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?




SILENCE OF THE HAMS

There’s been a peculiar silence round these parts recently: we’re changing ISPs, and thanks to the 19th Century, it’s going to take 2 weeks without internet to have all the connections connected and the contracts contracted and the… well, fuck it, I’m on my phone and public computers until then.

Still, it has enabled me to do one worthy thing in the meantime: finish Magwitch and Bugrat, my palate-cleansing sorbet project between novels which has transmuted into a 16 000 word kids novel. Thanks to the upcoming long weekend– made a day longer by a strategically placed RDO– I’ll be running through a first edit this weekend, and will hopefully be gently prodding Agent Rich as to his interest within the next two to three weeks, while I eye off the enormous pile of paper that is Father Muerte and the Divine and try to persuade myself that, seeing as I’m already in an editing mood, I may as well throw myself at it.

And now that the month of insanity at my day job has finished, I’ve been able to catch up on other, more personal things, like visiting my father and greeting my Aunty Celia and Uncle David a few days before they flew back to Nottingham after having been over for the better part of a month or more.

But, ultimately, this is a brief missive before the coins run out. More later, my little friends, but for the moment, imagine me snuggled under a blanket somewhere in the 19th century, pen in one hand, paper in the other, with a hot toddy or whatever it is old people in the 19th Century drink, waiting for the internet wallah to bring me my connection.

Sigh.

FOR ONCE I CAN’T THINK OF A SINGLE FUNNY THING TO SAY

Had a visit from my Father over the weekend. Nothing terribly unusual about that: he occasionally rings to see if we’re in then pops around. But never without a purpose. We’re not blindingly close. We don’t have the in-each-others-pockets-best-mates-as-well-as-family relationship some other parent/child combos have. He and my mother split up when I was in my early teens, and we didn’t see much of each other for a few years afterwards, and even when the family had been together he was the figure behind my mother, the one who paid for everything and coached the soccer team and drove us on holidays… but I don’t have many memories of him being the one to take the lead, to get down on the floor with us and build Lego or learn the words of the songs we were listening to or anything of that ilk.

It’s not a criticism. Not any more. More an observation of what the 1970s gave my family. It informs my own parenting. I know my Serena Gomez from my Ninjago.

But my Dad has been in and out over the years, and privately, Luscious and I have always expressed the smallest disappointment in how much time he spends with his grandchildren. It’s as if he doesn’t remember them if they’re not right in front of him, we’d say. This Christmas, he left one of their names’ off the Christmas card altogether. Typical.

Yeah. About that.

Turns out he’d been noticing. Was feeling his mind wandering. He’d be halfway through conversations with his mates and forget what he was talking about. “Hang on, I’ve just popped out. Be back in a moment,” became a standard joke. Then became a standard saying. Then, basically, stopped being funny.

So he came round to tell me, while dropping in Easter eggs for the kids the week after the event: he’s seen a doctor.

Turns out, his brain is shrinking. Physically getting smaller. Now, 15 minutes of Google research and I’ve learned that your brain does shrink slightly as you get older. Normal brain shrinkage is the price we pay for an extended lifespan. Dad’s nearly 70, so some is to be expected. Put simply, it doesn’t, in itself, kill you.

What my father has, will. The shrinkage is likely the result of a serious head injury at some stage in his life. Dad says he can think of three he’s suffered. It’s accelerated, and uneven, and it is going to kill him. The prognosis is 8 years. 8 years of vocabulary loss, diminishing mental capacity, increasing forgetfulness and confusion. My father, for all his faults, is a charming, quick-witted, thoroughly engaging conversationalist with a massive fund of general knowledge and a genuine joy of speech. This will torture him– is torturing him already– until he no longer remembers what he once was.

We may not be the closest father-son relationship. But he’s still my Dad. For a short while.

I GOTTA STOP ENJOYING MYSELF

These long weekends are killing me.

Luscious Lyn and I came together as a couple after our first marriages had ended: for differing reasons, certainly, but ended nonetheless. In our younger years we’d both suffered through the break-up of our parents’ marriages as well. With children of our own we have remained determined that we will devote every ounce of energy to creating an environment that is loving, supportive, inclusive, and exciting for our children. We want them to have the happy, stable, rewarding domestic lifestyle we lacked as teenagers.

We’ve made any number of mistakes over the last ten years, but right now we seem to have achieved a wonderful balance: our kids are happy, creative souls; physically and mentally active; who feel safe and comfortable enough in their home environment to contribute their voices and opinions to our decision making without fear. We give them what we can, when we can, and they respond in ways that make us happy and proud. We share a range of experiences and adventures that challenge, reward, and grow them in equal measure. As a family we’re bloody happy.


This year, we ended our Foxtel subscription, and as we don’t get the commercial channels due to a transmission black spot and no desire on our part to buy the cable necessary to view a 24 hour stream of dogshit reality TV shows, we’ve been spending a lot more time in the evenings doing art projects, reading, playing in parks and down the beach, and quietly exposing the kids to the creative facets of our artistic careers. The kids have always been aware that Mummy and Daddy were authors, but this year, they’ve started to gain an understanding of just what that means, and what it entails on a daily basis.

Now, with their new-found understanding, they’re responding like the responsible, caring, loving children we know they are. They’re demanding we write a kids novel. 🙂

Lyn’s already started: Peter Brown Loves Dinosaurs is funny, creepy, elegantly written and an absolute delight– anybody who has read any of Lyn’s work knows just how beautifully she crafts a story– and is so perfectly Lyn that I was prompted to post on Facebook that she “had found her true voice”, which pleased her no end, given she’s been publishing stories since 2001….

The kids were so excited they insisted we sit down and draw covers for the book (this is the sort of thing we would never have done with Foxtel in the house. It’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made…)

Peter Brown Loves Dinosaurs, by Lyn Battersby
Illustrated by Connor Battersby
Peter Brown Loves Dinosaurs, by Lyn Battersby
Illustrated by Erin Battersby
 Peter Brown Loves Dinosaurs, by Lyn Battersby
Illustrated by Lee Battersby

And this last week I’ve found myself in a calm moment between projects– Marching Dead isn’t released for another month and I’m quietly making plans for the launch; Father Muerte & The Divine is written and I’m letting it ferment slightly before I go back and begin line-editing duties; the package for Naraveen’s Land is with the agent; and we’re still waiting to hear back from the publisher as to whether they wish to go ahead with Corpse-Rat King: Fall to Heaven— so what the hey: I sat down on Saturday and started writing Magwitch and Bugrat, a kids’ novel  had the initial idea for years ago but shelved until I could arrange all the pieces in my mind correctly.

Every night for the last week, we’ve gathered on our bed to listen to Lyn read the latest day’s Peter Brown Loves Dinosaurs progress. As of Saturday, I’ve had to read the day’s Magwitch and Bugrat progress, too.

No pressure.

Here’s a taste:

“What do I do with it?” she asked.

“I told you. Kill it.”

“I’m not going to kill it. That would be…” Actually, Magwitch didn’t know what it would be. She was going to say ‘cruel’, but she didn’t actually think death wascruel. She had spent all of her life, what she could remember of it, anyway, surrounded by dead people. They didn’t seem unhappy. Dead people didn’t get cold, or tired, or skin their knees and bleed. They didn’t get thirsty or itchy or get rashes on their bottoms or have sore gums or stub their toes. They simply lay very still and quiet, and let rats use their skulls as homes and every now and again gnaw on one of their bones and they never complained. And dead people never, ever, cried. “…wrong,” she finished. Before Master Puppet could ask what would be so wrong about it she picked the baby up and held it to her chest.

“You touched it!” Master Puppet cried in outrage. “You went and touched it! Now you’ll have its smell on you! You’ll… you’ll… smell like a live person!”

So, three days later, I’ve cracked 3000 words. And what does a public holiday like today look like when you’re me?

  • 1100 words on Magwitch and Bugrat
  • 300 words on Fall to Heaven, just to get myself started so there will be something in place should Angry Robot give us the go-ahead.
  • Unpack half a dozen boxes of books and shelve them in the upstairs room, including all the graphic novels, now that we’re not going to move house after all and can start unpacking all the things we previously packed. Books come first. Always
  • Take delivery and set up the new computer for the kids, because the school demands an unbelievable amount of net access for homework and it’ll mean we don’t have to surrender my laptop for two hours every damn evening, which means I’ll be able to get more writing done.
  • Eat healthily all day, including yet *another* brilliant 400 calorie meal from Lyn (parmesan chicken bites, in case you’re interested). I’ve set myself a target of losing 12 kilos this year– not exactly a huge amount, but it’s necessitating a big change in diet, and it’s one we’re enjoying. 
  • Spend time with the kids. 
  • Get the dog washed, brushed, and cleaned of burrs. 
  • Spend nearly an hour with the whole family just having a conversation round the lunch table because none of really want to be the one to break it off. 
  • Curl up on our bed with Master 8 and Miss 11 and read today’s extracts to them.

And that’s the problem, you see. 

I keep having these brilliant, brilliant days when I’m at home with the family. And then I have to put them down and go back to work. Now, I like my job. I really do. It’s not something I’ve ever been able to say before. I really like my job. But I don’t love it. 

I love being an author. I love being a father and husband. I particularly love being a stay-at-home father and husband. I did it once before, way back in 2004 when I wasn’t a good enough writer to make it work and so had to go back to a job that made me physically ill every morning. But I have a good job now, that pays well, and satisfies me, and is good enough that I feel like the most ungrateful, mealy-mouthed cur alive every time I get all pissy and whiny because no matter how good it is I’d still rather be at home being an author and father and husband.

But there it is. Call me pissy and mealy-mouthed if you will. But these long weekends are killing me. These public holidays and weeks off and vacations are fucking killing me. Because they’re like tiny, bite-sized tastes of the life I could have, if only I were good enough, or talented enough, or deserving enough.

And I can only see 2 ways to break the cycle– become a shit father and husband and ruin the family environment so that leaving it to go to work every day is a blessed relief; or work like a frigging literary Trojan and get enough quality product out in a compressed enough time-frame that it begins to pay for the lifestyle. 

And I don’t like the idea of option number one……

I CAN SMILE, AND DRAW AS I SMILE

Late last year, as part of reverting to a single wage, we decided to lay a treasured family member to rest: we cancelled our Foxtel subscription.

We’d become a TV family– come home, watch TV, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed. Given that we live in a town that other people come to for their holidays, and we have two intelligent active kids who just cry out for constant action, slipping into that kind of a lifestyle was a crime we were committing against ourselves, and we made the decision to stop and change our lifestyle around.

Currently, due to a lack of reception and the cost of the necessary cables, we have no TV reception at all. No Biggest Survivor Loser Brother. No X-Singer Star Dance on Ice. No Mastercook a Garden Decorate Building.

Yeah. Not missing it much.

When news broke earlier this week that the skeleton discovered under a Leicester carpark was, as had been hoped, indeed that of Richard III, we broke out our copy of the Kings and Queens DVD and watched the Richard III episode with the kids, explaining where the information presented by Nigel Spivey was now obsolete, and generally using it to generate a discussion with them. Then we settled around the kitchen table, and drew a picture of what we’d learned, discovered, and been fascinated with from this rediscovered monarch’s story.

And this is what we drew:

Connor, 8: George, Duke of Clarence, was drowned in red wine by King Edward IV. The King is watching from his throne and he has lots of heads he wants to cut off so he can stay King.

Erin, 11: I chose Princes in the tower because I was quite horrified that their Uncle, King Richard III, would lock them in the tower of London and then when the time came (if he knew) didn’t reveal the secret to their disappearence! I mean, he was their UNCLE!! My picture shows the two Princes, right to the throne, locked away in the Tower of London with no doors or escapes, thorns growing over the Tower, the crown in the bushes when the King died, a cage over the windows and behind the curtains, what could have been the Princes’ death.

Lee: I seem to have come over all symbolic: Richard’s battered skull, the young Princes in its vacant eye sockets, wearing the crown while biting down on the red dragon of Henry Tudor, with the white Rose of York behind, framed by the stone wall of the white Tower. There’s such an interconnectedness in Richard’s story, such a crux of history being portrayed– if he had won at Bosworth, what would have happened to Britain? To its religions, its wars? 

Lyn: I’m a bit of a Plantagenet fan and have always been fascinated by the War of the Roses. The Princes in the Tower is such a sad mystery and I love reading or watching anything that extrapolates on what happened to them. These little boys were the innocent victims of a war not of their making.

JUST WHO THE HELL DO I THINK I AM?

For reasons that largely escape me, but which may have contributed to my becoming sadly addicted to home reno shows of the “Better Homes & Gardens” variety a few years back, Luscious Lyn and I have recently started to watch Who do You Think You Are, an English show in which celebrities of the second stripe pretend to discover facts about their family history without acknowledging the team of researchers working behind the scenes who have carefully prepared every square inch of the utterly ‘spontaneous’ revelations well beforehand.

In truth, watching the likes of John Hurt and Jeremy Irons bemoaning the fact that they might have someone slightly notorious or ill-fitting in their backgrounds is really quite entertaining, because let’s be honest, the reason I’d want to engage in such an exercise is in the hope of finding someone thoroughly and despicably nasty (“Really? My Great great great whatever buggered Blackbeard on a Caribbean beach whilst knifing the local Governor’s virgin daughter, and they gave him a baronetcy for it? Coooolll…..”), or at the very least, finding out that the pathetic, grubby little domestic betrayals of your more recent ancestors aren’t the most noteworthy occurrences in your entire family tree: if you’re going to be a hero, be a real hero, but if you’re going to have bastardry in your family, please God let it be some spectacular bastardry!

Last night, we watched Jodie Kidd discover just that level of bastardry, which was entertaining for us, but absolutely fascinating for Erin, who sat up and watched the episode with us, and who was beset with questions about her own family history as a result. Suddenly, the idea that you can be connected to people from several hundred years ago, and that you can learn all about them, is inspiring to little Miss Death-obsessed 10 year old.

I know very little about my Mum’s family. She died in 2003 without ever spending any time discussing her family line, and to be honest, I wasn’t that interested for most of her life. My grandmother died when I was young, my grandfather was both distant and dotty when he followed us out to Australia a few years after we arrived, and due to the timing of various moves I’ve not really had any sort of relationship with my grandparents on either side. I know a few snippets of family history, a surname or two, and the fact that the trail stops cold sometime in the late Victorian-era with an out-of-wedlock birth. Hey, if the BBC run out of sixth-rate personalities sometime in the next 40 years and come knocking, maybe I can find something out.

My Dad’s side is a slightly different matter. Thanks to a second cousin with a genealogy bug, my Dad’s been able to trace our paternal line back to the early 1700s, to Henry, a pipemaker who hanged himself “in a fit of insanity after a night drinking at a local club”. I’ve also got rather a lovely document tracing the history of the surname Battersby itself, with a trail that stretches back well before the 13th Century. Should I ever decide to do some serious digging, there could be a long line to uncover. We have a coat of arms, awarded in 1605. We have a motto (“Before honour is humility”, and before you make any jokes about my personality, consider it in respect to my finances, and see how accurate it is…). The name is associated with a family seat that was first recorded before the Norman Conquest. There’s a sweet looking little village in North Yorkshire that shares the name, and which is, undoubtedly, the source of its English origin. There’s going to be a few things worth finding out.

The Battersby Family crest. A saltire paly of twelve ermine and gules, a crescent in chief sable. Whatever the hell that means.

I have an odd relationship with family, and with our history. The last 20 or 30 years haven’t exactly been covered in glory and gold dust, as far as I’m concerned, but then, of course, I’ve been living it, and I doubt anyone really thinks they’re part of the glory years whilst they’re actually happening. Maybe William the Conqueror, but was he really happy? (Laughing his fucking head off, I should imagine…) Maybe this whole novelist thing will really take off, and my great great whatevers will be on telly looking at photos of me and commenting about the number of chins I’m sporting. Or my brother will finally tip over the edge and assassinate an entire coastal town. Who knows? We wait with bated breath.

But deep history, history that illuminates a way of life and a prevailing culture that is alien to one’s own, that does fascinate me. To connect myself to moments of great import, or even just to see a connection to facets of existence which have fallen into extinction, to draw a line between myself and those events that have shaped the course of continents, that would be worth discovering, I think.

I’ve made a promise to Lyn– who, for a number of reasons, cannot trace her family back beyond two generations– that once we have the means to do so, we will find out how far back her line stretches, and who it encompasses. While we’re at it, we may see how far back we can stretch the Battersbys and the McMahons.

Here’s hoping for some world-class bastardry……

My paternal line, such as it is. Apparently, Oil of Ulay is good for removing lines…

10 YEARS ON

It’s December 9 2011.

For those who came in late, today marks 10 years since my wife, Sharon, went into surgery to discover the source of an infection that had taken hold of her since our first child had been born four days earlier. She never regained consciousness, and died later that evening. She was 32.

As decades go, it’s been a turbulent one. I find myself, 10 years later, in a loving, happy marriage, with children– both genetic and inherited– who fill me with laughter and delight, in a day job that stimulates and inspires me, with a writing career that (as you shall soon read) is about to step up to a level that I didn’t even envisage back in 2001, when I was still coming to terms with a major car accident, had my 2nd short story sale under my belt, and was a Tax Officer expecting his first child. I am, quite simply, not the man I was 10 years ago. I have rebuilt my life, and am happy with it. But I’ve had to fight for that happiness, every inch of the way, and many people who could not make the adjustment, who would not allow me the chance to try, who needed me to remain as I was– tortured and tragic and a convenient source for pity– have not made it to this point of my journey with me.

Sharon should never have died. But for the criminal negligence of an incompetent doctor, she would still be alive, and the life I have, vastly different though it would have been, would have been hers to share. She was a beautiful, lively, and wondrous person, and she deserved a life to match. And I wish nothing but pain and anguish upon the man who took it away from her. I will never forgive him.

But I survived, and I have found incredible happiness with the beautiful and inspirational woman who shares my life, and I cannot look around me and see anything that matters to me that does not give me joy.

A decade can be a long time. But you have to work at it.