A young Adelaide man and his co-writer have become Australia's top-selling science-fiction authors in the United States. Susie O'Brien reports.

Sean Williams is having a little trouble talking about his latest science-fiction bestseller, The Prodigal Sun.

Spying what looks like a figure on the top of a nearby city building, he suddenly breaks from the conversation, his imagination going into overdrive.

"What are they doing up there? Is that a spacesuit? It looks as if they could be about to jump off into space," he says excitedly.

Removing his Doc Marten's-clad feet from the coffee table, he leans forward, engrossed in the possibilities.

This overly fertile imagination is bringing Williams, 32, an international reputation as a leading science-fiction novelist.

The Prodigal Sun, co-written with fellow Adelaide author Shane Dix, has reached No.5 on the United States Locus bestseller list for science-fiction paperbacks.

WRITER'S DEN: Sean Williams in the room where he wrote The Prodigal Sun.

Locus is a US science-fiction magazine. This places Williams and Dix alongside such international science-fiction and fantasy greats as Raymond E. Feist, David Eddings and Leigh Eddings.

It also means they are the No.1 Australian science-fiction authors in the US, says Williams. It's early days yet, but the US print run of 52,000 copies is just about to sell out, and another print run is expected.

Williams is understandably ecstatic about the news. "It's very exciting to hear. I'm really optimistic about the future," he says. "It's crazy to think about two guys from Adelaide selling that many books in the US. I was totally shocked when I heard about it."

Williams has also recently received a two-year grant from the Australian Literature Council, meaning that he will "be able to write full-time, doing what I want to do for the first time and I'll absolutely be loving it".

HarperCollins publishing director Shona Martyn sums up this achievement.

"There is so much competition to get published in this country, let alone in the US, so this deal, and the sales, are amazing," she says.

According to Ms Martyn, The Prodigal Sun will soon be picked up in a number of other countries in Europe.

The book is the first in the Evergence trilogy. The second, The Dying Light, is due to be published in the middle of this year and the third, The Dark Imbalance, early next year.

Williams describes The Prodigal Sun as a "space opera novel".

"There are big battles, aliens and a small band of desperate heroes struggling in a big, old galaxy," he says.

The explosive world is aeons away from the sunny inner-city terrace house in Adelaide where Sean lives with partner Kirsty Brooks, also a writer.

The rooms are cluttered with books, LPs and CDs. It's comfortable, but eclectic. On the video rack, 2001: A Space Odyssey sits next to Kylie Minogue's Greatest Hits.

"Clearly, The Prodigal Sun and my other work are about a far-off fantasy world," says Williams, looking around the room. "Fantasy is something we all are interested in, whether it's sci-fi or fairy tales or dreams," he says. "Sci-fi is really just wish-fulfilment."

And yet the human touch is an important feature of such stories, says Williams. "Although they are worlds away from here, my characters still watch a sunset or reminisce about special places they miss," he says.

Grinning wickedly, he adds: "They even get bad breath and have bad-hair days."

BOOK MAN: Author Sean Williams checks a batch of his previous two books, The Resurrected Man and Metal Fatigue.

Williams' imagination is fuelled by his voracious appetite for reading.

The New Scientist and The Eye are particular favourites. But, judging by his office bookcase, he's just as likely to be reading John Birmingham's He Died With a Felafel in His Hand or Frank Herbert's Dune or The Encyclopedia of the Occult.

In addition, the collaboration with Dix when writing The Prodigal Sun trilogy was an integral part of the creative process.

"I write very differently from Shane," explains Williams. "I write very fast and, when inspired, may churn out 20,000 words in a week. Shane is more methodical, and he'll rewrite and reshape, taking months to get it right. He's brilliant and I couldn't do it without him."

Dix is equally positive about working with Williams. "He's a very dedicated writer with a fabulous imagination," says Dix "and so when the opportunity came to work with him, I jumped at the chance.

"He's honest, genuine and one helluva storyteller. I just hope some of it rubs off on me."

Like Dix, Williams is fulfilling a lifelong dream to be a published science-fiction writer. By the age of 10, Williams was already reading adult science-fiction and churning out short science-fiction stories.

Following an education at Pulteney Grammar School, he entered the University of Adelaide, where he studied economics.

If a sticker on his filing cabinet is anything to go by, this was a venture doomed to fail. It reads: "They can send me to college but they can't make me think."

Williams quit university in 1990 and decided to give himself a decade to get his first work published. Initially, he achieved this goal with short stories: by 1994 he had published dozens of his stories in Australia and the US. His first book, The Unknown Soldier, also co-written with Dix, was published in 1996.

Since then his goals have continuously been moving to keep up with his achievements. Now he's casting his sights on film, and has already sold one short story to Fox Studios, with other film producers pursuing him eagerly.

It's not surprising that Williams, who at one stage was working 40 hours a week in a record store and struggling to pay the rent, is happy with life.

"I still don't really believe that it's all worked out this way. To be on a bestseller list is a dream come true, and a dream that is many years in the making," he says.

But, he hastens to add, "I still don't feel I've really grown up. At least, I don't think so". He is sombre, pondering this issue: "No, I hope I haven't grown up too much."

Then his eye catches the distant figure on the building, and he becomes absorbed, yet again, about who this person is, and what this person is doing. Listening to Williams, it's almost possible to believe that this lone figure is waiting for a spaceship.

Originally appeared in The Weekend section of
The Adelaide Advertiser, Saturday, 25 March 2000.
Copyright © 2000 The Adelaide Advertiser.


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