2018: BUY ONE YEAR, GET THREE FOR FREE

Or, at least, that’s how it feels.

Let’s recap, shall we?

At the start of the year, I was a month away from being released from a job that had turned sour and toxic. I was vastly overweight, crippled by stress, and deeply unhappy. I hadn’t completed a full piece of writing in well over 2 years, and hadn’t completed a novel in closer to four (and that one had been stillborn: a melange of bad writing and awkward choices that simply refused to come to life and be sellable).

Then, of course, we moved to Karratha. Luscious took up a position teaching at the High School. I tra-la-la’d out of the job with nary a look back (How well was I respected? My going away gift was a book of art from the Kimberleys (I was going to the Pilbara, several hundreds of kilometres away), and my Director, who knew me since my first day, could only comment on the fact that I occasionally swore when asked to make a speech about my achievements over the 8 years of my time there). I started teaching relief at Luscious’ school a day or two a week, sat down to write, and opened up my recipe books and my copy of House Husbanding for Dummies.

How’s that worked out for me? Wouldn’t you like to know?

Continue reading “2018: BUY ONE YEAR, GET THREE FOR FREE”

5 FOR FRIDAY: SUICIDE SQUAD

So I was watching an episode or two of Young Justice with Lord 13, because I am a grown-up who can watch anything he likes and Luscious was in the house and she hates Teen Titans Go!. We came across an episode involving an incursion into Belle Reve Prison, home of the Suicide Squad and hub of the Amanda Waller empire. Except, in this incarnation, Belle Reve was just a prison, and Waller was just the warden, and frankly, I was pissed.

I’m a loooooong-time fan of the Squad. I liked them before they were cool and popular, nyer nyer. I’m still bitching about Bronze Tiger not being in the movie. And Lord 13 is always up for a conversation about comics and superheroes. So we got to jawing about the Squad, which, naturally, turned into a discussion about who we would have in our Suicide Squad comic, because we are boys and whenever two or more boys shall discuss comics, the conversation will turn this way. It’s the law.

So we decided to share today’s 5 for Friday post, and present to you 5 characters we would include in our respective versions of the Suicide Squad

5 FOR FRIDAY: WELCOME TO TASK FORCE X

Continue reading “5 FOR FRIDAY: SUICIDE SQUAD”

DE NIRO STARTED OUT FLOGGING CARS AND STALLONE FAILED TO MUG WOODY ALLEN…

So Lord 13 has set his heart on becoming a professional actor. Why? Because his media teacher approached him last year and invited him to be DOP on a film production he was putting together. Then, as they were getting on the bus to the location shoot in Albany, the actor playing ‘Ben’ revealed he didn’t have his permission slip. The teacher pointed to Lord 13, and asked “Can you learn the lines on the bus?”……

Participants and parents saw the rough cut at a premiere event at the school late last year, but the finished cut has now been uploaded to the Baldivis Film Academy youtube site. We actually had to intervene to stop them all working out ways to fly Lord 13 back down to Perth during term to return in the sequel……

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.

NOT RUDE, AND GINGER. AND NINE.

Our youngest son turns 9 today. I can’t tell you how many times over the years we’ve not been sure he’d make it. It’s been a struggle for him every step of the way: from several major miscarriage concerns before he was born, to multiple operations, to his current illness, he has battled and overcome more in his few years than I have faced in my 43. He has to be home schooled, he can’t join any sporting teams, he has few opportunities to make friends and undergo the kinds of social interactions children of his age should be taking for granted.

And yet: he is the brightest, happiest, most clued-in 9 year old kid I’ve ever met: quick of thought and wit, with a boundless fund of optimism and goodwill, and a robust personality strong enough that he is unafraid to face down adults and claim “That’s your opinion, but mine is different” when we disagree over subjects of taste and perception. A huge fan of Doctor Who and Lego and Batman Beyond; a lover of music as wide-ranging as Black Sabbath and John Dowland; a writer of haiku and book reviews; budding scientist; amateur paleontologist; dinosaur freak; obsessive watcher of Gary’s Mod videos; opinionated Star Trek- DS9 fan; maths lover; science nut; Iron Man fan and all round rock ’em sock ’em rough and tumble human spider boy’s boy.

In short: he’s brilliant.

Happy birthday, beautiful boy.

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

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

So let’s catch up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MANFLU 2: THIS TIME IT’S TERRIFYING.

Typical, isn’t it? As one rises, another falls……

Recently, I blogged about the problems our youngest son has been experiencing with something called Rumination Syndrome, a condition which causes him to vomit in excess of twenty or thirty times a day. It was a post touched with more than a little despair.

About a week ago, a good friend of Lyn’s visited for the first time a while, and offered a potential management solution: Lyn’s friend has been suffering from cancer, and has responded by ‘going raw’- eating nothing but raw food, avoiding anything that has been processed, and eliminating all possible toxins from her system. I’m happy to say that it seems to have been working, but one of the things she mentioned to Lyn was a method of raising the alkali levels of our boy’s stomach: a freshly prepared juice of green apples, celery, and mint, with a bit of beetroot every now and again for added flavour.

It was worth a shot. Fuck it, at this point just about anything is worth a shot.

In the last 4 days, his vomiting has decreased to little more than half a dozen times a day. On occasion, we’ve even managed to get him into bed without having to change his bedding. This, my friends, is a major breakthrough. He still has episodes– it’s possible he’ll never not have episodes– but for the moment we seem to have found a temporary abeyance, and it’s enabled us to visit the touring Egyptian exhibition at the museum, travel to the WA Scale Model Expo, and generally travel around town without having to pack a change of clothes and a three-pack of sickbags just to go food shopping.

He can do things like this now.

Which is just as well, because since last Thursday….

Luscious woke up with chest pains on Friday, which became a trip to the doctors, which became an ambulance ride to the hospital with a suspected heart attack after a dodgy ECT result. A terrifying eighteen hours later she was released back into the wild with a diagnosis of muscular spasms so sever that they had affected the ECT monitor, but nonetheless, we’ve been edgy and clingy ever since: she’s still in bed three days later, and any but the simplest of movements leaves her wincing in pain.

And our daughter has turned lung-hacking coughs into a diagnosis of bronchitis, so she’s lying on the bed next to her mother watching Pretty in Pink and other assorted girlie movies for the next two to three days at least.

I am, literally, the last Batt standing.

CAN’T ANYBODY IN MY FAMILY JUST GET FUCKING MANFLU?

First my wife dies of an infection that was, quite literally, a one-in-a-million occurrence.

Then my mother, after a ten year battle with three different types of cancer, finally falls victim to GANT, a type of cancerous tumour so rare there had been less than 50 recorded cases in the US when she was diagnosed, and that delay in diagnosis was a significant factor in her inability to combat it. (Yesterday would have been her 72nd birthday. So it goes.)

More recently, my father is diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia, a somewhat obscure form of lobar degeneration resulting in a loss of linguistic ability and semantic dementia.

About four months ago, our youngest son started throwing up. Twenty, thirty, sometimes more than forty times a day. Every day. From the moment he woke up to the moment he fell asleep. He hasn’t been able to go to school. He can’t swim at the beach or the pool the way he loves to. We can’t plan a trip of more than half an hour’s duration without making sure we have a supply of sick bags handy. For four months we battered our heads against doctors, specialists, emergency rooms, constant referrals to hospitals that took one look at him and sent him home with a shrug and a command to keep him hydrated until a specialist could look at him….

Last Wednesday night, Luscious and I snapped. We packed two overnight bags and, as soon as he woke on Thursday morning, Luscious drove him to Princess Margaret Hospital, the children’s hospital in Perth, where she plonked herself down in the waiting room and refused to move while the staff watched his sick bag fill up. When it was so full it burst, what do you know? They admitted him.

This is what it takes to get action from the health system in my State. The butt-covering only stops when they can’t ignore the vomit dripping onto their carpet.

24 hours later, we had a diagnosis.

He’s suffering from Rumination Syndrome, a condition with no known cure but an 85% of positive response to treatment. In short, his body has tricked itself into regurgitating food for further digestion, and all we can do is attempt to train the associated swallowing and breathing muscles back to ‘normal’ behaviours in the hope that muscular reflex will limit the occurrence of the regurgitation. It could take months, possibly years, and there’s a good chance he’ll never be free of it completely. We’ve an idea about some of the potential triggers, and we’re combating them as much as we can, but that’s little consolation when we have to change his sheets twice a night because he’s thrown up on them, and his home-schooling takes place between vomiting attacks and medication for the constant burning in his throat and gut.

This is a kid who was almost not born at all– he almost miscarried on several occasions– and then was born so cross-eyed he needed corrective surgery to stop him going blind before he was five. He’s had more surgery at eight than I have at almost 43, spent more time in hospital than I ever have, whose calmness in the face of needles, MRIs, and invasive procedures is so pronounced that nurses comment on in it in genuine wonder, and the reason is simply that he’s so damn used to it that it’s as normal to him as picking up a book.

Just for once, couldn’t he get a good old-fashioned manflu?

AND NEW WORK BEGINS…

One of the major issues with our son’s illness is the length of time it takes him to settle down and go to sleep in the evening. We’ve become accustomed to changing the sheets because of a vomiting attack, of numerous visits to the kitchen for a drink of water to relieve his burning throat, of interrupting our work to comfort him and help him settle long after we’ve tucked him in for that first, futile time. It’s all part of trying to manage his illness, and trying to give him some small quality of life while we wait for the medical fraternity to get of its collective arse and do something.

This weekend, as a way of slowing down his rocket-powered personality and smoothing the transition between it’sdaytimelet’splayeverything’ssobrightandfunanddaytimeandplayandyaaaaaaay! and sleep, we gathered the kids onto the bed, and the four of us began to tell each other a story. I started off, passed on to Miss, 11, then Master 8, and finished with Luscious. We’ll do it again tonight, and tomorrow, and so on, until we get bored and one of us ties it off, then we’ll probably start another one. Bedtime has become fraught lately: it’s a nice way to settle us all down, and the kids love our authorial careers so much it gives them a real tickle to be a part of it.

Only thing is, I liked what I came up with so much, I’ve decided to make it my next project. With Luscious’ and the kids blessing, and with Magwitch and Bugrat now with the agent, Amelia Jonathan Frankenberg will be the kids book I work on while I’m editing my next adult book, Father Muerte & The Divine.

Here’s last night’s opening:

In a perfectly normal neighbourhood, in a perfectly normal house, lived a perfectly normal couple, and two perfectly normal children.
And the third, whose name was Amelia Jonathon.
Amelia Jonathon was almost perfectly normal. Perfectly normal in that she loved to run and jump and throw balls and read comic books and fart and eat custard like any other normal child. And perfectly normal in that he hated broccoli and needles and dentists and grounding and cleaning up and baths like any other normal child. And almost, because Amelia Jonathon was a girl all the way down the left half of her body and a boy all the way down the right half of his body.
On the morning in question, Amelia Jonathon got out of bed like she always did and washed her face and brushed his teeth, and dressed in her best skirt and his favourite hoodie and went into the kitchen to make breakfast. Today, she decided to have her favourite, which was cornflakes and also toast, which was his favourite. So she warmed a slice of bread in the toaster and spread it with Vegemite, then poured cornflakes on top and covered it with milk. And when she was finished he went to the fridge and poured a glass of his favourite milk and her favourite pineapple juice and finished it off in two long swallows, then faced the day with a smile and a burp and decided to hunt for treasure.

MY CHILD IS A FREAK BUT THEY WILL REMEMBER HIS NAME

Dad, come into my bedroom.
I have a fifty percent chance of this being a good thing.
What is it, kiddo?
It’s an early surprise Father’s Day death robot!
An early surprise Father’s Day death robot. This would imply a ‘when you expect it’ surprise Father’s Day death robot…..
That’s cool, dude.
Look inside!

It’s being driven by a Dalek!
Because there are days when being a Dalek isn’t just isn’t death-robotty enough
That’s brilliant, son.
Love you, Dad!
Love you too, son.
You have no idea how much I love you, son.

DELICACY, ETHEREALITY, THE BUTTERFLY WINGS OF THE SOUL

As part of Connor’s home-schooling I’ve been teaching him haiku. It’s a wonderful way to learn imagery and active language, and to teach him to consider the weight of a word before using it: when space is limited, everything has to count.

His first few efforts were simple things, but yesterday, sitting in the library at Murdoch University where we were using my rostered day off to indulge in a home schooling day trip, he cracked the active-language barrier, and gave me this one:

Bony flaming wings
slaughtering humans for food
Fire-breathing reptile.

The delicacy of thought, with the bloodthirsty gusto of the 8 year old. What’s not to love?

BOWING TO THE INEVITABLE, OVER A BUCKET

As I’ve mentioned previously, our youngest son has been battling a condition known as Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome for the better part of three months. It’s disrupted his home life, blown his school attendance out of the water, and generally consigned him to a never-ending rotation of doctors, specialist, chiropractors, shamans, witch doctors, faith healers, and boogeymen.

Yesterday was the first day back at school after their winter break for most kids in Western Australia, and Master 8 had his heart set on joining them. He’d set a personal goal of having his vomiting under control enough to attend: CVS it can be managed, if not completely eliminated, at least until some magic point where he ‘grows out of it’. All he needed to do was have a run whereby he stayed vomit-free between 8am and 3pm, and we were all set to send him back. His bag was packed, he was full of chatter about catching up with friends, he had a project he’d been working on he wanted to show the class…

Yeah, you know where this is heading.

Last night, we gathered on our bed and had us a family meeting– Master 8, his Mum, and me. And we’ve decided that it’s time to formalise the teaching arrangement that’s been forced upon us over the last 12-odd weeks. From now until the condition clears, at the minimum, we’ll be formally home schooling him. Even if he went back to school, the chances of him passing Year 3 were touch and go. More time away will only confirm the need to repeat. At home, he’ll get the attention, focus and targeted goal-setting that will give him the best chance to continue his education with the minimum of disruption. 10 puke-breaks a day are more easily accommodated when you’re sat round the kitchen table with your Mum.

There’s a lot of running around to be done: associations to be contacted; permissions signed; forms and letters and probably blood, sperm and third-eye aqueous humour samples to be given; but it’s the right decision, and gives him a chance to have a normal schooling life that takes his condition into account.

Thankfully, he’s a boy with a sense of adventure, and he’s set himself to see the possibilities in the arrangement– ‘school schools’ don’t hit the zoo, the beach, the museum or the public libraries anywhere near as much as home schools do, so he tells us….

Sometimes, wanting the best for your children makes your chest too tight.

HEAD POPPING UP LIKE A NERVOUS MEERKAT

Technology continues to defy us at the Batthaim: the two weeks of radio silence promised us by our new ISP is stretching towards its third week, and customer support continues to be a contradiction in terms. Luckily, I have five minutes of free access via our son doing something clever that involves my phone, a modem, and a pentacle on the dining room floor, so hey presto! Blog post.

Rather than give updatery goodness in self-contained pockets as per usual, let’s just rattle a long one off and hope we cover everything. To whit:

HEALTH IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER.

By which you know I mean this son of a bitch:

I’ve blogged recently about my Dad, and the problems he’s been having with his memory. Well, turns out he has a thing, and that thing is called Primary Progressive Aphasia. Put simply, he’s losing his capacity for words, which will eventually result in a loss of all verbal function, as a result of his brain physically shrinking inside his head. It’s permanent, essentially non-treatable, and will talk a long, slow, terrifying 7 or 8 years to have full effect. As Dad tells me, if I point to a desk, he might be able to tell me it’s a desk, or he might know it’s that wooden thing you sit behind on the thing when you do work and stuff, and there’s probably a word to describe the thing, but sorry, he simply doesn’t know it. My Dad’s a charming man, funny, intelligent, articulate. All that’s going to go away, in front of his eyes.

And our youngest, the Mighty Master 8, has been throwing up consistently for the last fortnight unable to keep down solid foods of any kind. Initial diagnosis was that a food allergy had burned a hole in his stomach lining, so he went on a liquid diet while doctors extracted 5 vials of blood and ran every allergy test they could think of. All of which came back negative. We’re now at the stage where he’s even throwing up the jelly he’s allowed to eat, and we’ve progressed to therapists, specialists, and even a chiropractor. Updates will be posted as we find things out, but right now, Lyn’s exhausted, he’s exhausted, and everyone’s trying to make the best of it while being worried like worried people.

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE WRITER

So, last weekend, everyone in the Australian SF Universe besides Lyn and myself attended the Continuum convention in Melbourne, having travelled there by rickshaw from Canberra’s Conflux convention, which they also all attended and we didn’t.

I’m not normally that fussed about missing Cons. I have enjoyed the eastern States ones I’ve attended, and would like to attend more, but I’m a guy with a large family, larger mortgage, and a day job that allows me little time off for extended trips. Plus I’m pretty much always skint. So, you know, I’m comfortable with the idea that it’s never going to happen. But this year it really bummed me, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s just loneliness build up. Writing communities in the eastern states seem to be quite tight-knit, whereas my experience of the Perth community is that it’s far-flung and tends not to gather all that often, and I’m ambivalent about the local Cons for the most part.

I’m also in an odd place, writing-wise. My agent is in the US, and has a large roster so doesn’t contact unless he has something worth talking about: a sale, or a contract or whatnot. He doesn’t get in touch to tell me he’s hopeful. Which is fine: I knew that going into the relation ship, and accepted it, so I’m aware that the two projects I have with him will be discussed when they either hit pay dirt or he releases them back to me. My publisher is in the UK, and we’ve formally reached the end of our contract: I’ve delivered everything I was contracted to deliver, and they’ve done everything with it they said they were going to.

But that kind of leaves me in a limbo on non-communication: I’m not talking to anyone right now, for the first time in about 2 years, and it feels weird and unsettling. The only actual writing I’m doing is an 8k novella for a speculative project that won’t net me any money but will expose me to the innards of electronic publishing, and everything else is editing, which i find a very insular and isolating part of the writing process.

Maybe that’s why having my Facebook page clogged up with pictures of shiny happy writer types drinking and laughing together has given me such a case of the Thierry Ennuis lately. And maybe that’s why we’re turning the kids over to their grandparents this weekend, and heading out of town for three days: Lyn needs a break from full-time carer duty, we both need to feel like writers, and so Margaret River is the site of the first ever…..

BATTCON 13

Yep, Battcon 13, the inaugural Convention of Writing Battersbys, with twin guests of honour Lyn and Me. Taking place in the spa-suite and bar of a Margaret River hotel. Here’s the draft program:

FRIDAY
7pm: So this is Margaret River, huh? Where’s the Bar?
Late: Sho this Margit Riv, ishit? Whesh my fucking room?

SATURDAY

8-ish. Maybe: Breakfast?
9am: Writing.
1pm: Suppose We’d better have some lunch.
3pm: After-lunch writing—does it really exist?
3.30pm-5.30pm: The spa culture, and how much wine is appropriate while in one.
6pm: Round-table discussion—is this meal really worth 40 bucks, and can we take the bar back to the room?
8pm: The role of alcohol in creative thinking
Late: Whesh my fucking room? Oh crap, I’m in it.

SUNDAY

8-ish: Breakfast? Bollocks.
9am: Breakfast with the authors.
10am: Okay, time to Start Writing!—Ways to kick-start that writing project you’ve put off all weekend
1pm: Authorial lunch and wine-tasting.
3pm: Okay, time to Start Writing!—Ways to kick-start that writing project you’ve put off all weekend
6pm: Round-table discussion—You’ll never be a top level author with that attitude, at least not until we open another bottle.
8pm: Barley or the Grape? Creative dichotomies in a liquid culture
Late: Sleeping in the spa: a shyminium… shimilimpim…. Shlymfucking talk! About… where’s my bed?

MONDAY

8-ish: Breakfast. Absolutely breakfast.
10am: Check out.
10.30am: last minute shopping and stocking up on wine.
12pm: Lunch or leave in time to pick the kids up from school?—a debate
12.05pm: Lunch
1pm: The art of phoning the children’s grandparents
4.30pm: Kids, grandparents, and apologies: an author’s guide
6pm: Dead Dog party. 

We wouldn’t be doing it, with Master 8’s health the way it is, if the kids’ grandparents weren’t insistent we do, and we didn’t trust them so implicitly, but they are, and we do, and the break is most necessary. So we’ll be seeing you Tuesday, by which time Connor will be fully fixed, the internet will be returned to the Batthaim, I’ll be a world-famous author with publishers pounding on my door demanding I work for them, Tony Abbott will have drowned in a vat of his own pus, unicorns will roam the high places eating Jackson’s curse and shitting rainbows, Forest will have found a loophole in the rules and been awarded permanent EPL status, and I’ll weigh 80 kilograms and have all my hair back.

Right?




MEMORIES OF A THIRTY-THREE DOLLAR FESTIVAL

For the first time in an almost unbelievable twelve years I upped and hied myself to the Perth Writers Festival this last weekend. Twelve years is a long time in politics and writers festivals: the last time I attended it was held in the quaint and relatively compact confines of the Fremantle Writers Centre, and we all sat under the trees in groups of about twenty and listened to whatever was put in front of us because, quite honestly, programmes were just something that happened to other people. Since then, it’s been swallowed by the corporate maw of the Perth International Arts Festival and moved to the rather more lush and expansive grounds of the University of Western Australia. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s fucking enormous.

The Festival runs for three days, and having some time off work for writah-dahlinking, Luscious Lyn and I managed to attend two of them: a day to ourselves on the very grown up Friday, and in the company of our 20 and 8 year old sons on the Family Fun Day two days later. And what we saw… well…

What we saw has changed things, and I’m not yet quite sure how to quantify what they changed. But somewhere along the line, something inside of me went ping, and although I’m not sure exactly what has changed, still I knew things have.

Make sense?

It started early: at the very first session we attended, the very first session of the very first day– “Boys Behaving Badly”, an examination of sex, mysogyny and manhood. I wasn’t as much interested in the subject as I was in the speakers, because one of the authors speaking was John Doust, and John was my mentor when I first started stand-up comedy way back in 1992. Even back then, John talked of writing a novel loosely based upon his lifetime experiences, and he’s gone on to write two. I wanted to hear him speak, to see him in action after many years out of touch. And he looked fine, and happy, and he certainly sounded content with the stories he was telling and the current shape of his career. But as I watched him, something started ticking inside of me, and I left the tent in rather more pondering a mood than I was expecting.

And then I sat and watched a panel discussion on ‘place’, and observed the convenor and the two mainstream novelists on the panel treat the crime novelist with suspicion and barely-concealed ambivalence– admittedly, he was a giant arse, but that wasn’t all of it. And the ticking got a little bit louder.

And then we trooped into the Octagon Theatre with hundreds of other acolytes to watch the big ticket item of the day– and, arguably of the Festival– the reason why the title of this blog is only a paraphrasing and not an outright steal of that David Bowie song– the 16-bucks-a-ticket-plus-booking-fee discussion on writing between China Meiville and Margaret Attwood. I had hoped for a lightsaber duel, a battle of wits so quick that much of it would only be assimilated in retrospect: a bedazzlement; a clash of rapiers; a fireworks show. What I got was a couple of chummy masters sitting back after a bloody good meal, letting out their trouser buttons and calling for the port to be served. It was a different kind of brilliance, a more sedate and leisurely kind, but as it progressed I found myself strangely disappointed.

Part of it was the lack of challenge in the questions asked, either by the audience or by the moderator, an irritating little twerp who had no idea that the role of a facilitator is to get the fuck out the way and let the interesting famous people talk so insisted on blethering his inconsequential and sycophantic opinions like a junior drinks waiter with a word-of-the-day calendar. But there was more to it than that, and it’s at this point where I begin to lose my way: something didn’t sit right with me, and I cannot pin it down. Whether it was the lack of urgency, of challenge, or the comfortable assumption that what these two heavyweights of speculative fiction were discussing– and perpetuating– was not at all linked to furtherance of the speculative genre, I don’t know. Maybe it was just the observation that these two giants of speculative fiction were being feted by so many more attendees than they would have if they’d worn their skiffy badges with trumpeting pride…. All I know right now is that, for me as a career-oriented writer, something changed during that hour, and I’ll be some time sorting it out.

Whatever it was, I came out of that session with different eyes.

It was on this day, also, that I had two very public moments of change, and they were purely ego-based:

“Excuse me, are you Lee Battersby?”

Not once, but twice. One a professional peer I’d never met in the flesh before, one a reader who had attended the Corpse-Rat King launch in 2012 and approached me to ask about the new book. It might be shallow, but thousands of people attend the Festival, including hundreds of writers, and I have never really extended my public self outside of the small SF circle in Perth. For the first time, I walked anonymously through the crowd at a multi-level writing event, and was recognised. And something inside of me ticked a little louder at that point, because something was becoming clearer:

There is an audience out there I have never approached, never tapped into, and the fault is mine. Because while I have always insisted that I see myself as not just an SF writer but a writer, sans prefix, the truth is that I’ve not behaved that way. And it turns out that I haven’t really thought that way. Not really. And walking around that giant Festival, with its multiple tents and splendiferous signage and signing room and bookshop a million bloody miles deep and wide, I felt something I haven’t felt at an SF con in years: I really, really wanted to belong to this. I wanted to take my place on the stage, be acknowledged as a peer, a fellow worthy. I wanted to step out of my rock pool and go swimming in the deep, deep waters beyond.

What this new understanding means, and what I do with it, I don’t know yet. What it means for my career, and how I market myself and my work, I’m not sure– after all, I’ve just finished my second fantasy novel, pitched a third, and sent the outlines of an entire new fantasy series to my agent. But my capacity for evolution remains latent, and I think I need to work out how to excite it.

More contemplation is required.

Come Sunday, and I could relax and play Dad: the day was all about Master 8 and introducing him to a side of the writing world he had never experienced. He understands that Mum and Dad are writers: he’s seen our work on the brag shelf, and has seen all the fuss surrounding the publication of The Corpse-Rat King, but this was his chance to immerse himself in a world of writers at his level, while Lyn and I got to walk around behind him and smile like indulgent parents who knew the secret.

And did he do so? Did he bloody what!

The day was a wonder, and included a less than formal Perth SF Writers picnic in the sunken garden attended by a bunch of creme de la creme types like Stephen Dedman, Juliet Marillier, Katy Kell and Daniel Simpson; and the beautiful surprise of bumping into Lorraine Horsley, one of my closest University pals who I travelled to Kalgoorlie to see married in 1992 and hadn’t seen since– even though we were heading in different directions to support different people, the few minutes we spent together were an absolute joy. But the day had two superb highlights, and they both changed not only my little boy’s life but the way our whole family views things:

Last one first: Ten Tiny Things is a picture book by Meg McKinlay and Kyle Hughes-Odgers, and it’s based on a sweet and simple concept that Meg explained during their presentation– that slowing down and taking the time to truly examine your surroundings can lead you to discover small and rare moments of beauty and surprise that can change the way you see the world. There’s a blog associated with the book, and Meg urged everyone to visit it, and post photos of the tiny, surprising things we saw next time we took the time to search.

Master 8 was entranced by the presentation, and come Monday morning we all walked to school together with the express purpose of exploring as we went. You can see the results on the Ten Tiny Things blog, and we’ll be doing this regularly. Having weened ourselves away from the TV in recent days, these family experiences are becoming more and more frequent, and our children are blooming.

But before that, right at the start of the day, he had the kind of experience you dream about giving your kid.

James Foley is the illustrator of one of Master 8’s favourite books: The Last Viking, written by Norman Jorgensen. Foley was presenting his new book on Sunday, In The Lion: we made sure we had a copy and there we were, Master 8 first in line, front and centre, fifteen minutes before Foley started, book held out, asking for an autograph.

He got more than that: Foley drew kids out of the audience to help him act out the book. Master 8 didn’t get the chance to volunteer: he was chosen to play a part. And we got to sit and watch him move from excitement to adulation to outright hero worship, and know that our little boy was no longer someone who liked to read. Thanks to Foley, he was becoming a lover of books.

Fanboy moment. We’ve all been there.
This boy is a dentist, so we can’t show you his face on TV…

How happy? Mighty happy!

Which would have been enough, it really would. But later in the day, something happened that moved this very nice man who treated our son to something a little special up into the very highest ranks of authors I’ve met. Because we were lining up to see another presentation when Master 8 turned around, waved, and said in an excited voice, “Hi James!”

Now, Foley was there with his family, obviously waiting to see the upcoming presentation, and I wouldn’t have faulted him for giving a simple “Hello” back and turning away. But he didn’t. He engaged our son in conversation– sparing us a quick smile but very much concentrating on Master 8– and when the young Master announced “I’m a novelist, too!”… (A quick aside: Master 8 is writing a novel. Apparently. It’s called ‘The Wizards’ and it’s the story of Saruman, Gandalf and Radagast going to a mountain to kill an evil dragon. So far, he’s come up with a title and a picture. That’s as far as it’s got. For ages. Until this weekend, that was as far as he’d thought of it.) …he didn’t say “Oh, yeah?” or smirk, or say “That’s nice” or any of those other hundreds of adult responses to precocious kids that we all know, and see, and give from time to time. Instead, he said four words that changed my little boy’s life.

“Really? What’s it about?”

And at that moment, and for the rest of the day, Master 8 was a novelist. As he said to us on the way home, “I made a fan, and so did he.”

And that was worth everything.

So a weekend of change, it was, although the forms of that change are yet to be discovered. But Lyn’s back writing, and I’m examining my career, and Master 8 wants more than ever to throw himself into Mum and Dad’s world, and one thing I do know is that I want to taste this environment again, and not just as a passive observer. My career has room for growth, room for expansion, and although my roots are solid, there’s a lot of sky to grow into.

Wonder what’s up there?

REMIX MY BRICK

I was observing the kids playing with their Lego collection recently, and noticed that, while Erin 11 has begun to extend her imagination by engaging in connected free builds– creating large scale structures by consistently adding to each one each time she sits down to build– 8 year old Connor contents himself with rummaging around in the minifig box and playing story telling games with the figs.

The world: it grows, and grows…

Nothing wrong with that– after all, Lego is a toy, not a psychological determinator, and there’s really no wrong way to play with it other than the “Let’s see how many pieces we can shove up the dog’s nose” game– but I asked him why he doesn’t play with the bricks, and he replied that there’s too much Lego and he didn’t know where to start.  The kids have approximately 10 000 bricks, and I didn’t realise until he told me that the sheer bulk was just too much for the little guy. He’d never had a chance to learn small scale building techniques before being overwhelmed by the giant pile in front of him, and had no idea where to begin building a base, or frame, or even how to start experimenting with creating shapes. He took one look at that great big mountain of plastic and retreated to  a scale he could deal with: little people, and telling himself stories.

Coincidentally, while searching about for a way to activate the RockLUG Lego group (a Facebook group for people who’d like to see a Lego User Group started South of the Swan River: feel free to join!), I came across the concept of remixing: taking a single Lego set and re-imagining it in as many ways as possible. Now, when I was a kid we weren’t particularly flash, so taking a single Lego set and re-imagining it in as many was as possible was called “playing with Lego”, but somewhere along the line of my own mad dash towards a monster Lego collection I’d forgotten the concept.  It seemed like a great challenge to throw to the group, and a great way to get Master 8 learning some building concepts at a scale he could handle easily.

The set I chose was one he’d had a ball building from the instructions, a small mecha called Kai’s Fire Robot:

Ninja Mecha. Because Lego is all about peace and love and togetherness…
And to test the concept, in a bout of insomnia last night, I had a crack at it myself. So, here’s my proof of concept, for your entertainment. I present the Imperial Rocket Ice Sled, and the Frog Throne of the Ugly Prince:
Now to play with the Young Master, and see what he comes up with. 

UNTRAINED, AND IN CHARGE OF PAINT

So here’s how my job can eat my life:

Australia Day means families. Families mean a family-friendly event. 5000 people on the foreshore, which means hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kids.

Kids means face painting. Ask them. They’ll tell you.

When your face painters pull out three weeks before the event, this can be construed as a problem. It can also be construed as a problem. I know I repeated myself…

Solution: put the call out amongst our local artists. Gather up a crew of volunteers, equip them, train them, stick them in a marquee, open the lines and cross your fingers.

And it worked. Bloody brilliantly, as a matter of fact. But it also meant that I had a car full of face painting kit in my driveway all weekend. Just sitting there, in my car, all painty and kiddy and sitting there.

Come on. What would you do?

In my defence, I only did one each 🙂


Hulk not mad. Hulk just disappointed.

Is it a panda? Is it a skull? Either way, the 10 year old hates it. Five minutes with a wash cloth and…. 

This is me, sticking to writing…

IN WHICH OUR YOUNGEST CHILD WORRIES THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF US….. AGAIN

We had a bit of extra money drop into the account this week, so it was decided, on the way home from work yesterday, to swing into the shop and pick up the Christmas layby. Yes, we had the kids with us, but that wouldn’t be a worry– the stuff you layby is always wrapped up in thick black plastic bags and is pretty damn unidentifiable.

Quick lesson: if you’ve forgotten that you’ve bought your daughter a hula-hoop, she’s gonna notice when they bring it out. Unwrapped.

Bugger.

So we apologise to Erin, and ask her what she wants to do– would she like it now, or would she like to wait until her birthday, knowing that it will be one of her presents?

Before she can reply, we get this from Connor:

“I know! What if we cut her head open, pull her brain out and replace it with another brain so that she doesn’t remember?”

His sister’s reply? “Ummmmm, I think I’ll wait.”

Connor. The problem solving animal.