BRING IT ON, FUTURE BITCHES!

It being the last Sunday of the year– oh yeah, don’t think I don’t keep track of these things– Luscious and I peeled the children away from the X-Box long enough to deposit them in our favourite outdoor cafe and discuss our goals for the coming year. Every year we set some personal goals, as well as a list of things we’d like to achieve as a family. We stick them up in the kitchen where everyone can see them, and run a thick black line through each one as we achieve it: simple stuff, but remarkably effective.

I spoke about my 2013 goals, and how I maybe might have scraped a pass mark provided you squinted at them through a plate of sheet metal in a darkened room in my Year in Review post. So now, for your entertainment and my ultimate embarrassment, here are my goals for 2014:

  1. Finish and send Father Muerte & the Divine. It’s written, but it needs some heavy structural edits. It’s by far the most complex work I’ve undertaken, and the first draft reflects that. I’ve been avoiding it like a cowardly coward for about three months now, so it’s time to gird my girdables and get about it.
  2. Finish and send one picture book. I’ve actually started three, and it’s a fun holiday project. I’ve enjoyed the process of completing a children’s novel so much I’m eager to explore the territory further.
  3. Finish and send Canals of Anguilar. I managed approximately 12 000 words during Nanowrimo, until the month went severely southward and banjaxed all writing attempts. Along with the Muerte novel, it’s my next major novel work and I want them both off my desk by year’s end.
  4. Finish and send Cirque. A teen fantasy novel, I’ve had 15 000 words of it sitting in my desk for over a year, waiting for reasonsthat’swhydon’tjudgemeYOU’RENOTMYSUPERVISOR! I’m committed to expanding my repertoire. Here’s an opportunity waiting to be seized.
  5. Volunteer for the Aurealis Awards Graphic Novel section. I did this a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it. Simple as that, really.
  6. Exercise 4 days out of every 7. I’m not setting weight loss goals. I’ve done that every year for the last 5 or so years, and it’s never worked. This is a change of approach– I’ll work on the root causes, and if the weight loss follows, all the better. But at least I’ll be raising my energy levels, keeping my muscles limber, and dealing with the general health complaints that have built up and made my 2013 a difficult one. To which we can add…
  7. Stick to a controlled eating plan 5 days out of 7. Elevated uric acid levels, elevated cholesterol levels, and I’m a fat bastard. Bit of a non-brainer, really. Except I have no brain, which is how I got into this state in the first place…
  8. Write a list of 50 home maintenance tasks, and complete them. I hate our giant white elephant of a house. It’s a ramshackle, dodgily-built mistake. But we’re stuck here for the foreseeable future, so there’s little I can do but set about fixing everything that makes me so depressed when I look around.

So there it is. How will I do? Your guess is as good as mine. But it’d be nice to think the me that faces 2015 is thinner, fitter, happier, and has a more impressive writing CV than the one who faces 2014.

Also, I’d like a unicorn.

 

EVERY YEAR IS GETTING SHORTER, NEVER SEEM TO FIND THE TIME

Well, this is the end of it, I suppose, 2013. Can’t say it’s been entirely vintage.

There’s been good: As announced the other day, I’ve sold a children’s book and opened up a potential new market for myself. I saw my children continue to blossom into stunning young people, and Aiden moved out of home to continue his personal growth out in the wider world. Luscious found new skills and new levels of personal growth. And yet….

Master 9’s illness is well documented, and I can’t overestimate the effect it has had on us as a family. It touches every decision we make, every plan we undertake. Luscious, in particular, sacrificed almost all of her personal aspirations in order to care for him: setting aside her University studies; ceasing her search for employment; putting down her writing career for the duration. It’s only now, almost 8 months later, that she is beginning to think about how to incorporate some small measure of ambition into her life, now that his illness is so completely part of our fabric that we can deal with it automatically.

My day job has become simultaneously more complicated and a greater part of my daily thinking: new laws and an increased management responsibility have combined to severely curtail my own writing time, and I find myself more and more decided that what little spare time I have, I want to spend focusing on Luscious and the children rather than my own selfish ambitions. Our house continues to be a tiresome burden– a large, ramshackle mistake we should never have made– but with no financially-viable options, I have little choice but to invest a severe portion of my minimal spare time and spare income into its upkeep over the next few years. Either we sell up and move, or we reconcile ourselves to staying until the children are grown. We can’t sell, so the decision is made.

My day job is my day job, and it’s a good one– after aaaaggggghhh years in the Tax Office I know a good wicket when I’m on it, and I’ve been on it for almost 4 years now– but I’ve reached a position of stasis: I do good work, but I have no ambition to move further up the corporate ladder, so I either accept any changes that are imposed upon me or seek new employment, and I’m nowhere near ready to do the latter. And while comfort may be a good thing, being paralysed is not. There may come a time, one day soon, when I have to decide which one applies.

Our financial situation is, well, private, but I’ll go so far as to say that Thoreau was right, and we need to simplify, simplify, simplify. We have some hard choices to make, and there are days when I feel exhausted before I face making them. Put simply: we can’t go on like this, but what we can go on like is, as yet, hidden.

And, of course, I’m still fat, I’m still in pain, and I’m still not the man I thought I was going to be when I wanted to be one.

So what comes next?

If the story of my year has been anything, it has been one of growing disillusionment. I’ve found myself drawing away from speculative fiction, particularly as a reader: a quick scan of my Goodreads list shows that our visit to CrimeScene WA in October preceded a massive change in reading habit, and I’ve been swallowing crime books wholesale over the last couple of months. It’s a habit I’ll be continuing for a while, too: there’s only so far I can take myself as an SF author, and I can’t help but wonder, as I continue to be enthralled by the works of Walter Moseley, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy and the like, whether I might be in need of an infusion of new skills, and new horizons.

Naturally, what I have attempted, are a couple of picture books. Because reasons, that’s why!

As it has been for a dozen years, writing seems set to be my refuge. I’ve started two picture books, and I’ll be completing them over the Christmas break. It’s time to finish the edits of Father Muerte & the Divine and get them to Agent Rich. And I want to have at least one adult and one children’s book completed in the new year, and be started on at least one other: I’ve not yet cleared my desk of speculative work, and in truth I may never do so– it’s simply the desire to expand my literary ambitions that I acknowledge. The best I can do is write as quickly, and as widely, as I can, and aim to move farther from my beginnings with each work. I’m too old and too busy to attempt to find another marketable skill– if I want to escape the mundane world, I’m going to have to write my way out of it.

It’s summer, and I’ve started walking in an attempt not to lose weight, but to simply inject some movement into my day– a desk-bound day job and a desk-bound second career do not make for an active lifestyle, and I’ve fallen too readily into torpidity as a way of life. I’m also addressing my eating habits: Luscious is a brilliant cook, and although I love to cook I find it all to easy to let her take the load and not contribute anything myself, making her carry the full responsibility for determining what we eat, how often, and in what ways. I’ve resolved to take more responsibility, to stop being the one to say “take a night off, let’s go and have chips”, to stop being selfish and undermine her efforts to keep us healthy. In short, it’s time to shoulder some of the load. Lyn always chooses the healthy option, but it’s my responsibility to back her up and put in a shift.

We have bikes in the garage, parks within walking distance, beaches surrounding us… it’s time I put in a shift there, as well. I have no intention of losing weight: I’ve tried that every year for the past five years, and all that happens is the month count decreases while the weight target does not, and as it gets more stressful so I crumple and give in. I’m just going to eat less and move more, and if weight comes off, all the better.

Financially, well, it’s time to face those hard decisions and make them. I’m naturally indulgent of my family: Luscious and I both had difficult childhoods, Lyn especially, and I very often use the desire to live a better lifestyle than we experienced as an excuse to satisfy my indulgent nature. It is, I think, time to grow up and start looking at bigger pictures than I have done in the past.

2013 was supposed to be a year of breaking out, until that plan met the enemy and couldn’t survive. 2014 will be a year of consolidation, of small changes in moderation. Lyn has already started: she can’t go back to Uni, not yet– we’ll be homeschooling Master 9 for another year at least– but she can enrol in short courses, and home-based education, and has already done so. The best I can do is follow in her wake, and gently nudge all those aspects of my life that have become trapped in the mud out of their ruts and onto drier ground. If that means I take steps towards a new horizon in 2015, then so be it.

As a final gift for the year, play clicky the linky to view a mix-tape of the 60 songs I highlighted throughout 2013 via This Is My Jam.

Here’s to 2014, y’all.

Review: Mr. Paradise

Mr. Paradise
Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good, solid Leonard book that does all the right things at the right times. The plot is relatively straightforward, but as always in a Leonard novel, the main enjoyment comes from watching cool, clever characters prove themselves not quite as cool and clever as they think they are. The dialogue is a treat, the characters beautifully rounded, and the spiralling narrative, as everyone struggles to keep their heads just above water, is delightfully laced with humour and violence. a typical Leonard read, which means that it’s very, very good stuff.

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Review: Mr Majestyk

Mr Majestyk
Mr Majestyk by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Slick, understated and brooding with menace, this early Leonard book displays all the characteristics that would go on to be his trademark: simple, minimalist sentences that give the reader room to breathe; characters who aren’t ever quite as cool, or clever, or composed as they think they are; and a rapid escalation from calm to violence by way of events that leave an ordinary man taking extraordinary actions simply to keep his head above water. It’s a short, blunt and uncompromising book, but Leonard’s unmistakable talent for creating character and cast-iron verisimilitude lift it out of the ordinary. Excellent stuff.

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Review: The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should have liked this book a lot more than I did. It has everything I enjoy in a fantasy: a well-realised, fantastical alternative cityscape; eldritch powers battling behind the scenes of a dimly-glimpsed complex political landscape; a lead character both out of step and trapped by the society around him; a hidden history that plays itself out in the present; and elements of freakishness that manage to be simultaneously mundane and disturbing, both to the reader and to those with whom they interact.

The only problem was, none of it seemed to hang together very well, and I found myself more concerned with the fate of several incidental characters than I did with the central protagonists, or with the narrative they were pursuing. The narrator’s voice is an intrusion rather than a seamless addition, and when his identity is revealed, it throws the veracity of the whole plot into doubt– there are far too many moments when he could simply not have known what was transpiring for the revelation of his identity to make sort of narrative sense– and undermines the entire narrative, destroying any verisimilitude. The reader has been conned, and it kills the book.

Ultimately, the whole thing felt empty, and those elements that did not fit– and there were several that worked too far against the grain– became irritants that I could not ignore. It’s mostly an enjoyable book. It’s just that when it wasn’t, it really wasn’t, and ultimately, the work as a whole doesn’t quite overcome those irritating moments.

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Review: Bad Luck and Trouble

The Somnambulist
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should have liked this book a lot more than I did. It has everything I enjoy in a fantasy: a well-realised, fantastical alternative cityscape; eldritch powers battling behind the scenes of a dimly-glimpsed complex political landscape; a lead character both out of step and trapped by the society around him; a hidden history that plays itself out in the present; and elements of freakishness that manage to be simultaneously mundane and disturbing, both to the reader and to those with whom they interact.

The only problem was, none of it seemed to hang together very well, and I found myself more concerned with the fate of several incidental characters than I did with the central protagonists, or with the narrative they were pursuing. The narrator’s voice is an intrusion rather than a seamless addition, and when his identity is revealed, it throws the veracity of the whole plot into doubt– there are far too many moments when he could simply not have known what was transpiring for the revelation of his identity to make sort of narrative sense– and undermines the entire narrative, destroying any verisimilitude. The reader has been conned, and it kills the book.

Ultimately, the whole thing felt empty, and those elements that did not fit– and there were several that worked too far against the grain– became irritants that I could not ignore. It’s mostly an enjoyable book. It’s just that when it wasn’t, it really wasn’t, and ultimately, the work as a whole doesn’t quite overcome those irritating moments.

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Review: The Affair

The Affair
The Affair by Lee Child

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a difficult book to like. A collection of universally-unlikeable characters, engaged in a circle of clumsy lies, beatings and general bastardry, revolving around a plot that asks the reader to care about the outcome of a “Who’s the biggest shit” contest, and all driven by a protagonist so unbelievable and one-dimensional that I struggle to believe that this is the 16th book in the series. Childs’ style is distinctly limited, and the reader receives no insight into why anybody– least of all his sociopathic ubermensch lead, Jack Reacher– sees fit to follow their lines of action. It’s somewhere at the level of the old ‘Destroyer’ or ‘Executioner’ potboilers, and I’m at a loss to work out how this has become so popular. Perhaps it’s the Rambo-esque appeal of a gun-toting, reactionary hard man for a country of similar tastes, but at least ‘First Blood’ was a decent book.

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Review: Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor
Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A promising scenario, but let down by cartoonish characterisation and the single most overt example of an author growing bored with his own book and ending it by simply finishing the sentence he was on. While the book is filled with Le Carre’s usual mix of connotative dialogue, double-guessing and cynical motivations, the cast of incompetents, buffoons and unsympathetically portrayed victims made this a difficult book to warm to, and ultimately, it was impossible to care very much for the consequences of anybody’s actions and, ultimately, anybody’s fate. Really not anywhere near his best.

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Review: Cinnamon Kiss

Cinnamon Kiss
Cinnamon Kiss by Walter Mosley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Less a crime novel than a character study of a man in conflict with his domestic life, his uneasy friendships, his position as a black man in a white-dominated society and his own sense of worth, all explored while he sets out to commit one crime and ends up investigating another.

This is Mosley at his best writing Easy Rawlins at his best, slipping easily between conflicting states, moralising and making judgement of others while not being afraid to expose his own limitations and blind spots, and struggling to demand respect from the world while engaging all around him from a default state that automatically demands he lie and bluff as his opening gambit at all times. Rawlins– and sidekick Mouse– is a joy to follow as a character, and it really doesn’t matter how convoluted or simple the crime might be. That’s not why the reader is on board. And while the mystery and its convoluted path towards conclusion are enjoyable enough to keep the reader’s interest in this novel, it really is only secondary to watching this fascinating, multi-layered, all-too human man wrestle with his demons, and decide which ones he will conquer and which ones he will, inevitably, call master. Superbly readable, thoroughly enjoyable, and full of style and humour. A delight.

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Review: The Bone Collector

The Bone Collector
The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stunningly realised work that both fascinates and repels in all the right places, with a protagonist– quadriplegic former police officer Lincoln Rhyme– who is among the most immediately fascinating and layered characters I’ve ever read in a crime novel. The characters are well rounded and play off each other superbly, with distinct and discrete voices– Rhyme’s assistant-come-antagonist Amelia Sachs is also beautifully realised and a fascinating character in her own right, something that can’t always be said for secondary characters in a novel of this type, and certainly not something that can always be said for female characters; the crimes are sufficiently shocking and contain an internal logic that makes them all the more riveting; and the counterplots that rumble along underneath the main narrative are taut and gripping in their own right. Let down only by a somewhat forced and slightly unbelievable double-climax which feels as the natural climax was added to in order to provide an additional moment of surprise, this is a rich, intense and gripping crime novel of the first water.

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THUMBNAIL THURSDAY LOVES THE FESTIVE SEASON (R). TM. PAT.PEND.

“Look, I hate to ask, but Rudolph’s sick and we really need the whole nose thing for our marketing obligations.”
Hey, Christmas is a big money-spinner, people. I alone have spent somewhere in the region of the GDP of Guatemala just on Lego this year, and that’s before I even think of buying for other people. Why shouldn’t Santa get into some of that sweet, sweet image rights moolah?
Enjoy your own special Santapalooza, folks. Here’s to presents!

A TIME FOR THANKS

My year is almost done. Apart from some sporadic popping up and commenting, I’ll be closing the doors on the world next week for a ten day break alone with my family, to recharge the batteries that fall so desperately low by this time of the year.

So before I go, my thanks to everyone who helped make our journey through a difficult year that little bit more possible, and especially to everyone who took notice of our son’s health struggles and were there to jolly him up with Facebook comments, good wishes and offers of friendship that were invaluable to him and so uplifting to us.

And my most especial mention to our friends Lilysea Oceanesque, Grant Watson and Sonia Marcon, and Kim & Kris McMinn, who went above and beyond the call of duty by treating him as not just the son of people they knew but as a friend in his own right, and whose gifts and words of encouragement kept him from the brink of some very dark times. Your kindnesses will not be forgotten.

To everyone, a glass raised for 2014.

2013: THE YEAR THAT SPOKE TOO SOON

Less than a week ago I claim I haven’t seen a movie worth calling the worst movie of the year, not a single movie that rivaled 2012’s Dark Shadows as a bottomless pit of craptitude.

Then we spent Sunday afternoon avoiding the heat by watching After Earth and Pacific Rim on DVD.
If I’d waited one week more….

Review: Road Dogs

Road Dogs
Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brief, simple and uninvolving, this carries all the Leonard trademarks: an invisible, fluid writing style; crackling dialogue; and characters that stand distinctive from one another as rounded and complete, although the latter is undoubtedly helped by Leonard’s familiarity with characters he has used previously in ‘Out of Sight’, ‘La Brava’ and ‘Riding the Rap’. However, it’s this familiarity which is the novel’s weakest element, as no time is given to anything approaching character development and the whole thing plays out in a strangely linear fashion: crosses are telegraphed; lead character Jack Foley is too wise to everyone around him without the reader ever being given an insight into his knowledge; characters change motivations and behaviours seemingly at random, and the whole plot seems to twist and turn on Leonard’s whim rather than any viable narrative flow. It’s readable without being engaging, and not on of his better works.

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2013 CAN GO FUCK ITSELF, AND THAT’S OFFICIAL.

It’s almost the end of December. Almost time to close my eyes to my day job, shut the door on the world, and have as many as ooooooooohhhhh, nine or ten entire days of rest before I have to plaster a smile on my face and head out to do this shit all over again for another year.

Most people drown in sight of shore, you know….

So. 2013. Here’s how it panned out:

1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?
Sold a children’s novel. Went on a writing retreat.
2. Did you achieve your goals for the year, and will you make more for next year?
It was a mixed year on the goal front. Some were achieved; some were diverted into similar-sounding-but-not-quite-as-sexy options, the goal equivalent of waking up and finding you’ve spent a passionate night of borderline-illegal sexual escapades with someone named Charles-Lee Theron; and some exist because I am, at heart, a comedian. See if you can pick which ones belong where.
1.     1. Lose 12 kilograms
BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAmoving on.
2.     2. Send Father Muerte & the Divine chapters and synopsis to Agent Rich
Actually, I got quite close on this one. I’ve written the first draft of the novel, and have started the long, dreary process of line-editing, and I’ll probably have this package on Agent Rich’s desk by the end of February at the latest. In all probability I’d have done this by now, but for the small matter of finishing and selling an entirely different novel in the meantime. Call it a ½ win…
3.     3. Pitch a 3rd Corpse-Rat King Novel
Achieved. Had Angry Robot taken it, they would have received a novel that saw Marius and his motley crew travel to the centre of the planet in a quest to discover the God whose existence he had so roundly denied in the previous two volumes. They decided not to, so it will remain unwritten.
4.     4. Write a new novel
Close, but one that was definitely derailed by Real Life ™. A couple of starts were made, but despite 15 000 words on Cirque, 12 000 words on Canals of Anguilar and serious plotting work on both The Hall of Small Questions and The Sin-Eater’s Lonely Children, none of them reached completion.
5.     5. Write a kids novel
Ah. Now this one, this one, we can call an unqualified success. I’ve sent the contract back to the publisher, so I think I can safely reveal that Magwitch and Bugrat was successfully written and sold this year, and will be appearing in early 2015 under the Walker Bookslogo.
And with starts undertaken for two new books called Amelia Charles Frankenberg and Antimony Lavage, it may not be the last children’s book I complete, either.
6.     6. Turn Napoleone’s Land into a fantasy novel
Well, yes and no. Napoleone’s Land was an early novel, an alternative history that didn’t quite work and was ripe for changing into a more solidly-realised fantasy novel. I’ve made the requisite changes and run the first few chapters to Agent Rich. We’re yet to see if the concept has any legs. Another ½ point.
7.     7. Enter Nnovvember
Nnovvember is an AFOL community-wide initiative that takes place each November, with fans building Lego Vic Vipers in memory of legendary AFOL Nate ‘nnenn’ Neilson. I blogged about it here last year, when I had my first go at creating one, and fully intended to have another crack at it this year. Then I passed 20 000 pieces in my collection and got all excited about the idea of rebuilding all of my 85 sets, a venture I dubbed the Great 2013 Set Rebuild, and which is still ongoing. Calling Charles-Lee Theron….
8.   8.  Design a Corpse- Rat King ‘Wreck of the Nancy Tulip’ Cuusoo kit.
Uh, yeah. Lot of weather we’re having. This one was a victory of ambition over talent. For those of you who don’t know, Cuusoo is a website that allows Lego fans to post pictures of their creations, and have other fans vote on them, but with a small twist—if a model attracts 10 000 votes, Lego have committed to reviewing the design with the aim of turning it into a real life, honest-to-golly real limited release actual Lego set.
For those who haven’t read The Corpse-Rat King, fuck you: you’re the reason I can’t have nice things. For those who have read it, you’ll remember that the Nancy Tulip is a long-lost Scorban warship, flagship of mad King Nandus’ fleet, which Marius finds while lost under the waves, and which he explores in the company of Nandus, whose skeleton has been fused with that of his favourite horse, Littleboots, into some sort of insane Centaurian loony. And you wonder why I can’t sleep at nights.
Anyway, it would have made a great model. I, unfortunately, lacked only time, design skills, talent, time, and the right pieces to make it work. Not to mention talent.
So, there we are. 2013 was a year of mixed fortunes in many ways, and my goals list reflects that. What does 2014 have in store? It’s hard to say. Right now we’re grappling with financial worries, health issues and the need to refresh a house that is looking battered and dilapidated from a combination of bad construction and a large family. I’ll be sitting down with Luscious and the kids to discuss the new year shortly. I’ll post any goals then.
But I won’t be making any promises.
  
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not this year, although I’ll be a grandfather for the second time in early 2014, which will be very, very cool.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, we escaped the Gods for another 12 months.
5. What countries did you visit?
Every year I come up with something passable witty for why I haven’t travelled yet again……
No. I’m skint. I’ll probably always be skint. ‘Other countries’ is just something that happens to other people, now.
6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
Peace. Tranquillity. Serenity.
7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 
February: I hadn’t been to the PerthWriter’s Festival in something like 13 years, but the presence of China Meiville prompted Luscious and I to buy tickets to one of his speaking engagements this year, then back it up by taking Connor to the Family Day. I was blown away by the scale and professionalism of the event, and vowed on the spot to make it a point to work my way into the presentation line-up within the next 2 years. It was a significant turning point in my desires as an author, an opening of my career horizons. I wish I’d had it earlier.
May: That was the month Connor began to vomit regularly, an illness called Rumination Syndrome that has slowly taken over his entire life, and that of his Mother. It is not underplaying things to say that our entire lives have been overturned: our every decision now takes into account the effect on Connor’s health, his state of mind, and his sense of shame and humiliation when vomiting fits overtake him in public.
November: After two years of growing frustration and entrapment, Aiden was able to leave home and move into a place of his own, in the company of his girlfriend, brother and best mate. I couldn’t be happier for him: his unhappiness was obvious to all who knew him, and while we knew the cause there was little we could do to alter his situation but offer support, hope the right agent was willing to take a chance on a bunch of early 20-somethings, and try not to murder him for his constant misery and rudeness. In the last 2 weeks he’s been happier than I’ve seen him in a long time, and I’m pleased as punch for him. The time was right, and he has an unlimited future ahead of him.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Quite honestly, I don’t feel like I have one. It’s been a head-above-water kind of year.
9. What was your biggest failure?
My inability to find a solution for my son’s ongoing illness and provide him with the healthy, active life he deserves, and my inability to be there more often for the mother who has been forced to give up her own goals and dreams to be next to him while he grows weak from the constant vomiting and attempts to collect some form of schooling and education for him along the way.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Heh. Did we suffer illness or injury?
SIDDOWN!
Would we be referring to Lyn’s attack of Chostochondritis, which was so severe she was hospitalised because it was feared she’d had a heart attack? My Dad’s well-documented aphasia? Connor’s debilitating and ongoing struggle with Rumination Syndrome? The sudden and unexplained swelling in my left foot that’s prompted blood tests and appointments for x-rays in the last week? The discovery that I’ve suffered from undiagnosed skeletal dysplasia for more than two decades that’s been at the root of many of my muscular problems?
Yeah. We’ve had illness and injury.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
With such a difficult year, we took the opportunity to find special moments whenever we could. CrimeScene WA gave us a chance to widen our writing horizons by exposing ourselves to a range of industry experts and writers outside our usual sphere. A long weekend in Margaret River, while the kids stayed with their grandmother, gave us a chance to take ourselves on an intimate, two-person writing retreat we dubbed Battcon13. And the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who gave us the chance to take the kids out to the cinema and share a communal experience of overwhelming positivity and joy with them.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Two people in particular, and if you’ve been paying any sort of attention, you won’t be remotely surprised.
Connor has had a cross to bear that no nine year old should ever have to contemplate, but for the last seven months has done so with maturity, grace and an overwhelming positivity that has balanced out the constant indignity and humiliation that his illness has forced upon him. His humour, buoyant personality, and lively intelligence are a constant inspiration to me, and I feel my heart seize every time I look at him.
And Luscious has been the rockingest rock that ever rocked a rock: she has been by Connor’s side ever moment of every day, holding his hand, providing the sustenance and succour his soul has needed without ever once bemoaning the goals and dreams she has sacrificed to keep his life above water. She has laid aside her University studies, her writing career, and her thoughts of employment, and has, instead taken on the task of full-time carer and home educator, and given our boy the best quality of life that someone in his situation could hope for. She is a marvel, and there is no pedestal high enough upon which I can raise her. She is the soul of our family, its beating heart, and we are nothing without her.
 And in the background, Erin has motored along quietly, continuing her growth into an articulate, talented and caring young woman: always helping, always taking care of those around her, always facing the day with the belief that she can make a positive impact upon the lives of those she loves. It is a cliché to look at your family and think they are the best people in the world, but this year, they have proven it to me over and over again.
I am blessed.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

I’ve been so internalised this year I’ve spent little of my energy trying to match wits with those who have disheartened and dismayed me. Apart from delisting a few Facebook friends who have made my teeth itch once too often, I’ve spared my energy for my family. But even I haven’t been able to escape the loathsome facefucking the current Liberal government is giving the country. The sooner we divest ourselves of these repugnant criminals, the better.
14. Where did most of your money go?
There’s little space between my wage and our costs. Most of our money goes to keeping the wheels turning.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Battcon was a stunning weekend and everything we had hoped it would be: fun, liberating, relaxing and productive. And CrimeScene WA was hotly anticipated and did not disappoint.
16. What song will always remind you of 2013?
Connor turns to the Johnny Cash cover of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt for comfort on a regular basis. It’s become intrinsically intertwined with his illness, and I’ll always associate it with him.


17. Compared to this time last year, are you: i. happier or sadder? ii. thinner or fatter? iii. richer or poorer?
Sadder, fatter, and poorer.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Taking my children to new and exciting places, and watching them discover the beauty of the world outside their normal horizons. 

Being an artist. 

But most of all, just being there when my family needed me.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Putting vomit-soaked bed sheets in the washing machine. 

Spending my days enabling everybody else’s artistic ambitions while slowly but surely finding less and less time to pursue my own. 

Facebook: seriously, it just… Godsfuck, I can’t explain the damn thing. It’s full of people lining up to not understand that my page is a space for me to shout and carry on about anything I want to in any way I want to, and that I have no interest in listening to them tell me how wrong I am and how superior they are, and yet, and yet, I. Can’t. Get. Off. The. Fucking. Thing. At least heroin makes you thin!
20. How did you spend Christmas?
Well, obviously this is before the date, but the plan is to spend it quietly with Lyn: the children will be with their grandmother, because she does the full Santapalooza job on Christmas day and we don’t, so we’re happy for them to go to her place and wrap themselves in tinsel and frosting. The older kids always spend Christmas day at their father’s house, although Aiden and his girlfriend have said they’ll be dropping by for lunch. It’ll just be me, Lyn, whatever the hell food we want to eat, wine, cider, and the phone off the hook.
21. Who did you meet for the first time?
Several authors and editors through my work, and through the Great Big Picnic Lunch we organised for Facebook friends attending the Writers Festival. Most significantly, perhaps, were our friends Kris and Kim McMinn, with whom we’ve grown close quite quickly.
22. Did you fall in love in 2013?
Nah. Like I say every year, I’ve found the love of my life. It’s all gravy.
23. What was your favourite TV program?
We discovered two new series that have become compulsive viewing:
Whitechapel is a modern-day cop show set in the eponymous suburb of the title, featuring killers that mimic several famous murderers of old. It stars Rupert Penry-Jones, Steve Pemberton continuing to expand his impressive repertoire of serious roles, and Philip Davis in career-best form.
And even better is Ripper Street, which starts from a similar basis in that it is also set in Whitechapel, but takes place 6 months after the Ripper murders, where suspicion and terror make the East End a powder keg with a very short fuse. It’s a powerful show, often brutal and unforgiving, with a cast of fascinating characters and genuine undercurrents of tragedy and sadness. It is, in short, superb television, and is one of the best TV series I’ve seen in years. And there’s a scene in episode two of season two which I shan’t spoil for those who have yet to see it, but which is amongst the most powerful and emotional scenes I have ever watched on television. Ever.

There will be box sets in my future, oh yes there will.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I haven’t the energy to hate, beyond my own natural levels of scepticism and misanthropy. There’s one person quite close to our family for whom I feel a great wellspring of disdain, but he’ll get his comeuppance in the natural course of time and I’ll play no part in it other than to sweep up afterwards and comfort the worthy, so I’m content to sit and watch him arsehole himself out of the good thing he’s ruining.
25. What was the best book you read?
Best fiction book of the year was The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie: brutal, unforgiving, enthralling, and a quantum leap in skill and narrative technique from his previous work. You can read my Goodreads review here.
Best non-fiction work was Elizabeth’s Bedfellows- An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court by Anna Whitelock: a fascinating an inspiring view of the Elizabethan court through the behaviour of a group of women who were closer to Elizabeth than anybody else but who are consistently overlooked in histories of the period. My Goodreads review is here.
Worst book of the year, despite stiff competition from dishonourable mentions My Idea of Fun by Will Self and Making Ends Meet- For Better or Worse 3rd Treasury by Lynn Johnston was easily A Father’s Story by Lionel Dahmer: a weaselly, vile attempt by a soulless coward to simultaneously distance himself from his son’s actions and profit by them, with an afterword that is amongst the most repugnant and loathsome attempts at repatriation I’ve ever read. It’s a book not even worth ripping up and using to wipe my arse, and my Goodreads review is even less kind to it.
26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Nothing. I didn’t discover a new band, song, album or drunken busker down the corner with a semi-decent line in hand-clapping and inventive abuse worth adding to my playlist. Frankly, it was extremely disappointing. I blame rap and hip-hop for being a) absolutely everywhere and b) unutterably fucking shit.
Erin forced me to listen to a Selena Gomez album. I hated it. Does that count? If not, this is a video of Aston Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor smashing One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson in a charity football match so hard that Tomlinson pukes. Not so much a musical discovery as, well, bloody hilarious. That’ll do. 



27. What was your favourite film of this year?
I saw some amazing films this year, not least because I found a box set of 20 Hammer movies for $20 in our local Lackluster store and we spent half the year gleefully devouring them one after the other, pausing only to order Christopher Lee Dracula collections off the net so we could love those too. However, four movies really went above the line this year, and they were:
I went into Cloud Atlas with few expectations—there’s only so much excitement you can raise for a movie that combines Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and the Wachowskis—and was stunned by the beautiful, intricate, and inspiring story it told.
I’ve slowly become a fan of Tom Hardy over the last few years, so made a point of watching Bronson because I’d been told it was a breakout performance, only to find it was so much more: a tour de force of such intensity and violent power that everything I’ve seen him do since is utterly washed out in comparison. It’s a stunningly brutal piece of film, that can’t be approached with faint heart, but I was, and remain, knocked sideways by it.
Gravity was a tour de force of an entirely different nature—a stunning vista of space and unknowable horizons that I’ve not seen on the big screen since I first saw 2001 twenty years ago, without being as blindingly dull as 2001 was to a boy who had grown up on big screen space opera. It’s terrifying in an all-too-real way, overwhelming emotions and senses with its sheer scale and intensity. It is science fiction in its purest form, based in the incontrovertible laws of current scientific knowledge, and anchored by a career-defining performance by Sandra Bullock, who shows she should have been working at this level all along. It is, quite genuinely, stunning.
But my favourite, my absolute favourite, film this year, was the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, Day of the Doctor. Forget that it was beautifully made. Forget that the 3D was pretty much used perfectly and enhanced the viewing experience in ways I wasn’t prepared for. Forget the nostalgia of seeing previous Doctors and old foes and all the fannish strokes of the hair that get we geeks purring like contented kittens. It was a wonderful film, filled with satisfaction in every frame. But forget all that, because ultimately, what made this my favourite film of the year, as I blogged upon leaving the cinema, was the knowledge that this was the film that made me fall back in love with something I had been carrying with me my whole life, and with which I had been slowly becoming disenchanted, and this was the film that gave my children an experience they will carry with them for the rest of theirlives. For ninety minutes we shared an moment that we will carry together until the day I die, and for that alone, it will be one of my favourite films for the rest of my days. 
Sadly, the James Cameron Memorial Unobtanium Dildo of Shit goes unawarded this year. I did think it would go to the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp fiasco Dark Shadows, that charm-free, humour-free, excitement-free, used-once-too-often-teabag of a movie that enabled us to watch two of the most exciting talents in Hollywood of ten years ago flail about in yet another of their increasingly vapid and diluted minimum effort shtick pieces, like old vaudevillians who can’t quite adjust to the age of the talkies and really just need to take a margarita and a handful of sleeping pills and have a lie down, and just, please, for the memories of your golden years we’re still trying desperately to hold on to, stop

But a quick check of last year’s review reveals that I actually watched it in 2012, and I can’t think of a movie I watched this year for which I generated so much hate, certainly not so much that I’ll still want to razz it an entire year later. 

Which feels slightly unnatural, somehow….
28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 43, which as everybody knows is the last prime number before 13003 that ends in a 3 according to a fact I just totally made up. (Real answer: the infinitely more boring 12983. Extra points for knowing that I totally guessed that 13003 was a prime and got it correct.)
For once, my birthday actually fell on my RDO, so I spent it building my birthday Lego and hanging with Luscious and Connor, in a kickbackrelaxey kind of way. I could do with another one of those.
29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A healthy son.
30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
Going under for the third time.
31. What kept you sane?
Not entirely sure I managed it, to be honest. I’m feeling burned out, worn through, and ready for a long nap.
32. What political issue stirred you the most?
At least this one is easy: the election of a reprehensible, loathsome, lying, power-hungry weasel to the custodianship of our Government, and the immediate and calamitous damage he and his skulking band of Grima Wormtongues have proceed to undertake with lip-licking relish. Every day that passes bring us closer to becoming a nation of Pastor Niemollers.
33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.
No new lessons, just reinforcements of old ones about the worth of my family relative to the rest of the world, and what I would give up to see them safe and happy.
34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Did you ever pay for something that you didn’t do?
And did you ever figure out the reason why?
And when the doctor says this is gonna hurt me a lot more than this hurts you,
Did you ever figure out that that’s a lie?
–       — Somebody Else’s Troubles, Steve Goodman.

Which is a fucking gloomy way to end a piece like this, so to make up for it, here’s Armstrong and Miller parodying Flanders and Swann with a song about taking a shit. 



IT COULD BE YOU: THE CATS by JOAN PHIPSON

Bloody hell, how long has it been since I’ve done one of these? Some “regular” feature this is turning out to be…..

Anyway:

The Cats
by Joan Phipson

Long before Book Depository, and Fishpond; back when Google was a number and Amazon a river; when “e-books” was something a Geordie said in a library, a nine year old me made his one and only purchase from the colourful Scholastic school book club catalogue that my parents normally used to pad out any spaces in the garbage bin, and this was the book I ordered.

To be honest, I remember very little about the book: it had a creepy, blue-shaded cover in which a group of kids were threatened by some Scooby Doo shadows with glowing eyes while a giant cat in the foreground watched on dispassionately; the eponymous cats of the title may or may not have been telepathic (I have a vague memory but I refuse to commit to it); and at a time when I was overdosing on Doctor Who and Alfred Hitchcock’s Young Investigators books, it was very, very Australian.

Phipson aught to be a God amongst Australian authors. She published a veritable fuckload of books, won two Australian Children’s Book of the Year Awards and was awarded a member of the Order of Australia (for writing children’s books!). Sadly, I can’t find any of her work in any of my regional libraries, and she seems to have become something of a forgotten relic of the pre-Cosmopolitan Australia (Causmopolitan? COZmopolitan?) Age of Twee. It’s a pity, because I feel that I should remember more about the book, and certainly learn more about an author whose work was the first to attract me so that I wanted to spend my money on it, and wait for delivery, and undertake the purchasing process that has helped the owners of Book Depository name their latest yacht after me.

So, like Frank Roberts, I cast my mind back to my earliest understanding of the writing and reading industries, and find myself influenced by an Australian whose greatest moments have fallen into– at the very least, relative– obscurity.

If I believed in omens……

TEN BATTFACTS FOR NAUGHTY CHILDREN

There’s a meme going round Facebook at the moment– I write a bunch of things about myself, you comment, I give you a number, you right that many facts about yourself, people comment you give them a number. In the interest of flooding the available worldly attention span with uninteresting snippets of forgotten whatevers about myself like everybody else, I hereby present 10 things you might not know about me that you’ve been able to live happily without knowing up until now but that will change the way you view the world and contribute to world peace and feeding the starving to the poor…..

1. I was the Dux of my Primary School.

Unlike normal schools, who wait until all the marks are in and then just give the gong to the kid who topped the lists, Coolongup Primary school decided they wanted to up the ante way back in 1982 and do things differently. They corralled the top ten students and forced us to perform for their entertainment, sitting tests, interacting with the teachers at a morning tea, and most importantly, writing and delivering a spoken presentation on a subject of our choice with the use of palm cards. Thanks to previously undiscovered talents for speaking off the top of my head and remembering notes without needing to refer to my painstakingly prepared bits o’ card in my sweaty palm, I came out on top. Which must have pissed off the 9 kids who had better marks than me, but there it is. Who’s laughing now, I say!

2. If my parents were greedy, I’d sound much more exotic.

According to my late mother, when she was pregnant an acquaintance of the family offered her and my father a fairly stonking sum of money (memory says 1000 pounds, in 1970 working class Midlands money) to name me Carlos.

She’s dead now, so I can’t confirm the finer details, but for the sake of a grand, I could have work silk shirts and seduced women by crooning in a warbly Julio Iglesias kind of way.

3. I’m a genetic freak with the extremities of a swamp monster.

Both my feet have webbed toes, and I’m the only person I’ve ever met with a webbed earlobe.

One of ussss… one of usss… one of usss…..

4. I see your jump, and triple it.

When I was a much smaller person than I am now, I represented the town of Narrogin at the state Little Athletics championships of 1979, finishing 6th in both the 200 metres and triple jump. I received two certificates and a shiny vinyl competitors patch for my efforts. Not to mention a trip to Perth to compete at the Perry Lakes stadium, and a brand new tracksuit. Now I don’t even get out of bed for less than $10 000…..

5. Instead of being fat, middle aged, and hating an administrative job, I could be fat, middle aged, and hating a job where I kill little foreign people.

When I was 17 I applied for, and was accepted into, the Australian Defence Force Academy. two days from stepping on to the plane to fly to Canberra I had a major crisis of confidence and scrapped the whole thing, choosing instead to go to Curtin University and study creative writing. I still have a letter my mother wrote me from her death bed, wherein she lies through her teeth and tells em I was never a disappointment to her. Waaaaaaaaaaay not what she said at the time. So when I make that joke about running away from my highly-paid job to become a poet, I speak from experience.

6. I once persuaded WWE wrestlers to prank-call my brother at 4am.

In 2002 I flew to LA to attend the Writers of the Future workshops, with a brief early morning stop at Melbourne airport. By coincidence, I was flying out on the same plane as a troupe of WWE wrestlers who had put on a show the night before. Apart from the rather hilarious experience of being pulled over for a hand-luggage check next to Kurt Angle, I found myself walking through the departure lounge amidst these walking mountains, at which point I was overcome with a giggling fit. the two nearest guys– Rakichi and Ken Shamrock– heard me: they looked tired, and grumpy, and must have thought I was laughing at them because they turned around and growled “What’s your problem?” at me. I pointed at a bunch of nearby fans: “Do you reckon they’re going ‘There’s Rakichi! And Shamrock!…. Who’s the fat guy?'”

At which point they glanced over, broke up laughing, and we were temporary besties for the rest of the walk to the plane.

I’m no wrestling fan, but my brother, who was tucked up in bed back in Perth, was. Huge-time. I’m hanging with two guys he would give his left nut to hang with. There’s a pay phone coming up. What else was I going to do?

Turns out, he didn’t react well to two loud American voices shouting at him to wake the fuck up at 4 in the morning. I did explain who they were. Eventually. When I got back from the States. Don’t know why he wasn’t happy then, either…. 🙂

7. I collect comedy LPs in the original vinyl.

Some things just sound better with that surface hiss: blues, rockabilly, and radio comedy, for example. I haven’t had an LP player in years– Lyn bought me one that was supposed to connect to your computer but we could never get it to work and in the end, I gave it to my bonus son Blake who has a similar passion for vinyl records. But I still have a pretty extensive collection of Goon Shows, Frost Report, Lenny Bruce, Round the Horne, Beachcomber, George Carlin and the like.

8. I’m Lance Private Eccles, but most people call me by my nickname….

Some years back, I co-wrote a Goon Show fan production with the brilliantly funny author and fellow Goon fan Dave Luckett, which we performed with fellow fans at the Swancon SF convention. Called The Goon, Goon Hills of Earth, it was recorded, and contains a brilliant Luckett performance as Ned Seagoon. If I work out how to upload sound-only files onto Blogger, I’ll share it.

PS: 
Your nickname? What is it?
Nick!
(The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-on Sea)

9. I’ve seen Curly Sue 42 times and still don’t want to kill myself.

It’s true. Curly Sue is a Jim Belushi movie. That’s all you need to know about its general level of quality. I spent a year working as an usher at the first cinema to open in Rockingham, the town where I grew up, and part of my job was to stand at the back of each session to make sure the attendees weren’t slashing the seats, setting fire to each other, or shagging the armrests. I saw Point Break before it was released, but I also saw Star Trek V nineteen times. And Curly Sue 42 times. That’s not even 42 separate Jim Belushi movies, which is the fifth sign of the apocalypse. That’s the same unfunny, cringingly awful, painful Jim Belushi experience, again and again and again. And people wonder why I hate humanity and all you stand for.

10. I can’t stomach the taste of jelly beans.

And it’s a self-inflicted injury: I ate a kilogram of jelly beans in one sitting while watching a late night Creature Feature, back when i was a teenager, and it made me so sick I couldn’t even smell a jelly bean for the next 25 years without it making me ill. I’m happy for others to eat them, now, but still can’t bring myself to actually place one in my mouth. Even the thought of feeling that slithery sugar crunch between my teeth brings me out in shivers.

TIME TO START CHECKING OUT GUN SHOPS

My daughter lost her birth mother when she was just 4 days old, thanks to a criminally incompetent doctor and a hospital that would be lucky to operate successfully as an abattoir. As starts in life go, there would be few less auspicious. 

Today, she turns 12. Thanks to Luscious, the mother I met when she was 14 months old and she chose when was approaching 2, she has grown into a stylish, graceful, intelligent, mature, wondrous child, at whom I marvel every day. There is nothing of me in her: she has her birth mother’s looks, and her Mum’s dignity, optimism and unwavering moral compass. She is a developing artist, a burgeoning cook with a fine line in muffins (another skill in which she follows her Mum), an fan of Katniss Everdeen, a listener to Goon Shows, Queen of the colouring-in competitions (undefeated in 12 attempts over four years). admirer of Pink, chooser of NuWho over Classic Who, with a heart like a planet and a caring nature and fierce desire to learn that constantly fills me with joy, consistently at the top of her classes, recommended by her teachers to stand for School council, awarded and rewarded and valued by all who meet her.
She is the kind of 12 year old I never even attempted to be, and truly precious to us. 
Happy birthday, my girl. 

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY THINKS V-GER IS A SPACE BASTARD

“It appears to be some sort of ransom note.”
The idea that we send a welcome message of love and togetherness out into the depths of the cosmos on our deep space probes is a wonderful one, and speaks of the depth and hope that typifies the best of the human spirit, reaching out across immeasurable distances and time to let other races, of whom we cannot even begin to imagine, know that they are not only not alone, but that our first offering is one of friendship and companionship. It is a truly wondrous, beautiful thought.
The idea that they’ll have any bloody idea what we’re on about at all is the soul of comedy.

Review: Shattered

Shattered
Shattered by Dick Francis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Francis is always competent, and that’s what this book is: competent, without ever setting the pulse racing or the heart hammering. Francis’ characters are rounded without being engaging, his convoluted plot involved without being terribly involving, and while there’s nothing wrong with anything in the novel, equally there’s nothing that really grips the reader and refuses to let go. I like Francis’ work, but this is very much middle of the range.

View all my reviews