions “his acclaimed work as science fiction and fantasy writer having brought him most attention” and alludes to a forthcoming novel “set in the Wormwood universe”.
As a musician and songwriter, Terry was a resident guest on ABC television’s Mr Squiggle & Friends for eight years (from 1978-1987), performing his original songs with Miss Jane, Mr Squiggle, Gus the Snail and Bill Steamshovel. He is a character in the 1980 ABC picture book Mr Squiggle and the Great Moon Robbery.
Terry was a guest at the National Word Festival in Canberra in 1993, the Perth Writers’ Festival in 1997 and the Perth International Arts Festival Writers’ Week in 2004. He has given a popular and successful series of writers’ workshops the NSW Writers’ Centre for more than ten years and has conducted workshops at such venues as the South Australian Writers’ Centre, the ACT Writers’ Centre, Western Australia’s Curtin University and Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. He was chosen to be a tutor for the inaugural Clarion South Writers’ Workshop in Brisbane in January 2004 and continues to present both Magic Highways and Dream Castles a highly regarded series of regular writing workshops at Sydney University's Centre for Continuing Education.
Terry is also a fully qualified teacher with thirty-five years of tertiary teaching experience. He most recently taught Business Communications and English at the June Dally-Watkins Business Finishing College in Sydney for fourteen years (1999-2012).
Terry’s previous homepage can be found at www.eidolon.net/terry_dowling.
Born: Lystra Private Hospital, in Petersham, Sydney, 21 March 1947
Parents: William Henry Dowling (1921–2000), Althea Marie Dowling (1924– )
Brother: Trevor Charles Dowling (1945–2005)
Lived at 55 Illawarra Road, Marrickville until age 3
Relocated to Gladesville in 1950
Boronia Park Public School 1952–1959 (repeated sixth class 1959)
Hunters Hill High School 1960–1964 (prefect, drama club, editor school magazine)
Sydney Teachers’ College 1965–1966 (Teachers’ Certificate)
Horsley Park Primary School (fourth class teacher) 1967
The Many Moods of Albert (rock musical group) 1966–1967
National Service (infantryman and admin clerk) 1968–1969
BA (Hons) Sydney University 1970-1974 (Eng. Literature, Archaeology, Ancient History)
MA (First Class Hons) Sydney University 1975–1981 (English Literature)
PhD (Creative Writing) University of Western Australia 2002–2006
Certificate 4, Workplace Training 2005
Temenos (rock musical group) 1970–1972
Gestalt (acoustic musical group) 1972–1975
Pact Theatre, Sydney 1972-1978 (musical performances, acting, songwriting)
Cadbury’s Showcase 1974 (heat winner/viewers’ vote) 1974
ABC Science Programs (ABC television) 1974–1978
Mr Squiggle & Friends (ABC television) (regular guest 1978–1987)
Metropolitan Business College 7/76–11/98 (English/Business Communication)
June Dally-Watkins Business Finishing College (English/Business Communication) 1999–2012
Meet Joe and Gay Haldeman 1979
First Overseas Trip (US) 1980
Meet Jack Vance, December 1980
Professional Writer (age 35) 1982–
Meet Harlan Ellison, June 1983
Freelance Journalist (1987-1988: The Sydney Morning Herald/The Nation Review)
Columnist / The Weekend Australian 7/1989–2008
Syncon 87 (Guest of Honour) 1987
Swancon 15 (Guest of Honour) 1990
Conflux 2 (Guest) 2005
Canberra Word Festival (Guest) 1993
Perth Writers’ Festival (Guest) 1997
Perth Writers’ Festival (Guest) 2005
Clarion South tutor 2004
Consultant: Southern Star (television production concepts) 1996
Computer Game Designer/Writer 1999–2004
Tutor / Centre for Continuing Education, University of Sydney 2007-ongoing
I was born at Lystra Private Hospital in Petersham, Sydney on 21 March 1947, and spent the first three years of my life living in a terrace house at 55 Illawarra Road, Marrickville before the family re-located to a War Service home in Gladesville in April 1950.
Growing up in the 50s, I found that to be a pretty magical landscape for all sorts of reasons: lots of bushland and playing fields nearby, a local tip at Boronia Park, a large cemetery called the Field of Mars, a madhouse at Bedlam Point in Gladesville, the Palace picture theatre for weekend matinees, lots of eccentric people to meet, plenty of detail to draw on for stories. I’ve always had an acute sense of landscape, whether it be urban and suburban Sydney, the desert landscapes of the Australian Outback, or places like California, Arizona and New Mexico. In more ways than might first seem obvious, I’m very much a regional writer.
As someone who saw Sputnik orbiting overhead in 1957 (or rather the casing for its Ranger rocket) and the Beatles performing at Sydney Stadium in June 1964, the SF I grew up on pretty well came from comics and the 50s radio shows like Rocky Starr and Captain Miracle. There were also kids’ annuals like The Adventures of Captain “Space” Kingley and The Adventure Annual in 1955 (with its Swift Morgan story and unforgettable Denis McLoughlin spaceship and robot designs) and comics like Classics Illustrated, notably the 1955 The War of the Worlds (powerfully illustrated by Lou Cameron), The Time Machine and Knights of the Round Table, and thick comic compilations repackaging US material: Century, Five Star, Atlantic Comic Monthly, Five Score, and so on. The Palace cinema in Gladesville had its regular Saturday afternoon double-feature matinees and its Midnight Monster Movies every New Year’s Eve.
There were also the Captain W.E. Johns’ ‘Kings of Space’ novels, illustrated by Stead, first discovered when I was in sixth class, which I really enjoyed and started collecting. When I was in high school I was blessed by two events: all these cheap Digit sf paperbacks suddenly being available in Woolworths, and meeting a guy at school who swapped me a cache of American sf magazines for my Digit copy of Van Vogt’s The Weapon Makers. At age 15 in 1962, I began buying such magazines myself: Amazing, Fantastic and Galaxy and, during that (for me) important watershed year, came upon both Ballard’s Vermilion Sands stories illustrated by Emsh, and Jack Vance’s The Dragon Masters illustrated by Jack Gaughan. Both had quite an impact and, together with Ray Bradbury’s Martian stories and the Charles Higham’s Horwitz horror anthologies, really helped focus my profile of interests – provided you add to it the equally important work of Cordwainer Smith and Philip K. Dick, the artwork of the Surrealists (notably Dali, Delvaux, Magritte, Ernst, de Chirico), and of illustrators like Joseph Mugnaini, Emsh, Gaughan, John Schoenherr and Virgil Finlay, among others, and a fascination with archaeology and ancient civilizations (Ancient Egypt in particular) I’d had since primary school.
Pinning down formative influences can be so reductive. How does one track the impact on a young teenager of Shakespeare, for instance, or a book on gladiatorial games like Daniel P. Mannix’s Those About to Die? Or of seeing movies like Forbidden Planet, Land of the Pharaohs and Helen of Troy at such a crucial time? How does one factor in the impact of collecting Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish and the complete run of Knowledge magazine for all those early teenage years? Or as a kid, long before heroic fantasy novels were the thing, reading a little colour-illustrated booklet on dental care called The White Guard, showing teeth as knights in armour defending a castle and being assisted by someone called the Craftsman with his magic formula (yes, toothpaste!), but which led me to pester Mum to get me a Junior Craftsman tool set from a local store just so I could call myself a Craftsman too. How does one begin to track all that stuff?
Like so many emerging writers, I began writing fiction in high school, doing mock-ups of sf magazines, reading Leonard Cottrell’s books on Ancient Egypt, Crete etc, blending all these elements. It was a pretty constant thing, a sustained level of input. After high-school I took up training as a school teacher (mainly because I’d enjoyed school so much) and kept books full of artwork and poems, story fragments again, mostly derivative of Bradbury, Vance, Ballard and Smith, Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and, of course, the Surrealists.
After Teachers’ College, I taught fourth class for one year at Horsley Park Public School in Sydney’s still rural west in 1967. This included writing the school song that is still being used today, forming the school band, and teaching most of the upper primary Latin American dancing. It’s a year I’ll never forget.
My early teaching career was interrupted when I was conscripted for two years’ national service (1968-1969) during the Vietnam War. During these years I wrote mainly poetry and songs, but with some fragments of stories, and managed to do some musical gigs in my time off. I’ve always tended to find the positive aspects of any experience, and this, too, proved to be a vivid and magical time. Not only did I find a copy of Jack Vance’s The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph / Brains of Earth Ace Double at a base store during recruit training at 2RTB at Puckapunyal, but I found the first two of his Demon Princes novels in the Singleton camp library soon after Infantry corps training at 3TB.
After an idyllic six months in the holding company at 3TB as Battalion runner, towards the end of 1968 I was sent to Randwick Trade Training Centre where I trained to be an admin clerk (and learnt how to type) and went on to work in the 3TB headquarters. Working there the following year, aged 22, I watched the Apollo 11 Moon landing on a television in the Curry Club at the Singleton camp.
Following my stint in the army, my resettlement benefits included one year full-time at a tertiary institution. I’d already matriculated to Sydney University, and so began a degree there in Archaeology, English and Ancient History. At the end of that year, I won a scholarship to complete my BA in English Literature (with Honours) and Archaeology (as a Merit student), then scored a Research Award that let me complete my MA (with First Class Honours) in English Literature, specialising in the work of J.G. Ballard and the Surrealists, and so science fiction.
It meant nine years at uni all told, again playing in rock and acoustic bands, writing songs, some stories, not really sure what I wanted to do with my life, tending to believe that any creative success would involve my songwriting. I won my heat of the television talent show, Cadbury Showcase, in 1974, based on viewers’ phone-in votes. This led me to appearances on some ABC television’s children’s science programs in the late 70s, writing and performing songs on guitar, presenting on camera dressed up as a pirate, a spaceman, a robot etc. This in turn brought me to the attention of the producers of Mr Squiggle & Friends, who liked my songs and thought I screen-tested well. I began an eight-year stint as a regular guest on the show, writing and performing songs with the puppets and Miss Jane, with occasional appearances on other ABC programs like Earthwatch.
At this time, too, ABC Radio put money into producing six of my songs from Amberjack, a musical I’d written about a stranded time-traveller.
It was during my undergrad years at uni that I met Van Ikin, and began submitting articles, poems and stories first to Enigma then to Science Fiction when Van got that project up and running in 1976. The earliest stories were “Illusion of Free Flow” (which, for some reason, Van published under the title “Illusion of Motion”), and “Oriental on the Murder Express” (both in Enigma, the magazine of SUSFA, the Sydney Uni SF society), and “Shade of Encounter” in the second issue of Science Fiction.
During my time at uni in the early to mid 70s, I also helped form an acoustic rock/country group, Gestalt, performing at the Collector (later Mirrors) wine bar in Gladesville, and at venues like Pact Folk, Balmain Folk, Macquarie Uni, etc. My songwriting now had a focus and I registered my first business name, Gestalt Music.
Still not sure what I wanted to do for a living, I took a teaching position at the Metropolitan Business College in Sydney, which again gave me a lot of freedom to explore my other interests: songwriting, performing music and, yes, writing fiction. I soon realized that most of the writing I had been doing was critical articles and book reviews. In short, it was ‘creativity gone elsewhere’. In 1981, I put myself on the line (helped, crucially, by a friend, Carey Handfield) and sold my first story to editor Philip Gore at Omega Science Digest, “The Man Who Walks Away Behind the Eyes.” In many ways Omega magazine still represents a high-point of genre publishing in Australia with its 30,000 print-run, and a pass-on readership, by independent survey, of an incredible 150,000; quite a demographic.
I had something of a dream run with Omega, being well received by the readers, well paid and, like other Omega writers, having full-page colour illustrations done for my work. When the US parent publication Science Digest closed down in early 1987, its Omega subsidiary was forced to close as well, one issue before it ran a 12-page feature on Tom Rynosseros’s future Australia, using an elaborate series of paintings by good friend and colleague, Nick Stathopoulos. Nick still has some finished paintings and some roughs for the artwork that would’ve appeared with the article. In 1993, Van and I used one of the pieces as the cover to Mortal Fire: Best Australian SF.
Other career highlights include meeting Jack Vance in 1980 after writing articles on his work for Science Fiction, and becoming a very close family friend; meeting Harlan Ellison in 1983 and really hitting it off, travelling together into the Outback, visiting him in LA and editing The Essential Ellison. Since meeting Harlan and Jack, I’ve made many visits to California, hanging out with Harlan and Susan, often spending Christmas and New Year with the Vances in Oakland.
Another very special and liberating highlight from late 1980 was having special friends Joe and Gay Haldeman take me to see the Voyager fly-by of Saturn at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, stopping on the way to pick up Theodore Sturgeon, sitting with Poul Anderson and all those other writers I’d read and admired all my life, watching their stories go the wall as new images of Saturn’s moons came up on the screen.
Closer to home, other highlights have been producing Mortal Fire with Van, doing my review column for The Weekend Australian, working with Nick Stathopoulos and Jack Dann as concept consultants for Southern Star television, writing and co-designing three computer adventures with the Detalion design team in Poland, and, of course, having new books and stories see light of day.
I became a writer, a ‘fantasist’ in the true sense of the word, out of a belated realisation that it had always been my natural area, that the energy I’d been putting into songwriting, critical writing, keeping a band together was really the same creativity. We all have it, but many of us never put ourselves on the line with it, preferring to play it safe. Roleplaying and computer games, watching movies etc are really ways of placing the creative urge. I still have all my toy soldiers from my boyhood, and one day I had them all out, creating a scenario, and realised that when the game was over, so was the story, and that if I put the narrative energy into presenting the story as fiction, it would remain. I suspect most people put their best creative energy into the venues, franchises etc supplied by others. That’s all well and good but you may never discover what you yourself can do. With the Omega sales and Mr Squiggle, I learned that I could get a return for my efforts, have something that was truly mine.
In a sense, I came to writing relatively late at age 34, but had acquired a confidence, a vital sense of cadence and euphony because of a natural affinity with music and the power of rhythm. Most of my stories are intended to be read aloud. So while I’m aware of all the doubts and misgivings I had, and of the effort that went into fragments and some pretty mediocre formative pieces, many people just see the sudden arrival and these rather assured pieces of writing. It only appears like that because I had plenty of preparation time in music and my studies of literature and language. I had distilled – both intuitively and rationally – a set of useful skills and attitudes.
I’ve mentioned becoming friends with Jack and with Harlan (whose work had such an impact on me when I was twenty and teaching primary school). Other conscious influences (to make that important distinction) include J.G. Ballard (particularly the Vermilion Sands collection, his early disaster novels and much of the earlier shorter work), Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Cordwainer Smith, Shakespeare, poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Andrew Marvell, Gerard Manly Hopkins, John Donne, Robert Lowell, Robert Frost. Add to these the best work of Theodore Sturgeon, Roger Zelazny, Samuel R. Delany and, yes, Asimov and Heinlein. Add John Fowles for The Magus, Fritz Leiber mainly for Our Lady of Darkness and “A Bit of the Dark World”, Robert Lipscomb for The Salamander Tree, Ian McDonald for Desolation Road and many of his fine short stories, Patrick White for The Vivisector, Herman Melville for Moby Dick. You see what’s happening here. You cannot ever list influences in any comprehensive, proportional way. How can I fairly assess the impact of those kids’ annuals I mentioned, or of the Disney Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics where they went to the Seven Cities of Cibola or Colchis or raised riverboats or met the Terry Firmies? How can I begin to track the chart on a classroom wall in fourth class showing the ancient Mediterranean, or those myriad things that I’ve forgotten to mention here that, in themselves, helped provide, shape and reflect this writer’s receptivity to all manner of things?
Only about 8% of writers earn their living from their writing, so I teach regular creative writing courses for the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Sydney and at the NSW Writers’ Centre to supplement my income from my fiction.
I presently act as carer for my mother in Gladesville. I work on my fiction every day, either in a coffee shop, writing longhand, or keying into a word-processor. No exceptions, no excuses. It is what I am and a source of great joy! I figure I’m only as good as my next effort and count myself expendable, so I work very hard at what I do.
I've conducted workshops at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney (1992), at the Centre for Creative Writing at the University of Canberra (1995), at two Perth Writers’ Festivals (1996 and 2005), Clarion South (2004), the Adelaide Writers’ Centre (2004), the ACT Writers’ Centre (2005) and many times for the NSW Writers’ Centre in Sydney. I’ve been guest of honour at conventions in Sydney and Perth, and guest speaker at many events, including the Canberra Word Festival (1993), Perth Writers’ Festivals (1996, 2005), the Powerhouse Museum (1996) and the Fantastic Fictions Symposium at Sydney University (2002). I currently present courses in Science Fiction and Fantasy writing at Sydney University’s Centre for Continuing Education and the New South Wales Writers' Centre.
I believe that people are talented but too rarely get to develop their talents. We all need something more in our lives, some added sense of wonder and possibility. I am convinced that sf/fantasy and horror can give a voice to this need. I believe that genre distinctions are determined by publishers, editors, marketing consultants, librarians and those who need to place ‘handles’ on things so they can be comfortable. Storytelling is storytelling. All storytelling, by its nature, is fantasy. If my stories fit established genres, then that can be useful, fortunate or unfortunate, depending on circumstance, but ultimately I write what I’m moved to write. For me, SF/Fantasy, Dark Fantasy and Horror are vector terms, useful only as approximate indicators, as butterfly nets if you will. They have very little to do with the essence of butterflies, but sometimes manage to snare one. The trouble with classifications is reification. You end up getting what you look for. I am an imagier who uses all of history, imagination, science, fear, wonder etc to produce entertainments which, by their nature, comment on this present age, cannot help but do so since that is what all storytelling does.
I think there is a unique and incredibly intimate connection between the storyteller and the receiver. It is one of the most profound connections humans are capable of, because the storyteller is given the receiver’s imaginative participation. Only the reader can bring it alive. It is intimacy and mutuality; it is a vital transaction that belongs to both parties equally. There is no other way for it to be but a transaction. Fiction is one of the most volitional of artforms and experiences. If you do not win the reader, he or she will not stay with you. Once you have won the reader, the transaction begins, them using your story to have their own unique experience of it; you using their experience to bring it alive beyond your own conception of it. Accepting the inevitability of this transaction is both essential and humbling.