Thursday, September 21, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY HAS JUST THREE DAYS TO DO IT



I loved Time Team. It tickled every archaeological pipe dream I ever had (I should have listed it higher on my Uni options, I know I should.) But just once, wouldn't it have been nice for them to dig up something really cool? Like an unknown Roman Legion, or a Harrier jump jet?


0014




"Now get out there and give us a battle Time Team will be proud to dig up!"

Sunday, September 17, 2017

GRILLED BY CHILDREN. WITH FAVA BEANS AND A NICE CHIANTI.

And while we're at it, the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre has posted the interview I conducted with members of their youth holiday program Press Club on Youtube.

So now you can hear more of my fatuous, deluded self-idiocy, but with added vision!

The whole thing is h'year.

HANGING FROM THE HORROR TREE

I've been interviewed over at Horror Tree about many things, including why.... uh... I'm not really... you know... a horror author...
 

PRECIOUS THINGS: LYN BATTERSBY





Well, here we are. The 29th, and final, Precious Things post. And I can't think of anyone better to round off the whole thing than the woman I call 'Luscious', Lyn Battersby.

Lyn is a talented author and editor, with a writing voice I think is utterly unique. Her writing has taken a back seat over the last couple of years while she finishes a University degree. She's currently in the final stages of a post-graduate teaching internship, and as one of the top two or three students in the state, she'll have her pick of assignments when the adverts are answered towards the end of this year. Once she's settled in her new job, she'll be back amongst the pages where she has made her home over the last 15+ years.

For now, however, with thanks to the 28 friends, colleagues, peers, and artists I like and admire who have created this series, it's time for the artist I love to speak.

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Dedicated to Lee and Connor.

And Rebekah Holyoake.


necklace

This is my prized literary possession. It’s not a book, or a poem, or a letter from an author. It is a piece of jewellery created for me by fellow Perth author Stephanie Gunn in honour of a story I wrote in the early 2000s. Called “The Memory of Breathing necklace”, it has pride of place in my jewellery collection and is one of the few pieces I own that is mentioned by name in my will.

So, what did I do to deserve such a beautiful gift?

In early 2004, I began work on a story called The Memory of Breathing. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, it centred on the execution of a child, brought back to life after being put to death for murder.
The story was a hard one for me to write. I was in the midst of a fierce custody battle for my first three children and facing the loss of my pregnancy. The day the story was bought (by Sally Beasley for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine), I had lost the battle with my ex-husband (he used my ill-health and threat of miscarriage against me) and started to bleed heavily.

No, I didn’t lose the baby and now I have Connor, a highly spirited child who is the life and joy of our entire family. I have a close and loving relationship with all my children and I feel I actually won the war with my ex.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet.

I still struggle with the memory of that loss. The ramifications of the custody battle have taken a battering ram to my psyche and I don’t think I will ever heal from the wounds. Connor is a beautiful child, but his health is never great and I still live in fear of losing him. I don’t take his existence for granted because I know it doesn’t matter how wonderful you are as a parent, fate can easily rip your children from you.

This is why the necklace is so important to me.  The twisted stand of beads represents the double-helix of human DNA and it is this which ties me to each of my five children. At the centre of the strand is a large stone, which I see as the relationship that Lee and I have forged. It is my strength when I feel I can’t go on.

I’ve had many moments in my life when I’ve found it hard to breathe. I feel so overwhelmed by life and how quickly it all changes. And yet, there is Lee and with us are our children, the most precious things I have in my life. I wear this necklace quite often, because it grounds me and reminds me what really matters in my life.

Today I don’t write as often as I used to. I have many other things going on in my life and I barely find the time to create fiction. The Memory of Breathing remains my best-known story and even now it sits with a production company awaiting development into a movie. I love that story and I’m proud of it. It reminds me that loss is always with us, but that we go on because of the love we receive from our friends and family.

Thank you, Stephanie, for the gift of my Precious Thing.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY DOES ALIEN COPS BETTER THAN LUC BESSON. WHICH ISN'T SAYING MUCH.



An example of my gag writing being infinitely better than my drawing skills: this looks like I tried to get it to completion but gave up when I couldn't get what was in my head onto the page.

Damn good gag, though.




0225

"It looks like some sort of ransom note."

Sunday, September 10, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: CAT SPARKS







Cat Sparks has done pretty much everything there is to do in Australian speculative fiction. She's been a publisher, illustrator, and editor. These days, she's expanding her long-standing writing repertoire: she's just released her debut novel, Lotus Blue, and is putting the finishing touches to a PhD in climate fiction.

Here, she takes us back into the depths of her childhood, and goes some way to answering what so many of those of us who call ourselves her friends have wondered: how did she get like that?
 

Ghosts cover

I had thought this particular gem lost to the mists of time – or the travails of practical adulthood at least, but when Rob and I moved house last August, a process by which so many peculiar things went missing (including our Optus set top box and half my winter smalls), at the other end when we unpacked, there it was, a book I swear I had not seen for decades, the book that freaked out my living ghoulies back in the day when I was a 70s preteen.

The introduction to Aidan Chambers’ Book of Ghosts and Hauntings explains that such things fall into four distinct groups: experimental ghosts, crisis ghosts, post-mortem ghosts and ghosts who persistently haunt the same place. The book contains everything my nine-year-old mind could possibly have wanted to know about ghosts, mediums, séances, haunted houses and things that went bump in the night.

The pages were peppered liberally with fanciful black and white illustrations of things people really might have seen: The ethereal ghost of Lady Hoby; a redcap brownie jigging on the tiles; young men tumbled from their bed by a poltergeist; witches cavorting around headstones; a lubin bewitching a ploughman; evil spirits lifting cows by their tails.

The book also featured stern photographs of old stone buildings in which supernatural incidents reportedly took place. Other more interesting photographs of spiritualism in motion included: psychic energy table turning, the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, an infra-red light séance room photograph in which a medium levitates a table. A section on fake spirit photography: the (paper cut out) witch on a broomstick, the loving (cotton wool) ghosts, a ghostly figure on the stairs -- the product of photo-montage and transparent tissue.

And there, nestled in innocently amongst all the rest of it, sat chapter four, page 27, The Hideous Face with Flaming Eyes. No photographs were offered as accompaniment, instead a rather fetching ink illustration.

Ghosts sketch

The story was excerpted from In My Solitary Life by Augustus Hare, set at Croglin Grange in Cumberland. No date was offered, only the fact that the Grange had been owned by the Fisher family for hundreds of years. The Fishers, so we were told, moved out, renting the house to two brothers and a sister. And then one fateful night…

… the sister still felt the heat too great for sleep, and sat up in her bed, still watching the moonlight through her window, for she had not closed her shutters…

She became aware of two lights flickering in a nearby belt of trees… The lights belonged to something moving closer…

Suddenly, she could never explain why, the terrible object seemed to turn aside, and to be going round the house, instead of straight towards her. She sprang from her bed to unlock the door, but at that instant she heard scratch, scratch, scratch at her window, and saw a hideous brown face with flaming eyes glaring at her. She took comfort in the thought that the window was securely locked on the inside, but all of a sudden the scratching ceased, and a kind of pecking sound took its place. The creature was unpicking the lead! A diamond shaped pain fell onto the floor, and a long bony finger came inside, and found the latch of the window, and turned it.

Cutting to the chase -- eventually one of the brothers shot the window-scratching creature, which limped off into a vault in the nearby churchyard. Next day, they found the thing, wounded leg and all, inside a coffin!

 My spongy, susceptible nine-year-old mind believed every word of this account. Every. Fucking. Word. And the knowledge that such a creature had been discovered in the everyday world slid beneath the surface of my comprehension, forming an impermeable layer. That thing was out there somewhere, which meant it might come after me some day.

Cat-1976

A couple of years later my parents decide to take me & my younger sister on a trip through Europe by way of the Panama Canal and Italy. We eventually wound up in the UK to visit a bunch of relatives.

 One of the aunts we met had been making Wombles to sell at a local fete. You remember Wombles? They were everywhere at the time. For no good reason that I can recall, I decided to make myself a doll out of leftover scraps of Womble fur. First I made a skeleton out of pipe cleaners, then sewed on the fur and gave the thing big round sewn-on eyes. I named this doll Miss Fuzzy Wuzzy and my mum made her a little outfit out of denim scrap. Mum was good at making clothing for our dolls.

 But Miss Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't like other dolls. She was an absolute hairy-scary fright. So frightening, in fact, that I then went on to make a magic talisman to hang around her neck to stop her coming alive in the middle of the night and murdering me. Miss Fuzzy Wuzzy was so much like that scratching thing with the hideous brown face and flaming eyes at Croglin Grange. The talisman was a bright pink plastic bead with multifaceted sides, like a dewdrop crystal. I guess it worked because I'm still alive to tell this tale…

Thursday, September 07, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY GETS ON THE PITH

Given the lined note-paper, and the care I took sketching out, I'm going to say it was one hell of a boring team meeting I was stuck in at the time. I clearly was too bored to come up with something funny.

0092

"Hello? Base camp? I haven't found the elephant's graveyard yet, but I think I know someone who has..."

Sunday, September 03, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: SUE WHITING







If you enjoyed Magrit, then Sue Whiting is the person to thank. Sue is, to put it simply, the best editor I've ever worked with: I learned more from working with her on this one manuscript than I've learned from the rest of my career combined. Her ability to pull threads together, to identify logic gaps and tighten sentences I thought screwed to their maximum torque, was astonishing. She did such an amazing job that she's indirectly responsible for the difficulties I've had with my next work-- now that she's left Walker Books and gone back to her first love, writing, I'm no longer certain how much of my greatest success is mine and how much is hers, and for a long time I was paralysed by the fear that it was all down to her.

An accomplished author in her own right, here she lets us into both the beginnings and underpinnings of her literary career.

Sue_Whiting_trim-300x300

This is harder to answer than one might think. At first my mind went to my musty and age-spotted edition of Famous Five Go Down to the Sea by Enid Blyton. It was printed in 1953, but found its way to me as a hand-me-down from an older cousin probably in about 1968. I credit it as the book that turned me into a reader, which eventually led me to being a writer.

Open Book


But there is actually another tome that I hold most dear. And that is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I have three copies: two hardbacks (one signed by Patrick) and a paperback, plus the audiobook narrated by Jason Isaacs. When I left Walker Books my gift from the company was a signed print of the cover art. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more apt parting gift. (I am yet to see the movie – but I will!)


cover

This book is incredibly sad and deeply affecting. But it is one of the most beautifully written and crafted books I have ever read. It was “required” reading for my editors when I was Publishing Manager at Walker and I always recommend it when mentoring emerging authors. There are so many lessons about what constitutes good writing within its pages. Quite simply, I adore it.

In fact, I think it is high time I read it again.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sunday, August 27, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: KAARON WARREN





There's no denying it: Kaaron Warren is an awards hoover. Over three novels and umpty-million short stories, she's won everything from the Aurealis, Ditmar, and Australian Shadows Awards to everything Canberra critics can give her to the Shirley Jackson Award. She's one of our very few world class authors-- she'll be a Guest of Honour at the 2018 World Fantasy Convention-- and if that wasn't enough to make you hate her through sheer envy, she's also one of the loveliest people I've ever met. Her latest novel, The Grief Hole, is, like most of her other work, an utter tour de force.
She's one of my favourite SF people, and as always, it's an utter pleasure to be in her company. And as always, no surprise to find that what Kaaron writes about isn't what is seen in the surface but what lies just below, easily missed until she brings it into the light for examination.


kaaron-warren-italian-c2a9emma-dillon2

A visit to my grandmother’s house was always full of words. From the moment we arrived there was chatter about school and friends and what the mean kid did. About what was for lunch and how well the bread dough was rising, and whether or not it was helped along by my uncle saying, “Arise, Sir Bread” every time.

After lunch was quiet time, but even more filled with words. There were piles of Family Circle and Women’s Weekly to read, and of Australasian Post (courtesy of my jokester uncle). I would nestle myself in a corner with a packet of lifesavers and read my way through the piles. Then I’d go to Nana’s bookshelf. She loved historical novels the best, so there was Georgette Heyer and Catherine Cookson, books I read in a sitting or would borrow to take home and finish that night. I was already keener on ghost stories than these historical romances, but I loved Heyer and Cookson for the way they told the story and for their descriptions. I learnt a lot about dialogue and setting from these books.

My most prized literary treasure, though, is this book.

Nana's book


When my Nana died, I inherited some of her books. Not the Georgette Heyer’s for some reason; they went elsewhere. But I did inherit this book. I’ve never read it. The Garfield bookmark shows where my Nana was up to.

Tears prickle my eyes as I type this. Looking at this book, and the bookmark there, makes me miss her so much. I’m not sure I’m sad she never finished this book, or if it gives me a sense of eternity, as if there is no ‘ending’, there is simply a bookmark keeping a record of where you’re up to for when you come back.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY DON'T NEED NO RUBY SLIPPERS

It's not often that I come across a forgotten thumbnail that makes me cackle and kind of wish I'd gone down the other creative path with my career.

The 4th Doctor getting ripped a new one by an angry Lollipop Guild is one of them.


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"Honestly, you people. It's like you all get a dog and a flying house and think it give you a licence to start squashing witches..."

Sunday, August 20, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: ADAM BROWNE





It's been too long since we've visited fellow artists' precious things: the KSP Residency kept me away from all but the most basic blogging, and since I returned to the day job, the weight of work has been ramping up so that I've had very little time to myself for such things. Thankfully, the skies have cleared (I can't wait to tell you about The 18 Month Plan tm) and we have a chance to get back to business with one of Australian Speculative Fiction's most divine lunatics, the brilliantly unique Adam Browne.


For a start, Adam's more than a writer: he illustrates his own works, and they have titles like Pyrotechnicon: Being a True Account of the Further Adventures of Cyrano de Bergerac Among the States and Empires of the Stars, by Himself (dec'd) (a wonderful confectionery of a book I was proud to read pre-publishing), "Other Stories," and Other Stories, and his latest, The Tame Animals of Saturn. He has a tendency not to appear in major presses: such is often the fate of truly original voices, and Adam is truly original-- if you'd like further proof, my favourite of his short stories involves the soul of Michael Jackson being implanted into an immortal spaceship, and grooming a street urchin to travel the stars with him forever. And that's the easy version of the synopsis.

Spend five minutes at Adam's blog, luxuriate in the writing and drawings, then come back here to enjoy an insight into one of the most intriguing and fascinating writers Australian speculative fiction has ever produced.

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I was trying to think of the right book -- I liked this idea and wanted to do it justice - but I was floundering around, looking at my bookshelves, considering this and that - The Dictionary of Angels by Gustave Davidson was one - others by Borges - and so on.

Then I chanced on this -  this Puffin edition of Arthur C Clarke's Islands in the Sky. The illustration on the cover was what did it - my Madeline cake; bringing back all the sense impressions of that period of my childhood - the years of absorbing every bit of Clarke's pro space propaganda ... space, where it's clean, where there's none of the mufflement and mess of a suburban family life - where, for Clarke, he would be valued for his intelligence, and not scorned for his sexuality...


book



I was going to be an astronaut when I grew up... It took me too long to grow out of that.

Growing up should be a feeling of increased power and freedom but often it's the opposite. 

Now I still love SF, but I tend to favor the eastern European style, which is all 'wherever you go, there you are' in its themes - the real Frontier is us - that sort of thing- see Solaris, or Upon The Silver Globe - also, from the West, Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora - a masterpiece.

I'm still grateful to Clarke for his heartfelt and lucid writing - he was using SF as a means to an end, in which he sincerely believed - even if I don't believe in the same thing any more, I'm still fond of the man. It was only recently that I realised I used to think of him as a friend. And really, thinking about it, I realise that feeling hasn't gone away.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY THINKS DEATH IS FUNNY, OKAY? OKAY?



I'd watch the movie. That's all I'm saying. Unless it had Adam Sandler in it. That shit's worse than death. But other than that...



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"No, actually. I don't think it would be cool if we all lived in the same house like The Beatles did in that movie, okay?"

Monday, August 14, 2017

TEN TINY TIPS FOR TINY TYPISTS

As part of my recent Residency, I was asked to provide a list of 10 writing tips, to be reproduced in the Centre's newsletter.

What the hey: here they are, for you to argue over.

  1. Know what you want to achieve from each session: it’s easier to get words down if you know where you want your story to go.
  2. Set reasonable targets: don’t try to achieve something that puts you under pressure before you start. Better to set a moderate target and exceed it, than otherwise.
  3. Be disciplined: writing time can be minimal. When you have it, don’t get distracted by other things. When it’s time to write, write and only write.
  4. Be regular: you don’t have to write every day, but try to set aside time on a regular basis. 500 words, once a week is better than zero words every day.
  5. Embrace your weird: nobody thinks like you do. If your narrative starts to deviate, take a chance on your instincts and follow it. You might be tapping into that voice that is uniquely yours.
  6. Tell your story first: turn off your internal editor until the first draft is done. Only edit once you have the narrative written. Never start editing until the story is told.
  7. Forget the marketplace: don’t worry about where the story could be sold until it is complete. There will always be a market, but there’s never been one for unfinished stories.
  8. Ignore your surroundings: if you want to complete stories, train yourself to ignore everything around you while you are working. Whether it is the laundry, your spouse, or a cocktail by the beach, they can all wait until you’re finished your session.
  9. There is no perfect environment: the world is too busy, noisy, and fast-paced to wait until you have the perfect combination of circumstances in which to create. Learn to work while surrounded by noise; while on public transport; on a variety of recording media… whatever it takes to get words down wherever you are, whenever you’re there.
  10. Ignore your muse: the world does not care if you are a precious, fragile creative soul. The world cares only for your completed stories. Be a professional, working artist: fly if you can, grind them out if you have to, but accept that your words are the only currency that counts.

SOME FREE LEE TO READ WHILE THE ADS ARE ON

On a whim, I entered a competition for 50-word short stories last week. I didn't win, so I thought you might like a little bonus reading material for your day: here are my entries, for your reading pleasure.


ASCENSION
The fences were electrified. Designed to keep us from the world. Topped by razors. Patrolled by wolves. Governed by black eyes. Grass stopped at their edges. Water refused to flow. Inside, damnation. Outside, gun barrels. I closed my eyes. I gripped the wires. I burned. I climbed. I flew.


MOTHER CALLS
Mother calls. We answer, our voices muffled. We strayed from sight, and it is late. Home promises warmth, and rest, and love. We have strayed, and cannot find our way. Mother calls. We answer. The earth is cold. It fills our mouths and eyes. Mother calls, and calls, and calls.


THE ASSASSIN’S BENEDICTION
The bullet changes everything. You hear it before you feel it: a whistle that nature has never produced. Then a punch that turns the world upside down. And she’s gone. Your love. Exorcised. Nothing is ever the same. Your life is a ghost. That is my gift to you. Knowledge.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY SHOULD JUST SIT THERE AND THINK ABOUT WHAT IT'S DONE

I have no excuse.


0068

"Don't be embarrassed, darling. We know there are some things a man just can't ask his wife for."
Laughing at farts. Cooking like Mum used to. Understanding the offside rule. 

Thursday, August 03, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY IS PRETTY MUCH GUARANTEED TO GO TO HELL

I'm just going to leave this here without comment, other than to say this is probably my favourite one so far: I haven't seen it since I scanned it a few years ago, and it still made me cackle. 
Also, it's a perfect example of how comedy turns on the choice of a single word: in this case, it's 'rarely'.
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"This is a small town, Father Michael. The bitches in the house rarely go 'Ho'..."