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….

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……