5 FOR FRIDAY: BOOKS EVERY WRITER SHOULD HAVE

It’s been a couple of weeks: full-time employment called, and while I may not have been engaged in the writah-dahlink life I crave, my son’s Scout Jamboree for next year has been paid for, so that’s a thing that happened.

While I desperately try to re-insert writing back into my daily routine, I’ll need a bit of help and guidance. Here, then, are five books that form the cornerstone of my industry reading, and the pillars upon which my library of books about writing stand.

Continue reading “5 FOR FRIDAY: BOOKS EVERY WRITER SHOULD HAVE”

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: BOOKS I WISH I’D WRITTEN

As a reader, there’s approximately one hundred million billion zillion gajillion books that I love with great loveness and which are my squishy and that I pet and love and call my squishy. Approximately.

As an author, there are times when it’s impossible not to see the man behind the curtain. For all the individual skill involved, there are certain cornerstones of the craft that are apparent to anyone else practising that craft.

Occasionally, however, I read a novel that rocks me back on my heels, makes me blow out my cheeks and shake the book gently, all the while muttering “Man. I wish I’d written that.”  Here are five.

Five for Friday: Books I Wish I’d Written

Continue reading “FIVE FOR FRIDAY: BOOKS I WISH I’D WRITTEN”

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.