THIS MAY BE THE LAST THING I EVER WRITE, SO I BETTER MAKE IT A GOOD ONE

Holy Meatballs Mother of Brian, do I ever need this break.

You don’t need to have read too much of this blog in 2015– indeed, there hasn’t been very much of it to read– to know that I’ve felt under the hammer, and pretty much squashed by the hammer, for most of the year to date. Things just haven’t let up for the last 3 months, and between work, editing, family life, moving into a new house, and all the other million and one bits and bobs that strike you in the face as you walk through the days, I’ve become increasingly stressed, and increasingly fragile. Thankfully, I’m beginning to emerge from it, but there are still a few lingering weights, and I need some time out from underneath them.

Edits of Magrit are progressing at what might kindly be called Hella pace: I’ve been over the manuscript 3 times in the last 2 months at the behest of my editor, and I’m reliably informed that there’s only one more before the book will be ready to go to the typesetter. It’s due to be published in early 2016: come to the launch and I’ll happily underline for you the one line remaining from the original manuscript…..

Yeah, it’s a much better book, but we both know you only come here for the comedy kvetching.

I’ve also, out of the insanity of my heart, committed to a new artistic enterprise: namely, building an enormous diorama for a public Lego display in October called, wait for it, Bricktober! The concept is fabulous, if I do say so myself– a shuttle dropping crowds off on a moon surface to visit a shrine to the Unknown Spaceman. Only downside is, the shuttle itself is approximately 4 times bigger than anything I’ve ever built before, never mind the actual shrine. It’s going to look great…… assuming I finish it…… assuming I have the skills…… assuming I haven’t bitten off way more than I can chew……

Yeah, I’m not afraid to admit it: I may have been the
teeeeeeeeensiest bit over-ambitious……

This isn’t even mentioning work, which is, you know, work.

Which is why the next six days are necessary. Because tomorrow, we fly out to Bali for the first time, armed with instructions on how to navigate the Waterbom water park, and which shops in Discovery Mall are best for teenage girl clothes shopping, and when best to take the Night Safari (hint: at night), and me insisting all the while that I want to go to the Archaeology Museum, dammit! and sketchbooks and notepads, and camera, and damned if I don’t intend to come back sun-browned, exhausted, refreshed, recharged, and with enough material to get me writing again and not stopping until the Christmas holidays because fuck it, I’m sick of where I am and who I’ve become and it’s time to get back to getting on with it.

Also, Luscious has never flown overseas, Master 10 was Master 3 Months the last time we flew anywhere for a family holiday, and it’s bloody well time.

I’ve got a Thumbnail Thursday and Fetish Friday posts booked in the interim, but as far as live words go, this is me over and out for the interim. I shall return, with photos, in April.

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.

I HAD THE BEST-LAID PLANS THIS SIDE OF AMERICA

Day job. Writing career. Hobbies. Social media. Family. Wife. Exercise. House maintenance. 

The trick is to keep them all separate. 
Now, here’s the thing: the stresses of my day job, they’ve been bleeding over into my home life. That’s put pressure on my relationship with Luscious, which has bled back into my work life. I’ve been bringing that home with me, which has affected my relationship with my children. Because I’ve been so stressed, I’ve been eating badly, which has affected my ability to exercise, which has affected my weight loss. I’m lethargic, tired and constantly in pain because of it, which has affected my ability to perform the multitudinous house maintenance tasks that need doing. And I’m tired, so I’ve been spending my spare time flaked out in front of the TV or playing stupid Facebook games instead of pursuing the one actual hobby I have that I’ve spent hours and hundreds (I’m not saying thousands, I’m not…) of dollars on over the last couple of years. And spending hours and hours on Facebook and Twitter and blogging. Hours and hours and hours. And hours. 
You notice I’ve not mentioned writing yet?
I’m fat. I’m miserable. I’m in pain. I’m stressed. My time management is for shit. My writing career has stalled to the point where I barely feel able to call it a career anymore. I’m directionless. 
Either this can’t go on, or I can’t.
This can’t go on.
Luscious calculated last night that she’s spent in excess of 200 days on Facebook since she joined 7 years ago. If that’s the case, then I’ve spent more. That’s insane. Simply fucking insane. So here’s the thing:
As of today, the Facebook games are gone. The continuous Facebook posts are gone. TV is relegated to the status of reward for work completed. Blogging will happen once a week– other than my Thumbnail Thursday posts, which take my 5 minutes and aren’t really content, not really, and those things like Goodreads reviews which flick over here automatically. But blogging will happen to a calendar: if I have a lot to say, I’ll say it once a week. If I don’t, I’ll post a picture of a cat or something. Work for everyone else.
I have to exercise. I have to eat well. I have to re-read Booklife and decide whether I really am the low-level journeyman author I’ve drifted into being or whether the career goals I once held are still relevant; and if they are, I have to sit down and put the work into redirecting my career back towards those goals. I have to spend time with my kids. I have to maintain my house. I need to reconnect with my wife and make damn sure that nothing, not a fucking thing, intrudes while I’m doing it.
If you’re here because you’re a friend of mine then you know we’re friends already and we’ll catch up somewhere along the line, and there will be carousing and laughter and starting conversations mid-sentence like we’ve never really been away. And if you’re here because you’ve read and enjoyed my work– or, at least, can recognise a train wreck when you see one– then thank you, I appreciate and relish your company, but if it’s the work that brought you here I’m sure you’ll be happy at the thought that I want to put my head down and bring more of it into the world.
I can’t get rid of my day job. I don’t want to get rid of my wife and my kids. I absolutely want to get rid of the fat and stress and feeling that I’m wasting what few days I have left to me. I want to pursue this Lego hobby that has become an artistic joy to me. And I want to write. I really want to write.
I can’t fit it all in. Something has to go. Until I can find a better balance, it has to be the web.

PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A 70 YEAR OLD

It’s my Dad’s 70th birthday today.

It’s an odd occasion in many ways: as I’ve spoken about before, we have a friendly relationship if not an overwhelmingly close one, and he really is the last link between me and what I think of as my ‘old’ family: that traditional family structure of my birth– my mother is dead, I am estranged from my brother and see no way of going back, I have never been close to any cousins or grandparents and never see them beyond the occasional visit from overseas relations or bumping into each other in the shops, which suits me fine. Dad is it, and even though we live no more than thirty kilometres from each other, we’re far from in each other’s pockets.

I’ve never thought of him as old. Perhaps you never do with parents– I don’t know. Mum died when she was 61, which certainly is not old, so I’ve no experience in the mind set. But there’s no denying that 70 is an age where the average lifespan begins to loom on the horizon: certainly, there’s got to be a point where every year begins to feel like an extra year, one you’ve been granted rather than taken as your right. Or perhaps I overstate the age thing because of my own particular phobias. Either way, I find it difficult to associate my old man with an old man. There’s the understanding, at the back of my vision of him, that one day he’ll be gone and that somewhere along the line I’d better start preparing myself for that eventuality.But not now.

For now, he’s only 70. There’s plenty of kick in the old bugger yet. I’ll drop in on him after work today: the kids have made him cards, and I have a present and a hug for him. We may not be in each other’s pockets, but he’s still my Dad.

Happy birthday.

TRIPPING OUT WITH THE FAM.

A big part of our goals for this year involves getting out and about with the kids and making the most of the region in which we live: the South West of Western Australia is rich with history, natural beauty and cultural heritage, and pretty much all of it is within a three hour drive, which means we can be there by lunch and home in time for tea.

Thanks to the power of an extra-long weekend , Luscious decided to kick start Subject One of Master 9’s upcoming home-schooling year by taking us all out to Fremantle Prison for their daily Doing Time tour, a ninety minute guided tour through the 140-odd year history of the facility.

Ohhhhhh, didn’t we have a lovely daaaayyy….

It’s stunning, not least because the set-up of the building, from the entrance gate through to the museum wing, art gallery and the gaol itself, is utterly unsentimental. Fremantle Prison, as is made clear to visitors, was a punishment prison, not a centre for rehabilitation, and no attempt is made to veer away or whitewash this rather uncomfortable fact. There is no attempt to romanticise the surroundings, or justify the range of sentences carried out within its walls: the yards remain unvarnished and rotting, the cells are presented exactly as they were used throughout the years, and visitors are exposed to the flogging post and execution room in the conditions they were in when sentence was carried out.

In its original condition, the room in which 44 people, including Martha Rendell and Eric Edgar Cooke, met their end.

The history of the prison is, largely, the history of the colony and, eventually, the wider City and State, no less because of the way punishment was carried out: the last person to be flogged in the gaol, for example, received 25 lashes in 1943 as part of his 4th conviction for paedophilia, whereas one of the first recorded floggings was 100 lashes for swearing at the prison chaplain. The highlight of the tour, for me at least, was the prison chapel, where it was easy to see why so many prisoners ended up turning to religion. It was the only stop on the tour that had no bars on the windows, that had any sort of colour on the walls, that had carpet underfoot and didn’t exist purely to crush the spirit and isolate the mind. It was the only part of the entire goal building– the tour, it should be noted, was restricted to those parts occupied by prisoners, and did not include offices or residential sections– where you could see the sky.

The only room with a sky in it.

The kids were wide-eyed throughout: this is a side of history they’ve not been exposed to in any great detail, and between them took well over 100 photos as we went around (hooray for digital technology!). Master 9 was one of the few tourists to ask a question of the guide: What did the arrows on prison uniforms come from. For the record, the arrows on prison uniforms were not specific to the prison system. They are used to indicate ‘property of the British Government’, and were used on a wide number of objects. They are still used in the British military and civil materiel industries– news to many of us, judging by the number of other visitors who approached us to congratulate him on his question and chat about how they had not known the answer.

A door bears the mark of ownership.

In the end we came away with an appreciation of how massive the recent history of our State is when streamed through the lens of a single cultural filter, and how it is an ongoing beast that can still reach out and touch entire elements of our culture: the museum had large sections devoted to the Fenian imprisonments of the 1860s and 70s, which stood in stark counterpoint to an exhibition of works by current women prisoners in the Art Gallery, the majority of which were clearly created by Aboriginal women. The stories were fascinating, complex and almost constantly compromised by the prevailing sentiments of the time from which they originated. The images– paintings on cell walls, shelters corroded and rusting, garden beds destroyed and partially filled– were stark and almost beautifully ruined.

Paintings of beauty and hope created in the midst of isolation and despair. Quite beautiful. And then you learn that the prisoner who did it was a 13-time violent rapist, and that’s the kind of place you’re in.

It is a big place, Fremantle Prison, uncomfortably so, and filled with the ghosts of culture past. We left it with wider eyes and deeper questions to explore over the coming months: the children with a pack full of reference points for learning, and Luscious and I, as authors, with countless vectors for our future work. A successful field trip, certainly, but an enriching experience for us all.

If you’d like a second view of the experience, Luscious has blogged about the trip on her blog as well, and she gives some different insights into what made the day so memorable.

Image of prisoners baking bread in the kitchen. A coveted role, and one given almost exclusively to convicted murderers.
Raw concrete, barbed wire, and panopticon. As close to freedom as you get, eight hours a day.

The exercise yard where prisoners milled for eight hours a day, no matter the weather. The shelter was erected in the 1960s. Before then, you stood in the open.
3 Division, for long-term prisoners, complete with ‘suicide net’ to stop falling bodies.
Solitary confinement day cell. 
From the prisoner lists contained in the museum. A family link? 
 

DAY OF THE DOCTOR, NIGHT OF THE BATTKIDS

It may have escaped your notice (I assume I have a large readership of blind and deaf orphans who live under rotten tree stumps in the darkest corners of the Congo), but Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the broadcast of the very first Doctor Who episode, An Unearthly Child.

It also marked 50 years since the last American who wanted to assassinate their President actually managed to shoot straight, Seriously, for a country so obsessed with guns, you think they’d be better at using the bloody things.

We’re a tadbit fannish in our house. By which I mean Lyn and I are massive fans but pale into obscurity next to the near-pathological devotion to all things Whovian exhibited by Master 8, who we have voted ‘Boy Most Likely to Face Stalking Charges Once He Learns Tom Baker’s Postal Address’.

To mark the occasion, we took the kids to the cinema on Sunday night to attend a 3D screening of the 50th anniversary episode, Day of the Doctor. After watching the accompanying minisodes. After spending half the morning watching the The Unearthly Child story. And An Adventure in Space and Time.

I wore one of my Doctor Who t-shirts. Yes, one of. DON’T JUDGE ME! The children wore their knee-high Doctor Who socks. Master 8 wore the Fourth Doctor scarf his Mum had knitted him. Judge them. Judge them cool, for it is so.

 

They wear long socks, now. Long socks are cool.

And we were not the only ones who Who’d-up. From the plethora of t-shirts on display; to the multitudinous rainbow of scarves, (including the family of 4 who came kitted out in matching examples); to the countless fezzes; bow-ties everywhere I looked; even the girl who dressed up in a neck to toe TARDIS dress, complete with shining blue light on top of her head; we were part of a vast crowd, several hundred deep, who had come out to celebrate their tribal membership, to mark an event that will, in all likelihood, not be repeated in my lifetime: there are no other shows that will survive so long, with such a devoted fandom. There may never be. That’s the thing about phenomena– they’re rare, and precious.

Which was all well and good, and my children will carry the experience with them for all their days, but was it actually any good? Was it worth $108 to drive an hour from home to sit in a cinema and watch an extended 3D episode of a TV show we could have watched on iview that morning for free?

Yes. It most definitely was.

I’m not going to talk about the story itself, very much, except to say that it is a highly satisfying Doctor Who story. It’s scary where it needs to be, funny where it needs to be, and the triumvirate of Smith, Tennant and Hurt have an on-screen chemistry that fairly leaps out of the audience: this is a trio of actors who are thoroughly enjoying their work together, and the way they banter and jibe bespeaks a genuine enjoyment in their work. There are nerdgasm moments in abundance, from (quite literally) the fifth second (Headmaster: I. Chesterton) through the return of a classic, widely-loved monster done properly, to two of the GREATEST. CAMEOS. EVER!!!!!!!! (ahem). And along the way, writer Steven Moffat delivers the type of beautifully constructed, labyrinthine, fan-friendly romps he is capable of when focused on the pure product, untrammelled by production concerns and the need to cram an overarching storyline and multiple ‘narrative umbrella’ lines into every moment. It is, by turns, wondrous, moving, laugh out loud funny, nostalgic and tearful.

It is, in short, exactly what you want in a celebration. And while the 3D was amazing (used properly, not to layer everything with a film of schlock but to subtly alter the dynamics of select shots, to add astonishing and surprising depth to moments where the impact is truly breathtaking. For those in the know, I return your attention to The Moment’s eyes.), and the interaction between the principals was fun and engaging, and the monsters were ubercool and the plot was fun, my favourite moment was so much of a surprise to me that it may have turned me around on the series as a whole:

Clara Oswald, as played by Jenna ‘Don’t call me Louise anymore now I think I’m getting a bit famous’ Coleman is one of the least interesting companions the show has ever presented. A breathy, mile-a-minute perkiness machine with the emotional depth and nuanced performance you’d expect from a four year old jumping in puddles, she has been a source of overwhelming irritation from the moment she first appeared.

Someone sat down with her before they started filming and told her to slow the fuck down. Slow down the delivery. Slow down the reactions. Slow down the perkybouncyrightyhochum performance and let her damn face breathe for a moment before fixing itself in the straight-at-the-camera rictus grin that has been, up until now, her one and only expression. And in Day of the Doctor, at the point of the narrative when all is lost, and three incarnations of the Doctor look each other in the eye and admit that the only option open to them all is the destruction of everything they hold dear, including all their morals, all their beliefs, and all the codes they have carried with them through 1200 years of regenerations, it is Clara who steps forward– the least worthy and least likeable of companions– and reaffirms exactly why Doctor Who– the show and the character– needs a companion.

Because she reminds him why he is the Doctor, and what that means. That being the Doctor means finding another way; discovering the impossible solution; bringing the uplift that can only come from dragging the Universe towards hope, no matter the weight, no matter the cost. That being the Doctor means being the one creature in the entire breadth and depth and width of time and space who cannot give in to despair.

And I bought it, completely and without question. Because I’ve been watching Doctor Who since I was six years old, and I will continue to watch it for the rest of my life, long after it ceases to be screened again (perhaps, as we all have done once already). And I do so because Doctor Who is my fairy tale, my fantasy, my wish fulfilment. Because he falls into death and despair and threat, week after week, and always, always, leaves those he touches wiser, and safer, if not always happier. And always, always, he leaves behind him a trail of companions who have experienced the wonder of travelling with him, and are changed for the infinitely better.

And always– always– like every Doctor Who fan I have ever known, I have spent my life with half an ear cocked, waiting for the sound of the arriving TARDIS.

I have bitched and whined about Doctor Who for several years now. Too often ‘NuWho’ has relied on substandard material, or ploughed the narrative of least resistance. Some of the worst Doctor Who stories I’ve ever watched– and I’ve seen just about everything– have occurred in the last eight years (Gridlock, anyone?) It has consistently resurrected classic monsters only to ruin whatever legacy of memory they may have carried with them, and while there have been a number of truly brilliant stories, after 8 years I have exhausted most of my remaining goodwill towards the program.

Until last night, when, upon leaving the cinema, I tweeted “I think I may have fallen in love again”.

And I think I have.

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….