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What on earth is the Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary?

The Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary (FFA) is a fictitious amateur writers’ group starring various oddball characters with certain ‘ideas’ (read: incorrect ideas) about their place in the literary world. It’s presided over by its triumphantly egotistical founding member, Valkyrie Cul-de-Sac (played by the real-world founding editor of the FFA, Jackie Ryan). The other Auxiliary members are devised and performed by a revolving group of established and emerging writers who have been invited ... to turn bad. To go rogue. To overwrite. To underwrite. To ‘do it wrong’.

So wrong it’s right.

Think unashamedly purple prose, plot twists so contorted they defy the laws of physics, multiples of double entendres, and a steadfast commitment to keeping a straight face. Writers aren’t just submitting a story when they produce something for the FFA—they’re encouraged to let their wild alter egos roam free; to experiment with the absurd under the (loose) protection of a pseudonym and a huge wig; to devise (and write in the voice of) characters that fit into this delusional world. Contributing authors may also pose for awkward 'author photos' and story ‘cover shots’ in costumes befitting their eccentric creations, and perform FFA-related readings in character at various festivals. It’s a complete world, you see. Completely bonkers.

FFA stories often include an element of romance, but there are no strict rules about genre or content. The literary indiscretions committed in the FFA name are not intended as sweeping critiques of any particular genre—though some of them unpack ungainly techniques and questionable or hackneyed tropes to wry effect. These pieces are light-hearted exercises in wordplay that result in something so antithetical to good writing that it becomes ... great fun. It’s also a real literary challenge—turns out writing ‘bad’ that is actually good is a lot trickier than it looks.

Right—so where did this madness begin?

For years, FFA creator Jackie Ryan had corralled group viewings of 80s blockbusters, such as Return to Eden and Lace (with a side-order of Dynasty and Dallas), and she’d long admired spoof writing and performance, such as the opening sequence of the movie Romancing the Stone. Several years ago, she was reminded of that sequence while watching rehearsals for the play Head Office by Lisa Fa'alafi and Neridah Waters (with a writing assist from Lucas Stibbard), which included a spoof romance scenario in a similar vein to that beloved Romancing the Stone scene.

Jackie was inspired to make her own contribution to the anti-canon. But writing romance spoofs wasn't new territory—so how could she put a fresh spin on it?

Well ... what if these anti-works had been produced in earnest? What sort of characters could stray so far from the genres they presumably love? So blatantly mishandle the tropes? So emphatically descend into cliché? Were they bubble-wrapped in wealth? Ego? Denial? All of the above? Perhaps they would find each other and stick together, or form some sort of … support group. Perhaps they’d even hold literary salons …

Designer bingo! FFA would be a chance to merge this unholy love of polyester, lip gloss, shoulder pads, big wigs and bigger wind machines with writing and performance.

And thus, the FFA was born.

OK, so where does the name ‘Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary’ come from?

Jackie named it ‘Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary’ to raise the spectre of bygone citizens’ groups and to signal that its fictional members might not be all they imagine themselves to be. It’s probably also safe to assume the FFA members have fundamentally misunderstood the meaning of the word ‘auxiliary’ (it’s not the only word they’ve triumphantly, yet unwittingly, misused or abused).

So who gets to be an FFA member?

The FFA has one fearless leader, two founding members, and a whole host of contributing members—a dazzling collection of emerging and established writers from Australia and overseas—who have donned some wild outfits, penned some purple prose, and read their opuses aloud at some extremely shoulder-padded performances.

Jackie’s FFA alter ego, Valkyrie Cul-de-sac, is the Auxiliary’s Convenor, Grand Vice Executive Chancellor and Supreme Foundational Member. (Valkyrie definitely doesn’t have an ego problem.) The FFA’s two core founding members are Kathryn Kelly, a dramaturg extraordinaire, theatre reviewer, academic and romance novel addict whose FFA pseudonym is Misty Dawn; and Carody Culver, a writer and editor with a love of B-grade whose FFA pseudonyms (greedy!) are Tuesday Thatch, Minty McGee, and Sunday Best. Carody also co-edits all FFA stories with Jackie (we like all our mistakes to be on purpose).

Contributing members include Michelle Law, Krissy Kneen, Pascalle Burton, Michael Kelly, Lucas Stibbard, Neridah Waters, Lisa Fa’alafi, Christopher Currie, Lorelei Vashti, Michelle Dicinoski, Trent Jamieson, and Adam Hadley.

What are these ‘performances’ you speak of—does the FFA do live shows, too?

Yes! The FFA does live shows, and these always feature a talented line-up of contributing members who read their work aloud and in character (that is, from beneath multiple layers of glitter, polyester and synthetic wigs).

The FFA has performed at Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Writers' Festival, Woodford Folk Festival, Women of the World Festival (as part of the 2018 Commonwealth Games), Queensland Poetry Festival, The Planting Festival, Brisbane Fringe Festival, Bad!Slam!No!Memoir!, Bad!Slam!No!Biscuit! and Noted Festival.

I heard a rumour that you also have … a writing award?

You heard correct. The Feathered Quill is an award that we give out once a year, or when we feel like it—because as Valkyrie would say, rules are for minions (although we do have one firm rule: we can’t award the Feathered Quill to a founding member, otherwise their alter-egos would see to it that no one else would ever win). You can find more information about how to enter the Feathered Quill—and about its esteemed previous winners—here.

Do you have any random fun facts to add?

Yes. Thank you for asking. In 2017 the National Library of Australia requested (and was granted) permission to archive the FFA website as a site of cultural significance. Our alter-egos were suitably pleased.

"Six writers took the stage and had the audience laughing hard at their seriously ridiculous—or ridiculously serious—take on the ever-popular romance genre. Amber Lance, Pepita Le Page, Misty Dawn, Tuesday Thatch, Valkyrie Cul-de-sac, and St John St John, all dug deeply into their profound insight into the delicate flower that is human love, and together produced a colourful bouquet of hilarity that they threw to their adoring fans."

Matthew Wengert, One Page Brisbane

"Think Mills & Boon but worse ... and yet simultaneously so much better. And thus, you've been initiated into the weird and wonderful world of the Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary."

Koren Helbig, Frankie Magazine

"The stories featured some of the worst word crimes, including excessive puns, giving more information than a Wikipedia page, and similes and metaphors to make readers cringe. Despite the intentional awfulness of their prose, each of the authors showed it takes a lot of skill to craft something that mixed trash and humour so well: taking the bad out of the phrase ‘so bad it’s good’. ‘Mills And Boom!’ won’t turn on an audience, but it will make an audience howl with laughter, which is a great quality for any lover to have."

Tim Byrnes, Scenestr Magazine