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!

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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!

Conflux 2017…Grimm Tales (Canberra’s Annual Speculative Fiction Convention) Wrap Up [Part 1- Friday]

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My first Conflux is over, and I’m looking back at the weekend with a sense of pure post-con joy – what an amazing, talented, and downright awesome group of writers, editors and publishers I had the pleasure of meeting and seeing speak over the course of my three-day attendance!

The line-up of special guests was impressive – International Guest of Honour, Ellen Datlow; Australian Guest of Honour, Angela Slatter, Kaaron Warren as MC, and Meri Amber with her EP written especially for Grimm Tales as Music Guest.

I highly suggest you drop everything and go and buy some of their amazing works. Don’t worry – I’ll wait.

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So now you’re back with a few dozen extra books in your e-reader, right? So let’s get on with the convention itself:

FRIDAY

I departed Sydney at 6:30am Friday morning and arrived at Canberra at 9:30am with just enough time to kiss the kids goodbye (they spent the day at Questacon with Dad) drop my bags, pick up my lanyard and make it to one of the first sessions of the day – ‘Big Ideas In Compact Packages’: short stories. It was my first chance to see Ellen Datlow impart words of wisdom, and she was joined on the panel by Jason Nahrung, Imogen Cassidy, and Shauna O’Meara. Plenty of excellent advice and rumination was offered regarding the use of tropes in short fiction, the advantage of being able to write to a deadline, the importance of subtext, the meaning of ‘voice’, and the joy of finding a story that jumps out at you from the slush pile.

The second panel I attended was ‘Things that go bump…clank…mooooooaaan’: ghosts in folk tales, horror, and urban legend. Ellen was again present on this panel, along with Jennifer Breukelaar, Aaron Dries, and Kimberley Gaal. (Kimberley if you’re reading this – I can’t find your website – let me know where it is so I can update it!). I found this a fascinating panel, especially as I’m not a horror writer so hadn’t previously considered ghosts in all their nuances and the way they’re used as plot devices. The two main types of ghost stories were discussed: moving – not scary but tragic, with the ghost serving as a vehicle for emotion and offering the chance to ‘finish business’; and of course, creepy – an unnatural force that needs to be satisfied (or in some of the creepiest stories, cannot be satisfied and is just malevolent evil). There was talk of cultural appropriation of ghost stories and belief and whether this can be done sensitively. Why do children make good ghosts? Are ghosts merely manifestations of regret? Ellen also mentioned a few tropes she’s tired of – the ‘sexy beast’, the ‘hot’ aliens and the ‘bunch of teens’.

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I caught up with Jason Nahrung, Kirstyn McDermott, and Bren MacDibble for a cup of free coffee (with badly labeled milk), and talked gardening, permaculture, alpacas, grants, bees and watching grass grow.

2pm, and I made it to ‘Fairy Tales with Teeth and Claws’, once again featuring Ellen, the amazing Angela Slatter, Leife Shallcross, Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung. This was another great panel and the discussion centered around viewing Grimm fairytales through a feminist lens, particularly the problem of sexism in fairy tales. The voices of women are often removed from these stories until all that remains are the bad women and the bold boys. The bad women are punished, and the good girls are paraphrased.

My next panel was ‘Beastly Transformations’, with Angela Slatter, Cat Sheely, Leif Shallcross and Claire Fitzpatrick, a discussion of werewolves, selkies, sirens, swans, gender stereotypes, cultural norms and breaking free. Why we are enamored with the idea of animal transformation? Is it the idea of the freedom it allows, is it our terror of change, or our own pride that we don’t like to be considered ‘animals’ giving in to a baser instinct? Transformation can be used as a vehicle to explore freedom of choice, embracing the unknown, not being afraid of change, and what it means to be human.

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Afterwards all that panel goodness, I caught up at the bar with a drink with Louise Merrington and Madeline D’Este to discuss Steampunk, publishing (and self-publishing) and of course, writing!

That was as much as I could take in on Friday…phew! I headed off early for some dinner with the kids and hubby (who enjoyed Questacon) and had an early night! Tomorrow, I’ve got more panels and two amazing workshops.

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I’ll fill you in on those in PART 2… (coming soon!)

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2017: On mapmaking and fangirling

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‘The plays and novels inside our heads are little unmarketed miracles, cosily ensconced in the imagination, the lighting, the sound, the production design is sublime. Inside my head for just an instant, I have a story that has never been told in quite the same way before, and it is playing out pitch perfect.’ Joanna Murray Smith’s NSW Premier’s Literary Awards address – a moving speech about the trials and tribulations of the artist.

I was lucky enough last night to attend the 2017 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. It was a wonderful night – of poignant speeches and gracious winners. The talent, inspiration, dedication and craftsmanship of Australian writers always takes my breath away – and I do not envy the judges who had to choose a winner from amidst such a strong pool of short-listed entries.

So without further ado, the winners are:

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction:

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

 

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing:

Letter to Pessoa by Michelle Cahill

 

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction:

Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead by Thornton McCamish

 

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry:

Ghostspeaking by Peter Boyle

 

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature:

One Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe

 

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature:

Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall

 

Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting: 

The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

 

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting (joint winners): 

The Code, Series 2 Episode 4 by Shelley Birse

Down Under by Abe Forsythe

 

Multicultural NSW Award:  

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

 

NSW Premier’s Translation Prize: 

Royall Tyler

 

Multicultural NSW Early Career Translator Prize: 

Jan Owen

 

Book of the Year Award: 

The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

 

People’s Choice Award: 

Vancouver #3 in the series Wisdom Tree by Nick Earls

 

For more details of the winners and shortlisted books, check out the State Library of NSW’s website here.

On a personal note, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Heather Rose during the after party, winner of not only Christina Stead prize for fiction, but also the 2017 Stella Prize. Heather was so gracious and lovely and kindly signed our books like a pro. Here I am with Robin Elizabeth and Lisa Fleetwood, having a fangirl moment:

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I also have to add that Heather Rose is no literary snob – she co-authored Finding Serendipity (a children’s fiction fantasy novel) the sequel of which, A Week Without Tuesday was shortlisted for the 2015 Aurealis Awards for Best Children’s Fiction. So, Heather, I’m claiming you as one of ours!

Until next time xxx

 

Reviewing the Classics: Wuthering Heighs by Emily Bronte revisited

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Hi all,

So I went to a live taping a couple of weeks back of a show called The Book Club. It was a great show – Paul Kelly sang a sonnet, and there was much discussion about a little book you might have heard of called Wuthering Heights. The discussion got heated, especially when it came to Heathcliff. For a full recap of how things went down, I’d definitely recommend stopping by Right or Wrong for a very funny, and entirely scientific analysis of the show here.

In the spirit of the debate, and since I haven’t read Wuthering Heights since I skimmed it in second-year university (nearly 20 years ago) I gave it a slightly less skimmed re-read, and what follows is my review:

This classic tale, set on the northern moors of England, has long been acclaimed as a both a torrid tale of passionate love and revenge, and a masterpiece of English literature. The main protagonist, Heathcliff, is considered by many to be one of the most smoking-hot villains to ever grace the page. A large part of it is probably because of his depictions in film looking like this:

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And this:

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And more recently this:

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Ahh Ralph Fiennes…

Yes, they are all very attractive men. But let’s move on shall we? Back to the book.. ahem. I have to say on my rereading of the novel (handsome men above aside), I really struggled to find any attraction to the dark, brooding, taciturn man who essentially tortures and ruins his family.

While the writing of Emily Bronte’s only novel still holds its haunting beauty, and Bronte’s descriptions of the moors are so evocative that one feels as though they are standing upon them, what really stood out to me about this novel on a reread of this book are two things:

  1. The utterly restrictive social status of women during the Regency/Victorian age. As women of any standing (and Catherine, I believe, is landed gentry) were not permitted to work, were given very little education and could often not inherit, a woman’s standing and her future were entirely dictated by an agreeable marriage.
  2. The alarmingly violent intergenerational cycle of physical and emotional abuse (particularly of women, servants, and children) perpetuated by all the protagonists throughout the novel. Heathcliff is a wife beater. Hindley throws his own child over a railing in a fit of drunken rage and shoves a knife between his servant’s teeth. Hindley’s child grows up to be a violent adult. Even more telling, these brutal acts were not dwelt upon by the narrator but accepted as a matter of course.

So, in revisiting this novel, I feel that my age and a modern lense have served to lessen its appeal. As far as Heathcliff goes, I found him thoroughly unlikeable; grumpy, physically and verbally violent, grudge-holding, vengeful and spiteful, and worse – completely unrepentant (except perhaps where his Cathy is concerned). There’s a term in modern romance called: the’Alphahole’ – an Alpha character who is so utterly Alpha, that he is actually a massive jerk. It does seem that Heathcliff appeals to younger women – perhaps he could be considered the pioneer of the YA ‘Hero.’

But what do you think – does Heathcliff still set a fire in your loins?

May Review Raves: Soulless by Gail Carriger and Mythmaker by Marianne De Pierres

I’ve got two books to add to your must-read pile this month (if you haven’t read them already). Both on these books sit on the fringes of the fantasy genre. Both are utterly fabulous and worth an immediate read. First up:

Mythmaker by Marianne De Pierres

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Genre: Urban Fantasy / Sci-fi / Western

Details: 320 pages, published 2015 by Angry Robot

Blurb: Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for an organisation called GJIC with Nate Sixkiller as her immediate boss. Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another. Then there’s the escalation of Mythos sightings, and the bounty on her head. Oddly, the strange and dangerous Hamish Burns is the only one she can rely on. Virgin’s life gets… untidy.

My Review: Virgin Jackson is back in the second instalment of Marianne De Pierres’ Peacemaker series. This one’s just as action packed as the first, as gun-toting ranger, Virgin, aided by the taciturn US cowboy Nate Sixkiller, her spirit animal and her possibly psychotic self-appointed bodyguard, Hamish, set out to discover the truth about the Mythos. She’s got a mystery to solve and her name to clear, and a bounty and a murder rap both hang over her head. Beautifully written and tightly paced, De Pierres’ novel takes us from wild, open spaces to cramped city slums and back again. Urban Fantasy meets sci-fi, meets western, this is a book that will grip you from start to finish. Yee-haa!

Grab it here (Amazon) or support local Australian bookshops, and grab it here (Booktopia)

You can read a stellar review of its predecessor, Peacemaker here.

 

Soulless by Gail Carriger

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Genre: Paranormal Historical Romance

Details: 373 pages, published 2009 by Orbit

Book blurb: Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. 

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. 

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series: a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

My Review:  A blend of Victorian, steampunk, regency comedy of costume, romance, horror, paranormal (werewolves and vampires) – Soulless is a librarian’s worst nightmare when it comes to deciding on a shelf to put it on. The storyline and concept, however, are both absolute crackers, and if you haven’t read this book (and I know I came to this party late) you really ought to!

Alexia Tarabotti is an outspoken, self-professed Victorian spinster who carries a cane just to beat up potential attackers. She’s attacked by a rogue vampire, who discovers (much to his dismay) that he’s messed with the wrong girl. Alexia has plenty of tricks up her sleeve (not the least of which is her Soulless ability which neutralises supernatural power)

Enamoured by the gruff, yet dangerously attractive Lord Maccon (who also happens to be a werewolf), Alexia must survive assassination and kidnapping attempts, her attraction to Lord Maccon (unsuccessfully), and her best friend’s terrible choice in hats. Written in a delicious Jane Austen style, there is enough absurdity in this book to make you laugh, and enough mystery to keep you turning the pages well into the night. Can you tell I’m Miss Carriger’s new number 1 fan?

Grab this book here.