On Winter Olympics, Steven Bradbury and *that* gold medal

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Although I haven’t watched much of the Winter Olympics this year, I did happen across an article about Steven Bradbury talking about *that win*. He seems destined to have his story pulled out of the proverbial closet and given a dust off every four years. And why not? It’s a cracker of a story and has become somewhat of an Australian folktale – the incredible string of luck that led to a miraculous win.

For those of you who aren’t Australian (and I’m sorry for those Aussies who’ve heard this story a bazillion times) Steven Bradbury was Australia’s first Winter Olympics Gold Medallist way back in…2002. Yup, not that long ago. We’re a country of sand and ocean after all.

Let me paint you a picture: It’s 2002, Salt Lake. The Event: The finals of the men’s short track 1000m speed skating. Five men line up ready for the starter’s gun. The competitors include Canadian Mathieu Turcotte, winner of 3 world championships, American Apolo Anton Ohno who has 2 world championships and a home crowd advantage, and Chinese Li Jiaju who has won a massive 10 world championships. The fourth man is South Korean Ahn Hyun-soo who will go on to be one of the most accomplished short track speed skaters of all time and will win 3 gold and a bronze medal in 2006. Amongst these powerhouses of speed skating, stands Australia’s Steven Bradbury. His personal world championship count? Zero.

The fact that Steven Bradbury is even on the starting line with these men is pretty surprising. At 30, he’s a veteran of the sport, and Salt Lake is his last chance to represent Australia. He’s only competing at these Olympics because he feels he hasn’t skated his best in previous Olympics, including a disappointing performance in Lillehammer in 1994 where he was eliminated in the event he was tipped to win. That was 8 years ago.

But as Bradbury takes his place, he’s already made history. Simply making it to the finals is the best performance by an individual Australian at a Winter Olympics (remember that sand and ocean thing I mentioned earlier?).

To reach the finals, Steven Bradbury has already had luck on his side. He won his heat but came third in the quarterfinals, and would not have progressed except that the second-place-comer was disqualified for obstruction. In the semi-finals, he hung back, hoping for a break (or a crash). Three of the five competitors went down. Bradbury came in second, moving him into the final. (It is interesting to note that in the second semi-final, the WORST time (4th place) was better than the first time in Steven’s semi-final.)

So here Steven Bradbury is with the best in the world, ready to compete for a gold medal. The starter’s gun goes off. These amazing athletes seemingly defy the laws of physics as they whizz around the tiny track at over 30 miles per hour. Steven Bradbury sticks to his game plan – he hangs back, and hopes, just hopes, he can sneak a medal (any medal). But as the race goes on, Steven Bradbury falls further behind. These guys are just amazingly, unbelievably good.

Then, on the last corner, something happens. One of the competitors loses his footing. There’s a collision. China goes down, South Korea goes down, and he takes Canada and the USA with him. Four of the world’s best short track speed skaters crash against the barrier walls in a heap and Steven Bradbury glides across the line to take a gold medal. The look of surprise as he sails across that finish line is priceless.

You can watch the race with original commentary here:

 

And the win in Bradbury’s own words, here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYUjmEH9NNk

So what lessons can we learn from the Steven Bradbury gold medal? The media went on to dub him one of the luckiest athletes ever and people joked he should buy a lottery ticket. The fact that he was nearly 20 metres off the pace at the end of the race made him look like the guy that just showed up and won a gold medal.

But that is far from the truth.

You don’t just show up at the Olympics.

Steven Bradbury was an amazing athlete, a star who dedicated himself to his sport. He knew after he’d won, that the media would want to know if he thought he deserved his medal. His answer? He said he was accepting the medal, not for those few minutes of racing, but for the 14 years of dedication he’d given to his sport.

Steven Bradbury was a serious athlete. He was part of the short track relay team that won Australia’s first ever winter Olympic medal, a bronze in 1994. In 1992, he’d be part of the team that won the World Championships in the 5000m relay in Sydney. This wasn’t a guy who had just showed up. This was a guy who had worked hard, damn hard, to achieve excellence in his sport. (And suffered for it too – in 1994 a skater’s blade cut clean through all four of Bradbury’s quadriceps. He lost 4 litres of blood, needed 111 stitches and 18 months recovery).

Was he lucky? Yes, he was. Bloody lucky. But that luck couldn’t have come if Steven Bradbury hadn’t been the athlete he was. He earned his place at those Olympics by sheer hard work and persistence. He gave himself the opportunity to be lucky. When he sailed across that finish line with a look of surprise on his face, he made what he’d been doing for over a decade and a half look easy. But actually, the element of luck played only a small part in his win.

We see it all the time – the actress who seemingly comes out of nowhere with a lead in a blockbuster movie – and you go off to google her only to find out she’s done bit parts in 20 movies and 5 TV series. That writer you’ve never heard of who lands a huge sum for her multi-POV fantasy work, but then you find out she’s actually a Hugo-awarded short-story writer with a dozen publications under her belt.

There’s luck in everything, but often less than we think. Writing the right thing at the right time, hitting the right market, getting your work in front of the right publisher, that’s often luck. But finishing a novel (a good novel, a publishable novel), attending workshops, thinking deeply on structure and prose, elevating your craft above the mundane – that’s just hours of you and your butt in the chair – and you’ll never, never get published without it.

Sometimes, writers who you feel are less talented, less articulate, and (dare I say!) younger than you are going to sail on past you and get published more widely and make more money despite your best efforts. That’s part of writing game, it’s part of the risk. When you write to be published you accept those risks – just the same way Steven Bradbury accepted that the likelihood of crashing out was a very real part of his sport.

No, you can’t win a gold medal at the Olympics by showing up, no more than you can get a publishing contract if you don’t put effort into writing (or if you never send your story out to agents and publishers). So, put in the work and put your butt in the chair. Make your writing great. Then, put on your skates and put it all on the line. Maybe you’ll cross the finish line because you’re brilliant. Or maybe, you’ll cross the line as an outlier. Maybe you’ll make it look so easy everybody will say that they could have done it. Whatever way you get there, the best thing about writing is that if you don’t succeed, you don’t have to wait 4 years to try again.

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Happy Valentines!

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When we think of Valentines Day, for most of us our thoughts go almost immediately to romantic love. St Valentine himself is often associated with romantic gestures, marrying couples in secret and sending love letters.

But love isn’t all about romance. Do you know that the ancient Greeks had six different words for love? They did!

Here they are:

Eros for sexual passion and desire

Phlia for deep friendship and comradeship

Ludus for the playful love of children and flirting

Agape for the selfless love of all people on the earth, empathy

Pragma for the mature love of long-married couples

Philautia for self love (both negative narcissism, and positive self-compassion)

So wherever you are in the world, I wish you Phila if you are a fellow writer in the trenches, and Agape to all!

Happy Valentines!

You can read excellent descriptions of the 6 different definitions of Ancient Greek love here: http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life

My first week as a full-time (part-time) writer…

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It’s a sad/happy/emotional/awesome week this week.

My smallest child went off to school for the first time for the whole school day on Monday. She left me in the playground with a hug, a smile and a wave. School is going to suit her down to the tips of her shiny new black shoes – she’s going to have a wonderful time, make friends and learn so many new things (these are the three ‘jobs’ I tell my kids they have each day at school: learn, make friends, have fun).

It’s sad to close the chapter on my life of pushing her around the supermarket in the middle of the day to her running commentary, of stopping for ‘coffee’ breaks together (hot chocolate for her!), and just hanging out. But she’s going to have so much fun. That’s the awesome/happy bit.

There’s so many goodbyes in motherhood. It’s an endless string of ‘firsts’ and ‘lasts’. The house will be much quieter without her. That’s the sad/emotional bit.

The plus side of a house without children though is that I am finally a full-time (part-time) writer. 5 days of 9:15am through to 2:45pm to write (and fit in all the house chores and grocery shopping and my new promise to myself to exercise!). I’m hoping for 4 hours per day of writing. That should be enough to get down words consistently, finish the novel I’m now working on, and get it out to agents/publishers this year. That’s my goal. So far, I’m on track.

Of course, the other awesome plus side of being a full-time (part-time) writer is that I can still pick my kids up from school every day and drop them off every morning. (I feel so completely blessed that I am able to do this!) And we’ve still got the weekend, mornings and afternoons to hang out and have fun.

This year is going to be a good one!

New Year’s Resolutions (and small things…)

Yes, I know it’s February.

But January is not the time to make New Year’s Resolutions in Australia. The air smells like barbeque and beer, the kids are home for summer, and the days slide away one after the other in a blur of beaches, pool and 40-degree (celsius!) heat.

No, January is not the perfect time to make New Year’s Resolutions.

Nor has it, for me, been a particularly good month to write. Now, I’m sure the best, most dedicated writers would just push on through all the distractions and carve out time to craft words, but this year, I just couldn’t manage it. Instead, I spent time with friends, with family, with my kids. I ate. I drank. I made merry (and I’ve got the spare tyre to prove it!) BUT, I refuse to feel guilty (about the break or the feasting – that’s my first resolution – no more guilt!).

Taking a break from writing now and then gives you a chance to see the forest for the trees. I haven’t written in January, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about writing. And I don’t mean I’ve been thinking ‘gee, I should be writing’, instead I’ve been thinking about:

– What I’ve written,

– What I’ve finished,

– What I haven’t finished,

– Which projects I want to work on this year, and

– Which projects can be put aside.

The results of that introspection have steered this year in a different direction (but that’s a whole different post).

A break, a space, a gap – has also given me time to put ALL my priorities on the table, not just writing priorities. So, I guess I shouldn’t call them New Year’s Resolutions at all. Instead, I’ll just call them Resolutions.

So, what are my Resolutions for 2018?

I love this quote from Robert Louis Stevenson:

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‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.’

So my resolutions this year are small, quiet things. Tiny seeds, rather than grand, sweeping plans. Whispers, not shouts. Write every day, eat more vegetables (this should be on everyone’s list!), be present, listen (to myself and others), be kind (to myself and others), enjoy the sunshine, move my body, grow things, appreciate the journey instead of rushing hurly-burly towards the goal.

Those are my seeds. What are yours?

Conflux 2017…Grimm Tales (Canberra’s Annual Speculative Fiction Convention) Wrap Up [Part 3: Sunday]

 

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Part 1 (Friday) is here.

Part 2 (Saturday) is here.

I’m going to try and keep this post short and sweet. By Sunday, my brain was nearly full to overload and I didn’t take a lot of notes! (Did I also mention the VERY late night – thanks Rik!)

I started Sunday with a workshop: Writing Interactive Fiction for fun and profit with Felicity Banks. Felicity knows what she’s talking about – she makes a good living between both her regular novels and her interactive fiction. You can see the titles she’s released here. As writers, we rarely see much of the ‘profit’ from our writing – so I was really looking forward to learning more about this platform. I had an expectation that ‘Interactive Fiction’ would mean digital ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ novels, but it would seem that interactive fiction is far more complex, or perhaps ‘game-like’ than I thought it would be.

One of the main platforms Felicity uses for designing interactive games is Choice Script, and Choice of Games actively recruits for established writers to write stories for them. The stories are big (often 100-200k), are light on description, and are broken into chunks with the reader being offered a choice every 400 words or so. Much of the early choices centre around statistics which are collected ‘behind the scenes’ and influence outcomes in later parts of the story. There are options for in-built awards, inventory and achievements that can be unlocked. If that sounds complicated to you, it does to me too! The workshop focussed about half/half on story building (which is, of course, a crucial component) and coding/programming (which is necessary to understand how to put the story together and make it work). It was really interesting, and perhaps something I’d be interested in for future projects, although I can imagine it would be a very steep learning curve, especially keeping all the threads of the story together! Felicity was kind enough to put together a very comprehensive blog post on the workshop – you can find it here.

After the workshop, I went to another panel: ‘Deadly Dance’, featuring Angela Slatter, Leife Shallcross and Aiki Flintheart. Again, a very feminist lens was cast across the concept of the dance in folktales – from seduction (where a woman uses her sexual appeal for distraction to murder) to courting (where a woman uses her appeal to attract a mate) to dance as punishment (eg iron shoes). It seemed to me that after listening to this panel, with so many strict rules around dancing (how you dance, where you dance, why you dance) it makes sense that dance in folktale becomes another signifier of societal morality – the dance of death a moral commentary on what happens if we let women dance too freely.

I grabbed a quick lunch with the lovely Donna Maree Hanson and Morgana. We talked about the writing process, particularly plotting, and Michael Hauge’s six-stage plot structure.

After lunch, I watched the ‘Submitting to Publishing Agents’ panel, with Ellen Datlow, Kimberly Gaal, Abigail Nathan, Michelle Lovi and Sam Hawke. I didn’t take notes for this panel, but I especially enjoyed listening to Sam Hawke, who has just landed a dream contract with Tor after a very well-researched quest to find herself the perfect agent. It’s always wonderful to hear about new talent who have made it ‘in’. It gives the rest of us hope that it can happen to us too! It’s worth checking out Sam’s website just to read her ‘Tips for defeating a cheese hangover’ post – haven’t we all been there?!

So that was it for Conflux. I said goodbye to the many friends I’d made over the weekend, and headed back to Sydney. It was a great weekend, and I can’t wait to do it again next year!

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Conflux 2017…Grimm Tales (Canberra’s Annual Speculative Fiction Convention) Wrap Up [Part 2: Saturday]

 

conflux13-headerSo – this is a very late post, but I thought I’d finish my Conflux wrap-up…

If you haven’t read my Part 1 wrap-up of Conflux you can do so here. Otherwise, let’s move on to Saturday:

Saturday morning 10am saw me heading to the conference rooms for a workshop: Writing For Games with Rik Lagarto.  I’d never really considered how much writing there is in games before (in hindsight, it seems so darn obvious). Developing flavour and environment, creating meaning and consequences of gameplay, and developing plots and subtext to propel a gamer through what could be hundreds of hours of gameplay, a game writer’s job is far more complex than simply: ‘your mission, if you choose to accept it…’

Rik delved into some of the ways game writers tackle the challenges unique to their medium (for example, in-game cutscenes vs the more traditional cutscene) and then asked us to do an exercise creating our own in-game scene.

We then looked at systemic dialogue (the in-action chatter that tells you when things are happening/ or have happened eg. building units, enemy fire etc.) Again, game writers face a challenge to keep systemic dialogue short and snappy, not poetical, well written but not so well-written it sticks out (as a player may hear the same line hundreds of times during gameplay). We then did an exercise writing systemic dialogue with our own imaginary games.

Rik also discussed the huge role environmental storytelling plays in making an immersive game (the mood, tension, Foley used to show the world, including background conversations, signs, books that can be picked up, recorded messages, architecture, clothes, and just the state of the world itself) and how this is used to create layers of meaning and intrigue for players.

It was a great workshop (it was nice to hang around with a bunch of gamer-geeks!) and Rik is a great guy – if you’re interested in game writing, I’d highly recommend taking one of his classes and checking out the games he’s worked on here. (His new game, Yonder, has won a bunch of international awards recently).

Next up was a panel on Steampunk Martial Arts with Aiki Flintheart, Madeline D’Este, Laura Goodin and Rik Lagarto. With a second dan black belt in aikido, Aiki was well placed to discuss matters of size and strength when it comes to the physical fight, particularly when female protagonists are often much smaller than the male aggressor they’re facing. Alan Baxter’s book ‘Write the Fight Right’ was mentioned as a good starting place for writing fight scenes – often writers who haven’t been in physical confrontations forget that most people who fight do get hurt (often seriously). There was also discussion of Steampunk gadgets and gizmos as a means for clever characters to even up their chances in a fight, and of course costume – can you fight effectively in a corset?

Next, I was off to another workshop, this one Vividness and Voice with Zena Shapter. Zena was also launching her brand new book at Conflux – Towards White.

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I picked up a copy and am looking forward to reading it.

Zena began the workshop by having us tap into our emotions, and think about instances in our life that have affected us or that we feel deeply about in order to tease out our writing voices. We delved into Point Of View, rewriting a simple scene in first, second and third person in order to find our best voice. We then had to write the same simple scene with an angry tone. This was my favourite exercise. I found it really illuminating how easy it was to take an innocuous event (making breakfast, in this case) and by imbuing it with an emotion (anger) the event transformed and a whole pile of subtext suddenly bulged out of that event. It showed me that it’s the internal conflict that is often so much more important than the outward plot.

Having discussed voice, we then moved on to vividness, with an exercise using perspective and the senses to develop emotion and build up the environment of the story. She suggested this for openings because it’s so important to draw the reader in so that they want to spend time with you at the start of a novel.

It was then time to watch Meri Amber launch her EP Grimm Tales, and then get ready for the banquet! Here’s me as Little Red…

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Thanks to Nathan Burrage (my shout next time), Andrew Old and Lyss Wickramasinghe for chatting with me over dinner! And Rik Lagarto – for the very late night!

I was like this by the time I hit my bed!

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Part 3 coming up tomorrow!

December Raves: Book Review: The Iron Line by L. M. Merrington

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Digital: 177 pages

Published by PAC books

Blurb:

“There’s a ghost train that runs along here at night. They say it carries the souls of those bound for hell.”

Jane Adams is only twenty-three, but she’s already a widow. A daughter of the railway, after her husband’s death she takes a job as a level crossing gatekeeper in the little town of Tungold, out at the end of the line. But all is not right in Tungold. The townspeople are frosty and unwelcoming, and Jane’s only ally is the new young police constable, Alec Ward, an outsider just like her.

When a railway official is murdered, Jane and Alec become determined to get to the bottom of the town’s secrets. Who killed Brian Mathieson? And what is behind the mysterious ghost train? But Jane is also hiding a secret of her own — one that will put her life and everything she cares about on the line.

 

Set in the late 1800’s in the fictional town of Tungold, a small country town in rural Australia, The Iron Line is a murder mystery with an air of Australian Gothic.

Newly widowed Jane Adams arrives from Goulburn as the new level-crossing gatekeeper and is warned of a mysterious ghost train that rattles along the line in the dead of night. Unwilling to believe in ghosts, Jane soon finds she has more pressing concerns in the mundanity of everyday life and in finding her place in a small town with more than its fair share of politics and prejudice. That is, of course, until the murder…

Jane can’t resist either the mystery of the train or the mystery of the murder, and soon teams up with the handsome Constable Ward, although her blossoming relationship is rightly complicated by her memories of her late husband.

Jane is an outspoken and enjoyable heroine. A feminist and self-professed bully-hater, she’s a likeable and relatable if somewhat mysterious character. Jane’s past is deftly handled by the author, gently feeding us the smallest titbits of her history and how she came to Tungold.

Although Tungold is fictional, Merrington’s historical research is such to breathe life and authenticity into the small town and its inhabitants. In fact, The Iron Line offers plenty of historical commentary as Jane faces many of the hardships of a single woman in rural Australia in the late 19th century – monetary worries, social ostracism, sexism, snakes and spiders, the endless chores that existed before vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and motor cars, as well as a pervasive sense of danger that comes from living isolated and alone.

Merrington makes the most of Jane’s isolation, and Jane’s home on the outskirts of town beside the railway gives ample opportunity for her to be awakened by the spectral, creepy locomotive: ‘The locomotive was black, I thought, but glowed with a strange, eerie luminescence, independent of the moonlight…Mr Bailey had said there was no driver, but as I peered towards the cabin I caught sight of someone. Then he turned towards me and I thrust my hands into my mouth to stifle a scream…’

The Iron Line is great length too, and I’m so glad too for the digital age which has once again made the 60,000-word murder-mystery a viable exercise (after all, Agatha Christie herself is said to have supported 50,000 words as the perfect length for a murder-mystery). The Iron Line feels fresh and fast-paced without any unnecessary padding or spurious sub-plots to slow down the main story.

It has a fantastic twist at the end too. Gripping from start to finish with plenty to love from the painstaking historical research, to the nod to Boldrewood’s Captain Starlight, to the enjoyable and well-handled mystery plot, this novel should definitely be joining you for holiday reading.

Highly recommended.

You can get it here on Amazon 

or click here for links to your other favourite retailers (itunes, nook, etc)