MAGRIT GOT REAL

The dust has finally settled, I’ve gone back to the real world, and I can finally reflect on a mad fortnight of Magrit-related shenanigans.

First up was a surprise appearance at the Perth Writers Festival— a surprise to me as much as anybody else, as I was only added the roster 10 days out from the event when Emily Rodda pulled out, long after all the publicity material had been prepared and programmes printed. Even so, an invitation to appear is not one you turn down, so I duly rocked up to the Festival Schools Day on Thursday and spent a delightful 45 minutes talking all things writing with veteran YA author Carole Wilkinson and moderator Deb Fitzpatrick, as well as all the things you usually do on a panel for kids– pretending to eat the microphone, pulling stupid faces, impersonating Emily Rodda…… you know……

Talking all things kid books with Deb Fitzpatrick and Carole Wilkinson

Friday I rejoined Carol at a session for teachers on inspiring writing in the classroom, chaired by AJ Betts and in the presence of the all-powerful Andy Griffiths, who kindly consented to a selfie and a signed book for Master 11, who was filthy as could be that he was unable to meet his literary hero. Andy was an education– quiet and internalised off-stage, he came alive in front of an audience, mixing charm, performance and insight, then returning to his quiet, self-contained self at the end. While the session itself was enjoyable, and it was nice to talk about the teaching of writing for a change, exposure to other authors and the way they manage themselves is beyond valuable. Andy and Carole are very different people, and the insight into their working lives was incredible.

Andy Griffith: consummate professional, fantastic showman, and a guy who will turn it on anywhere, anyhow, if it means making a kid happy. An absolute education to work with. 

And then there was Sunday. A solo session, at 9 in the morning, (that’d be Sunday morning), for a pack of kids almost all of whom were expecting Emily Rodda. No pressure, then….. Stuck for ideas, Luscious and the kids jumped on and helped me stuff a bag full of random items from the garage, and while I read sections from the book, the kids used the parts to build a Master Puppet skeleton at my feet. I think they did quite well, too.

Haranguing children while they go into a feeding frenzy at my feet. 
Typical Sunday morning, really.
Pimp my Master Puppet.

The rest of the Festival was a joy, as it is is when you’ve got an artist lanyard in your hot little hand. Apart from access to the paid sessions for free, it entitles you to access the green room, whereby you can meet the other artists, and comes with an invitation to the opening night party. I bumped into the delightful Melinda Tognini, who I hadn’t seen since our first year of University in 1989, Luscious met Jack Heath, which was her entire reason for attending the festival, so much did she love his current novel, and Master 11 got an insight into the professional life of an author. It’s one of the reasons I attend every year: I get to breath in the essence of authorship, and realign my compass with the wider literary world beyond the cramped, and increasingly unsatisfying, speculative fiction borders I’ve inhabited until now.

Also, those big signs they have in the social centre of the Festival?
I may have got a little graffitti-y……

I’ve three books in my computer, all part-started and all clamouring for attention: another children’s novel, a crime novel, and a linked collection of supernatural historical stories. These are the works I need to complete, before I take on anything else. Being at the Festival, exposed to the full range of the literary spectrum, helps me realise how large that literary world is, and how much of it I still want to explore.

Then it was on to Stefen’s Books the following weekend, and the official Magrit launch. Stefen has always been good to me, and this occasion was no exception, with a window display, posters throughout the store, and a sell-out crowd that emptied the shop of stock. Some reading, a revival of some of my old stand-up skills (such as they are), and an awful lot of skeletons drawn in an awful lot of books — a once-only addition to my signature– and Magrit was officially launched into the world. As is a Stefen’s tradition, we then retired to the pub next door for lunch, a drink or two, and much laughter, which is part of what makes his launches so special.

Of course, what that also means, is that you can now get yourself down to Stefen’s to pick up a copy of the book, or order it from Walker, or find it at any one of a million billion trillion excellent, good, or utterly dodgy bookstores. Go on. What’s stopping you?

The set-up at Stefen’s. He knows how to treat an author well. 

I should have knicked this on the way out, I really should have……

Getting my signing on. Those worms weren’t all for me– we passed them through the crowd, just before I read the section where Magrit feeds the new baby by squishing worms through her toes and feeding him the paste. Because what’s a reading without sweeties and cruelty?

Let me tell you: a window display never, and I mean never, gets old. 

With Ms 14 and Master 11, who inspired the book and copped 
a dedication for their trouble.

So that’s it: Magrit is now out into the world, I’ve had my annual reminder of what it is to be a real writer, and now it’s back to the day-by-day crunch of day job, with a garnish of must-sit-down-and-write-something-today. I’ve made it know that my next work will be abut a boy who derails a ghost train, so I guess I’d better start adding to the 2500 words I’ve completed so far, right?………

TEN OF THE BEST…. AND THE OTHER BEST

There’s a meme doing the rounds of Facebook that requires the recipient to name 10 books that have had an impact upon them, then pass the disease on to ten innocent schmucks. Rather than waste all that typing on just one form of social media, I thought I’d list them here, too.

1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein. Read it for the first time when I was ten and it blew the breath out of my mind. I’d never experienced such scope, depth and majesty in a story before, and have pretty much never experienced it since. Read it every year until my mid-twenties, and a few times again since then.

2. The Cats by Joan Phipson. The first book I ever bought with my own money. A kids book about psychic cats who kidnap a kid in the Australian bush.

3. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. An amazing dystopian near-future SF work that feels as relevant and likely now as it did when I first read it in my early 20s. Brunner is the author David Brin wishes he could be when he grows up.

4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Everything I wanted to write when I grew up, in a single trilogy. It hasn’t aged well, but its impact on the 16 year old me cannot be overstated.

5. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. Sparse, brutal and unforgiving. The perfect crime novel.

6. The Scar by China Meiville. My first Mieville novel, it kicked off an ongoing love affair that has never abated. Beautifully lyrical, ugly, despairing, and epic and everything in the weird that I want to achieve.

7. Science Fiction Stories for Boys, editor unknown. A cheap ‘Octopus Books’ collection of the type that used to proliferate in the wild 70s before copyright law reached Australia. My first real SF book, it contained the story that set me on the path to an SF future. My first taste of Asimov, Heinlein, Leiber and Harrison. I still have it, and it’s still brilliant.

8. Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson. The first modern fantasy book I read that dared to break the Tolkein template. A deeply unlikeable protagonist, acres of grit and despair, a true sense of dirt under the fingernails of a real second world. The clear forerunner to the current ‘Grimdark’ generation of Joe Abercrombie and peers.

9. Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer. The book that helped me sit down and define my career goals at a time when I was floundering. More than one recent success is down to its lessons.


10. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre. Sparse, brutal and unforgiving. A perfect ‘cold equations’ novel, and still just about the best thriller ever written.

And because I’m me:

11. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie. The best novel of the last 5 years, bar none. Brilliantly grim, realistic fantasy, filled with consequences and the kind of bleak beauty rarely seen outside of a John Huston film. A stunning novel


And just for yucks, my friend Stephen Dedman decided I should list 10 films in the same way. So I did:

1. Doctor Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Brilliant satirical dark comedy centred around stunning multiple performances from Peter Sellers, who is never better than here. Kubrick’s best film by a country mile.

2. The Crow. Dark, dystopian revenge fantasy that distills everything that a 19 year old in the late 80s found too cool for words, backed by the single best soundtrack in movie history. Nominally a superhero film and on that basis still one of the best 3 or 4 superhero films ever made.

3. ET. First saw it on an excursion with my under 13 soccer team. We’ll all deny it to our dying breaths, because we were Rockingham bogans trying to be tough, but we all bawled like we were sponsored by Kleenex. The special effects have dimmed over time, but the emotional impact never has.


4. The Italian Job. The film that inspired a life long love of heist movies. Good, clean, criminal fun from beginning to end.


5. Fight Club. Nihilistic, counter-culture view of a personal apocalypse. Brilliantly out of kilter, with a career-defining performance from Brad Pitt.


6. 12 Monkeys. The perfect combination of Terry Gilliam’s visual and narrative brilliance, Brad Pitt’s superb ability to create a beautiful freak, and a thoughtful and finely tuned SF plot. An utter classic.


7. Iron Man. I’m making no excuses here: this is the movie the 8 year old me waited 30 years to see, and it was everything I expected it to be. I loves it with loves that turns any form of criticism at all into “nahnahnahnahcan’thearyoucan’thearyounahnahnah…”


8. Blade Runner. Ridley Scott was never better. Another stunning, beautiful dystopia rendered in images so perfect they will live forever in my internal viewfinder. The flames along the edge of Sean Young’s iris may be the most perfect filmic image ever committed.


9. The General. Film’s greatest magician at his highest peak. Brilliant comedy, special effects, stunts and storytelling, still genuinely gripping after 90 years.


10. A Night at the Opera. My first Marx Brothers movie, it still has the power to crease me over with helpless laughter and yet, as I grow older, it’s the quiet moment of Harpo and Chico playing together on the ship that fill me with wonder. The archetypal something-for-everyone comedy, it should make talentless hacks like Adam Sandler hang his soulless head in shame. A wonder.


So there we go. Now tell me, what’s your list? What books and films have had a lasting impact upon your poor, tortured psyche?

THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT or HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BLOG

Ye Gods. Where does the time go? Busy busy busy. There’s been a 2 week holiday in there, somewhere: two weeks where I kept the hell of Facebook and the internet and writing while I bent my back over exercise and gardening and house maintenance tasks that needed doing—and lost 2 kilos into the bargain—and entertained myself with my Lego addiction. And damn it if I’m not happier for having done so.
So. What’s gone on in that time? Bits and bobs, my friends. Bits and bobs.
DAGGER, DRESNIA, ONE THEREOF

Swancon happened over Easter, and I wouldn’t have paid much attention this year except that, for reasons known only to her, the lovely Satima Flavell-Neist asked me to say a few words in her defence as she launched her debut novel, The Dagger of Dresnia.

Satima’s a fantastic inspiration to anybody who feels like they’ll never achieve their publishing goals:  The Dagger of Dresnia is the result of 11 years of hard work, faith, and perseverance, and it’s pleasing that she’s managed to partner with an aspiring press like Satalyte Publishing, who are looking to stake out a permanent place in the Australian publishing landscape. It’s a bold venture, and I’m hoping that both Satima and Satalyte receive the very best of fortune, not to mention sales.

If you can judge a person by the quality of their enemies then Satima must be rubbish indeed, especially if you can get the likes of Juliet Mariller and Glenda Larke to speak at your lunch. Or maybe that just speaks to the quality of your work, and of you as a person, non?

The Dagger of Dresnia is book one of a trilogy, and you can purchase it from the Satalyte website here. I managed to snaffle a few quick snaps of the launch in between talking-type duties:

A formidable ‘Dagger of Dresnia’ cake, baked by local author Carol Ryles

Satima reads an excerpt

Busy at the signing table
Guest speakers Juliet Mariller, Glenda Larke and Michelle Drouart wonder where to stick the knife, while Carol Ryles stands by and lets them kill her cake.

STEPS FORWARD, SAYS A FEW WORDS

Rockingham children’s author Teena Raffa-Mulligan has started a new blog, In Their Own Write, dedicated to writing advice and experiences from the mouths of established authors.

In her wisdom, she’s asked me a few questions, and I’ve told the world to milk cows and have sex. And some other stuff. Go here and read my interview, and catch the rest of her line-up here while you’re at it.

THE BOY IS BACK!

Almost a year to the day ago, Master 9 came down with a mysterious illness that caused him to vomit more than 40 times a day. School quickly became impossible. A normal life became just as impossible. Luscious withdrew him, put her life on hold, and set out to home-school him while she and the medical profession set out to determine what was wrong.

A year later, with a diagnosis of Rumination Syndrome under his belt, a year of the hardest emotional work I have ever seen a parent put into a child paid off. His vomiting has diminished to the point where he can go entire days without vomiting, and generally, if he does, it’s once or twice a day at worst. He and Lyn have battled every step of the way: against the illness, against despair; and against a medical fraternity that couldn’t give a shit about doing anything more than convering their own insurance premiums. They’ve never given up, never taken negative advice at face value. Bit by bit they’ve dragged GPs, specialists and surgeons in their wake, and changed both our lifestyle and environment until this week, for the first time in 12 months, this:

His first day at school in a year. For now he goes back one day a week, under the care of a teacher who is so understanding of his condition she has organised special care and infrastructure to ensure he has a safe space to retreat to should he be unable to stay in class, and coping strategies for when he can. But even one day is a victory, and he’s already talking about how soon that one day can become two, and two become three, and on until he’s back at full time.

I am so proud of them both I can barely find the words.

STUFF YOUR LUFTBALLONS, I HAVE LEGO

A year ago, a chance remark from Luscious prompted me to embark on a scheme of grand stupidity. I would build all of my Lego sets once more, and when they were built, I would photograph them, because reasons, that’s why.

Naturally, that didn’t take into account the umpteen set I would buy over the course of what I dubbed The Great Set Rebuild of 2013, because things go better with 1950s Hollywood titles, so that, eventually, it became the Great Set rebuild of 2014 and, finally, the Is This Frigging Thing Not Over Yet of It’s Never Going to be Bloody Finished.

And yet, here we are. 99 sets, in all. It would have been 100, but for an incomplete set that arrived last week with filthy, unusable parts that I’ve had to source from third parties. However, sets were built, photos were taken, and here, for what it’s worth, you can wallow in the glory that is my Set Rebuilding Fu.

I’ll tell you this for free, though: I can’t wait to get back to building bloody MOCs…..







99 sets. Count them…. or better yet, don’t count them, I already had to…. 99.

And theme by theme:

Classic Space, Alien Conquest and Star Wars

Atlantis

City

Creator and Racers
Various themes, all celebrating the power of flight…
Possibly my favourite of all themes, Galaxy Squad

And proving why it’s my favourite, each of the sets separated into their playable ‘second mode’.
Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, Kingdoms and Fantasy Era

Monster Fighters

Ninjago, Chima and Pirates of the Caribbean

Pharoah’s Quest

And lastly, proving that themes may come and go, but my love of insane spaceships will never die, Space Police III
RIP BOB HOSKINS
Sad news the other day, with the passing of the immensely talented Bob Hoskins, at the age of 71 after a short bout of pneumonia. Hoskins had retired from acting in 2012 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, but he was one of the most talented, varied actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and the film landscape is immeasurably poorer for his passing. A short, tubby, genial-looking bloke, his capacity to play anything from doltish mook (Who Killed Roger Rabbit?) to vicious killer (The Long Good Friday) to sweet romantic lead (Mermaids) and all points in between (The Dunera Boys, Mona Lisa, hell, close your eyes and throw a dart at IMDB and you’ll find a brilliant performance in something) placed him at the very top rank of actors, in my opinion.
See ya, Eddie.


OPENINGS AND CLOSINGS

Thanks to the twinned miracles of my credit card and the international postage system, I took possession of this fine piece of work yesterday:

http://wonderbooknow.com/

For those not in the know, it’s an exploration of the writing process by the delightfully brilliant author Jeff VanderMeer, whose work on the writing life, Booklife, is one of my most dearly-held biblical texts. This volume is overflowing with illustrations by Jeremy Zerfoss that are the kind of semi-surreal and absurdist illustrations I love, and would be worth the price of admission alone if not for the fact that VanderMeer is a wonderfully deep thinker about the authorial process and his words would be worth the price of admission alone if not for…. it’s a grand looking book. You get it.

It’s also backed up by a fantastic web page filled with extra content, which you’d know if you’d clicked the picture.

However, the purpose of this post is not to pimp VanderMeer’s work, but to have a bit of a play with my own. Because while I was aimlessly flicking through, looking at all the pretty pictures, I entertained myself by reading some of the opening and closing lines he’d collected to support his chapters on the art of creating memorable images with which to bookend your stories– readers remember the last and first things they read, we all know, so there’s an art to giving them memories that will walk away from the story with them.

Which prompted me to scroll through my own work and see just how well I’d done with that particular art throughout the years. The answer to which is

So, for your education and entertainment, here are 15 of my favourite opening and closing sentences from my work– ones that still, to me, communicate a resonant image in a single sentence– for no other reason than it took me a while to look through, and I still like them.
 
Make of them what you will.
 
OPENINGS
 
Deep in the middle of the Poolshug Swampland, where even the Giant Grells tiptoe lightly for fear of drawing attention to themselves, lives Vortle alone in his little hut.– Vortle
 
We fell upon Moscow like hungry dogs. — The Emperor of Moscow
 
Jim Smith had a bald patch at the back of his head the size of a table tennis paddle. — A Star is Born
 
From where I lie I can see the puddle changing colour, red neon pink neon green as the lights from the bar’s sign flicker and change. — Making Two Fists
 
It was the second sunrise of the day.– Father Muerte & the Rain
 
There are very few completely true things in Costa Satanas. — Father Muerte & the Flesh
 
Rain batters the road, the footpath, the buildings, and the top of Mallory’s unprotected head. — Love Me Electric
 
I have stood on this spot since my father the Sun shat the Earth and pissed the oceans and farted the sky.  — Though I Be Stone
 
The first thing they made Marianne do was strip naked and submit to a body search. — The Imprisonment of Marianne
 
So they picked him up, the broken-shelled, loose-limbed motherfucker, lying unconscious in a pool of his own piss.  — , Rabbit, Run
 
 What does it take to murder a city? — Europe After the Rain
 
What little world there was, belonged to the sand. — At the End, There Was a Man
 
The only parts of this story that exist are the man and the knife. — Truthful Remains
 
The storm had turned the world into a swirl of broken lines. — Disciple of the Torrent
 
We had been in Anguilar for seven months when the river began to attack. — The Canals of Anguilar
 
 
CLOSINGS
 
Then I know that Vortle is well and hunting, and that the pods of the strange creatures will not reach our beautiful Epicity just yet, and that I am still the only person who calls him friend.– Vortle
 
Through the window, oblivious to all that has happened, Merrilee dances. — Through the Window, Merrilee Dances
 
And when we were finished, all that remained were bones. — The Emperor of Moscow
 
Oh, how they bite. — Decimated
 
The real joy comes when you keep them alive. — Pater Familias
 
Who gave them the photos, Thierry, and what did they hope I would see? — Amygdala, My Love
 
I began crying when the first bombs fell. — Silk
 
Smiling, crying, happy, Markus bent forward and leaned beyond the mirror. — Alchymical Romance
 
Then it, too, faded away, and moved on to other destinations. — Doctor Who: The Time Eater
 
We marched out, and he led us, singing, back home through the ashes of our dead. — Europe After the Rain
 
The column of smoke stayed in the air for days. — At the End, There Was a Man
 
I will not burn alone. — The Claws of Native Ghosts
 
I raised a hand, held my breath, and reached out to touch the monster. — Beached
 
They laughed, until the only sound in the entire world was the pounding of waves in his ears. — Disciple of the Torrent
 
She turns away from the unloving air and walks through the crowd, out of the Centre and into the cold world. — Comfort Ghost
 
 
 
 
 

GET ONE IN YA!

Anywhere But Earth, which features my story At The End There Was a Man, is now available from the Coeur De Lion online store.

29 stories of humanity’s experiences of, well, anywhere but Earth, featuring the likes of Margo Lanagan, Richard Harland, Robert Hood and Jason Fischer, and clocking in at a spine-bending 728 pages, this is going to be the biggest anthology released in Australia this year. Quite literally.

Yon Liney Uppey:

Calie Voorhis– Murmer 
Cat Sparks– Beautiful
Simon Petrie– Hatchway 
Lee Battersby– At the End There Was a Man 
Alan Baxter– Unexpected Launch
Richard Harland– An Exhibition of the Plague 
Robert N Stephenson– Rains of la Strange 
Liz Argall– Maia Blue is Going Home 
Chris McMahon– Memories of Mars 
CJ Paget– Pink Ice in the Jovian Rings 
Penelope Love– SIBO 
Donna Maree Hanson– Beneath the Floating City
Erin E Stocks– Lisse
William RD Wood– Deuteronomy 
Robert Hood– Desert Madonna 
Steve de Beer– Psi World 
Damon Shaw– Continuity 
Wendy Waring– Alien Tears 
Patty Jansen– Poor Man’s Travel 
Jason Fischer– Eating Gnashdal 
Kim Westwood– By Any Other Name 
Brendan Duffy– Space Girl Blues 
TF Davenport– Oak with the Left Hand 
Sean McMullen– Spacebook 
Margo Lanagan– Yon Horned Moon 
Mark Rossiter– The Caretaker 
Jason Nahrung– Messiah on the Rock 
Angela Ambroz– Pyaar Kiya
 Steve Cameron– So Sad, the Lighthouse Keeper

You know you want one. No more talking. Just go.

A SMALL MEASURE OF FLOOD ASSISTANCE, WITH BONUS READING MATERIAL

We’ve been glued to broadcasts of the Queensland floods, as I know you have. It’s scary, not only because of the sheer extent of the devastation and the tragic losses of life, property, and community, but because we almost instantly fell into a form of list-making– tallying up those friends and acquaintances from the region and realising just how many people who have touched our lives are being affected by this. To all of you: Geoff and Diane; Kate and Rob; Nikki and Damon; Kim; Rowena; Trent; Marianne; Peter; Ben; Chris; Bob; Heather; Julie; Angela; Kathleen; the Clarion South guys; everyone at QWC; all the Visioners; the mob at Pulp Fiction; and everyone else in the ridiculously long list we came up with over lunch yesterday until we stopped for fear of the sheer scale of it that I’ve forgotten to mention here; and all your families; our hopes and prayers for your safety and welfare.

One way you can help, and get some fresh reading material by way of thank you, is to purchase a copy of the somewhat-ironically-titled-given-the-circumstances After The Rain ebook download: Fablecroft Publishing publisher/editor Tehani Wessely is in Queensland right now, being with her family, but has managed to create an electronic version of the book: 13 stories that will appear in the (larger) print book in April, including contributions from myself and Luscious, some of them in a slightly different form to the way they will appear in the print book, plus 3 essays on the floods and their impact on local communities by Queensland writers specifically commissioned for this special edition.

Tehani says of the ebook: After the Rain was commissioned in 2010 and is due for release in April 2011. However, in the face of the ongoing flood disaster in Queensland, the authors and I have pulled together this limited ebook version as a fundraiser. The authors have freely given their stories for this use. All payments will go to the Flood Appeal, and we are leaving it up to you to decide how much you want to pay for the book. We recommend at least AUD$10.00, but all donations are gratefully received.

Go here to buy it, or to query. The ebook is available until 15th February.

CREEPY LITTLE DOLL FACE

I swear to God, is that not the creepiest book cover you’ve seen in all the live-long day?
It’s the cover of the upcoming anthology Devil Dolls & Duplicates, edited by Anthony Ferguson and published by Eqilibrium Books. One of my early tales, The Divergence Tree, will be in it, along with a farly stellar groups of Australian scary-story people. Check out this table of Contents, then start saving your pennies, because it looks like a real cracker:

Marcus Clarke: Human Repetends
Wynne Whiteford: Automaton
Van Ikin:  And Eve Was Drawn from the Rib of Adam
Michael Wilding:  This is for You
Stephen Dedman: A Single Shadow
Jason Franks: The Third Sigil
Jay Caselberg: Porcelain
Sean Williams: The Girl Thing
Chuck McKenzie: Confessions of a Pod Person
Lee Battersby: The Divergence Tree
Rick Kennett: Excerpt from In Quinns Paddock
Lucy Sussex: La Sentinelle
Jason Nahrung: Spare Parts
Robert Hood: Regolith
Kaaron Warren: Doll Money
Andrew J McKiernan: Calliope- A Steam Romance
Tracie McBride: Last Chance to See
Martin Livings: Blessed are the Dead that the Rain Falls Upon
B Michael Radburn: The Guardian =
Daniel I Russell: Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem
Christopher Elston: Hugo- Man of a Thousand Faces
 
Told you it was good….