KSP GHOST STORY NIGHT

Last week, Luscious, the kids, and I met up with our good friends Kris and Kim, and moseyed on up to the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre for their spooky night of ghost stories. Lyn and I had entered stories in their ghost competition, and had been informed that we had both been shortlisted and would we like to come along and read? Of course we would. The KSP is one of the loveliest and most atmospheric Writers Centres I’ve ever seen, and it’s always a real pleasure to head up there. So we hooked up with Kris and Kim for dinner in Midland, paused to let Master 11 get into costume (prizes for dress-ups!), and toddled off, stories in hand.

Master 11 takes his zombies seriously. 

And, well, we did all right. A prize for Master 11 for his zombification, the announcement of Luscious’ brilliant story Cross Words as the second prize winning story, and then — after clearing the room of under 18s and telling everyone that the organisers had been forced to refine the running order of the evening specifically because of the graphic nature of the winning story– my own tale, The House of Jack’s Girls, a lyrical little thing about men bringing their sons to a haunted brothel specifically to have sex with Jack the Ripper’s victims, was announced as the 1st prize winner.

Lyn silenced the room with her reading of her tragic and powerful story.

A good night for the ego, and a good night for the sense of fun. KSP organiser Tabetha was overwhelmed by the sheer weight of attendees, so here’s hoping it makes a reappearance again next year. You can read all about the night, including judge’s reports, from the KSP perspective here.

Not a bad night’s work……

WHAT IT IS, IS BEAUTIFUL

If you’re a fan of Lego it’s been impossible in recent days to avoid the charges of sexism that have been levelled at the company since, well, pretty much since the first days that the Friends line hit the shelves. Arguments against the aggressively-girly line have largely centred around the genderisation of creative play: why does a toy that relies on a child’s imagination to repurpose homogeneous elements need to undergo a gender split? There’s merit to the argument: after all, there was a time when Lego itself marketed just such a question to parents to get them to consider buying the toy for their daughters–



Both my children have a Lego collection, and they’ve both been given open slather when it comes to collecting sets: we don’t direct them, and the only limit we impose is one of price– no matter who the sets are aimed at, they’re fucking expensive. Even so, Master 9’s collection is dominated by Star Wars, dinosaurs and a black/grey/dark blue palette, while Miss 12’s Friends-heavy collection is a rainbow of pastel shades.

Which got me wondering, because as an AFOL, I love the Friends colour scheme and stock up on individual pieces whenever I visit Bricklink, but I’ve never bought myself a set, largely because I don’t like the minifigs. So I decide to run a little experiment, to see whether something in the marketing was affecting my children’s choices, or if it was, indeed, the range of parts and colours that was the deterrent. I asked the kids 3 questions, and these were their responses:

1. Your collection is very strongly dominated by (Miss 12: Friends, Master 9: Star Wars/ Dinosaurs) sets. Is there a reason why that is the case?
Miss 12: I like the story line in Friends, and the colours.
Master 9: I like the adventurousness of the stories.

2. Is there something in the colours and shapes of the parts that you prefer to other sets?
Miss 12: Yes. I like the Friends colours.
Master 9: No. I like the Friends colours, too. I like the Star Wars minifigs.

3. If I gave you $50 and sent you to the shops to buy a set, and you already had everything in your favourite range that was on the shelves, would you prefer to buy a set in the (Miss 12: Star Wars, Master 9: Friends) range, or would you prefer to buy a duplicate of a (Friends/Star Wars) set you already own? 
Miss 12: I’d buy a duplicate.
Master 9: I’d buy a Friends set.

So, conclusions drawn from this exhaustive survey: Miss 12 responds to the Friends sets aesthetically, and chooses them over other sets based on an enjoyment of the palette and the non-aggressive narrative possibilities; Master 9 likes the combat/adventure narratives implied by the “boy” sets (not surprising, given his love of the Star Wars universe), but likes the Friends colour palette enough that he would buy a set and incorporate it into his building. 

All very well and good, and easy to say. But would it hold true if, say, I instructed them to take 150 random elements from their collections and swap them? Could they happily build outside of their own preferred colour and set choices? Without telling them why, I did just that. The kids randomly picked 150 pieces from their collections, and then built with each other’s selection. These are the results:


Miss 12 created three works: two different spaceships and a tuning fork.

The space scooper has a scoop at the back to collect debris. The scoop rotates through a 360 degree angle to make pick up and delivery easier.
The Junker is made from pieces of space junk discovered by the Space Scooper.

The tuning fork. A great use of leftover parts.
Master 9 took a different approach, and created a series of smaller works:
Girl colours for a boy concept? A ballista, at any rate.

A beach scene, incorporating a shark net, diving board, and lifeguard tower.

The entrance to a cafe.

A catwalk.
An armchair.

A couch.

An abandoned tree at the end of a garden path.
And to finish, the classic tablescrapper’s use for that
pile of random pieces you can’t do anything with: some ruins!
So, in a complete lack of surprise, two different genders of children quite happily extended their creative building techniques when confronted with a random assortment of bricks, although I did note with interest that the general theme of their builds did conform to the kind of bricks they thought they were using: girly-girl Miss 12 completing a space-themed build, and rocket-powered-boy-attack Master 9 focusing on situational and domestic concepts. 
What this shows, at least to me, is that the promotion of Lego does have an effect on how the demographic– that is, the kids who receive the sets– perceive the purpose of the bricks themselves, despite the fact that, as stand-alone items, the bricks are met with approval and enjoyment by both children. Miss 12, in particular, perceives a definite difference between ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ Lego, at an age when advertising and gender-based marketing are concepts she pays attention to. Just as clearly, their ability to create and enjoy the act of creation with any random group of elements that is placed before them, shows that gender-splitting Lego is not only limiting the potential market penetration for Lego themes, it’s downright unnecessary
And as Lego themselves once understood, it always has been.
Oh, and for the record, I don’t ask my troops to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. Here’s what I came up with, using the 150 Friends pieces I asked Miss 12 to give me:
The lost ruins of the Temple of Ice-Cream, the Pastel Battlestar, and, you know, some ruins…

BUSY LEE IS BUSILY

Okay, let’s catch up:

It’s been a mad period for both appearances and writing recently. Having parted company with my previous agent over concerns regards a lack of communication, I’ve spent the last couple of week editing Father Muerte & the Divine in order to send it to an agent who caught me on the hop by requesting to see the full manuscript earlier than expected: a good sign, I hope, but let’s never line-edit and input 200+ pages of a manuscript in such short order again….

Working so hard on that project threw my timing out for September, which meant that I’ve spent this weekend blasting my way through The Daughters of John Anglicus, a 5000 word short story I need to deliver by the end of the month. I’ve always enjoyed writing short stories in compressed time frame: there’s something about an impending deadline that’s good for stoking the crucible of creation, but it’s no damn good for family time: I own Luscious and the kids some serious attention over the coming weekends to repay their indulgence. This week will be taken up with editing and getting it to the market, and then I’ll finally have a chance to draw breath and look at what to do next: with Nanowrimo looming in November I may consider revisiting the 15 000 words I’ve completed on Cirque and pushing that towards the 50K I think it’ll take to visit that YA project.

I’ve also been oot and aboot doing the talking-head-type thing: in August I revisited my old stomping grounds at Curtin University to deliver my annual guest lecture, and Book Week saw me taking to the stage at Churchlands Senior High School to talk about my work, idea generation and the art of entering short story competitions. And when I say ‘take to the stage’ I wasn’t kidding: have a gander at the theatre the school boasts.

No pressure, right? It was a great day, to be honest: I spoke to three groups of incredibly engaged, fun kids, and discovered that one group had been using Luscious’ story The Hanging Tree as part of their studies, so I was able to tickle her sense of history when I got home. 
And I’ve not been the only one: Master 9 has been King of the Kids in the last fortnight, hanging out with famous author types and generally being windswept and interesting. Back on the 9th he was an invited guest at a public talk by his literary hero, Andy Griffiths, after cool frood and AHWA buddy Mark Smith-Briggs organised a personal invitation in the wake of a bad bout of Rumination Syndrome. Master 9 had been one place in line from hearing Griffiths speak at last year’s Perth Writers Festival, only for a couple of kids to cut in and leave him at the head of the queue when the door closed. To make it up to him we bought a copy of Griffiths’ The 39 Story Treehouse, which he devoured in double quick time, then went out and bought for himself The 13 Story Treehouse and The 26 Story Treehouse, reading all three to the point of destruction. Until that point, he’d enjoyed reading (more on this in a moment) but hadn’t been a reader. Those novels changed him. A five minute meeting alone with Griffiths, as well as a signed gift of the new The 52 Story Treehouse just about counts as the gift of the century: it hasn’t left his bedside since, and has been read, as of today, no less than 5 times.
How is that grin?

A signed copy. Boy Geek Heaven!

A boy and his hero. A wonderful moment to witness.
Now, Griffiths’ ever expanding Treehouse may be the series that gave Master 9 his obsessive love of reading, but the book that taught him how to read was Norman Jorgensen and James Foley’s The Last Viking. Indeed, the reason he was at last year’s Writers Festival at all was to meet James as he launched his book In the Lion. So imagine his insane delight when the day after meeting Griffiths, we took him to the State Library for the launch of Jorgensen and Foley’s newest, The Last Viking Returns, and he got to meet Norman in person for the first time, as well as catch up with James again, both of whom treated him like an old friend. Norman and James are just about the nicest guys in the West, and the way they both took time out of their being-famous duties to catch up with him was absolutely heart-warming to see. And was my boy bouncing like a crazy thing? What do you reckon? The paper Viking helmet he coloured and cut out on the night is up on his wall, and the book itself hasn’t left his bedside table since he got home: he averages one session every two days of lying back on his bed, thumbing through it at his leisure. 
Viking Boyz!

Master 9 meets the lovely Norman Jorgensen. 
That is the smile of a very content and happy young man.
His three literary heroes, in 24 hours. Not a bad two days’ work 🙂
And then there’s Crimescene WA, the crime writing convention Luscious and I will be attending in three weeks’ time. I’ll be presenting a workshop on writing settings, and assisting Lyn deliver a presentation on strong women in crime fiction, which has required watching a metric fuckload of Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Girl With Dragon Tattoos in Fiery Ants Nest, and, in the coming weeks, Number One Ladies Detective Agency episodes, as well as trying to plough through the accompanying novels as best we can. Enjoyable, time-consuming, work, but frankly, it beats what I do during the working week. 
So that’s where I’ve been: racing around, desperately trying to keep myself immersed in the writing world that means an increasing amount to me as my work life becomes less and less satisfying, and Real Life ™ presents an unending series of complications. There’s been a family funeral in there, and money worries, and yet more issue with maintaining my crumbling house, but the truth is, it’s the writing life that keeps my psyche above water these days (apart from my relationship with Luscious, who is the only person I can turn to at any moment, sure in the knowledge of pure and instant understanding). Keeping in touch with the writing world is a constant struggle, but it’s the one I want to make.
Who’d have a peaceful life?

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, 9-YEAR OLD EDITION

Ah, well. It was worth a try.

Running order, day one.

After scant few months of a return to the school system, we’ve pulled Master 9 out and have re-commenced home-schooling. While he is currently not vomiting as often as he has in the past, it is still an issue, and his need to leave the classroom several times a day has become a real social issue– while it’s possible to ask 9 year old children to understand a peer’s health issues, it’s not possible to stop them staring every time he goes in and out, and a teacher can’t be asked to stop and wait for him to return before continuing with the lesson.

The overwhelming feeling that he has become the class weirdo, coupled with stress over the feeling that he’s falling behind simply because he has to try to catch up with what’s been said in his absence several times a day, has taken its toll. The number of sick days was starting to rise, the number of tearful mornings had just about become 1:1, the teacher conferences were happening weekly. With all the good will in the world– and his school had the very best of good will towards his situation– it just wasn’t working. No 9 year old should suffer stress and depression. Master 9 clearly was.

So we’ve withdrawn him, to give him a sense of power over his schooling, and a sense of equilibrium about himself and his social situation. It was a nice attempt, but ultimately, until he’s well enough to last a full school day, every school day, without being sick, the school system can’t make itself flexible enough to fit him and we can’t risk his progress any more than it’s already being compromised.

Back to work, at the dining room table alone.

I’m creased with fear for the little bugger: fear over his social progress; fear over his educational progress; fear over his mental and physical states; fear for his future. Hopefully, giving him the space and time to work at his own pace again, without the added stress of fitting into someone else’s agenda and with some semblance of control over the social interactions he engages in will help him cope with the demands his Rumination Syndrome places on all aspects of his existence.

There is no ‘simple’ in his life anymore. All we can do is simplify.

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, PART TEN

Over at Facebook, I was tagged in a meme that required me to list three things that made me grateful, every day for three days.

So I thought I’d list them here, too.


  1. I’m grateful for my art. It has provided me with friendships, income, travel opportunities, and was the vehicle by which I escaped the soul-destroying depths off despair I was slowly being crushed by while working in the Public Service. I’ll never be famous, I’ll never be remembered, and I’ll never be considered at even the middle of the tree, but my art has been the thing that has kept me from disappearing into the obscure midst of my mediocre family tree, and I’m grateful.
  2. I’m grateful for a reasonable income. Yes, we struggle, and we juggle finances on a fortnightly basis, but I’m aware that we do so from a level of decent comfort. My children go to a good school, my wife is able to study, essentially, full time, and we have room to both expand our horizons and entertain our hobbies & indulgences. We never suffer, and having both come from backgrounds of grinding poverty, Lyn and I have only ever wanted our children to appreciate a good upbringing.
  3. I’m grateful for the respect of my peers. I get little of it at work, and I rarely feel like an author doing good work, so when a fellow artist expresses their respect or admiration for the work I do then it usually comes as an enormous, and humbling, surprise, because, to be quite honest, I generally don’t know what I do to merit it. I’ve undervalued my work for so long– it’s only in the last fortnight, for example, that I’ve decided to set a minimum fee for appearances, despite doing them regularly for the last 12 years– that I’m always a little stunned when others do value it. And grateful, because sometimes, I doubt I’d go on without it.
  4. I’m grateful for my readers. Despite all the mechanical hoo-ha-ra that goes into writing, ultimately it comes down to entertaining a stranger with the power of your imagination and your words. Anybody who comes back for a second helping, or who picks up my work because they like the cut of my snippets, is someone who has chosen to invest their time and imagination into my maunderings. It’s a weird kind of long-distance love affair of the mind, and I’m thankful to all who take it on.
  5. I’m grateful for my children. As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve read this Facebook page for long enough– by which I mean half a day or more– my kids constantly entertain me, fill me with wonder, and enrich my life by keeping me innocent, impish and focused on doing good for others who need me in their life. Whether it be my naturally-arrived Miss 12 and Master 9, or my inherited bonus kids Cassie, Aiden and Blake, granddaughter Little Miss 2, grandson Little Man
  6. I’m grateful for the quickness of my mind. I’ve mentioned before that my father’s mind is failing, and it’s killing me to watch a charming, erudite, quick-witted man struggle for words and concepts he used to fling about like gossamer. I love being funny, I love being deliberately unfunny to spark a funny exchange, I love to tease, to argue, to explain, to build worlds and concepts out of nothing more than my vocabulary and my ability to knit words into never before-seen shapes and tastes. All my other gifts belong to the people who bestow them upon me. This is the only thing I have going for me that is purely mine. If it ever begins to desert me, I don’t know what I’ll do.
  7. The care and love shown to Master 9 during his illness by people who have no other investment in it than they are his teachers, or our friends. From just-because gifts, to messages of support, to structuring his classroom, people have gathered round him for the 14 months of his illness and provided him with an atmosphere of caring and support that has done wonders for his morale and self-esteem. To Kris, Kim,Grant, Lilysea, Mark and countless others, my gratitude.
  8. Free education. I went to a shitty High school in the 80s, when my pre-Child Support Agency divorced mother raised two teenage boys and covered a mortgage on a single mother’s pension and a $30 a month in child support payments, and thanks to a nominally free education system I still managed to claw my way through 4 years of University. Now, it’s going to cost tens of thousands of dollars to send my children to a good high school. Much as I would love to do my Master’s degree, I simply can’t afford it. My wife’s attendance at University each semester is a matter of financial negotiation. My eldest sons struggle to hold down shitty part-time jobs and find enough time to attend to their study obligations. If I were starting my educational career today, I’d be working at K-Mart full-time, because that’s the best that people like me could have hoped to afford. I’m grateful that free education enabled me– and subsequently, my children– to escape a lower-class existence through education.
  9. A stable political system. Yes, Tony Abbott and his Ant-Hill Mob of witless cronies are a blight on our culture, and yes, we can argue back and forth about the relative merits of our chosen allegiances until we’re blue in the nads. But nobody shot at me today, and I own my house, and my children are safe and my wife can wear whatever she wants and get herself a tertiary education, and any meal I’ve missed since I was at Uni has been by choice, and I have freedom of travel, speech, religion and thought. And I’m an artist, and a well-paid member of the permanent workforce. I’ve never been conscripted, I’ve never fought in a war, or against my own people. I’ve never been gaoled for my beliefs, tortured, or disappeared. My neighbours don’t spy on me. I’m safe, and warm, and comfortable and educated. And I’m grateful.


And, things being what they are, here’s a little bonus extra grateful content:

10. Above all else, I am grateful for the presence of Luscious Lyn in my life. We have been together almost twelve years now, which boggles me to think of, and in that time we have faced innumerable struggles, traumas and hardships, but throughout it all she has been the pivot around which our family revolves. She has brought me unparallelled joy, belief and support, and whatever happiness I have managed to gather unto myself has been, in large part, because she is beside me, pointing me always towards positivity and joy. I cope, and occasionally flourish, because of her. I am a better person because of her.

And for that we should *all* be grateful.

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.


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.