Monday, November 3, 2008

I am sad. My university experience is all but over. Classes are finished. I have two assignments to finalise this week and that’s it. Finito.

Part of me is excited at the prospect of putting all I have learned to good use. I want to write and write and write. Ideas keep popping into my head – more than I can use. So many things keep popping into my head that I find it hard to concentrate on any one idea at a time.

Another part of me is incredibly sad that this amazing experience is finished. My learning will not cease – I now have a better idea of what sort of things I need to ask myself, what I need to work on. I am now merely more educated in what I need to work on. However I am going to miss the people I have been working with the past nine months so very much. As I walked out of the Communication Learning Resource Centre for the last time as a student, I was so close to tears it wasn’t funny.

I have to make mention of some of the wonderful people there. I spent a lot of my time the Communication Learning Resource Centre, a facility available to all those students in communication programs. It is staffed by student employees under supervision of a couple of staff. What a wonderful group. It made going there most days an absolute pleasure.

The University of Canberra hasn’t seen the last of me. Now that I know the people and the resources, I see it as a good research centre, along with the other wonderful facilities available to me here in Canberra. Plus I need somewhere to boast when I start winning Bookers and Oscars!

Inspiration can occur from the littlest things. A snippet of an article in a free local weekly gave me an idea for a new story. However this time, unlike most of my other ideas, I am seeing this one as a script from the outset. This reflects more of my learning this past academic year, and perhaps my growing maturity as a storyteller. I have yet to flesh the idea out properly as I have other, more urgent immediate priorities. I suspect that I may need to work with someone else on this, at least during the development phase. I have somebody in mind and will be hitting them up with the idea at some point in the future. I also have nearby experts on hand who can assist. Just one more project, one more story to tell.

I read once that Bryce Courtenay says he has more stories to tell than time to tell them. Right now I know what he means.

With my uni studies all but complete, time to think seriously about the future. I am working part-time to help keep a roof over my head and food on the table. Beyond that, I have many projects and ideas that I want to tackle. Over the next few days I will be putting together an action list, prioritising these for the immediate future. I want to divide my writing time between non-fiction projects that will expand the portfolio and turn a dollar, and fiction pieces to continue sharpening my authorial sword, to misquote Stephen Covey. If I want to be a pro then I need to work like one – sticking to my time at the desk on my designated writing days.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

reviewing books


I am now officially a 'staff writer' for - a website that has the eventual aim of being a one-stop shop for the speculative fiction writer/reader. My first contribution to this was a review of Confessions of a Pod Person by Chuck McKenzie.

Chuck is one my favourite short story authors. Hysterically funny but with an underlying edge to his work. As my mother's former student at Kyabram Primary School used to say - 'do yourself a favour' and go out and get a copy. Oh - and I'm referring to Ian 'Molly' Meldrum for those who missed the reference.

As one of the reviewers for aboygoesonajourney, I have just been asked to make my selections of books I want to review from a particular publisher's January and February catalogues. Gosh - such excitement. Yayyyyy I want to get more into this reviewing thing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008

on Censors and Mentors

The poet, WH Auden, wrote that the aspiring poet needs to develop an internal Censor. This is the voice of a past master. The poet needs to have a 'literary transference' onto that master. It is the poet's apprenticeship, served in a library, not on a building site or workshop. By studying your chosen master, you develop your internal Censor, the voice of the chosen master who tells you what the poem is like, what is working, what isn't.

I am attempting to cultivate the voice of Australian poet, Les Murray, as my Censor for my poetry. I can imagine him stomping around in frustration at my efforts. In deference to Les, I have put my poetry book aside for now. I suspect that even my imaginary Censor can only take so much.

While this idea of poetry Censor is only some weeks old for me, arising out of a poetry lecture several weeks ago, I believe that it applies equally well in writing fiction. And I am already cultivating these to an extent as mentors.

Jack Dann's novel, The Memory Cathedral, resides on my bookshelf as a reminder of verisimilitude. This is a concept that Jack tried to get into my thick skull as a workshop on a brutally cold July weekend in 2003. The Memory Cathedral is more than a reminder of this concept, it practically reeks of it.

Time Future by Maxine McArthur, sits by Jack's novel. Maxine's story is a magnificent example of how to construct a self-contained world with a cracking story.

A goodly piece of shelf space is devoted to David Gemmel's novels, magnificent examples of how to write heroic fantasy. His untimely passing was a tragic loss to the story-telling world.

Rounding out my collection of internal mentors is Bernard Cornwell. His novels about Richard Sharpe, primarily set during the Napoleonic Wars, are cracking reads, packed with authorial authenticity from his painstaking research. Cornwell's telling of the Arthurian legend, putting it in a much more realistic setting, fitting what a is traditionally a Welsh legend, is a fantastic read.

For my money, Cornwell is a master storyteller, everything that I aspire to be as a writer. My interest in Cornwell has become refreshed by two recent occurrences. First, a friend returned my set of Cornwell's Warlord trilogy, his telling of the saga of Arthur. Second, I recently required a box set of the 15 feature-length dramatisations of the Sharpe novels. These have all been very well done with every appearance of the same care being taken in their presentation as Cornwell in his own research.

So what do my mentors think of my writing now?

Back in 2003, Jack Dann told me something along the lines of 'guy, you have a LOT of work to do, but it will be worth it.' He also told me that my work was page-turning, but that I need to do a lot of work developing my plots. Earlier this year, I emailed Jack to let him know that courtesy of my studies, I now understood what he meant. Jack was delighted to hear this and replied that I had taken a great step forward in my writer's journey. I think Jack would be pleased with the way that I am now developing things, although probably would find room for improvement, encouraging me to keep on writing and working at refining my skills.

Maxine has previously read my work and been complimentary. However her advice was that I need to bring in more detail, the details that brings the story alive in the mind of the reader. I believe that Maxine will be pleased with my development in this respect next time that she reads some of my work.

Cornwell would no doubt have plenty of good advice to offer on my research, on my research techniques. I realise that this is still an area that needs more work. I find myself easily losing direction, not sure what to look at, becoming distracted, unsure where I need to be searching.

I have made progress with my apprenticeship but it is a long way from over.

Claudia Hunter Johnson writes in her excellent book, Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect, that the writers apprenticeship takes 5-10 years to learn the craft. I am 45 years old. I have an auto-immune disease which means, statistically, I will most likely not make it to average age. I simply do not have 10 years to spend on my apprenticeship and still make any impression on the stories that I want to tell. So I have to find ways and means of compressing this apprenticeship as much as I can. That is why I need quality, demanding internal mentors.

postscript - this weekend's The Age, has an article about another writer who was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease at 15, and then found to have aggressive bowel cancer at 31. Another emphasis on potentially how little time I might have and the need to pack it all in as much as I can.

I often find themed anthologies a good source for targeted writing. They provide a specific thing to think about, to inspire the story-telling neurons. Whether or not I end up with a sufficiently good enough story to warrant submission or even finish by the end of the reading period, is another matter entirely. But I do have a good-sized pile of partly developed stories or notes on story ideas that have been inspired by an anthology.

My usual forum for discovering forthcoming anthologies is Ralan's

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild is currently calling for submissions for its forthcoming anthology, Masques. The submission period opened in April, closing at the end of October. I have been toying with an idea ever since the anthology was announced. In particular, the fact that masque is apparently old French for performance started the mental cogs creaking and turning over. But that is all I am going to reveal about potential stories.

With my increasing awareness of story and plot development, I came to the realisation that my idea was too large a story for the Masque's 5000 word limit. Since then I have been trying to come up with either an alternative version that would work within those constraints or an alternative story entirely.

The first-half of second semester came to an end last Friday when I handed in a the final assignment due by that point. I have been on the mid-semester break since then and putting a lot of thought into a solution for my Masques dilemma. I believe that I have found a solution, reflecting my greater awareness of story and plot development.

A key to this story redevelopment has been applying what Elizabeth George calls step plot and running plot liens.

The step plot involves coming up with all the potential, causally related scenes arising from your general story idea. Each step contains all the ideas that could work within that scene, paying particular attention to the causal relationships. The final step plot therefore contains the basic plot outline.

The running plot is the next activity after the step plot. This is a present tense, stream of consciousness exposition on the page, exploring the particular scene. This further develops the plot.

I first read these ideas by Elizabeth George some time ago in her book, Write Away. They made sense at the time. But it was studying script writing and the steps in scene development that really made George's ideas come together even more. Yet another sign of my growth as a writer and the benefits I am receiving from my studies.

Now for an annoucement - I am also exploring something really different for me. I am also exploring a potential poem or poems for submission to Masques. A poem with a speculative theme. This could be interesting. Who knows - I may even make it work! :)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

And here it is, Space Opera Rules; But By Whom, an essay by that astoundingly impressive writer, Ross C. Hamilton, published by the harbinger of good taste, the Internet Review of Science Fiction. Now watch me have to turn my swollen head side-on to get back out through the door. Being published is not new to me, but I still get a buzz seeing something in 'print' in a paying market.

Here's a link to the article. You may need to register to see it, but it costs nothing and I haven't seen a single piece of spam arising from being registered with them.

I have to be honest and admit that this only my second published piece in quite a while, but I stopped writing entirely for quite some time, partly through health difficulties, and this year I have been a bit too busy with my uni studies.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

August already - how the year has been flying.

Time to make an admission. First semester in my Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing was frankly often a bit of a bludge. I found it so very easy to belt off the necessary work. Even the subject that I was struggling with did not prove to be too big a problem in the end as I achieved a Distinction for it.

Reality has leapt up to smack me hard between the eyes in second semester though. I am having to work this time. And I'm loving it. I took myself right out of my comfort zone and decided to study a unit of poetry. This is has been a real eye opener. My decision to take this step was to help me learn more about another written form. While I do not agree with everything my lecturer says, here at the end of six weeks of classes, I have realised that this study of modern poetry has helped me learn to think in a more abstract fashion.

I was a science student in my last years of high school, deferred a civil engineering degree and ended up working in a bank. Best part of ten years later I left the bank, obtained accounting qualifications but ended up largely working in statistics for the next fifteen years. Along the way came army officer training with the Australian Army Reserve until I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease and forced to resign my commission. Is it any wonder that I tend to be very anal and left-brain? This abstract thinking does not come easily but I am seeing the virtues and benefits. I am quietly proud of a short poem that I write on the fly only earlier this week in a tutorial.

In July, I attended the Canberra Writers Festival. At the end of that I was just so inspired to write and write. And write I did. I wanted to start getting articles published once more. A flurry of activity resulted but unfortunately these were resulting in 'we like it but...' sort of responses. To my great disappointment, I was singularly unsuccessful in placing my piece on the battle of Fromelles anywhere. Presumably too many staff writers had already been assigned to it already. The experience was far from wasted and an advanced draft may be found on my articles blog, Ross's Rant. This morning however I received a nice email accepting one of my articles for publication by the Internet Review of Science Fiction. They have published my work before and it was very nice to get another acceptance by this publication once more. No, more than nice, it was a thrill. Being published is not new to me but I do still get a thrill when it occurs.

Writing - I love it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

And whence to from here?

Firstly, big congratulations to Australian writer, Ian McHugh, for winning the writing award in the latest Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest. This is probably the biggest science fiction contest in the world and has produced some major talents. Ian has been honing his craft for a long time and has been rewarded for his efforts.

While pleased for Ian, this win did prompt me to think some more about my future. Come October 31st, I should have handed in the last of my university assignments and barring something disastrous happening, will be finished with my Graduate Diploma of Professional Writing. So what next?

My health has improved to the point that I am no longer quite the gibbering wreck that I was although I am still a long way from being fit enough to re-enter the workplace, not that too many workplaces will be terribly keen to hire someone who was forced out of the public service on mental health grounds (never mind that this situation only occurred because of a years-long pattern of lies, neglect and negligence with parties so far having escaped being called to account).

A couple of possibilities present themselves. First, I could stay here in Canberra and pursue my writing here. The positives of this are that Canberra provides a number of benefits to anyone with as wide a range of potential writing interests as I do: National Library, National Archives, War Memorial, ACT Writers Centre, good contacts at the University of Canberra and writing friends primarily through the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. The downside - as basically an invalid pensioner, I cannot afford to live anywhere here but the dungheap community housing facility I was condemned to some time back. My whole life has to be contained within a single bedroom. My writing space is virtually nil.

The other option is to pack up and move back down to Victoria. My base there would be my old home town of Bendigo. Well it was good enough for Sara Douglas when she was on the staff of the local campus of La Trobe Uni, although several years back Sara shot through down to Tasmania. On the positive side, the cost of living is slightly less. I would initially have to move back in with Mum and Dad while I try to find a small, affordable place to rent. Having a place of my own has frankly become a simply impractical dream unless I am eventually able to rehabilitate myself back into the workplace. Even then, having lost everything a while back, starting all over again at 45 makes home buying an unlikely prospect at best. That or I become incredibly successful as a
writer. Come to think of it, I do things like write in coffee shops, as JK Rowling did, so surely my success is now assured? :) Being back in the old stomping ground also gives me a support network with the family (of sorts). The downsides of that move. The facilities there are nowhere as promising as here in Canberra. I know hardly anyone back down there any more. What remained of my old friends have since moved on. The prospect frankly leaves me a bit uncomfortable.

The one thing that I do know is that from October 31st onwards, it is all up to me. I have no excuses not to write.

What to do? What to do?

The quandry isn't being helped by uni proving to be more than a tad difficult at present. My scriptwriting partner for a semester-long assignment has just bailed out. Students are flatly forbidden from working on this as a solo effort. Five weeks into the thing and I have been left stranded. My poetry lecturer refuses to make his lecture notes available, insisting that as lectures are recorded there is no need to make his notes available as everyone else in the faculty does. The fact that I am partly deaf and struggle to follow him at times and find the recordings next to useless, hasn't cut much ice. I also have to memorise a poem as part of the assessment, although this little gem of information was not made available to me prior to signing up. The combination of my mental condition and medication have caused my previously bloody good memory to become bloody hopeless. I worked my bum off trying to memorise a simple 12 lines but have failed dismally to be able to memorise any more than the first eight or so. I requested permission to use a discrete prompt card with just a few key words on it as a recitation aid. That was refused. The most he would do was agree to postpone my presentation for a while. But time is not going to change something that simply isn't going to happen at all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Emotional undercurrents

As writers, we essentially write for ourselves in the first instance. If we do not like or connect with the piece, how can we expect readers to?

An excellent read for discussing this need for emotional connection is Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect by Claudia Hunter Johnson. Do not be put off by the fact that the book is about writing screenplays. The elements that impact on story structure are just as applicable to any other form of fiction writing.

I cannot over-emphasise how much studying scripting has opened my eyes to the importance of story structure to be able to tell the the story properly. This is the essentials of plot - not just what the story is but how we go about presenting it.

Johnson's central argument is that there is more to plot than conflict. Yes, the conflict is essential. That is what makes up drama. However just as important is the underlying emotional conflict. It is the emotional aspect, argues Johnson, that creates the elements which enable the audience to connect with the story i.e. fulling engaging the audience.

As readers or viewers, we don't want something that is our own lives. Ross wakes up, scratches his arse, farts, showers and goes to work. The next day, Ross wakes up, get the idea. We want a story and character that we can have empathy with, a life or outcome that we want for ourselves or at least fantasise about.

Considerations such as these have helped me take great strides forwards in my writing journey.

Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect
Claudia Hunter Johnson
ISBN 0-240-80641-7

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Making it Real

An important part of the writer’s role is to make the story ‘real’ to the audience. We are encouraged to find the right details to create that illusion of reality. Often this takes the form of the degree of authority present in the author’s voice. But what details do we need to incorporate? We need sufficient to allow the reader to fill in the blanks without overloading with detail.

Recently I saw a play that provided an example of how minimal detail enables the mind of the audience to fill in these blanks.

The play was A Fair Arrangement, the first production by the newly formed Freshly Ground Theatre.

The stage settings were minimal. One side contained a sofa with a dressing table to the rear. This represented the house’s living area. The opposite side contained a bench-like table, stove, refrigerator and stove. This was clearly the kitchen-dining area. Approximately half-way across the stage lay a wood and brick construction, set at an angle so that all of the audience could see it.

The construction was a wall. Not a physical one as such as that would have obscured parts of the stage. It was a figurative detail which had significance to the plot. It actually looked very little like a wall but the audience immediately recognised it for what it was and the mind filled in the necessary extra detail. The same general effect may have been achieved with use of lighting, and lighting was used at different points to focus attention on one part of the stage or other, but the illusion of the wall completed the illusion.

While thinking about this afterwards, I realised just how significant a detail this wall was and how it illustrated the importance of detail in establishing authority of voice. After all, if it isn’t ‘real’ then the audience soon loses interest.

Finding those details and using them to create that degree of authenticity is what the writer’s job is all about.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Four Good Reasons to Hate Firefly

Firefly – the tragically short-lived science fiction series from the wonderfully creative mind of Joss Whedon.

I used to watch a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and not just because of the lovely Sarah Michelle Gellar [‘Liar!’ the missus just shouted at me]. It was more than the charms of Charisma Carpenter which drew me to Angel [‘Oh you bull***t artist]. But Firefly captured me in its spell to a much higher degree again.

First, a quick recap for those who may have blinked and missed the series or its movie sequel, Serenity. It is the far future. Humanity has left Earth to spread to the stars. Earth is dominated by a US-China alliance, leading to the formation of the Allied Planets. Outer planets and settlements objected to the rule of the Alliance, leading to a war that the Alliance won. This broadly brings us to the opening point of the series.

Mal Reynolds, a veteran of the Browncoats, the unsuccessful rebel forces, now captains an aging Firefly-class space ship, Serenity. His first mate is Zoe, a somewhat Amazonian fellow veteran. Quirky Wash is their gifted pilot. Jayne Cobb is a coarse brawler with a fondness for weapons, not blessed with an overabundance of brains but always ready for a fight, especially if anyone says that he has a girl’s name. Kaylee is a young, naturally gifted female mechanic managing to keep the Serenity flying. Rounding out the starting complement on board is Inara, a Registered Companion – sometimes called a whore by Reynolds, but is much, much more, not unlike the original geisha girl concept.

The crew of the Serenity is joined by a wandering Shepherd (a priest), called Shepherd Book. Dr Richard Tam has left a glowing career in the core planets to rescue his sister from the clutches of the Alliance, taking passage on Serenity. River Tam is a supremely gifted girl and the Alliance had been surgically messing with her brain to turn her into a weapon.

During the single series that was aired, followed by the film, Serenity, this mismatched group had a variety of adventures/encounters, usually living just on the wrong side of the law.

Where Whedon’s approach is quite clever, is the way that he has ‘civilization’ taking shape in the outer planets etc where much of the action occurs. Space opera generally tends to have largely uniform technology wherever humanity has spread. However the experience with expansion into places like North America and Australia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries shows a different scenario. The further away one went from the more civilized centers, the less access there was to more modern technology etc. Frontier settlers often made do with mixtures of old and new, and what they could cobble together. Whedon applies the same slant to the Firefly universe, giving it something of an Old West approach but avoiding things becoming silly or a trope. At times we see people on horseback in the company of powered vehicles. Weapons tend to be more easily maintained project weapons rather than the high tech favored by the Alliance. One scene has crewman Jayne Cobb attempt to shoot an Alliance hand weapon only to have it misfire. “Damn Alliance high-tech crap!”

This was much than believable – it was just so real.

When discussing Serenity in interview on the DVD edition of the film, Whedon stated that he had wanted to make a film about ordinary people that the likes of the Millennium Falcon would have flown over without noticing. That is just what he achieved. We have settlers and settlements, traders, shantytowns on far planets, small time criminals, the occasional crime lord and a simply amazing array of characters. Not a single galactic ruler is anywhere to be found.

One of the truly wonderful things about this creation is the depth of back-story and detail that Whedon pulled together. This is a valuable lesson for any aspiring writer in putting together a believable world or universe with accompanying back-story. I keep several works to hand as a valuable reminder of this concept of verisimilitude, such as Time Future by Maxine McArthur and The Memory Cathedral by Jack Dann. Firefly has joined that little collection. A small picture of Serenity sits with several other items on my desk as a constant visual reminder and source of inspiration.

The extent of this creation’s believability is emphasized by the fact that when the Fox network pulled the pin on the series, so many questions were left unanswered. One small one was addressed in the film – just who were the insanely cannibalistic Reavers and where did they come from? But that was considerably less than the tip of the iceberg. Apart from anything else, did Mal and Inara ever sought out their damned feelings for each other? Arrrggghhhh

Imagine that you are halfway through the second volume of a great trilogy. You can’t wait to get back home of an evening to dive back in for another read. And then some [expletive] steals the books from your place and from every bookstore in existence. You are left desperate to know how things turned out. The abrupt end to Firefly left that same feeling. Damn you Fox network! One would have thought that Whedon’s success rate in the past should have ensured greater network support.

There is another important lesson in Firefly for all we aspiring writers. The quality of the overall creation, the wonderful characterization and a simply wonderful cast, all provide an immense feeling of believability. Take the lovely Kaylee for example. Whenever I watch or read about a character that is some sort of young, technical genius, it usually rings false with me. I simply cannot suspend disbelief – remember Doogie Howser MD? Who didn’t want to vomit as he performed medical miracles as a sixteen year old? However, with the adorable Jewel Staite as Kaylee in carefully crafted storylines, I never had the slightest difficulty in believing in her character. Ms Staite was Kaylee; this naturally gifted savant genius with engines, keeping the old Serenity flying. The aspiring writer in me kicks my butt and shouts ‘yes – that’s the way you need to do it!’

One of the key things with Whedon’s work is his emphasis on good storytelling with interesting characters. With Firefly and Serenity, I believe he reached a new peak. We saw a return to wonderful, entertaining storytelling without trying to create some sort of artistic, cinematic masterpiece. Don’t get me wrong – the effects and technology are wonderful. The Serenity DVD included a wonderful tour of the set where most of the action took place. However it is the way that so many things and conflicts are skillfully blended, that makes me damned envious of Whedon’s creative instincts.

I obviously enjoyed watching the series and film. A little surprisingly, I am yet to see much in the way of a novel franchise set in the Firefly universe, or if such a thing has emerged, it must not have made it very far Down Under. But consider the ongoing success of the Star Wars franchise in novels. Or the number of Buffy and Angel novels one can see in bookstores. So why not a similar Firefly franchise?

Why the title about hating Firefly? It is quite simple. Consider the male cast – Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Ron Glass, Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher. They didn’t just go to work and play in the Joss Whedon’s wonderful creation. Going to work each day meant spending time with the best damn Female Foursome I’ve ever seen on the screen – Jewel Staite, Morena Baccarin, Gina Torres and Summer Glau. That would be heaven on a stick for the rest of we humble members of the male population. To slightly misquote Life of Brian – you lucky…lucky…bastards! Hey Jewel – how about I dump the missus out in Reaver territory so you and I can hook up? J [‘He’d do it too,’ grumbles She-Who-Will-Be-Obeyed-If-I-Wish-To-Avoid-Castration].

So for those four feminine reasons, I hate Firefly! [well not really, but it made for a catchy title and ending, dinnit?]

Thursday, July 31, 2008

a valuable lesson

How many of us, truthfully, when writing fiction, pay attention to the concepts of Crisis, Catalyst and Climax? In fairness, I knew next to nothing about it until my wonderful scriptwriting lecturer, Felicity Packard, hammered it into my thick skull last semester.

I learned a important lesson recently that involved applying those concepts. I was in the process of developing my freelance writing project that I am to do this semester at uni. The task set is a 'novella' of 10-15,000 words in length. I went through the process of character development, storyboarding everything in great detail. Each scene was carefully mapped out. Notes were made on how to engage the reader's senses in each scene. All was set for lodging my project proposal, or so I thought. Almost right at the last minute, it occurred to me to have a closer look at my Crisis, Catalyst and Climax set-up, as they in effect setup my story arc and more importantly, my protagonist's transformational arc. Whoops - it dawned on me that during the climax of the story, my protagonist had become little more than a bystander. She wasn't the one undergoing the all important change, despite all of her involvement in everything up to that point. That climactic scene is being overhauled, to the betterment of the whole story. All thanks to the simple application of those principles.

Over the last few months, I have come to three main conclusions. Every aspiring fiction writer should:
  1. read Stephen King's On Writing
  2. read Elizabeth George's Write Away
  3. study with a teacher as damned good as Felicity Packard - one of the writers of the Underbelly series - good scriptwriting needs structure and the amount I learned in my first three months of working with Felicity was simply staggering.
I can say in all honesty that I now wonder how in blazes I ever managed to get anything published before.

Of course we don't all have that last luxury. I fell into it more by accident than anything else. So instead, we need to learn all that we can from other sources. Future posts will be referring to where some of that great stuff can be found from other sources.

Oh and before I forget - my last post mentioned Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce. After repeated attempts to read it, at present I am left with the inescapable conclusion that it is incomprehensible gibberish. In desperation, I tried a simple exercise. I repeatedly opened the book at random and read unrelated passages. Almost every time I found myself faced with more made-up words, paragraphs running for more than a page with sentences so long that by the time you reached the end, you had no idea how they started. And even after returning to the beginning of said sentence to read once more, I still had no idea what the hell it was all about.

My positive affirmation is starting to flag.

Poetry is good. (even though Finnegan's Wake is prose as far as I can tell)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Poetry is good

Well I am back in harness at university. My second semester is going to be much more demanding than first semester where I managed to bludge a bit. This semester I really have to work - which is fine by me as that is what I'm there for in the first place.

I was originally scheduled to do an advanced editing class this semester. However on reflection, I wasn't there to learn to become an editor. My purpose in commencing the study was to become a better writer. To that end I decided to take myself right out of my comfort zone and study poetry instead.

This was not a decision taken lightly. I'm so far out of my comfort zone that the comfy place isn't even close to being in sight. My concern increased when I realised that we were to study James Joyce's last book, Finnegan's Wake. I am yet to establish the relevance of this seemingly incomprehensible piece of prose to a poetry class. Concerns were increased even further during the first lecture when the lecturer not only admitted his belief that Finnegan's Wake is an extremely difficult piece, he even admitted that he himself has never finished reading it.

To help quell my fears, I have adopted a new affirmation mantra.

Poetry is good.

Poetry is good.

Poetry is good.

In time I should come to believe it.

I am also writing a 10-15,000 word novella as an independent project and have just learned that my supervisor is a tutor from last semester that I got on well with, so all augers positively on that front.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

SocNoc - Day 1

SocNoc - Southern Cross Novel Challenge - is off and running, minutes away from being 12 hours old. And I'm off and running as well. I have been up since before dawn - woke up and couldn't get back to sleep so what the heck - I got an earlier start than planned.

Logged wordcount - 4791, 9.6% of target

And the manuscript? I finally decided to return to a different idea yet again. This time it is science fiction. I have had this idea kicking around for a long time, and made some abortive starts on it although I have scrapped that earlier writing and just returned to the characters and general plot line I had previously put together.

Do I expect to get a novel out of this? Not immediately. However it is a damned good start towards getting a useable manuscript that may be turned into one in the long run.

I had best put that away for now and get back to what I should be working on - a short story and a script, both uni assignments due to be handed in next Friday.

Why science fiction, especially given the difficulties in having sci fi novels published in Australia at least? Simply because I love it and want to write it. And getting it published is not impossible. Difficult, yes, but not impossible.

Now it is time to put that away and get back to what I should be focusing on today - a short story and a script, both uni assignments due to be handed in next Friday.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Short and Twisted

No, I am not describing either my lack of physical stature nor my sometimes warped sense of humour.

The Short and Twisted anthology has been released, featuring a piece by yours truly, and also one by the talented performance poet Maria Josey. Maria and I were in the same evening creative writing class a couple of years back but fell out of touch until she saw my piece in her contributors copy of S&T and sent me an email. Kewl biccies!

Grab your copy NOW from

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Decision is Made

I finally made a decision on what to devote my time to during the June writers challenge.

First up it will be drafting some short stories that have been waiting to be written. These will lend themselves to being edited etc with much less drama than a novel once real life returns in July. After that it will be working on the start of a novel. Rather than some of the earlier ideas I was contemplating, I have decided to work on a fantasy that I had done prep work for in the past but never got very far with the actual writing of it. The story has been percolating long enough that I can turn to the writing it without having to stop and think about things like backstory. That sort of material has already either been written or is pretty straight in my head.

Another thing to be done in June is get hold of the next volume of the continuing Hal Spacejock saga by Australian author, Simon Haynes ( No Free Lunch is being launched on May 27 and should be in the bookshops by early June. Note to self - remember to check with Dymocks when it is arriving there and get them to put a copy aside for me. After reading, I want to write some reviews to flog around the place. I am sure that I will enjoy it as much as I have the previous three books. And I want to badger Simon into giving me an interview over the Internet as I am sure that I will be able to do something with that.

I is a critter

The wordsmiff is also an animal, a critter in fact.

One of the things that lead to my lecturer loving that last story so much was because I had submitted it to other students for feedback. That was actually part of the assignment. The feedback was very useful and helped me to improve the quality and flow of the story in question. It was a timely reminder of just how much value one can get out of having others critique your work.

I used to be an active member of but with life intruding, I had to drop out of being an active member. However, as I got so much out of that uni critiquing exercise, I decided to renew my active membership of the site. So I am once more a critter.

My late better half loved animals. Her next door neighbour's dog treated Dimples's place as its own. She had a seemingly continiously increasing number of cats. There was an incredibly spoiled iguana called Charlie that was supposed to live in a large, open-topped acquarium in the living room, although Dimps would often wake up to find Charlie on the pillow beside her. Feeling lonely, the cheeky thing would get clamber out of its tank, wander off to the bedroom and climb up on the bed. Dimps would also take Charlie for walks on a leash, to give him some exercise. Can you imagine the sight - an iguana at the end of the of leash! Dimps used to refer to her 'critters'. So it makes me laugh, now being a 'critter' myself. I think she would have appreciated the joke.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Could I have finally found my niche in the writing world? In a way, I hope not.

Rave feedback from a lecturer whose opinion I value, on a recent short story submitted as an assignment. The problem - it was basically militaristic science fiction. This is a sub-genre that there is virtually no market for here in Aus, and only a limited market worldwide, with most of that interest based in the USA.

Still having crisis of confidence over what to devote my June writing challenge time to. Arrrgh!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

a la King

Far too much happening with my uni work at present to be able to do much with my own writing. Fortunately that uni work is generally relevant to my writing goals, so all is not lost. Sadly, I was not able to finish a piece that I wanted to submit to a particular anthology in the USA. I will just have to find an alternative market for it to submit to in due course.

At the risk of sounding as if I am blowing my own trumpet, I had decided that I must have some strong similarities with Stephen King. Sure, we are both geeky looking things, curse too much and have had alcohol problems, but that isn't what I'm getting at. Nor do I dare compare my writing to his in any way other than to acknowledge he is WAAAAAY better than I.

When an anthology published one of my pieces a couple of years ago, one of the other contributing authors was speaking to me at the launch. Whilst complimentary about my story, he also commented that it had a striking similarity to some scenes in one of King's The Dark Tower series. At that point, I had not read a single one of those books by King. In fact I have only just recently started to read them.

In my opinion, one of my strongest pieces to date was a supernatural western featuring an antagonist called The Gunman. Editors always seemed to be a bit funny about the story. It has generally not been rejected out of hand, but subjected to some further consideration and umming and ahhhing. Now that I have started on that Dark Tower series of books, I think I can understand a little more of that hesitancy. That series of course starts with The Gunfighter. I didn't know that when I first penned my story, and King's Gunfighter is the protagonist, whereas my Gunman is the baddie. But for someone just coming to the story cold, without knowing my background, they could be forgiven for thinking I had been trying to rip King off or at least trying hard to replicate his style of work. So that story has now been shelved until I can come back to it, give it a major rewrite and remove as much accidental Kingesqueness as possible.

Is it my fault that great minds think alike? [he says with all due modesty, to the accompaniment of cries of 'bullshit!'] :-)

revisions and replies

Not a lot done in the last week as I have not been terribly well. However my planning for the June Novel Writing Challenge is slowly progressing. I want to be able to sit down on June 1st and simply start writing.

I recently read about a prolific English author who tracks his daily progress by using a chart. Each day he records that day's word count and total word count. Having that visible reminder up could be another way of helping to keep you at it. Thinking of trying the same myself.

I sometimes wonder if I am a perfectionist (which I doubt) or if I am just sloppy (more likely). Every time I look at a piece that I previously thought finished, I find more to be done on it. Take a 3,000 word science fiction piece that I am handing in as a writing assignment for uni. I could have sworn that I wouldn't be able to find anything else that needed revision, yet over the weekend I ended up making lots of minor revisions, having left it to percolate for some days.

A recent thrill - I am a big fan of the author Jack Dann ( I first met Jack several years ago after somehow being accepted into a weekend Masterclass that he was running here in Canberra. I learned a lot from him, but most of all, he encouraged me to keep writing, telling me that I had a lot to learn but that it would be worth it. I managed to do another single day workshop with him a year or two later that was also worthwhile. The advice I received from Jack both times was that I had no difficulties with writing page turning stuff, but had to work on plotting. I recently emailed him to let him know that I now had a much better idea of what he meant as a result of my university studies, although I know that I will never be a literary writer as such. I received a lovely reply from him, thrilled to hear that I was making such progress with my writing. Jack will be here in Canberra as an official guest in October at Conflux 5 - the annual sci fi, fantasy and horror convention. He sent me the details of another workshop he will be doing, which I will be sure to get my name down for. For those not familiar with Jack's work, he is a wonderful writer with many published credits to his name. My favourite is the novel The Memory Cathedral, which is about a fictious year in the life of Da Vinci.

comedic critiquing

My latest story to come close to being finished is a 2,000 word job that addresses the concept how would ancient gods cope with the modern world. In this instance, not terribly well. After Odin decided to turf the gods out of Valhalla, Thor finds himself trying to retain his sense of what he was, in a modern world that simply doesn't want it. Things are not helped by the fact that he works in an insurance office. The story opens with Thor stepping out of bed with his foot finding the spot where the cat had vomited during the night. Things pretty much go downhill from there.

This evening the piece was discussed at a small critique circle. Two of those present are pretty much a comedy act by themselves and usually leave me in hysterics. As they found my story funny, that just encouraged them further. But some good ideas came out of it that should make the piece better and stronger. For example, the story opens with Thor stepping in cat vomit and cursing the feline, but it was pointed out to me that the cat itself is never seen. 'It's Freir's cat,' comments one of the Dynamic Duo, Freir being a Nordic Goddess. So now Freir is being added to the story as the flatmate from hell whose cat likes to use Thor's bedroom as a toilet, or something like that. It all loses a bit in translation.

What I am leading up to is commenting on the value of getting others to critique your work. It can add so much value to it. I have much greater confidence in getting the story revised to be a stronger, funnier piece and placing it somewhere.

Before I start the rewrites on that, I have to do some rewrites on a piece for uni - my version of Cinderella that turns things on its head. My Cinders is a fat pig who is horrible to her gorgeous step-sisters. She announces she is marrying the prince. Her father isn't happy until he learns that first, the queen is giving them a brewery as a wedding present, and second that the prince supports the same football team. I did have some fun stuff in there about the prince having a foot fetish, and Cinders describing him as hung like a horse (well almost, she admits after remembering pony club). However the story is supposedly to be for a young adult audience so I decided to take those bits out.

If I can make myself laugh writing stuff like this nonsense, then the chances are I can make somebody else laugh as well eventually. Plus I find it can be such a rewarding challenge to develop a nonsensical piece to the point of being able to con someone into publishing it. I am still quite proud of getting my bloody ridiculous bit about fairy tale characters as professional wrestlers published a couple of years back. :) I have been reading Jasper Fforde lately and his wonderful lunacy must be rubbing off on me.

New Beginnings

A new blog for a new beginning. This blog is purely for reporting on my writing, where it is going and what I am doing.

In starting this, I am minded of the US writer Jessica Burkhardt. Jessica used the November National Novel Writing Month to start writing a novel without any prior planning. By the end of the month, she had a draft young adult novel written and edited over the month of December. Come January, an agent saw her mention the novel in her blog and come the end of the month, had signed with the agent. Not long after came a four book deal.

The blog helped bring Burkhardt to the attention of the agent. However it was her existing portfolio of published freelance articles achieved as a teenager that helped prove her writing merits, that she was serious about things and worth developing.

While I do not expect the same to happen to me, this blog does give the opportunity to talk about something that I am passionate about - my writing.

The New Zealand organisation, kiwiwriters, is running its own version of the National Novel Writing Month in June. This crosses my mid-year break from university and I have decided to participate. The target is 50,000 words for the month from each participant. Should I reach that target, I would be a long way towards finishing draft novel. For the story I have in mind, I think 90-100,000 words would be required.

The story is one that has been kicking around in my head for a while. While I have written more speculative fiction than anything else before now, this piece is more of a crime thriller, set in the Australian capital, Canberra. Even if nothing comes from it, I am sure that the writing of it will be a good exercise in itself. At the same time I have several short stories that I either wish to write or want to finish for submission to various anthologies. Another piece when finished is targeted for submission for magazines.

I currently have one piece out with an editor, hoping to hear good news in due course. There is a book launch in two weeks time for the anthology Short and Twisted, which features one of my very short pieces. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend which is frustrating as I was looking forward to being there.

Stay tuned for more...

an explanation...

I recently started a new blog on live journal devoted to writing and writing issues. However I decided to move it over here to Blogger, simply because I liked the layout more. So the following are the couple of entries I had made on the 'new' livejournal one, transplanted to here....