Snapshot 2014: Gitte Christensen, in memorium

Gitte C
Image from Gitte’s blog

GITTE CHRISTENSEN

By Steve Cameron

I didn’t know Gitte anywhere near as well as I would have liked. She lived in country Victoria and I didn’t, which meant we rarely saw each other. Even though, within the Australian Spec-Fic Writing scene I knew her better than most.

I can clearly remember the first time I met Gitte, and read her work. We were at a Sean Williams’ workshop, and Gitte had submitted an extract from a longer piece. It was a stunning scene that described the docking sequence of a burnished ceramic spacecraft, crewed by a long-lived spacefaring race. I remember the picture she painted using only words. It had a beautifully measured pace, but was highly descriptive, rich and decadent in imagery. Gitte told me it was part of a space-opera trilogy that needed re-structuring and editing. I’m saddened we shall never see it.

We stayed in touch. We emailed each other and managed to steal the occasional half-hour to chat at conventions and workshops. It didn’t matter what was happening in her life, and none of us knew much about her illnesses, she was always cheerful and optimistic.

Whenever I made a sale she would quickly email me to congratulate me. If I posted about a rejection, she was just as quick to commiserate and encourage. Her own blog was as honest as she was. At the end of each month she would post statistics on how many stories she’d completed, how many had sold, how many had been rejected, and how many were out in the wild.  She wrote about her writing, her dreams, goals and self-doubts. She also wrote of her life; the ongoing battle with the doof-doof neighbours, the imagined adventures of her wayward chooks, her ‘arvo’ job and the writing she managed on her commute, life in her local neighbourhood, and her great love of horses and riding the trails with her sister.

She was proud of her Danish heritage and culture. She loved visiting Walhalla in Victoria, and its connection to its Viking namesake. She recommended Danish movies stories. She loved writing. She was delighted by her achievements, her sales and her reviews. And she had some fantastic credentials. Andromeda Spaceway Inflight Magazine, Aurealis, The Tangled Bank, the Bram Stoker nominated Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, Aliens: Recent Encounters as well as her inclusion inThe Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2010. Despite all these, and others, she was largely unknown in Australia. She was a quiet achiever.

She wrote to me after one rejection in which the editor informed her he loved her story, he loved the writing. I doubt I could describe her work any better.

“Yours is one of those stories that, if I had more room in the book, would definitely be in. I found this to be very thoughtful, atmospheric, and it held my interest to the end. As always, you have proven yourself a talent for creating descriptive and emotional prose”

Her response:

“You win some, you lose some 🙂 There were more, nice comments, but that paragraph summed it up best – I almost sent him an email telling him not to worry, that I’m okay with it, but of course it would be unprofessional to respond to a rejection.”

Gitte, as always, was more concerned about the feeling of others than the rejection, of how this editor must feel in not selecting her work. And then she signed off with her characteristic optimism.

“Onwards and upwards.”

I knew she was having health issues, but she would never go into details. I would ask how she was going, and she’d always tell me things were improving, that she’d had some issues, or some surgery, or some pains, but they were pretty much passed now, and she looked forward to being clear of the illness and getting back to work and more serious writing time.

Here’s what she wrote to me in November, 2012:

“I’m well enough – my brain is working again and returning to old habits now that it’s not drugged, but I’m still low in the energy department, and a lot of what I have gets used up at the Arvo Job.  But I’m slowly getting there, thank you, and the writing is picking up again, thank goodness, though I constantly have this horrible feeling that I’ve fallen behind by not getting much done this year. Behind what, I’m not sure. Just behind.

Mostly I’m just hanging out for 2013 and hoping THAT will be the year it all comes together :)”

What I only found out recently is that around this time she was told she wouldn’t see Christmas.

In April of this year her blog fell silent. I knew something was up when the end of the month passed without her stats update. Emails were unanswered, and although I knew roughly where she lived, I had no other way of contacting her. I even questioned whether she wanted to be contacted, being as private as she was. I finally managed to get a message to her sister and learned Gitte was having more surgery, was weak, but there was hope she’d be up and about a few weeks later. But, as usual, Gitte didn’t want anyone to know what she was going through. I asked that my thoughts be passed on to her.

A week later I received word that Gitte had little time left. Her life support had been switched off and it was only a matter of when. Determined as always, Gitte vowed that despite the doctors’ prognosis she would continue to fight. She had aggressive cancer. Gitte passed sent me a message of thanks for my thoughts, and congratulated me on a minor success I’d written about. Even at that point she was supporting, encouraging Gitte. Only two months before this Gitte attended Supernova convention, and around the same time went horseriding.

On the 13th June 2014 at 2.15 a.m., Gitte passed peacefully. “Typical Gitte,” said her sister, “waiting for Friday 13th.”

Since then Gitte has sold at least three stories. Her blog will be updated by family from time to time as these become available.

Her writing is still on my shelf. I have our emails filed away. She will not be forgotten by those of us who love her. She’s no longer here on Earth, but Gitte the brave, Danish warrior now feasts in Valhalla.

SnaphotLogo2014This post is part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: 

http://benpayne.wordpress.com/tag/snapshot2014/

Snapshot 2014: Philippa (Pip) Maddern, in memorium

Image via History of Emotions

PHILIPPA MADDERN

(1952-2014)

By Lucy Sussex 

I became a writer because of the Australian SF writing workshops. Ursula Le Guin’s name on the cover of the 1975 workshop proceedings, The Altered Eye, was sufficient for me to buy the book. Then I got entranced by the descriptions of the workshop process. I bought The View from the Edge, too.  Although they featured various talented young writers, some of whom would publish books, the absolute standout was one Philippa C. Maddern.

It was some years till I met Pip (as people called her), at a restaurant meal around Aussiecon II.  I noticed first the mop of black hair, the wide, warm smile. At the time I was considerably in awe.  Viv Albertine’s recent memoir describes the effect of seeing the cover of Patti Smith’s Horses; and then the Sex Pistols live. Smith looked like an ‘ordinary girl’, the Pistols like Viv and her friends:  young outsiders. When I started out the stars of the Oz SF scene were almost to a man hoary old blokes, tending to the deeply sexist. The women of SF were unattainable goddesses, and overseas. Pip was older than me, but otherwise young, acclaimed and an Aussie girl. I found her inspirational. Moreover, she was a strong feminist.

Not that I could get all fangirl over Pip and a story I adored—“Ignorant of Magic”—because she did not stand upon ceremony. If she liked you, then you knew it. Neither did she hide a razor-sharp intelligence. Her obituary photograph in the Australian was pure Pip: hands on hip, the background cluttered bookcases, feistiness in repose.

In the years following the workshops, she pursued a PhD in medieval history at Oxford, and attended Milford three times. Lisa Tuttle posted on Facebook a photo of Pip at Milford, resplendent in red overalls.  Pip’s problem was finding time to write, as a young academic. I can’t remember who suggested an informal series of workshops, which took place over the next few years in our various houses. Pip hosted at her College rooms at Melbourne University, and also at the Champion’s, with whom she had formed a long-lasting Christian community.  Although she was deeply religious, she never bothered others about God. She had her worldly pleasures too: she cooked well, and played in a medieval music ensemble.

I knew her best in these few workshop years, and then not well. She was looking for an academic niche, then beginning to be fiendishly difficult, and at one stage got fed up and got an ordinary job. Had she not got a permanent position at the University of West Australia, she might have written more. I heard (not from Pip) of an unpublished novel, and at the workshops she presented extracts from another novel, a human repetends, a love triangle repeating the same mistakes through time.  It was very good, but I suspect she never finished it. I did, however, manage to get a story from her for She’s Fantastical.

At various parties I met people from the original workshops, who had a persistent bond. One was Ted Mundie, older, part-Chinese, a charmer in person and prose, with a very relaxed style.  One time I saw Pip she mentioned she was ‘having a fling’ with Ted. Next thing they got married—some 25 years after meeting at the Le Guin workshop. I visited them at their Bayswater home, he enjoying looking after her; she cherishing him. Sadly Ted died of a heart attack after 5 years of marriage. The last email I had from Pip, we were both bereaved, and she mentioned publishing his memoir.  It was one of those things that she never got around to, but such is the state of academe, the grind of lectures, committees, publications, research etc, etc.

She had ovarian cancer as a young woman. The disease returned, this time fatally. I was told by her fellow medievalists that she was gravely ill, and was able to send a card. In it, I said how inspirational she had been, and that I hoped she would get back to writing. Later I was one of six people who contributed to her obituary in the Australian, which is how her SF got mentioned. Some academics had never heard of it before.

Her memorial service in Melbourne filled a small church on a cold day.  I sat gazing at the stained glass window, through which the leaves of trees, rendered bright green by sunlight and the tinting, could be seen tossing.  As the minister spoke of the Redeemer and the Light, and how her last meal had been the Sacrament, I recalled “Ignorant of Magic”. In it she used the words “Kaleidoscopic precision”, a good image of how her mind, and by extension her prose worked.

What she leaves, beside a memory of an excellent woman, talented historian and teacher, is her stories. ‘The Ins and Outs of the Hadya City State” was her submission to the 1975 workshop, and it remains a startling debut.  It was written under the influence of Le Guin (like we all were!), as was “Ignorant of Magic”, this time mixed with medievalism. In retrospect, the best is “Inhabiting the Interstices”, a scary but utterly prescient story of the future of cities, the future of work.  What was sitting in her bottom drawer or hard drive is unknown, but what was published was extraordinary.

Ursula Le Guin gave me permission to quote her words about Pip:

It grieves me very much to know Philippa is dead, yet it gives me joy to remember her in life.  Teaching workshops you meet a few people like her,  you smile when you think about them,  you always are grateful to them for being who they were, for writing what they wrote, for believing that you could teach them anything.

I still have a tiny box Philippa gave me. I had told her that when I saw Blue Wattle acacias flowering in Australia they made me feel at home, because they grew at our place in California, and in the box is a sprig of those blossoms, still yellow after all the years.

SnaphotLogo2014This post is part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: 

http://benpayne.wordpress.com/tag/snapshot2014/