NANOTWOMO

Well, I’ve done it: I’ve signed on to Nanowrimo again for another year. This year’s project is officially Canals of Anguilar, the fantasy novel set in a city entirely populated by cowards I’ve mentioned earlier, but there’s likely to be some switching going on– I’ve just started a mainstream project with the alluring and sexy title of Killer Thing (pick the title in progress…) and I’ll be wanting to throw some words down on that one while the impetus is still fresh.

Working on two projects is allowed, right?

Anyway, come along and join me if you’re as novelling sort, and feel free to buddy me up. I’m not fussy: I’ll be friends with anyone who smiles at me the right way 🙂

(raises glass). Here’s to words.

HI-HO, AWAY WE GO.

Every City, no matter how beautiful, has a corner into which the shit floats.

And so it begins: a new project.

There’s something energising about hitting upon the right beginning. I’ve been in a slump lately, bereft of ideas, searching for artificial ways to stimulate my creative energies, worried that I had, perhaps, exhausted my ideas and really was now nothing more than a low-level art administrator. It happens. Some of the best writers out there hit a point where they’ve simply told all the stories they have within them, and walk away. Witness Harper Lee. Witness EM Forster.

Of course, what is always apparent, once I’ve passed through it, is that I was in my sponge phase: lying dormant, letting the waters sweep over me, filtering out the salt and the nutrients from the jet stream. And then I slap on the saddle and the family bunker down and prepare themselves for another 6 months of me being a grumpy bastard, or at least, a slightly differently grumpy bastard.

It always happens like this. I always forget that this is how it happens. I always have that moment of panic, that moment of despair, and then that moment of sullen acceptance. And that’s always when the spark hits.

In this case: in the car, on my way to work, out of nowhere. Just that first line, and the knowledge of where it fits.

The Canals of Anguilar. A short story that I wrote for the lovely Kate Eltham and the Review of Australian Fiction. 8000 words long, and yet I was never satisfied with it, never happy that I’d told the whole story. Because I hadn’t, and it was that single line, out of nowhere, that made me realise it. It’s a good story, don’t get me wrong: I only submit when I’m convinced I have something good, and doubly so for Kate.

But it’s going to be a better novel. Deeper, wider, with the stories I wanted to tell but was only able to hint at because of the compressed length. The short story is my synopsis, my outline. The novel doesn’t begin where it begins, it won’t end where it ends, but it is the blueprint for what I want to write to make me happy with the idea. After which I will descend into the sullen belief that  have exhausted all my ideas and really have nothing left to say as an author. Again.

Away we go.



ONE, ONE DECADE, AH AH AH…..

Well, goodness me. Something happened last week and I’ve only just noticed.

As of last Thursday, I’ve been Battersblogging for ten years. Ten years! I’ve had careers haven’t lasted that long!

10th October 2003, I started this journal of… whatever it is I do here… with Okay, a new blog, just to chock up the internet with more pointless waffle of the “My name’s Persephone, I’m 8 years old, here’s a poem about my cat” variety… and ten years later, I think I’ve accomplished exactly that.

1230 posts, a gnat’s willy shy of 140 000 visitors, two novels, a swathe of short stories, a marriage, a child, 4 houses, as many cars, a grandchild, somewhere in the region of a dozen conventions, half a dozen jobs and a whole lot of whatever the hell it is I do here later, and I find myself still blogging, with the Battersblog archived at the National Library and the very distinct possibility that this will be my testimony to the ages, and not the stuttering career as a minor author I have turned into along the way.

Such is life. Such is life in the electronic age.

So, if you’ve been around for any length of time, thanks for ploughing through my shite year after year, and if you’re a recent arrival, enjoy the shite. And if anyone can work out whatever it is that I do do here… keep it under your hat 🙂

BLOOD SPLATTER, KIDNAPPING, AND OTHER HARMLESS WEEKEND PURSUITS

Sometimes, you just have to renew your writer-fu.

The Luscious one and I spent this last weekend in the crimelicious surrounds of CrimeScene WA, the annual crime writers convention at the Rydges hotel, where we spent our time drenching our third eyes in the minutiae of blood spatter analysis, trace evidence, clue trails, and all manner of crimey-wimey goodness. The conveners presented a stunning lineup of subject experts, including the lies of Professor Simon Lewis, Dr Mark Reynolds and Hadyn Green, and the depth and styles of their presentations left those of us who contributed to the writer stream looking a little like shambolic amateurs: their professionalism and skill was astonishing, and quite honestly, made my own contribution to the running order (participation in a critiquing panel with Juliet Marillier and Alisa Krasnostein) a slightly disheartening experience. 
Writing panel: Marianne de Pierres, Stephen Dedman and Robert Schofield talk settings, Australian locales, and why Kalgoorlie trumps Macau.
Apart from an opportunity to spend a weekend in a delightful hotel with my beautiful wife, and to catch up with some friendly faces we hadn’t seen in a while, highlights of the weekend included stunning presentations on the identification of trace evidence and the science of blood splatter analysis, a presentation on the chronology of the Lindbergh kidnapping that was so arresting the audience gladly gave up our lunch hour to finish it when the flood of questions forced the presentation over time, a hypothetical wherein the guest speakers revealed how they would kill each other– and Humphrey B. Bear– and make it look like an accident, and a presentation on professionalism by Marianne de Pierres that brought home to me just how I’d allowed my discipline and well-being to slip in recent months.
I love these ‘how to’ presentations: Hadyn Green talks the audience through the Lindbergh kidnapping.
Luscious and I have returned home with renewed zeal for our careers: now that Master 8’s Rumination Syndrome is being managed with a long-term strategy, and Miss 11’s breathing problems have been diagnosed as bronchial asthma and she’s receiving the proper management, Lyn is able to put serious effort into her desire to move her career away from speculative fiction and towards crime– part of the reason we attended the convention was to enable her to do some groundwork, and Marianne de Pierres is a particular inspiration– and I’ve walked away with a renewed sense of purpose towards not only my works in progress but the direction I want to steer my career towards.
CrimeScene was an absolutely fantastic convention: intimate, well-balanced between industry and writing expertise, friendly, and with an open and transparent duty of care towards the attendees, presenters and hotel (the convention’s harassment policy, for example, was not only clearly articulated but displayed in several high-profile areas; something I’ve rarely seen at other cons). It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a convention so much that I’ve chatted to the conveners about my plans for next year while the convention was still running, but I certainly did so here.
I can’t wait for 2014.

INTERVIEW: JONATHAN K. BENTON


Jonathan Benton left Auckland University before completing a BA in English Literature and History because of a burning desire to see the world. A qualified PADI Dive-master, he spent a year working in Fiji. Then he moved to England, where he rambled the countryside for several years chasing myths and legends. Before returning to New Zealand, he stopped off in Australia; twelve years later, he is still here. Jonathan likes adventure. He has driven from Sydney to the tip of Cape York with a homemade plywood boat, which his friends then sailed across the Torres Strait. He has sailed from Sydney to Forster/Tuncurry and back, and has spent time in the Northern Territory researching factual details for a forthcoming novel. The youngest of three siblings, Jonathan likes arts and entertainment, sports and leisure, and all the other categories on the Trivial Pursuit board.

I interviewed Jonathan about his new novel, A Wicked Kind of Dark.

Robert Duncan no longer believes in magic. A mysterious call about a blood moon, however, leads him back to the magical world of his childhood and to Luthien, the beautiful girl with flame-coloured hair, whom he loved and lost. As Robert unravels the secrets of his childhood, darkness enters his life and an ancient evil awakens. To have any chance of defeating the dark forces that would destroy two worlds, Robert must find Luthien before the rise of the blood moon. He must, once more, believe in magic. A Wicked Kind of Dark mixes vast and spectacular fantasy landscapes with gritty urban reality. A must-read for people of all ages who believe in the power of imagination, and the importance of never losing touch with your inner child.

A Wicked Kind of Dark seems focused on the theme of duality: two worlds, two possible futures, two directions in which your hero Robert Duncan can travel. How important is this idea of duality to you as a writer?

Duality highlights the importance of choice, something I’m extremely passionate about having dealt with addiction. Sometimes people, like the character Robert in A Wicked Kind of Dark, feel there is no choice. There’s always a choice. We simply need to be shown.
The figure of Luthien seems to embody a sense of loss and the chance to recover lost things. 
We all experience traumatic events like the loss of a loved one. It’s unrealistic to believe these events don’t stay with us. Developing tools to overcome adversity helps build a pathway to long-term happiness. Robert must learn this important lesson if he is to have any chance of regaining what he has lost.
How important was it for you to imbue the fae world of Minaea with a believable, logical magic system? Is it necessary, in your opinion, for the rules of magic to make sense in our non-magical world?
If a fantasy world is not comprehensible, then it won’t flourish outside the author’s imagination. This is something all fantasy writers must consider.
You’ve blogged about your decision-making process when it came to creating your antagonist, the dark fae lord Jakal. How difficult is it to create an antagonist with sympathetic motivations? Is it easier to create someone whose motivations are simply the 180 degree opposite of the hero, or should there be at least some small sense of identification for the reader?
It depends on the story. The creature ‘It’ in Stephen King’s book of the same name is a wonderful antagonist that has no sympathetic motivations whatsoever. The book would be weakened if ‘It’ was a tortured soul doing bad things for the right reasons. Pure evil still has a place in literature. While there are suggestions in A Wicked Kind of Dark that Jakal has sympathetic motivations, the book focuses on Robert beating his internal demons, so that he can defeat the ‘real’ ones.  And the real ones ain’t nice!
The image of the blood moon is the initiating trigger for the narrative of the novel. How important is symbolism to you as an author? Do you use symbols consciously, or is it something that comes out of the writing process?
Symbolism is a powerful literary tool – often subtle, always poetic, and inevitably thought-provoking. I love the moods an effective symbol creates. The moon, for example, is naturally mysterious. A blood moon takes that mystery and adds a dash of darkness and foreboding. This is intentional.
What should readers expect from A Wicked Kind of Dark? Give me your best PT Barnum pitch! 🙂
A Wicked Kind of Dark celebrates the power of the imagination, using explosions of high fantasy in an otherwise familiar urban setting to reinforce this theme. As 17-year-old Robert Duncan reconnects with his childhood, his perception of London changes from a grey, lifeless city to a city full of magic and miracles.  Literary fantasy novels like A Wicked Kind of Darktreat words as preciously as the plot. While the book is written for young adults (11 to 15-year-olds), adults who loved Enid Blyton, Tolkien, C S Lewis and J M Barrie will enjoy my classical writing style.
Are there any future stories in the Minaea Chronicles on the drawing board? If so, what can readers expect?
The feedback I’m getting is that readers love the high fantasy world in A Wicked Kind of Dark – Minaea is conceptually strong and people want to know more about it. My next book will introduce a new set of characters based in Australia (not the UK this time) and Minaea. The first draft is complete. I’ve always planned to do it this way. It keeps things fresh. Too often I see undercooked sequels because nothing new has been added to the mix. 

A Wicked Kind of Dark is available now via Odyssey Books.

WIBBLY WOBBLY CRIMEY WIMEY

Off to Crime Scene WA tonight, for two days of immersion in everything I’ll need to know to commit the perfect murder write within a genre I love but which I’ve never attempted as an author before. I’ll only be on one panel over the weekend– a critiquing panel with Alisa Krasnostein and Juliet Marillier– and the rest of the time I intend to soak up as much information on blood spatter and art theft and DNA analysis and the like as I can.

You can check out the programme here, and five gets you ten you can still get memberships and come along. It’s shaping up to be a lot of fun.

IT COULD BE YOU: THE ETCHED CITY BY KJ BISHOP

The great thing about an anthology of the mind is that you’re not limited to any one form of writing. It takes as much effort to reprint a novel as it does a haiku, because it’s allllllll in your miiiiiiiinnnndddd……

It took me forever to get a copy of KJ Bishop’s The Etched City, and for a very good reason: everywhere I went in the wake of its release, the bloody thing had sold out. And when I finally did get a copy, at a convention almost a year after its release, some bugger half-inched the thing. Which is why the copy I do have is one of my prized literary possessions, because Bishop found out about it and sent me a copy from her personal stash as a replacement, and what’s more, she went through and annotated it beforehand: I’ve got one of the few, if not only, post-published draft edits in existence!

What’s even better, of course, is that the novel is a stunning piece of work. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen published by an Australian author– lyrical, baroque, with a plot that ascends not in a straight line but in a series of unconnected sweeping circles that don’t seem to be going anywhere until, simultaneously, they all do…… perhaps only the equally wonderful Anna Tambour comes close to creating that same sense of the truly lush and exotic, and Bishop does it here in service to one of the great figures of Australian speculative fiction: the gunslinger philosopher Gwynn, of the peacock-eye coat and blanched white countenance, whose louche demeanour is at odds with his troubling inability to fully divest himself of his humanity. Taken alone, his story would be fascinating, but with an equally troubling co-protagonist in the dark medic Raule, and in the beautifully-realised city of Ashamoil, the novel is a feast for the third eye that never stops throwing up images that I find myself pondering long after the reading experience itself has finished.

 At a time when my reading– and a fair bit of the Australian work that made up that reading– sat firmly in the standardised American tradition of speculative fiction, it was a slap upside the head as to just how far an Australian author could go to create a non-standard setting and narrative as long as s/he attacked their work with verve and ambition. The Etched City is one of the very few books that I come back to again and again, especially at times when my own creativity is lagging and I need to touch something to spark the wet wood inside my head: at the time of writing I’m re-reading it once more, for somewhere in the region of the seventh or eighth time.

It really is a wondrous work, and if it’s not part of your collection, it should be. You can read an extract here and pick up a copy here. Do so.

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WON’T.

Well, I warned you things would be a bit quiet around here for a short while, didn’t I?

So let’s catch up.

Firstly, health matters are slowly on the improve. Luscious can get out of bed now, as the bed rest and immobility appear to have finally gotten a grip on her condition. Miss 11’s asthma is being managed: her birth mother was a chronic asthmatic, and I’m all too familiar with the routines associated with breath testing, puffs, washing of chambers and associated routinery, and Lyn’s eldest came close to death when younger from the same condition, so we’re both hypersensitive to any changes in breathing pattern, lip colouration, or tingling in the extremities. In other words, we’re all over Miss 11 like blankets on a pig. And we continue the hospital trips and juices in support of Master 8, who had had pipes up his nose, down his throat, into his stomach and just about every orifice except his third eye and still maintains a diagnosis of Rumination Syndrome and the best we can do is manage it and hope it goes away.

As always, a change in habit becomes the habit becomes normality: we live our lives around puffers and vomit bags and we keep moving on.

Writing-wise, Marius and Gerd have officially completed their journey, and so I move on to other things: Magwitch and Bugrat is with a publisher, and I’m feeling the itch to write fresh words, which means I really have to shift my arse and complete the editing on Father Muerte and the Divine so I can get it out of my in-tray. I’m desperate to start a new novel by the beginning of November, so expect the odd excerpt from the Muerte work as I renew my acquaintance with phrases I thought I was dead clever for writing when I came up with them and decide to share them with you.

First off the rank for me, however, is a jaunt to the murderous confines of CrimeScene WA, the crime writing convention taking place this weekend, where I’ll be co-presenting a critiquing panel with Juliet Marillier and Alisa Krasnostein. Two days of lazing about the hotel, talking shop, expanding my skill set and teasing out the kernel of an idea I have for a crime novel is just the thing I need at the moment: an escape from the pressure of work, an immersion in the world I want to live in full time, and a weekend away with my beautiful wife, it comes at exactly the right time.

Check out the programme here, and head along if you’ve got a spare day or two: the lineup of speakers looks awesome and anything that teaches you a better way to murder someone can’t be all bad, right? I’ll pop up a con report after the deal, so you can see what you’ve missed, but you’d be far better just coming along.

And I’ll have another entry in my It Could be You anthology series tomorrow: one of the reasons I’ve not been blogging is that I’ve been rereading it, and have once more been lost within it….