for fantasy readers and writers

Latest

New stories

Yay! I have three new stories in the process of being published –

Fly Eyes: A student’s worst nightmare, a teacher who really does have eyes in the back of her head.

Flash fiction, upcoming in issue 158 of Antipodean SF Available online and as a podcast.

Azure Wings:  A post-apocalyptic fairy tale with a botanical twist.

My first foray in eformatting, self-publishing AND cover design. Once upon a time writers wrote – now we can do the lot. It’s time consuming but liberating. Check it out via Smashwords.

Frozen Tears: A not so traditional love story.

The editors of Scherezade’s Delight have expressed interest in this one, just have to make some minor changes. Check them out if you’re interested in myth and fairytales, along with their sister journal ‘Cabinet des Fees’ at the same site.

Cyclone Yasi and the ghosts of trees

Every wet season I am glued to the weatherzone forums, on the lookout for imminent disaster. I watch the cyclones pass to the north or south, breathe a sigh of relief and feel slightly disappointed that the drama missed us. This year I realised how stupid I am.

Cyclone Yasi was a monster storm, large enough to damage most of North Queensland. We began receiving emergency alerts a couple of days in advance, then every few hours. ‘Most life threatening storm in a generation, imminent loss of life, massive storm surge, Category 5, evacuate now,’ were the messages. We evacuated the morning before it hit, much to our teenage sons’ disgust. I’ll never forget the journey on the highway south under a dark sky. No traffic came north, except ambulances, army helicopters and swiftwater rescue teams. For the expected casualties. ‘You’re soft,’ my sons said, ‘we want to stay with our mates.’ I didn’t care.

By the time we got to the Whitsundays we were being blown across the road so we holed up with friends in a hillside apartment and watched yachts dragging at anchor. The eye of the cyclone passed in the night, well to the north of our city and sparing us from the most damaging winds.

The 250 km journey back home was an ‘adventure’ – kind of. Flooded creeks, 50 km tail backs, police and emergency service workers everywhere. ‘At least we have a story now too,’ said my youngest son. I thought that was an interesting comment for a 14 yr old. The thing he had most missed due to evacuating was being part of the ‘story’ happening at home.

We ended up needing somewhere to sleep after taking 8 hours to travel 120 kms. Most people returning north slept on the road side, on concrete pavements and under service station roofs but we were fortunate enough to find a small hostel that opened up as we drove past. The place was filthy and the bathrooms worse. ‘You’ll get a disease if you have a shower in there,’ my older son told the younger, who then refused to wash. ‘Rats,’ the older one said later, as we tossed and turned on our skinny mattresses. Scratching noises echoed in the dark. ‘Giant rats,’ he said while the younger one panicked (it had been an emotional few days). ‘Stop scratching the walls or sleep outside!’ I yelled. I know my sons too well to be taken in by fake rodents.

We staggered home to find a city that had lost over 60,000 trees. Lost is the wrong word – they were all still there, just horizontal, split, smashed, piled on roads and fences, but weirdly, not on buildings. Our house was intact but the garden wasn’t and neither was my favourite tree – the one that gave us privacy, shaded us from the tropical sun and provided a home for dozens of bird species. The garden was trashed, and the street, and the suburb….we had no electricity for 8 days, no fans, no refrigeration, no tv, internet, phones, aircons, fresh food. North Queensland summers are hot and we rely on these things.

It wasn’t all bad. We discovered conversation, board games and early nights. We put candles in glasses and drew sailing ships on them, watching them flicker across imaginary oceans on the living room walls. A couple of suburbs still had electricity and people we hardly knew dropped ice off, did our washing, cooked food and let us email worried family and friends. We met some neighbours for the first time.

And most fortunate of all, we don’t live further north where homes and livelihoods were destroyed. But it could have happened to us. ‘Mum, that was the strangest 2 weeks of my life,’ said my youngest son a few months later. It continues to be much worse than strange for many of our fellow North Queenslanders, many of our fellow human beings. Life is back to normal, except for the ghosts of trees. I miss them but, unlike so many, I have kept the most precious things. And I’m cured of being excited about cyclone watching.

Self-sabotage and serendipity

I was driving along the other day, listening to the radio. Anne Lamott was being interviewed about faith and writing and she told a story about going shopping with her best friend Pam, who was seriously ill with breast cancer and in a wheelchair. She died two weeks after the shopping trip took place.

Anne tried on a dress and turned to Pam, saying ‘Pam, do my hips look big in this?’
In a quiet voice, Pam replied ‘Annie, you don’t have time.’ It was one of those moments when someone’s words hit your heart like an arrow hitting a bullseye. I turned the radio off and thought about all the time and energy I waste worrying about stuff that is ridiculously unimportant.

I met someone at the library an hour or so after that and browsed the shelves as I waited. Anne Lamott’s book on writing, ‘Bird by Bird’, caught my eye. I’ve never read it so I picked it up and opened it at random. The first sentence I came to was on Anne and her friend Pam. Nothing like a bit of serendipity to reinforce a message!

Later the same day a friend of mine was talking about submitting a piece of writing to a competition. ‘I always think people will think I’m a fraud,’ she said. I know what she means. I think most people do unless they’re pathologically self-confident or narcissists. ‘You don’t have time for this,’ I said, and told her the story. I’m trying to remember it myself, especially when I wonder why I write and think of it as a time-wasting gamble. I don’t have time for this self-sabotage. And neither do you.

A foolproof way to overcome writer’s block

If you’re anything like me you’re a procrastinator who makes another coffee (I’ll be more productive), does the washing up (I can’t function with mess – if I clean it up I’ll be more productive), pays the bills (I’d better clear it up so I’ll be more…you know what I’m going to say). I find writing hard. Walter Wellesley Smith was talking about me when he said, There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.’ But I know loads of people who say ‘I LOVE writing, I can never do enough of it,’ or ‘Yes, it’s a bit difficult when you have four children under five and a full time job, that’s why I get up at 4am and write before they go to kindy.’

I listen to those people and I read about them too. They make me feel abnormal and deranged. I wish I was them and I wonder why I’m deluding myself and if I’m on the wrong path and if true happiness means just staying in my job. Actually, I am happy in my job, in fact I love my job which probably means I make the people who hate theirs feel abnormal and deranged.

However, I want to love my job AND love writing. And now I have the answer. Dr Wicked, whoever she or he may be, is one of those people who can see a problem and fix it with a software solution. I think people like Dr Wicked are the alchemists of our day, the ones who change base metal into gold. Internet Alchemists. (There’s a name for a web business. Take it, it’s yours.)

But back to Dr Wicked. He/she has invented a wonderful, simple little piece of software that turns procrastinating writer-haters into prolific churner-outers. Download Write or Die for the measly sum of $10.00 and supercharge your writing life. Or your journalling life or your stream of conciousness, never going to be published I just feel like it life. BTW – you can use it for zero dollars via the website, but why would you? 

What it does is this:

You set your writing time (mine is 15 mins) and your word count (mine is 400). You can set your time for 4 hrs  and your word count for 5000 but I believe in small steps, big rewards…

Then you choose the hideous sound that will play when you pause. The ‘crying babies’ one really gets my fingers typing. If you stop, the screen blushes a pale pink. If you don’t get a move on it deepens to scarlet. If you’re still paralysed you’re in trouble because your eardrums are about to be blasted.

I have written 600 words in 15 minutes rather than hear the scraping of ‘hideous violins’. The converse happens when you reach your goal – ta da’s and celebratory noise. It’s awesome and I find it really easy to meet my word count now. Who can’t find 15 minutes? Go say hello to Dr. Wicked and give it a try. You might spawn four children AND get up at 4am to write.

Favourite dystopic novels (and a few movies)

I’m finding it hard to think about anything right now except the unfolding disaster in Japan. So I’m going to write about post-apocalyptic novels. I’m drawn to this genre. Put it down to my background in the environmental sustainability field and spending my adolescence under the threat of nuclear annihilation in Britain during the Cold War. Or maybe I’m tapping into a growing unease that one day we will have to pay the piper for our merry consumerist dance. Plus the end of the world millenarianism thing has a venerable history. Our ancestors were always predicting end times. I’m not sure why humans have always felt that way, maybe it’s prescience or perhaps it’s a way of keeping us all in line. Like threatening children at bedtime.

Perhaps it’s also linked to the reason people read crime novels. The baddie gets caught and loose ends are sewn up, restoring a sense of rightness to the world. Justice does win and order returns, (with a few bumps,severed limbs and buckets of blood along the way). Maybe the same goes for the post-apocalyptic novel. Unlike most fantasy novels in which the heroes are trying to save the world, it’s too late for that. The worst has already happened. The really truly absolute worst, worse than a serial killer on the loose, worse than your beloved cheating on you, worse than the loss of someone you adore. This is what happens when the hero doesn’t win. The world as we know it ends and civilisation evaporates in nuclear disaster, ecological catastrophe, technological madness, plague etc. etc.

But there are survivors, of course. They live in a grim world and there’s usually a threat from other humans but they do survive and in one way or another, they overcome. So there’s hope. There’s always hope. Hope for resilience, love, and the future of life on earth. Here’s to hope, for right now we need it. And let’s hope this genre doesn’t become non-fiction.

Some of my favourites

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, After the Flood – post ecological catastrophe, bioengineering, dystopian societies, the game ‘Extinctathon’. Read them!

Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz – a classic. Monks reshape Catholicism six centuries after nuclear annihilation. A very readable examination of science and religion in a new Dark Age.

Gene Wolfe, Wolf in Shadow – this one got a bit convoluted towards the end, but I love those enigmatic anti-hero heroes.

Angela Carter, Heroes and Villains – lush, surreal, twisted romance. Has a literary feel.

Terry Brooks, Shannara Series – demons meet elves (and humans) in a post-apocalyptic land.

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle – aah! One of my favourite authors – quirky, succinct, humorous and unique. There’s nothing quite like ice-nine…

Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing – my vision of the perfect place to live (if it wasn’t encircled by the enemy).

Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games – one of the few trilogies that maintains the pace and quality from the first book to the last.

Paul Zindel, Z for Zacchariah– tense, gripping, creepy YA told by a young girl in diary form after theworld has been destroyed by a nuclear holocaust.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 – set in a dystopian society. Ray Bradbury must have had a crystal ball, given that this was written in the ‘50s. V. short, no wasted words, absolutely brilliant. The Mechanical Hound will live on in your mind for days to come. And Fahrenheit 451? It’s the temperature at which books burn.

And I have to mention the one I love to hate: Cormac McCarthy, The Road. This one taps into my darkest fears. I find it unrelenting, hopeless and bleak. I now
people venerate this book and say that it shows the power of love and so on. I disagree. There isn’t a blade of grass in this novel, not a stick, a twig, aleaf. It kills me.

And a few movies

I am Legend –zombie apocalyspe. Only to be watched from behind the sofa.

The Book of Eli –I enjoyed the tone and the twist, but would have liked to see the power of biblical language used more.

Knowing – unsettling. I thought it had strong overtones of the religious right and climate change (unlikely partners) but haven’t seen that mentioned in reviews.
Just me, I guess.

Nausicaa Valley of the Winds – beautiful Japanese animation.

Dr Strangelove – pre-apocalyptic, but it’s worthy of inclusion.

The first post!

‘Where the Wild Things Are’ has always been one of my favourite books. I love the way Max sets sail in his little boat to a strange land full of unpredictable monsters, rules them and returns transformed. That’s the power of story.

We all need stories and we all tell them. Not just through books, but through movies, youtube videos, television ads, around the dinner table and in glossy corporate brochures. It’s how we understand our world and construct value and meaning.

The ways we tell our stories are changing fast and I’m caught up in that, with my challenge being to publish my work in digital form. But I don’t think we’re changing the stories themselves fast enough. I believe it’s time we told some new (or very old) tales about our place in the natural world before we lose something irretrievable and infinitely precious. I hope my writing goes a small way towards that. There’s a long way to go.

As for this blog, think of it as a kind of kaleidoscope where things can be played with and twisted to make something new. Or a mosaic perhaps, where fragments of colour form a picture in your head.

I’ll share book reviews and discoveries from the real world or the imagined one, as well as things that work for me as far as inspiration and nurturing creativity goes. There’ll probably be a focus on fantasy and cultural stuff old and new that makes me go ‘wow’ or ‘imagine that!’

I guess we’ll see….