Sunday, February 19, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: STEPHEN DEDMAN

After a little hiatus thanks to shutuptou'renotmyMum, we're back with another Precious Things post. This time out, it's friend, mentor, Australian SF veteran and furniture, and all-round frood of the froods, Doctor Stephen Dedman!
Stephen is the author of (watch this space for regular updates) novels, 120+ short stories and a non-fiction book on the historic relationship between American SF and the US military. His history is littered with service to writerdom, and he is currently available as a manuscript mentor through the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre. He plans to update his website any day now. 
armed-forces
Cool, innit?
My first experience of Stephen was meeting him at a long-distant Perth Writers Festival, when it was still held at the Fremantle Arts Centre and had just about enough budget to pay to open the gates. (We knew it before it went electric...) After a long, and at times, exhausting panel on an uncovered stage in the centre of the courtyard, in the mid-day February sun (It should be noted: Stephen's wardrobe come in any colour you like, as long as you like black), he still took the time to accept being buttonholed by a naive git looming out of the crowd as he departed, asking him for advice, patronage, and general feelings of bonhomie. The fact that he took the time to chat, give me his contact details, and provide one of the single most useful piece of writing advice I've ever received, tells you a lot about the man. 
Later, he invited me to join him at my first science fiction convention, and shared my first ever panel. He purchased some of my earliest stories. He was best man at my wedding to Luscious. It's been a friendship of going on 15 years and counting.
Stephen is one of the coolest people I know. So there.
Precious Things: Stephen Dedman
Most precious literary possession? Only one? Jesus, Battersby, do I ask you to name your favourite child and put that up on the web?
The oldest book in my collection, maybe? That would be the Lafcadio Hearn first edition, a gift from Grant Stone, WA’s patron saint of the fantastic. The book that’s been in my family the longest? That would be the leatherbound Complete Works of William Shakespeare given to my maternal grandfather as a prize for Latin in 1926. (My sister has the family Bible; I think I won that round.) The book I’ve owned the longest? That would be Hans Meacham’s Vanished Giants of Australia, which I’ve had since I was twelve. While I now own many better books on the subject, this one is precious to me not only because it introduced me to Thylacoleo and Megalania and Kronosaurus, but because I managed to save it from joining so many of the other books I’d previously owned, in the library of the private school where my mother taught. (Hi, Mum!)
Other contenders? Books signed by Theodore Sturgeon, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett, Richard Matheson, Douglas Adams, Richard Adams, Harry Harrison, Anne McCaffrey, George Alec Effinger, Bob Shaw, Nigel Kneale, and many other writers who are still with us… A Doctor Who Programme Guide signed by Tom Baker, Peter Davison and Katy Manning… A lovely leather-bound The Hobbit that rendered me speechless at my 21st birthday party, the paperbacks of The Lord of the Rings and Childhood’s End that I’ve had since my teens and read more than any other volumes I own… the letter from Roald Dahl to my mother’s students, the original of the introduction Jack Horner wrote for GURPS Dinosaurs, my first acceptance letter from Ellen Datlow…
But the winner is (may I have the envelope, please?), my copy of The Dirty Little Unicorn, the book I wrote which Keira McKenzie illustrated - and coloured by hand. There are other copies around (this was #2 of 200), but that one is unique. Thanks, Keira!
unicorn

Sunday, February 05, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: BEVAN MCGUINESS



Welcome, my friends, to the mind of Western Australian fantasy author Bevan McGuiness. Bevan is a veteran of novels (including his Eleven Kingdoms and Triumvirate series'), short stories, reviews, and textbook works on science, a subject he suffers through daily in the name of educating the teens of this world. 
Keep your arms and legs within the carriage, and please, ignore the man behind the curtain...

mcguiness_bevan

Precious Things: Bevan McGuinness

My most precious literary ‘thing’ is a memory.
I grew up loving Science, firmly believing I was going to be a scientist, in fact I recall saying when I was 11 that I would be a Theoretical Physicist. I actually read encyclopedias (encyclopedia?) for fun and watched Doctor Who (and Star Trek of course, with my Dad on those occasions when Mum went to bed early). It was all sorted – Physics for me.
Something that every scientist should do is read Science Fiction, which I did. I read Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Hugh Walters among others. I watched documentaries on TV and went to the museum, all the time looking forward to my life in Science.
All the time this was going on, there was a little three-shelf bookcase in the passage at the back of our house. It faced the big linen cupboards and had a picture of something I do not recall on the wall above it. The passage led from the bathroom to my parents’ bedroom with the dining room beyond the right hand wall and the bedroom I shared with my brother beyond the left hand wall. It was fairly narrow and I could sit with my back leaning on the linen cupboard door and my feet resting against the base of the book case, with my knees bent just enough to rest a book on them.
It was in that corridor, sitting just like that, that I discovered my parents’ book collection – the grown-up books. I would love to be able to list off a dozen or so of the titles to impress with my amazing recall, but I can remember very few – The Third Eye, The Horsemen, The Treasure of San Michel, The Good Earth and The Fountainhead are some of them. When I was done reading a sci-fi novel, I would often sneak out and read a ‘grown-up’ book.

good-earth

Sitting there, under the somewhat yellowed light of a 40 watt bulb, I discovered that characters in stories could be nuanced, could be noble but flawed, could be so good it hurt and so bad I could actively hate a made up person. I learned that stories could tell about bad people doing good things and good people suffering for doing good things. In short I learned everything children’s books of the sixties did not tell me. 

the-fountainhead

I grew a love of the written word in that passage, with my back to the wall, squinting in the dim light. It did not occur to me then, or for many years, how much impact reading those grown-up books had on me but the memory of those complex, far away lands and those subtle real people never left me. I owe a lot to that little book case. 

Saturday, February 04, 2017



Another upcoming appearance for your diaries: March 2nd, I'll be appearing on stage with a fantastic lineup of childrens' authors as part of the Children's Book Council of Australia-- WA's A Night With Our Stars event. 
Alongside the likes of James Foldy, Kylie Howarth, Norman Jorgensen, Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Meg Caddy, I'll be talking about Magrit, writing, and all things froody and writerly. Here's a poster, even, saying exactly that:
mar17-talk

I've been amused to note that promotion for the event has referred to me as a "new talent" (although at least they say 'talent'). It's a risk you take when you hop genres: not every reader will come with you, and not everybody in the new field will know your track history. Still, after 16 years, it raises a smile, particularly as I've just been interviewed by a fellow speculative fiction author for a paper she's writing on the subject of writing time.
So, for those of you who may be meeting me for the first time due to Magrit, or came in late, or just have some sort of vague slightly-less-than-indifferent interest in how I came to this place, here' the potted history I provided to my academic friend:

16 YEARS A KNAVE

I started writing as a way of concentrated creativity (as opposed to writing purely for self) in my last years of High School-- I was starting to stand out as an English student at the creative end of the spectrum, rather than the critical, and it was a way to accelerate that sense of achievement. My year 12 teacher recognised something in me that I, perhaps, hadn't-- that there may be a germ of genuine talent in what I wrote, rather than a glib facility for getting easy marks-- and encouraged me to think of a literary carer as something achievable.
At the end of Year 12 I applied for, and received, entry into the Australian Defence Force Academy-- I was off to become a Lieutenant in the Army. Two days before I was due to fly out I suffered a catastrophic crisis of confidence: I cancelled my flight, cancelled my appointment, and went to University for the next 3 years to study writing, instead-- I quite literally ran away from the Army to become a poet!
Once at Uni, I found myself feeling very much an outsider-- I was the product of a working class, manual trades, English background, with all the prejudices and assumptions inherent to that upbringing, surrounded by people who were embracing their artistic natures and freedom of thought to what I thought was the point of absurdity (there are only so many Sylvia Plath references a working class boy can take per tutorial before he becomes a mite snappy). I saw myself as marginalised, both within my family (University was not the sort of place 'the likes of us' went to-- we got proper jobs, we did) and within my so-called peers.

My solution was to fight back through my writing-- not enough to accept the words of my tutors: I went to the marketplace. I wrote furiously, sent out everywhere, received hard-nosed, professional advice that almost exclusively contradicted the more academic training I was receiving, and picked my side: I was an aspiring professional writer surrounded by rainbow-waving dilettantes.

I was a kid, and a git. 

I graduated University in 1991, took a Dip Ed in 1992, and drifted away from story writing for 11 years: I took in stand-up comedy, writing legislation, reviews, stage writing, single panel cartoons..... a lot of creation, and without realising it, a lot of experience in different forms of what I eventually drifted back to: writing, pure and uncut.

I started writing again in 1999: my wife was a fan of some bloody awful television. The Gilmore Girls stands out, but every night there was an hour where I was faced with a choice between writing in solitude, or sitting next to her trying to keep the bile down. I was immature, and selfish: I chose to write. (My current marriage, I'm a much less stupid husband: I write less, but I know what happens in Bones, and I'm used to the taste of bile.)

After a year of writing and not submitting, I became the typical overnight success story: In February of 2001, I sold the first three stories I submitted, within an hour of each other. For the record:
  1. Through Soft Air, to Orb Magazine
  2. Carrying the God, to Writers of the Future, and
  3. The Habit of Dying, to Alien Q. (No link, because they stiffed me on payment, and I had to threaten legal action to get them to take the story off the page, so screw them.)
And that was me, off into what is now a 16 year literary career, of sorts.

Review: The Incredibly Strange Film Book

The Incredibly Strange Film Book The Incredibly Strange Film Book by Jonathan Ross
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Up until now, I've only been aware of Jonathan Ross from his work on TV, where he comes across as an overwhelmingly obsequious, arse-kissing lickspittle. So it was a surprise to read that some of his early work was in presenting a show about the sort of obscure cult films that I love to watch. This book is the accompanying text to that show, and while it might present new information to anyone approaching cult movies for the first time, it does little to dispel my previous impression of Ross. The text rarely searches for depth, instead presenting simple narratives that read like the result of the most cursory skimming of other works on the subject; the humour, such as it is, is glib and only pointed towards the easiest of targets (a chapter pretending to outline the stunted career of 'forgotten' actor Jack Nicholson is particularly wearisome); and while some of the objects of Ross' adulation seem designed to establish some sort of alternative film cred, they are presented in exactly the smarmy, grovelling tones that make his talk shows, for example, such an odious chore.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 29, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: DEB FITZPATRICK

Oh, I've had so many things I wanted to blog about this last week : I want to say a few things about the passing of legendary actor John Hurt; to talk about starting my new work-- a piece of military SF short fiction, and how losing one story fragment has led me to another opportunity; and to talk about the new fitness routine that has led to me losing 3 and a half kilos since the start of the year. BUT I've been a-bed since lunchtime last Wedneday with a chest infection that just won't quit, so it's all going to have to wait.

In the meantime, though, I can at least get a new Precious Things post up. This time, it's the lovely Deb Fitzpatrick. Deb's an author of YA and Children's books who I first met a couple of years ago at the opening of the Perth Writers Festival, and it just brings a smile to my face each time we bump into each other: she's a joyous personality, and that's reflected in the positive, enriching books she writes.Her latest is At My Door, a title for younger readers. The Break (2014) is for adult readers. Her two novels for young adults – 90 Packets of Instant Noodles (2010) and Have You Seen Ally Queen? (2011) – were named Notable Books by the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA). The Amazing Spencer Gray (2013), a novel for younger readers, will be published in the US in early 2017. In mid-2017 a follow-up book, The Spectacular Spencer Gray, will be published.



Precious Things: Deb Fitzpatrick




While I don't think of it as a precious literary treasure, I would say that That Book for me is The Bodysurfers by Robert Drewe.






It was the book in which I first saw my own places drawn on the page, lyrically, beautifully – places made valid as literary settings. Rob Drewe grew up in Perth and had already achieved great things in The Savage Crows when I read this book of short stories.

To see the beaches I grew up on written about in this way really opened up some possibilities for me...

Friday, January 27, 2017

SUBMITTED!

An ammonite named Anthony
swam in the prehistoric sea,
protected by a horny shell,
that seemed to do the job quite well.

The first writing goal of 2017 has been achieved: Anthony the Ammonite has been completed and submitted to my publisher for consideration.

Next task: stop daydreaming about it, and write a submission for SNAFU: Judgement Day. Because nothing says consistency of career arc like switching from heart-warming rhymes about cute creatures finding their purpose in life to post-apocalyptic military horror......

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: Scaredy Cat

Scaredy Cat Scaredy Cat by Mark Billingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taut thriller with nicely-drawn characterisation and a structure that enhances what could have been a cliched storyline, cleverly entwining past and present narratives while playfully twisting the killer-couple framework. It is let down slightly by some dodgy gender politics, and a climax that veers towards a 'written for TV' feel, but generally a very satisfying read.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 22, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS TWOFER: GREG CHAPMAN AND MICHAEL ROBOTHAM

Time for another Precious Thing to be revealed, and for reasons soon to be revealed, today we have no less than two examples for your education, entertainment, and all-round enjoyment.

First off the rank is Greg Chapman.

Greg has been quietly racking up credits as both author and artist since 2009, and has ranked out a series of novellas, stories, and graphic works on a regular basis, including collaborating on the Stoker Award-winning graphic novel Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times with Lisa Morton and the late Rocky Wood. One of the nicest guys around, and a true lover of the dark side of the speculative street, Greg's a constant voice for the inclusion and enjoyment of dark fiction. You can find out more about Greg at his website, but for now, here he is on the subject of his most precious literary treasure.



Precious Things: Greg Chapman



It was Stephen King who said “books are uniquely portable magic” and there’s never been a truer word spoken for a bibliomaniac like me.

Not only do I have a craving for writing books, I also love to collect them (much to my family’s dismay, who groan whenever I see a secondhand book store or hear of a Lifeline book sale). My shelves are filled with paperbacks by Laymon, Herbert, King, Shelley and signed editions by Clive Barker, reference books on Jack the Ripper, forensic science and psychology. There’s even a few Doctor Who and X-Files tomes that I have hoarded over the years – and I cherish each and every one of them.

Yet the one I adore the most is a 1979 Octopus hardcover edition of Forty-Two Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, my all-time favourite classic author. The book is one I indulge in often as it is, in my humble opinion, the embodiment of a perfect edition. Lavishly emblazoned with illustrations by Harry Clarke, it’s incredibly satisfying to look at, let alone read.





Unfortunately the circumstances I acquired it in weren’t especially noteworthy, but I do remember how excited I was when I first saw it. I was living in Gladstone, Queensland at the time and the family and I decided to attend a used book sale, literally in the bowels of the Gladstone City Library. I remember coming across the book in a box and I felt like Indiana Jones finding the Ark of the Covenant. The woven cover of the volume was deliciously rough in my hands and I’m pretty sure I had to conceal my smile from all the other book sniffers around me because I believed I had found literary gold – well in my mind at least.





There’s just something about a used book; the worn cover, the yellowed pages, the lignin scent – and by god, it was Edgar Allan Poe! No one else in my family could see the significance, but I could and that was all that mattered. Since first reading The Fall of the House of Usher back in university I’d always wanted to own an old collection of Poe’s works, and although this wasn’t a first edition, or a volume from the turn of the century, it was – and still is – an absolute treasure. It’s not worth much in today’s money, but to me it’s bloody priceless.




These days books are churned out in their millions on simple paper, very few are illustrated. As a writer and artist this copy is what books were always intended to be – works of literary art. I usually pick up the book at least once a year and breathe in its power and within minutes of savouring the stories and art within, I’m already inspired to make my own. The flame of imagination is well and truly lit.




Just like King said, books can cast a spell over us all.




Precious Things Special Feature: Michael Robotham


(Photo by Philip Klaunzer. Egregiously taken from the Mystery Scene website)


And as a special bonus, I have a few words from one of Australia's greatest ever crime exports (and not in a Kangaroo Gang, Danni Minogue's career, kind of way, but in a God-I-can't-put-this-brilliant-crime-novel-down-and-I-have-to-be-at-work-in-two-hours-and-I-haven't-been-to-bed-yet kind of way), the always-compulsively-readable Michael Robotham.

Michael pointed out that he's recently answered pretty much exactly this question over at the Mystery Scene website, and kindly gave me permission to reproduce his answer. Rather than take advantage of their formatting, editing time, and moxy, it's far better that I point you in Mystery Scene's direction, so that you can have a look at the rest of their cool material while you're there.

So go there and read Michael's Precious Thing in its natural environment!









Sunday, January 15, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: ANNA TAMBOUR

Let's make one thing clear: if you've assembled a list of best speculative fiction authors in Australia, and Anna Tambour isn't on it, you've either not read her or you're wrong.

Anna is, quite simply, one of the most original and fascinating speculative voices this country has ever produced. Her novels and collections, such as Monterra's Deliciosa and Other Stories, and Spotted Lily, have garnered fans everywhere they've touched, and awards lie up to throw nominations at her. her 2013 novel Crandolin, for example, was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Her most recent publication is her 2015 collection The Finest Ass in the Universe. As with all her works, it's a sublime treat.

Despite all this, (and the fact you can find her online at her website here), Anna remains one of the most humble and self-effacing people I've ever met. When I asked her for a bio, she sent me this:

There are for each of us, according to his turn of mind, certain books that open up horizons hitherto undreamed of and mark an epoch in our mental life. They fling wide the gates of a new world wherein our intellectual powers are henceforth to be employed; they are the spark which lights the fuel on a hearth doomed, without its aid, to remain infinitely bleak and cold. And it is often chance that places in our hands those books which mark the beginning of a new era in the evolution of our ideas. The most casual circumstances, a few lines that happen somehow to come before our eyes, decide our future and plant us in the appointed groove.


            — J.H. Fabre, The Hunting Wasps




This, then, is one of my very favourite people in SF:


Precious Things: Anna Tambour

My greatest literary treasure is the first book I ever read by myself--a collection of stories such as "The Little Red Hen" and "The Brownies' Circus" and poems such as "The Owl and the Pussycat", "Who Has Seen the Wind?", and possibly my greatest influence for making me a committed and possibly committable satirist, A.A. Milne's immortal "The King's Breakfast" whose glorious illustrations are as important as the words (as are the illos for all the other stories and poems here, including "The Little Red Hen"). 





This book taught me the joy of music in language, the heights simple linework illos can reach--as well as making me sad for children of today who are so often barraged by unnecessary intrusions about the creators themselves. I didn't give a fig about not knowing the others or the disgracefully uncredited illustrators. I just read and gazed and thought about and further thought from this launch pad. 

The book itself is irrelevant to anyone else, but still reigns close enough to stare me down when I forgot how irrelevant I am.




Monday, January 09, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: DONNA MAREE HANSON

Okay, I'm sick at home, and a whole bunch of my creative friends like this Precious Things ideas, and they've sent me their spiels already. Sooooooooooo...... that's enough of an excuse to pop another one up for our reading pleasure, isn't it?




Donna Maree Hanson is a Canberra-based writer of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and under the pseudonym Dani Kristoff, paranormal romance. Her dark fantasy series (which some reviewers have called ‘grim dark’), Dragon Wine, is published by Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan's digital imprint). In April 2015, she was awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction’ for her work in running science fiction conventions, publishing and broader SF community contribution. Donna also writes young adult science fiction, with Rayessa and the Space Pirates and Rae and Essa’s Space Adventures out with Escape Publishing. In 2016, Donna  commenced her PhD candidature researching Feminism in Popular Romance. Her first Indie published book, Argenterra, was publishing in late April 2016. Argenterra is the first in an epic fantasy series (the Silverlands) suitable for adult and young adult readers. You can find out more about Donna at her website, but for now, here is the story of her literary treasure.



Precious Things: Donna Maree Hanson


Lee asked: what is your most precious literary treasure? What is your most precious literary possession? Tell me its story. Tell me why it's so precious to you, and what it means to you.

This is a hard question. I don’t think I have any from my childhood like Lee does. I read but it wasn’t until I was nineteen that I really started to read again. I’ve always loved science fiction, which at that time was television: Star Trek; UFO; Blake’s 7; etc. In film, it was Star Wars that blew me away. So for books, I started with science fiction mainly. Asimov’s Foundation series took my brain apart and reassembled it, but at the time a lot of the content was over my head but it led me to read more SF that the local library had.

One day, though, a young friend gave me Stephen Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane to read. I was 23 years old. I remember saying to him that I couldn’t get into it. He said just keep reading…and I did. Oh my God! I lived and breathed that book and the rest of the series. It changed how I thought about the world. (Now at that time I hadn’t read Lord of the Rings. Get it! I didn’t know that Donaldson had borrowed extensively from Tolkien.) I went around hugging trees, thinking that world was full of life, and I’d gaze at horse thinking back to Thomas Covenant and meeting the mythical horses and how he could feel them with his senses.




Not only did I read this series, I reread it many times. I had a hard-cover edition of the first trilogy, but sadly I loaned it to someone and didn’t get it back before I left New Zealand. If I could get that again, I would. It would be up there with my literary treasures (as physical books). Right now I have to settle for some old paper back versions.

There was a dearth of fantasy at that time but it turned me into a fantasy reader. In 1986 when I came back to Australia there were more and more books and I was so excited. Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles, and like everyone I know I read David Eddings. But this first trilogy from Donaldson holds the place as the first for me. It rocked my world and changed me and stayed with me. It cemented me as a reader and its influences linger on.

A brief recap on the story:Thomas Covenant is a leper, an angry person. His wife had left him and he’d lost two fingers on his left hand (I think). Then he is magically transferred to the land where he is mistaken as a historical figure. The land heals him of his leprosy. Overwhelmed with feelings and lust he rapes a young girl-- Lena-- a deed which shapes his story in the world. He’s an antihero, probably the first I ever encountered. The world is depicted in exquisite detail and with poetic words and evocative descriptions. Characters that lived for me and that I treasured as almost real. At that time in my life I hadn’t even heard some of those words he used or seen them used in that way. There are evil creatures, minions of Lord Foul, and there are giants, lovely giants. Oh my god! Saltheart Foamfollower! I have loved you forever, and cried and cried when we said goodbye.

I went on to read a lot of Donaldson’s books, but it is his two book duology, Mordant’s Need, that now sits in the most reread books pile. I just have a soft spot for Geraden and Teresa…

I would have to say that Donaldson would have be one of my writing influences because of the effect his writing had on me.

In saying the above, there are so many books that I’ve read and loved and that have been special, but you asked for the most precious, even harder to say, but I chose the first awakening for me. Also, I haven’t really told you about the precious books I own and just like looking at….



Coming up: tonnes of cool people, including Anna Tambour, Michael Robotham, and Greg Chapman. 






Sunday, January 08, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS

This year, I'm starting a new interview series on the blog. I'm asking fellow authors, artists, creators, and just generally cool people I know, one simple question:

What is your most precious literary treasure?

So, this is Precious Things. Some of the coolest people I know, telling the stories behind some of the coolest things they have: the literary artefacts that helped make them the creators they are.

As is my tradition, I'm going to start things off with my own item, partly to give you an idea of how it's all going to look, and partly because I am a hoary old egomaniac who loves the sound of his own self-importance.



This is The Book. If you've known me long enough, you've heard the story. In 1979, when I was 8 years old, my family moved from Narrogin-- a country town in the Wheatbelt of about 3000 people-- to Rockingham, a seaside town of over 25,000, where I would stay for the next 13 years. The cultural disconnect was enormous, not least because, for the first time, I was introduced to the concept of large-scale, sustained bullying. But my horizons also grew: the range of sports on offer was larger (at one stage, I was playing 5 per week); the libraries were larger, and, basically, existed; there were magical, amazing things like cinemas and drive-ins and shopping centres.... my tiny, self-contained consciousness, which had been enfolded in a comfortable cocoon of working-class English insularity and acceptance of mediocrity, was ready for cracking.

Shortly before my 9th birthday, I discovered a record at the back of my parents' record collection. A Goon Show record. Yeah. We all know how that turned out. I still have it: I claimed it when my parents split up and point-blank refused to give it back to either of them. Plus, of course, I now have many more. So many more. My sense of humour was born. And we all know how that turned out. Crack number one. Call it a fissure. Call it a freaking canyon.

Then, for my 9th birthday, I received The Book. It's official title is Science Fiction Stories for Boys. It's one of those wonderful anthologies you used to see a lot of in my youth: a quickie rightsploitation effort from Octopus Books, sold on the cheap racks at Coles and K-Mart, filled to the brim with stories whose rights expired the day before the junior acquisitions guy got the directive from his Manager. There's not even an editor by-line.



BUT: Wells. Asimov. Bradbury. Kornbluth. Leinster. Fredric Brown. Mack Reynolds. Harry Harrison. Ward Moore. Eric Frank Russell. John Christopher. Harry Harrison...... it's a work of beauty. Some of the stories are genuinely stunning: Aldiss' To Serve a Man is, in my opinion, just about his best short. And Russell's Allamagoosa is a comic classic. If you've never read Brown's Knock, well......

And then there was this story. It Could be You, by Frank Roberts. I've talked about this story before, and the indelible, life-altering impact it had upon me. This is where I found it. This is where it all began.



Something inside me went clunk, and fell out of its slot. And it's never fitted back in. And for the next 13 years, it didn't matter how much I was bullied, and beaten, and ostracised (hint: a lot). It didn't matter how dramatic and painful my life became (hint: a lot). There was somewhere to retreat to: a place where I saw the horizon in a way nobody else could, where I could determine the colours in the spectrum, or the species of my companions, or the fate of worlds. I had found the home of my mind and soul. Everything I have created, aspired towards, and dreamed of, began with that LP, and even more so, this book.

My family aside, my art aside, this tatty book is my most precious possession. It marks the point where I ceased to be my parents' heritage, and began the long, painful, and difficult fight to becoming me.


So there you have it: the first Precious Thing. Stay tuned.






Friday, January 06, 2017

PSST: WANNA GET SOME MENTORING UP YA?

So, here's my first Writer-Guy announcement for 2017: I'm a manuscript mentor for the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, along with the likes of Stephen Dedman, Satima Flavell, Laurie Steed, and Amanda Curtin.

If you'd like an exclusive one-on-one session, with targeted advice and specific plans of action, check out the details below and get your application in.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

AND ON TO THE NEW YEAR

So here we are, at the start of a new year. My too-short holiday is over. I'm back at work tomorrow. And, unless I dig in and force some changes in my life, it's going to be just another year like so many I've had recently-- aimless, drifting, trapped in a path that's slowly making me more miserable and insular, without any opportunity for change.

Normally, this is the time to make resolutions for the coming year. But, as I managed to meet exactly zero of the resolutions I set for 2016 (despite other, excellent, occurrences happening), I'm not going to be so prescriptive this year. I've set some goals, and I'll be keeping track of them. But I'll also be keeping a record of those achievements I reach that are not on the list. The greatest change I have to make is to remain positive-- I slip into depression too easily, and allow that depression to derail everything too easily as well.

So, what goals am I aiming for in 2017?

Finish Ghost Tracks. This is self-explanatory. It's the work-in-progress. It's the work I've been telling everyone I'm working on. It's the work my publisher is waiting to see. It's 15,000 words done. Time to get it done and get it into the world.

Finish Anthony the Ammonite. My little picture book, inspired by my ammonite-obsessed grandson. I'm having fun with it, it's a big change of pace, and it would be nice to see it illustrated and in the hands of my grandchildren.

Get under 100kg and stay there. My weight has been a constant battle, and appear on every annual list I make. I started 2016 at 112kg, and briefly made it as far as 99, before finishing the year as 106kg. Eating better is a big goal, and getting regular exercise. I want to be healthier, and stay in shape. Losing weight and keeping it off I the biggest part of that.

Finish my diploma. I started a Diploma of Project Management at the insistence of work, and quickly fell massively behind as I have very little interest in it. But it's been 1992 since I completed a qualification, so even for the sake of updating my CV, I should get through it.

Display at Bricktober. Okay, this is probably my soda. I'm working on a (for me) massive project for this year's Bricktober exhibition: a SHiP, and the surrounding diorama. SHiP is an acronym for 'Super Huge Investment in Parts: it's a spaceship of at least 100 studs in length. That's roughly 1 1/2 times as long as anything I've built before, even before I start working on the landing pad, support vehicles, and so on that will complete the scene. If you're going to be mad, you may as well be excellently mad.

So there are my goals. There's a lot more that I'll achieve throughout the year, but these are my markers, my milestones.

Strap in.


Friday, December 23, 2016

SEE YOU IN 2017, FOLKS

Well, my darlings, that's me for the year. I'm outta here, to spend the next 10 days in a drunken stupor relaxing with my family, my hobbies, my air-conditioning, and my platter of Christmas nibblies.

What do I plan in 2017? A return to writing, with a vengeance. 2016 was a lost year in too many ways, and the loss of my writing was amongst the most painful difficulties I went through. No more, I say.

The battle with my weight will continue. I lost-- and kept off-- several kilograms this year, but not as many as I'd hoped for, and after getting under 100kgs I slipped and have ended the year at about 105. A little bit of dedication is in order.

A little bit of dedication is in order in most things: one of the reasons 2016 became such a slippery slope of depression and difficulty was my own lack of internal fortitude. 2017 will be a return to my more manned-up self: there was a time I was a model of focus and determination. Time to get back to those days, methinks.

But, there's some positives, too: if you're of a mind, you'll be able to see me taking advantage of two wonderful opportunities throughout the year, on the back of the continued respect that Magrit is according me in my little corner of the industry.

In May, I'll be speaking, and running an all-day Masterclass, at the 2017 Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore. It's my first visit to the island nation, so I'll be combining my official duties with running round like some sort of insane, gaping tourist child, which means I'll be available for shenanigans and japery as well as dispensing my usual brand of hard-won wisdom, blasphemy and outright effrontery.

And closer to home, I've been recently announced as the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre's 2017 Established Writer in Residence. I'll be staying at the Centre for 2 weeks in July, working on a new project as well as mentoring, attending groups, and generally being available to be cool and wise and elder-statesmanly and the like. I'm yet to receive confirmation on the requirement for nakedness and loin cloths....

So here's to 2017: let it be the year we ride dragons and vanquish virgins! Wait.......


EVERYTHING GOES BETTER WITH BOOKS

Back in the long-distant past, my best friend Seanie and I bought each other a second-hand book for Christmas each year, because we were skint and it was a fun way to do it. The idea was to find a book that the other party would never buy for himself, but open opening the gift would say "Oh, yes. perfect!"

When Luscious rejoined Christmas a couple of years back, we revived the tradition. It was a nice way to do something individual, and thoughtful, and bought into our mutual bibliophilia. Last year, we included Ms 15 and Master 12, and made it a Secret Santa.

And this year, we expanded, drawing in our adult children and their partners, and organising things so that each couple contributed something for our two grandchildren, so that they ended up with the biggest swag of all. I assigned a name to each family member. We stuck to a $20 limit. Every book had to be second hand, and conform to the gift-giving "perfect!" philosophy that Seanie and I set 25 years ago. 

Last night, we gathered at our house. I make a bucket of eggnog, Luscious made a bucket of macaroni cheese, everyone added to a bucket of chips and dip and nibblies and chocolate. And we settled in to receive our books. 

So here we are: three generations of Triffbatts, with our Secret Santa books. This is how traditions start.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

2016 ADDENDUM: THE YEAR I GOT INK

After delays, cancellations, and general faffing about, I finally received my birthday present yesterday.

I think it looks rather natty myself.




It's my first tattoo, at the age of 46, and as I can't afford a sports car, and I have no intention of having an affair with my secretary, this is about as mid-life crisisish as I'm likely to get. Of course, if you're going to permanently scar yourself, the image should have some meaning, and this is no different.

I've always been a huge fan of The Prisoner, the TV show from which the image and quote are taken. The show is a meditation in individuality, personal choice, and the right to privacy in a world where the compromises you make in order to survive threaten the very notion of your right to exist as a discrete being. After most of an adult life spent trying to balance some sort of artistic career with the soul-destroying conformity of various Governmental jobs, the quote speaks for itself: it's a reminder to me of the need to constantly assert my individuality in the face of overwhelming conformity. It's cost me a great deal over the years: happiness, job satisfaction, advancement, and stress. But it's the message that I cling to, because I'm more than another faceless bureaucrat, and my worth to the Universe is greater.

The penny farthing is, to me, a bumblebee: the least efficient, most nonsensical design for achieving its primary goal, but one that works outside of all logic and reason. It's the physical manifestation of a wonderful Doctor Who line, spoken many years ago by the Third Doctor-- A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.

So, there we have it: thanks to my darling Luscious, the kids, and our good friends Kris and Kim, I'm a marked man. My physical nature is changed forever. And I'm rather pleased.