AND WHILE I’M MEMEING COZ IT’S TOO DAMN HOT TO DO ANY REAL WORK….

There’s a meme wandering around Facebook, and seeing I did it there, I may as well do it here too coz, frankly, I really never get tired of revealing stuff about myself. So:

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you. (Of course, I’m not going to tag anybody, but you should. You definitely should)

1. I can raise both eyebrows independently

2. I can form my bottom lip into the shape of two upward-pointing tusks, Gamorrhean Guard style, by biting down on the middle portion and pushing the rest up.

3. I spent three years in the early 90s working as a stand-up comedian. Badly.

4. I once smacked Billy Bob Thornton in the face with a cafe door.

5. I was once taken into police custody whilst wearing an eight-foot high pink rabbit suit and carrying a three foot long double-ended dildo along a public thoroughfare.

6. The second and third toes on both my feet are webbed.

7. I have an extra earlobe.

8. I once at 2 kilograms of jelly beans in one sitting. Since that day, I can’t bear the smell or taste of them.

9. I really only became serious about writing after deciding I would never be good enough to make a living as a cartoonist. I still wish I was better.

10. I completed one semester of a graphic design diploma, during which time I met my first wife, and decided I’d rather spend the time with her.

11. I love fish but hate seafood.

12. I am estranged from my only sibling because of the way he treats his children and ex-wife.

13. I have climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

14. I met my beautiful wife Lyn at a science fiction convention. I married her at one, too.

15. I am, and have been since I was a child, a full-blooded atheist. I genuinely cannot understand how anyone can believe in something as silly and superstitious as a giant, remote deity that brings everything into existence and then sets down rules by which any individual has to run their lives. I am also married to one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So there’s *one* interesting conversation we can have 🙂

16. I receive regular chiropractic adjustment to treat a 17 degree kink in my spine between my shoulder blades, which I suffered in a car crash in 2001. After my first adjustment I regained 1 1/2 centimetres in height.

17. I have arm-wrestled Sean Astin, and lost 3-0.

18. I am a keen follower of Nottingham Forest football club and am listed as a ‘notable supporter’: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Nottingham-Forest-FC#Notable_supporters

19. My ambition is to make a living from my writing, in order that I can spend more time with my wife and kids, and work on developing myself as a visual artist– I want to achieve success in multiple artistic disciplines, a la David Bowie or Spike Milligan. I’m desperate to do this before I turn 45. That gives me seven years.

20. I have visited 5 of Australia’s states (including the one in which I live), and have driven other people’s cars in 4 of them.

21. I am a big fan of Boris Karloff, and have passed this down to my oldest son. I even made him a Karloff tee-shirt to wear to a con once. What’s more, he wore it! I have also managed to inflict both my teenage boys with my deep love of pre-WWII horror movies.

22. As a child, I had several teeth removed because my mouth was too small. That is the only time I have had that accusation levelled at me.

23. I have shot one kangaroo; caught two fish; hugged one tiger; kissed one boa constrictor; eaten two grasshoppers; and ridden three elephants, four camels, two horses, and a donkey. Which was pregnant.

24. My favourite flavoured milk is Brownes Egg Nog Chill. My favourite ice cream is Memphis Meltdown Gooey Raspberry. I am having one of each this afternoon in an attempt to flavour my way through the ridiculous heat of the day.

25. I can confidently lay claim to being the 2nd most northerly-living speculative fiction writer in the Perth metropolitan area, and I’m only 2nd because my beautiful wife writes speculative fiction and sleeps on the north side of the bed.

SATIMA’S QUESTIONS

A new set of questions via the 5-questions meme, this time from the lovely Satima Flavell, although I get a little more ranty than usual on this one:

1. When I first met you, back in about 2002, you had just received recognition in the Writers of the Future contest. Since then, you’ve had many more short stories published, including your collection “Through Soft Air”; you’ve been a tutor at Clarion South and you’ve written one or two novels as well. Of all your achievements since WOTF, which one stands out for you?

Probably being invited to tutor at Clarion South. Most of the things I’ve done as a writer have been at the small press level, but Clarion was the first (and to date, only) time I was really ranked amongst the big boys by someone, which I think was a massive show of faith by the organisers. I’d like to think I didn’t let them down, but, to me, if you look at the names of tutors over the years I do stand out like a sore thumb as the “Who?” guy amongst them. My entire career seems to have been a case of stepping above my station on one occasion and then working my arse off not to have that step be a one-off. To date, that Clarion appearance is my biggest step, and my biggest one-off.

2. Which of your own stories do you love the best?

I don’t have a favourite. Once the stories are written and published, they’re yesterday’s news. I don’t have a huge amount of reprints because I rarely look backwards. It’s more important to be working on the next thing, the new project, than to think about what I’ve already done. (As Michael Keaton said about playing Batman: I don’t want to find myself at a car show in twenty years, still in the suit, with a kid on my knee, saying “Is that your Mom? Tell her to meet me after the show.”) I have several stories that stand out, because of awards, or because they’re good to use at readings so I use them more than once, but there’s no real star of the litter. I’d much rather hear that a reader has a particular favourite than have one myself.

3. Your wife Lyn is also a writer of no mean repute. Which one of Lyn’s stories do you love the best?

Ah, see, now this is easier 🙂 Lyn’s best story is called ‘A Whisper In The House of Angels’- to date, it’s unpublished, because it’s a very hard sell: it’s subtle, disturbing, and gives the reader very little in the way of sure footing. It just needs the right editor, and when it finds publication, it’s going to win everything. Of her published stuff, I have a real soft spot for ‘Of Woman Born’, in Daikaju II. It’s very short, only 600 words or so, but it’s everything Lyn is capable of: feminine, mature, imaginative, unique, all the elements that make up a Lyn Battersby story, plus it manages to be more than a little twisted and giggle-inducingly funny into the bargain. I think it’s been sadly ignored, and vastly underrated.

4. You’ve made it clear on many occasions that traditional fantasy is not your favourite genre. What do you think of some of the current drop of writers, such as Margo Lanagan, who are putting new, darker spins on some of the old tropes?

Actually, I’m not a fan of Lanagan’s writing. I find it contrived and soulless. I’m also aware that I’m in a tiny minority on this issue. I am going to raise issue with your statement, though: the thing is, I am a fan of traditional fantasy. What drives me to such public distraction is the sheer amount of bad trad-fantasy we see served up to us. It’s precisely because I love the good stuff that I rail against the Eddings’ and Brooks’ of the genre. Despite all his flaws, Tolkein’s work was incredible, as was Dunsany’s, and Stephen Donaldson’s original Thomas Covenant trilogy was amazing. It’s just that trad-fantasy seems to be the logical extension of Sturgeon’s Law, and nobody seems to say “Stop! The good stuff is over here!”

I also don’t see the usurpation of standard fantasy tropes as a new thing, although I’m a fan of writers such as Mieville and KJ Bishop who are spinning it out in new directions. You don’t have to go too far back to see Tim Powers doing wonderful things within ‘standard’ settings (witness ‘Anubis Gate’ and ‘Drawing Of The Dark’) and you can go back even further to writers like Wolfe, Vance, Moorcock, Le Guin and Poul Anderson to see some astonishingly wonderful ‘non-traditional’ fantasy stories.

It’s writers like these who point out how well you can do epic fantasy (Trad-fantasy, high fantasy, call it what you like), which makes it all the more annoying to me to see readers settling for the latest installement in whichever pale ‘Witches Guild of the Wheel of Shannara’ Tolkein-shadow you care to name.

5. And finally, what are your ambitions for the next five years, both personally and writing-wise?

I’m 38 years old. I want to be supporting my family through my writing by the time I turn 45. I want to make a concerted effort to move away from the short story/small press/horror story niche I seem to have been tarred with, and move into a wider publishing base– novels, more in the line of guys like Chuck Palahniuk and Jonathon Lethem, who are writing genre, to all intents and purposes, but who seem to have avoided being hemmed in by the label. If I get a chance to write another screenplay, or work outside my current boundaries, I’ll be eager to do so. I didn’t start out wanting to be an SF writer: I wanted to be a writer, non-specific, one thereof. I’ve become distracted, rather, since I started selling– small press SF is a bit of a honey trap, psychologically. I really want to go back to my original, pure desire– to write, and publish, whatever I choose, without thought of genre, or form, or purpose. I love writing poetry, and comedy sketches, and plays, and screenplays, and short stories, and cartoons. And I’ve published all of them over the years. That’s what I want.

Of course, what I’d like to do is really push towards achieving a significant artistic and commercial impact over an extended period of time. People like Spike Milligan, David Bowie, Stephen Fry, Alice Cooper, and David Hockney are my template: multi- form artists who can move from medium to medium as the need arises. It’s a very British way of thinking, to me- defining the artist by themself, rather than what they produce. Nobody over there tells Stephen Fry he can’t write a novel because he’s an actor, but over here we tend to look down on people who try to cross boundaries, as if they should be glad to work in one form. I’d like to break past that.

Either that, or I’d like to dress up as a bat and fight criminals. I’m still undecided.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR DADDY’S HEART GO ALL SMOOSHY

Connor lying in bed, settling down to sleep. Me lying next to him, reading. A little hand comes over my chest and wriggles upwards until it’s nestled in the crook of my neck.

CONNOR: I want a huggle.

I scoosh down, and we huggle. The next exchange takes place in whispers.

CONNOR: I love huggles.
ME: Me too.
CONNOR: I love huggling you.
ME: I love huggling you too.
CONNOR: I love you.
ME: I love you. You’re my favourite little boy.

Short pause. Connor shmooshes his face into my cheek.

CONNOR: You’re my favourite big boy.

Internal awwwwwwwwtometer duly explodes….

TWEET TWEET

  • It probably makes me a bad person, but I don’t care that another mag that never replied to subs and was too hard to work with has karked it
  • It’s taken far too long, but ‘Corpse-Rat King’ has *finally* moved past 75000 words.
  • A good work-ethic at lunch has resulted in the 1st 1500 word day in ages.
  • There are times I wish I was so young again, that all my day’s worries could be laid to rest with one snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug
  • Yup, zackly. It’ll probably be replaced by a wrestling mag, as was its predecessor

GUEST BLOG: CLARION THE FIRST– PETER M BALL

It’s Clarion South time, and has been for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve had some vague, unformed idea about doing something to mark it– after all, it only happens every two years, I had a blast, and I’m not likely to get asked back 🙂

So it’s only fitting that I build a little shrine and paper it with hidden CCTV snaps of all my former students interfering with themselves in the shower when they think nobody is looking.

Or, I eventually decided, I could just ask them to guest blog their experiences. Which is less open to prosecution, and saves you from all those nekkid piccies of shower heads and loofahs and people accidentally falling on soapy objects and stuff.

So, for the next couple of weeks, twice a week, six of my former poops (If peeps is short for people, then surely the short version of pupils is poops, non?) will tell us about a week of their Clarion 2007 experience. I hope you enjoy. First off the mark, with his recollection of Week One (The Australian Rob Hood Show), is Peter M Ball.

Peter left Clarion and immediately started making a big splash. Appearances in markets as varied as Dog Vs Sandwich, Fantasy Magazine, and Dreaming Again have followed in quick succession, and he’s widely considered by those in the know as Someone To Watch tm. The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga, his Dreaming Again story, received an Honourable Mention in this year’s Aurealis Awards, prompting the juges to call it a thoroughly engaging story with crisp and enjoyable prose and vividly three dimensional characters. As a person he’s funny, gregarious, and always, always one step ahead, as his LJ, The Fall of The House of Arwink, reveals.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Peter M Ball:

CLARION WEEK ONE

Later this year Twelfth Planet Press is going to publish my novella, Horn, which originally started life as the short story titled The Unicorn I wrote during the first week of Clarion. Our week one tutor was actually Rob Hood, but since my week one story was critiqued on the very first day I started worrying about the looming presence of our week two tutor, Lee Battersby, right from the outset.

It’s hard to talk about The Unicorn without mentioning Lee, primarily because it was written in response to his prejudices against a particular fantasy trope. I won’t tell the full story here, not least because Lee’s already mentioned it back when the news that I’d sold the novella first broke, but the short version is pretty simple: One of my fellow students at Clarion was Lee’s wife, Lyn. She was giving us tips on what not to write for week two, among them the advice Lee hates stories about unicorns and virgins. Don’t write them. I’m not sure why, but I took that as a personal challenge – my story would have both unicorn and a virgin in it, and Lee would like it whether he wanted too or not. The idea that flowed on from there was a crossbreed of noir and horror, full of autopsy scenes and several less-than-savory characters.

Now, I’ve been known to lay some of the blame for Horn at Lee’s feet as a result of that, and I gather Lee’s pretty tickled by the way it came about too (even if he believes he needs to hunt me down and kill me before the nickname Unicorn Boy sticks). The reason I’m not going to dwell on the inspiration of the story is because it rarely gives kudos to the other Battersby who was instrumental in getting my random ideas about noir and unicorns off the ground – Lyn.

Lyn’s a writer and a reader who isn’t necessarily bothered when a story gets squicky. In fact, her week one story managed to make me profoundly uncomfortable in a way that good horror stories are meant too (but so rarely do). I respected her immediately because of that, and I knew I wanted to achieve a similar affect with my unicorn story. Writing the first draft The Unicorn turned out to be pretty brutal – it went to some places that turned out to be dark and uncomfortable for me to write – but Lyn remained the constant voice of encouragement who told me that there was nothing so dark it should be considered taboo. I think half the reason Horn has scenes as creepy or uncomfortable as it does is because trying to out-squick Lyn was as much a part of the challenge as writing something Lee would like (I achieved the latter, but I’m still not entirely sure I managed the first). During the writing process I’d keep coming out with these bizarre idea that I’d test on my dorm-mates, wondering if this time I’d finally gone too far, and every time Lyn told me to go back and write it (In fact, between the ideas suggested by Lyn and JJ Irwin, the squick quotient in one scene got much, much worse). It was the first time in a long while, perhaps ever, I felt like I was being pushed to write outside my comfort zone.

I have other fond memories of that first week– being introduced to the game Mafia, meeting a bunch of writers who fast became friends, and the look of sheer joy on Rob’s face when the class gave him a Shaun of the Dead figure as a thank-you for his guidance – but I’ll always associate that first week with Unicorns and squicky moments and emerging into our lounge room at 2 am to find someone willing to assure me that it’s okay for a story to go places your uncomfortable with as long as it’s both necessary and cool. For me, this is the strength of Clarion – it’s a place where you’re both supported by your peers and pushed to do things better all at the same time. I don’t think I could have written the first draft of The Unicorn anywhere else, and I never would have turned it into a novella without the support and encouragement of many of the folks I met either at (or because of) Clarion South.

Tune in on Sunday, when The Patternless Man, Michael Greenhut, covers week 2.

TWEET TWEET

  • Crap, it’s morning. Lunch with stepdaughter today, plus editing novel so I can show agent I haven’t just been avoiding her for last 6 months
  • There’s a fine but significant, difference between “secret cross-dressing Nazi” and “secret Nazi cross-dresser”
  • Number of times my wife will tolerate me answering a “Where did the (thing) go?” question with “Silicone Heaven?”– once.
  • Lessons my 4 year old has just learned- don’t blame things on the 7 year old when she’s been at her Nanna’s house since Friday.
  • Best way to stop the 4 year old chucking a paddy because he wants to drink the vinegar? Let him 🙂
  • “Would you like some more?” ……………………………………………………. (little voice) “No fanks you” :))))

REVIEW140

The next ten reviews-in-less-than-140-characters from my twitter review site review140:

  • Shadow Of The Vampire– Willem Dafoe did *not* win an Oscar for this movie. Because the Academy are morons. Brilliance in every frame. Superb
  • The Lost Boys– fun, suitably scary teen-vamp film that doesn’t lapse into pastiche or bad attempts at ‘cool’ But oh, those 80’s shirts!
  • Hellboy: The Golden Army– beautiful, terrible movie, which ultimately has too many obvious flaws to be satisfying. *So* close to wondrous
  • Wall.E– stunning graphics hide a simplistic morality fable about a halfwit and his psycho girlfriend. Engaging, but not in Pixar’s top 3.
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven– 1960s pop science meets 1930s plot, characters, writing style, bigotry and misogyny– this crap won a Nebula!
  • The Hunt For The BTK Killer– chilling Gregg Henry performance wasted on a banal, by-the-numbers Movie Of The Week production.
  • Who Killed Christopher Robin by Terry Rawlings– the death of sociopathic Stones founder Brian Jones: nobody comes out looking good
  • James & The Giant Peach– tedious, badly-animated collection of unpleasant Roald Dahl template characters doing nothing in a boring way
  • Meet The Robinson– Aims for wacky and crazy fun but simply comes across as contrived and soulless. A miserable failure on all fronts
  • Jimmy Carr: Comedian- stunningly funny live performance from a man not afraid to chart all four corners of taste. The best standup this year