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August 7, 2017 | by  | in Books |
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Sponge

Sponge is a sparkling new New Zealand-Pacific online sci-fi journal. Having already published its first issue, Sponge is taking advantage of the online medium to reach an audience previously only accessible to print magazines. I got in touch with creator Lucy-Jane Walsh to find out what goes on behind the scenes.

 

Why did you decide to start a sci-fi journal?

For the most part, I decided to start Sponge because I felt there weren’t enough opportunities for science fiction writers in New Zealand. I have been writing science fiction myself for five to six years and have always struggled to get it published in mainstream journals. I was also interested in seeing what people were writing in New Zealand and the Pacific, and also how our science fiction might differ from the American and British science fiction we are used to. I felt that a journal would not only give writers opportunities to be read now, but also be a place to examine our history in this genre later.

To the side of that, I have been making a career change over the last couple of years from a arts and heritage type job to software development. I got a lot of editing and proofreading experience in my first job (I even built an ebook) before moving into web development, which is what I do now. So I have this perfect combination of skills for an online journal. My friend Ivan built the site for me, but I have done a bit of development myself since. It’s nice being able to make changes myself and not have to rely on a developer.

 

Did you read/watch much sci-fi before Sponge?

I have always loved science fiction, although it took me a long time to think of myself as a science fiction fan. I read really widely as a child, but many of my favourite books were science fiction — I loved The Tripods series by John Christopher, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L‘Engle, and The Giver by Lois Lowry. My favourite movie for years was The Matrix, and then it became Children of Men in high school. I think I have always been drawn to dystopian stories for whatever reason.

I had always wanted to be a writer but had never known what it was that I wanted to write. Around 2011, I stumbled across the book The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury at the local library. I was so floored and amazed by Bradbury’s beautiful writing and imaginative storytelling, I knew that this was what I wanted to write. For years I tried to copy his writing. I am now more interested in how growing up in New Zealand shapes my writing.

 

What was available in NZ prior to Sponge in the way of sci-fi and/or online journals?

From what I can tell, there weren’t any journals, although there are some really great groups to be a part of if you are a science fiction writer. SpecFicNZ has been around for a really long time and seems to be a really great community of writers. They hold their own competitions and are pretty clued up about what’s going on in NZ.

 

Where did the name “Sponge” come from?

I was with my friend Ben [Uffindell, of The Civilian] when I came up with the idea of making the journal, and right of the bat he suggested the name “Sponge”. It was just a joke but I actually really liked how it sounded — it reminded me of “the blob”, but it also has that ocean, sea vibe which goes well with New Zealand and the Pacific. At the end of the day, the name doesn’t really matter so long as it’s unique and distinctive. I figured it was as good as anything else.

 

What has been your favourite piece submitted so far?

I feel bad choosing favourites so early on, but I really like Xander Stronach’s “in /place/ where we(many) stand”. It’s got this weird grammar system in it (which you can see in the title) and is about a Māori boy struggling to connect with the ancestry that he left behind when he traveled to another world. It’s really clever and it feels distinctly New Zealand without seeming trite. I love how the strange grammar system makes it seem like it’s coming from somewhere in the future, or maybe somewhere so far away that the words have arrived slightly garbled or have been crudely translated.

 

How has Sponge been received so far?

Really well. Better than I could ever imagine. When you start something like this you always fear that it will just be some kind of vanity project for you, so it’s always surprising when people take to it well. I posted to Reddit about it and that got heaps of uptake. Someone even said, “how are you even funding this?” which I thought was cool because it means it looks expensive.

People really like that there is audio available, as well as epub and mobi and a nice PDF. I put a lot of time into making it available in lots of different formats, so I’m glad that people are enjoying them.

 

What would you like to do with Sponge in the future?

I think for now I’m mostly focused on getting the issues out, but I would love to do a print version sometime in the future where there is more of a backlog to draw on. I would also love to publish some non-fiction about New Zealand and Pacific science fiction that has been published in the past. It sounds kind of soppy, but I’d love for Sponge to be a place that people can learn about NZ sci-fi as well as reading cool new stuff.

 

If you’re interested in checking out (or submitting to!) Sponge you can find them at sponge.nz

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