Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And my perfect match is...

So there I was, happily tweeting away on twitter (Rossisawriter), when I noticed twitter's suggestions for who I could be following. I assume these suggestions are the product of some sort of algorithm which matches you against other tweeples with similar interests etc. But please, pray tell, what in the blue blazes of hell I am supposed to have in common with a bloody vacuum cleaner?? Yep, that's what twitter in it's wisdom thinks I am best matched with. No wonder I'm on my own.

Monday, November 29, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010 and what I learned from it

Well I have made it to the end of NaNoWriMo but could not have gotten there without my writing buddy, Lisa, cyber-whipping me there (sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me!). So what lessons have I learned this year?

  1. I reconfirmed that I am a plotter/planner and not able to just sit and the keyboard with a vague idea and the story comes flooding in as some people seem to be able to do
  2. Do not get too wedded to the original outline as the story may well want to be going in another direction entirely and that little person in the head pushing it in that direction may well be right
  3. For NaNoWriMo - plan and plot further ahead!
  4. I did not know my characters well enough and found myself regularly wondering "hold on, is this what they would really do in that situation?" so more character work in advance for future projects
  5. That having a writing partner egging you on is a great way to work
I also now find myself wondering whether I am telling the right story. Further back-story ideas came to me that I now wonder whether they would be a more compelling fantasy in the first place?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why exclude males?

I have been a fan of Portia De Rossi for a long time. And not just because she is gorgeous. I thought her character portrayal in Arrested Development was simply brilliant. I also admire her for continuing to push for equal rights for gays and lesbians. For the record, I am straight, but I believe in simply live and let live, provided nobody is hurting anyone else.

I am, however, entirely puzzled by Ms De Rossi's stance on her recent return to Australia when she apparently refused to speak to male journalists. Isn't excluding someone based on their gender in direct opposition to her beliefs? Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to spread the word as far and wide as possible? Ms De Rossi is publicising her recently released book that targets helping other women address issues of body image and self-esteem that she herself has had to fight. Again, what is achieved by excluding males from this publicity?

This one really does puzzle me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What does the BBC know?

My Internet-friend, author Kim Falconer, brought this one to my attention. Apparently the good folk at the BBC in their wisdom have determined that few people will have read more than six on the following list of 100 'classic' books. Those that I have read are in bold font and those I have started and either given up on (Tolstoy and Joyce!) or put to one side to go back to sometime, are in italics. I suspect plenty of other people will pass the test and have read more than six of these as well.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (and I HATED it - sequel was even worse!)

22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion - Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis -

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving

45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel

52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

72 Dracula - Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce (boooooring!)

76 The Inferno - Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession - AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I was a bully

This entry is prompted by a piece about a little girl in the US being picked on for being different. http://tinyurl.com/22w6fzz

To my shame, I admit that when I was a young kid, I may well have been one of those bullies. There seems to be a degree of pack mentality among young males. In nature, the lame, injured, ill etc, particularly among prey animals, are often driven away from the rest of the herd because they attract predators. But that isn't much of an excuse for so-called civilised people. Get me one-on-one with those different kids and there probably wouldn't have been a problem.

One thing is for sure - if my parents had seen me pick on other kids along with the rest of the pack, I would have been in trouble. That was NOT how I was brought up. But even kids are smart enough not to do it in front of adults like teachers who could pass on the word at the next parent-teachers night.

In my second year of high school, for reasons unknown, other than he was possibly different in some way, I took a real dislike to a student a year behind me. And I picked on him. I recall one day giving him such a hard time that he lost it and lashed out, hitting me once. So, full of righteous indignation, I went after him and gave him a pounding. A teacher appeared on the scene, breaking things up. Still full of myself, I angrily claimed the other had hit me. Other students however quickly told the real story, that I had been the instigator. I wasn't exactly one of the popular crowd anyway (anyone seeing the irony?). So I was in trouble, my then less-than stellar reputation among the teaching staff dropped that much lower, the victim went on his way and I left him alone after that.

I did not give him much thought for several years until my younger sister commented one day that this young fellow had attempted to kill himself, partly because everyone 'hated' him.

That revelation really floored me. I was one of those arsewipes who had helped drive this kid towards suicide, even though I had left him alone for several years. By then I was at a senior high school and hadn't even seen the kid for more than a year. But, my God, did I feel guilty.

The next year, that same student now appeared at the same senior high school. So I made a point of saying 'g'day' to him. The look of mixed relief and gratitude on his face made me feel even worse. Out of a sense of guilt, I kept saying hello any time I saw him around the school. It eventually ceased being a thing of guilt and instead became just a natural thing to do. Did we become friends? Not really. But I think he appreciated knowing there was at least one person around who was going to at least make some sort of effort. And my greeting was always answered with a big, toothy smile.

That was thirty years ago. I have no idea where that young man ended up or how he is doing. I hope he is doing alright. Chances are that he's actually doing better than me. But I like to think that I have never forgotten the lesson that he didn't ever realise he had taught me. I like to think I haven't picked on anyone since. Well apart from good-natured stirring. And when politicians engage in stupidity, as far as I am concerned, it's open season.

I have had a mental list in my head for years now of people that I wasn't nice to when I was younger, much stupider and full of my own bullshit. I like to think that eventually I will find them all and simply be nicer to them.

As for Katie, the little sweetheart in the original article, she now has 435 comments of support from people all around the world, with celebrities like Alyssa Milano, Eliza Dushku and Tara Moss getting behind her. It's a pretty damn good bet that the bullies don't have anything like that going for them.

PS a quick update - Katie's story has really gone viral and soooo many people expressing their support for her. Yayy.

PPS At 16:02 Australian Daylight Savings Time, November 22, there were now over 1,200 messages of support for Katie and her mother.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Right, we all know that da Vinci was a genius, don’t we. But to understand just what a genius he was, the believing is in the seeing.

I attended a touring exhibition of machines made from diagrams in da Vinci’s surviving notebooks. He made things like ball bearings. Now ball bearings are just an ordinary part of everyday life, in every motor vehicle for a start. But this was one heck of an innovation in da Vinci’s day. One of the things in this exhibition that really blew me away was what surely had to be the first self-powered vehicle: a vehicle powered by wooden springs!

So here is a gallery containing;
· Three different types of ball-bearing
· Two views of a seige machine allowing men to cross walls of a besieged castle in relative safety
· The exterior and interior of a tank powered by eight men with cannon facing all directions
· A cannon ship that fires in 360 degrees
· A robot!
· Water skis
· The framework for a human-powered glider
· A water-powered woodmill
· A spring-driven, self-propelled vehicle!

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Monday, November 8, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Blood Countess

My usual book reviewing haunt, www.awritergoesonajourney.com, is experiencing some technical difficulties. So for the time being, I shall post reviews on this blog and transfer them to AWGOAJ later.

When I first read of model, Tara Moss, becoming a writer, my initial reaction was 'yeah right - another celebrity wanting to play at being an author.' But unlike certain other celebs, Tara Moss is actually the real deal.

After realising this, I made a point of reading her crime novels and enjoyed them. After also seeing her in interview and even being on the receiving end of a tweet or two from her, I became quite the fan. Consequently I was quite interested in reading her new offering, The Blood Countess. That interest was pricked even more by learning of Moss's fascination with things Victorian gothic and being a little out of left field - how many other authors have their pet python, Thing, keeping them company while they attack the keyboard (the author that is, not the python)? And yes, I am honest enough to admit that I think Ms Moss is dead-set gawjus.

In all honesty I have mixed feelings about The Blood Countess. Don't get me wrong. I had no difficulties in becoming drawn into the story and read it in pretty quick time. That doesn't happen if I cannot get into a novel. However I was left a little puzzled by some of the naming conventions Moss has used. This is a novel with vampires, ghosts and general undeadishness. Pandora English has just moved to a darkly gothic mansion in New York, staying with her seemingly ageless great aunt with the mansion itself on Addams Ave (the Addams family?) The avenue is in the suburb of Spektor. Once you realise the presence of ghosts and undead, say that suburb name out loud just in case 'spectre' has passed you by. There is even a Morticia in the story although any resemblance to Morticia Addams ends with the name.

If this were a satire, that naming would have been a delight. But I do not get any sense of satire coming through, leaving me puzzled over why an author whose previous use of names complemented the story, would fall for this almost clumsy nomenclature this time.

I was also left with a sense that Pandora was not as well developed a character as Moss's previous protagonist, Makedde.

The influence of things like Bram Stoker's Dracula is apparent but that is hardly surprising given Moss's admitted fascination with that literary legend. And it certainly is not a crime to be influenced by something.

OK. Having expressed those reservations, the really important question was I sufficiently interested to to want to read the next Pandora English novel? Yes.

If you enjoy the gothic meeting the modern world, The Blood Countess is worth checking out. While different and perhaps not as strong a story that Moss's fans have seen in the past, I suspect they will like this one as well.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Well I am blowed if I know what is wrong with me.

It is NaNoWriMo time. I planned what I was going to be working on. I had chapters and scenes mapped out. My characters were developed. Everything was all set to go and make a real push to achieving the 50,000 words this year. Except for one thing. I have the worst case of writer’s block I have ever experienced.

Normally I argue that there isn’t any such thing as writer’s block. Sure, some days are a lot harder than others but I have discovered ways of helping the words to come. But for some reason, not one of them is working at the moment. Five days in and I am yet to even crack 4,000 words. I am becoming more than a bit frustrated.

Tomorrow I am supposed to be meeting with my writing partner for a writing session. Hopefully that will crack me into gear.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Vale John William (Jack) Hamilton

Not a rant this time, but a reflection.

Funerals are not the nicest of things as a rule and attending that of one of your parents is a sobering experience to put it mildly.

My father passed away quite suddenly recently, a week after his 81st birthday, and I was down in Victoria last week for the funeral. Dad had been ill for some time and had been failing. Fortunately, I saw him in hospital ten days or so before the end. In many respects, it was a relief that it was over. He certainly wasn't happy, even though he was terribly confused by it all by the end. In short, it was his time.

If there was one thing that my Dad absolutely hated, it was disorganisation. So his funeral was already organised, where it was to happen, his cremation, the presiding minister, the music he wanted played (his own recordings) and he had his eulogy already written.

Other members of the family organised anything that was left to be done. Mum had him dressed, not in a suit as such, but his favourite outfit which was what he looked best in. My brothers, sister, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews did a particularly good job of selecting appropriate images for a picture show that played during the service.

While Dad had written his own eulogy, the problem was that while being accurate, it did not reflect the man that people were going to remember, particularly his humour. I was asked to add to it, which I did with the help of memories from other members of the family. It grew from one page to almost four. On the day, I read the first half and one of my brothers read the second. It had the desired effect, with people laughing in pleasure with these memories of my Dad.

The chapel was a packed house. It was quite eerie to walk down the aisle, to the sound of my father's voice, singing. When it came to the picture show, people were talking quietly, making comments to each as pictures stirred memories, laughing at the humorous ones. I could also hear people in tears. A cousin of mine cried right through that part of proceedings.

My eldest niece, accompanied by the rest of the grandchildren, gave a short, tearful and heartfelt reflection of what Dad meant to them.

Even the weather cooperated. Threatening rain all day, it held off until after things were finished, although it made up for lost time afterward.

The true joy however was at the reception afterwards. As well as the family reunion that tends to happen on occasions like this, there were just so many people there that I had not seen for years and many that I did not know at all. One was a man Dad worked for before I was born. There was even a man there who had been at school with Dad, taught by my grandmother at their little country school, seventy years ago. How many years had it been since he last saw Dad? Pretty well every aspect of Dad's life was represented by that great variety of people.

The funeral director videoed the service and provided Mum with a copy on DVD. I am not ready to see that yet but in time I shall want to.

Yes, this was a time of sorrow and of mourning. But it was also a time of joy in remembering a man who touched so many lives, not least of which was the family that meant everything to him.

I'll miss you, Dad.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Call me Vinnie!

Well it is now official: I am a more successful artist that Vincent Van Gogh. You see, dear old Vinnie supposedly didn't seel any of his work in his lifetime although I understand he sometimes bartered the occassional piece for food and lodgings. So how am I more successful than him? Because I have just sold my first work in an exhibition!

The exhibition is being held in the gallery at the Belconnen Arts Centre where I work. A week or so out from the end of the submission period for the exhibition, the curator only had a handfull of submissions for the current exhibition, Belo Bizarre. So I decided to submit several pieces just to help boost numbers. To my considerable surprise, two pieces were selected for inclusion in the exhibition, despite a last-minute deluge of submissions.

This was such a new experience for me and I was thrilled to see them hanging in the gallery.

This afternoon was a meet the artists function in the gallery. So there I was, ghosting around, chatting to people. Then I saw it. A red dot by one of my works. I was in such shock, I had to go sit down with a coffee. And here's the proof that it happened.

A real irony of the situation is that as the bookkeeper, I have to submit an invoice to myself for payment at the end of the exhibition. Here's a low quality image of the work that was sold.
So, now I am an artist. And I have the name badge from this afternoon to prove it.

To really follow in Vinnie's footsteps, I had better get to hacking off extremities. And go find a hooker to present it to. Now where did I leave that carving knife?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A life chosen

I like to tell myself there is no such thing as Writer's Block. Sure there are days when words don't seem to want to come, when it would seem easier to pull your own wisdom teeth with a pair of pliers than to get a few words down on paper. But I tell myself, this is my job, this is what I have chosen to do. Writers write, so start bloodywell writing.

Wouldn't it be nice if that always worked.

Right now I am working on a short story. I can see the scenes in my head. I can hear my characters laughing and talking. I can hear the thumping music of the bar they are in. I can smell the spilled liquour and cigarette smoke. But what I cannot seem to do at the moment is get the damn words to come out properly. None of my usual tricks for kick-starting the right-brain into gear seem to work tonight.

This story is bouncing around inside of my head like an ant nest after petrol has been poured on it. But something has it well and truly bottled up inside there.

There are times when I really do wish I got my thrills from something easier, like wearing boxing gloves to sort fly crap from black pepper. But to plaigarise and butcher Mario Puza, this is the life that I have chosen. Still giving me the shits though.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

REVIEW: True Logic of the Future - Boho

Boho present an interactive steampunk style science-fiction theatre work based on the 19th century economist, meteorologist, logician, musician, programmer, 3D photographer, philosopher and cloud-maker, William Stanley Jevons.

The above is a quote from the advertising for True Logic of the Future by the Boho Interactive performance group. I was quite puzzled about what to expect. Seeing as I work in the centre where the play is being performed, I had an early sneak peak at the set which was enough to convince me this was going to be something different.

Things start out differently from the moment you walk through the door of the 'theatre' (actually it's a dance studio that sometimes doubles as a performance venue). The bulk of the area is closed off by a wall and you have to walk around the outside of it in growing darkness until finding a doorway that lets you into the performance area. You then actually walk through the performance set to get to your seating.

The first impression is of a nineteenth century setting, yet the electronic music playing unobtrusively and a crackling, distorted voice-over, gives a steampunk feel to things. From here I have to be careful what I say lest I be guilty of spoilers.

Despite the nineteenth century appearance and dress, it soon becomes apparent that the play is actually dealing with a near-future scenario. Even my nemesis, my former employer, the Awful Bloody Shithole - sorry, I mean the Australian Bureau of Statistics - gets a mention. The consequences that the characters are dealing with are decidedly dire.

The audience becomes part of the performance, being a truly interactive experience. A lot of work has been put into developing this very interesting, thought provoking and well presented performance - definitely worth checking out either at its season at the Belconnen Arts Centre that finishes on July 18, or next month at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Never give up on the dream

Last weekend I saw a valuable and practical lesson in action.

One of the first editors to publish my fiction was my colleague in Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, Nicole Murphy. Nicole was an author of short fiction and had been working at a fantasy trilogy for a looong time.

Last Saturday I attended the launch of Nicole's first novel, Secret Ones, the first of a trilogy purchased by HarperCollins. This was the reward of a lot of years' work, pushing on through all the self-doubt and conquering other problems.

This was a lesson for all of us - don't give up on the dream.

Good on ya Nicole

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A child's way of seeing

One of the advantages of my new job at the Belconnen Arts Centre is being able to see and interact with artists of different types. The Centre's Director actually introduced me to one painter who is also a volunteer at the Centre, as having an arts practice of my own as a writer. I have to admit to being somewhat embarrassed by that description as I do not consider myself an 'artist' as such. I am nowhere near being at that level.

The Centre currently has an exhibition entitled Earth Connections, as a celebration of Earth Day. One of the exhibits is a an electronic piece, a looping slide-show of images of a river. I was able to speak to the artist, Karen Williams yesterday. She explained that the images all came from one small stretch of the Molonglo River. As we talked, I began seeing things in what she was showing me. While still images, they were all of movement, either water in movement or reeds flattened by flood waters. Images of things started to appear to me as they had appeared to the artist. This wavering line of froth and bubbles looks somewhat like the head and neck of a swan. That particular bubble in the midst of a ripple is an eye peeking out at you.

As we spoke, I was struck by the fact that as a kid I used to look at things and see images within them, such as faces in whorls on a piece of polished wood. As an older adult, I seemed to have lost that form of observation. It was a salutary reminder that as a writer, I need to look not just at the immediate surface but what is within that surface or below it and what occupies negative space around an object. That form of looking at things then informs, influences and inspires.

I am inspired to head out, journal in hand, looking at things, seeing what I can find within them and taking notes about it, further extending my writing practice.

Friday, May 28, 2010

starvation or riches with nothing in between

I have previously pontificated on the joys of trying to be a Working Writer. Today I have had an excellent example of how you can suddenly find yourself suffering an almost embaressing excess of opportunities.

Earlier this week, I accepted a position working with the Belconnen Arts Centre. It is not a writing job as such but more a return to bean counting but it is in support of the arts and a very exciting position, so I can't complain.

I do not start until Monday however the Centre had the launch of its latest exhibition this evening so I duly trotted along. I had been intending to wander along for a Captain Cook anyway but the new boss was keen for me to be there to meet a few people. So after a day spent buried in archives doing some fascinating research, I had a quick shit, shave and shower and headed off. The opening was quite pleasant and I quite liked the small exhibition. Some photographs by Eugenie Keefer Bell were simply stunning.

I arrived home and finally got around to checking the email for the first time today.

A while back, I had been talking to a company about doing some technical writing for them on contract, but they had appeared to lose interest. Tonight I found a near-panicked email from them, wanting to talk to me on Monday. So I had to regretfully inform them that I had just accepted another position. Quite a pity as I was rather looking forward to getting into that work.

Then there was another email. I had been approached about doing a small editing engagement but was recently told that it wouldn't be for a while. Another email this evening, also wanting to talk to me urgently about doing it. This is small enough that I will be able to do it.

After feeling for some time that nobody was interested, I felt rather chuffed that all of a sudden I was in demand!

Either starvation or riches and nothing in between!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Writing, serial killers and the right brain

This evening I was supposed to be joining friends from the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild to watch the BBC serialisation of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - our little tribute to Towel Day and Douglas Adams. However I am coming down with a head cold and not fit for public exposure. So I shall content myself by posting a blog entry before settling down to dinner and a Saturday evening television.

I have been developing a story about a serial killer. This was in response to a rather dark sounding anthology, Snuff Syndicate. I thought this was an excellent opportunity to try and extend myself by getting inside the head of a serial killer, attempting to create something that has a real and authoritative voice.

Research was the first point. So I have been reading about serial killers. It is so incredibly upsetting to read what some people are prepared to do to others. Even in an otherwise rather unemotional account, I still felt sickened by the description of an investigator on hands and knees in the crawl space beneath a house, crawling through the mouldering remains of a particular killer's victims.

I then decided to work backwards, reading about profiling to see how profilers create a profile of a serial killer. That was intellectually quite stimulating but still quite upsetting to see the depravity that exists out there. However, it did give me some real insights into things like the disparity that can exist between the individual's outward appearance and what is going on inside of their heads.

I envy those writers who able to sit at a keyboard and just start writing, letting the story tell itself. That simply does not work for me. Instead I am one of those who has to plan a lot, even for a short story. Having made pages of notes during my reading phases, I started mapping out the story idea. I decided to use the free yWriter program from Simon Haynes to help organise my thoughts into a more coherent framework. It is surprising to see how such a left-brain activity can stimulate the right brain into some serious creativity, drawing things out. And yWriter is a great little product, worth checking out.

The end result of this activity was a story mapped out pretty much from beginning to end, locations and characters. Of course the really hard thing to do is now write the actual story, but with all of that background now nice and clear inside my head, I can concentrate on letting the spontenaity take over during the actual writing process itself.

There are few guarantees in this life, apart from death, taxes, toast always landing butter-side down and the Sock Muncher stealing stray socks from the washing machine, so I cannot guarantee a story that will be accepted by the anthology editors. But if nothing else, this has been an excellent exercise in extending myself into something that I would not have otherwise tried to tackle. Although I have been left with a yurchy feeling that makes me want to repeatedly wash my hands, developmentally this has so far been an very positive exercise. And all we emerging/wannabee writers need to keep constantly honing our craft, just as the apprentice cabinetmaker extends his through the life of his apprenticeship and beyond.

Here endeth the pontification.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Following a dream

I quite freely admit to being very much influenced by my 'mentor', Tyra Banks. OK, Ms Banks doesn't actually know about this, but she provides a role model (no pub intended) to be emulated. What really put me onto Tyra in this respect, was her message about the importance of not just having but also pursuing your dreams and I have blogged about this before.

Here in Australia, we have just seen tangible evidence of what is possible if you really do pursue your dream.

On Saturday afternoon, teenager Jessica Watson arrived safely back in Australia, being the youngest person to ever sail single handed, without assistance, around the world. Jessica is now all over our Australia news, and presumably around the world for her feat. The relevance to this particular post is her statement that this voyage was her dream.

Now I would not be letting any teenage child of mine try a stunt like that, but you cannot help admiring the girl for her achievement.

Jessica had a dream. And she pursued it. This just emphasises the potential power of that message of Tyra's of the important of having dreams and going after them.

I feel more empowered than ever before about pursuing my dream.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

a little woot

Late last year, I sold a story to Aurora Wolf magazine. I had forgotten that they were also including that story in an anthology being released in the USA later this year. But a contract has just appeared in my email.

Yayyy me.

When is the best, not necessarily best?

Sunday afternoon and I was catching up on the weekend papers that shamelessly litter the place with accusations – you bought me, so flipping read me! At the same time, I decided to switch on the television to see what Australian Rules football may be showing.

As an ex-pat Victorian, it is near-heresy to say that I do not follow the AFL terribly closely any longer. Nor have I since my beloved Fitzroy got the chop. However a good game can be entertaining.

It was part-way through the third quarter of the Hawthorne-Richmond game when I switched the Giggle Box on. These teams were occupying 14th and 16th positions on the ladder respectively, with Richmond yet to win a match from eight outings this season. For Hawthorn to have any chance of making this year's finals, they could not afford to drop this one.

What I caught was a quite gripping contest. Both teams kept picking themselves up and throwing themselves into the contest. Late in the fourth quarter, after another Hawthorne goal, the Hawks appeared to have the game wrapped up. But no. The tired Richmond players picked themselves back up yet again and scored two more quick goals, leaving a margin of only three points - one more straight Richmond kick could see them steal the game. One goal was from a tired, limping forward, who still managed to pull off probably the mark of the day, soaring high, to pull the ball down from amid a number of Hawthorne opponents, then kicking true.

This was gripping stuff. I had no real interest in the outcome but the newspapers ended up dropped onto the coffee table, my attention riveted on the screen. In the end, the Hawks hung on to win by three points. But it was Richmond who were the moral victors in that last quarter.

What could have been an absolute nothing of a game, was a real nail-biter, leaving me to remember that the 'best' games do not always feature the 'best' teams. In this case, the 'best' was definitely provided by those who are not currently considered to be 'the best'. Perhaps there is a lesson there for all of us, to never say die, to keep hanging on, to never give up. In those circumstances, even if the end result is defeat, by heaven, you can still hold your head up high. And no, these images aren't from this game, but at least they are Hawthorn (brown and tan) and Richmond (black and gold).

Friday, May 14, 2010

A decision is made

Well, I have decided - I am definitely going to apply to do my Masters by research. The research proposal is all mapped out and I am waiting on word from my potential supervisor if it still looks like a viable project. And I have started filling out the reams of required paperwork that have to be in by the end of May.

The prospect of this long-term major project still terrifies me in some respects, but it is an opportunity that is too good to pass up.

Fingers crossed that the university still likes me. :)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Reflections on being a Working Writer

Working writers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In my case, it is a short, aging, greying package with a sadly expanding waistline. Bit of a contrast there with say the decidedly glamorous Tara Moss! But writers come in different flavours in the type of writing they do as well. The writers who have their names emblazoned on things are just one facet of the overall occupation.

For many of us, being a working writer means picking up what work you can, extending your repertoire into different fields and endeavours. As I type this entry, I am still waiting on news of whether or not I am going to be picking up work as a technical writer, which can be a decidedly useful paying gig. I recently began work editing a small newsletter. It does not pay a great deal, but it is income of a sort and in many respects, more importantly it extends that experience set and overall portfolio. When we are still at the earlier part of our career, I believe that what a job pays is only one consideration. We also need to think 'what does this job do for me, what experience does it give me?'

I was also recently sounded out about possibly doing some paid copy editing working on a manuscript. I continue to do a bit of freelance non-fiction writing here and there.

This sort of work is hardly glamorous but it helps pay the bills and allows me to continue say, "Hi, I'm Ross, a Working Writer."

My real love is writing fiction, telling stories primarily in the speculative fiction realm (sci fi, fantasy and horror). Yes, I have fiction published. No, I have not been having a lot of success of late, but I have been pitching my work to better paying markets, seeing how they respond as a form of measuring stick about how my writing may or may not have improved. I am getting increasing numbers of "really liked the story but not quite right for us at this time - please send us more" rejections. While it is frustrating to be told that someone likes your story but not enough to actually publish, at the same time being encouraged to keep sending material in is an indication that I have developed my craft sufficiently to be at least gaining their attention for the right reasons. That in itself is encouragement to keep on going.

In the meantime, I can continue to plug away at being simply a Working Writer. After all, that is what my dream is and I have started to realise it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Romantically Challenged?

This is a very special blog post. Well, special to me at any rate.

There is a new romantic comedy being released in the US: Romantically Challenged. This features on of my favouritist (yes, I know that isn't a real word but this is my blog, so sod off) actors, Alyssa Milano. Part of me fell for that cheeky smile years ago. And yes, like a lot of men around the world, I was devastated when the lovely Ms Milano was taken off the market. Well, we're allowed to dream aren't we? ;)

Another interesting thing about Romantically Challenged is that it is being guided by James Burrows. He has a big list of credits already behind him and has a pretty big reputation in the television industry.

Milano recently tweeted that being directed by Burrows is like being taught by a Jedi Master. That begs the question: is Burrows actually only four feet tall, green, wrinkled, with pointy ears and has a strange way of talking? Or could it be that he is actually a dark Jedi Master, murming things like “something, something, daaark siiide” while referring to Milano as “my young apprentice?"

So why am I bothering to blog this? Well for one thing, I would have to be categorised as more than Romantically Challenged. Romantically Incapable? Romantically Disasterous? Romantically Screwed? For another thing, Romantically Challenged (RomChallenged) hs just started to follow me on Twitter (rossisawriter). Kewlies! So if I blog something about them, who knows – maybe, just maybe, I might get a hello from the delightful Ms Milano sometime.

As I said earlier, we are allowed to dream, aren't we? :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Research - exciting but terrifying

I am giving serious thought to returning to university from the second half of this year to undertake a Masters by Research.

It was one of the profs from the uni who put the idea into my head several months ago. At first I thought she meant returning to do the Masters in Creative Writing by course work. But my last lot of studies did roughly half the syllabus for that, only leaving what I thought was boring stuff still to be done. But no, she meant doing it by research.

Research is one of those things that I have a love-hate relationship with. If it is something interesting, I love getting buried in research, finding out ever so many fascinating and useful or even useless things. But then the research itself can take over from what I was originally intending. "Gosh, that's fascinating - I'll go read a bit more about that." Before you know it, you have wandered entirely away from where you were supposed to be going. Fascinating, interesting and entertaining, but far from a good use of my time if I am supposed to be doing something quite specific.

At present, my research project is going to be centreing on the Battle of Fromelles from World War 1. This first engagement of Australia troops on the Western Front in July, 1916, was practically forgotten until quite recent years. Yet in many respects, it was a far bigger disaster than the Gallipoli landings that every Australian schoolchild knows about. Fifteen months on from the original landings at Gallipoli, what did this combination of survivors from the Dardenelles and new recruits, think about going into action in France only days after their arrival at the front? Were they thinking about nationhood and all the rest of the mythology that has grown up around the Anzacs?

There is a staggering wealth of original material in the archives of the Australian War Memorial, that fortunately I live quite close to. The prospect of all the reading I have to do in histories, biographies, diaries, letters and more that faces me, is quite daunting.

The anticipated project would result in a large research paper that addresses my research question and a large piece of creative writing that further addresses the subject.

For now I have to focus on determining exactly what my precise research question will be as part of my research proposal. Already the reading in support of that is proving a combination of fascinating, thought provoking and challenging. And that is just fine tuning the actual point to be researched.

With all that in my head, I suspect that marching in this year's Anzac Day remembrances will be particularly poignant for me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


A question many writers are often asked is "where do you get your ideas from?" The answers are many and varied such as having a secret address they send $10 to and get an idea returned in the mail or secret assignations behind a kebab shop.

One place where I often find inspiration for story ideas is monitoring markets for short story anthologies. The editors of intending anthologies can come up with some weird, wonderful and interesting themes. One that has really caught my attention of late is Rock & Roll is Dead: Dark Tales Inspired by Music. It doesn't pay a lot, but a lot of anthologies aren't big paying markets. But they are great developmental markets all the same.

I have been having some fun trawling through my CD collection, looking for tracks that fire the imagination for a suitably dark story. Leading the pack at the moment is Dark Night by The Blasters that was used in the Tarantino film, From Dusk Till Dawn. It has a deliciously dark feel to it that has the inspiration neurons bouncing around although I have not settled on anything. But there are other tracks giving me ideas as well such as Killer by Queen, 57 Deathtrip (I cannot remember the band off the top of my head), Space Trucking (Deep Purple), Ghostriders (who hasn't recorded that) and more.

There are also a couple of werewolf and were-creature anthologies on the go as well, giving me food for thought. That has given me the excuse to have some interesting reading of a anthology of werewolf mythology etc. Unfortunately I keep getting sidetracked by this utterly ridiculous idea of trying to write something about a werefrog.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The perils of the freelancer

There are times when being a freelance absolutely blows chunks.

I was 'commissioned' to write a piece on a particular subject for a journal, by its Assistant Editor. I had submitted an example piece of my work to them and suggested a number of topics. It was that member of their editorial staff who selected one of those topics, asked me to write an a piece on it to a specific word count and source appropriate images. This was a historical piece. I had to do quite a bit of research that included quite a few dollars expended on photocopying particular sources for further research. I did extensive fact checking to make darned sure that I had not blundered anywhere. I also did an exhaustive search for historical images to support the piece. Finally, I delivered the finished product early.

This afternoon I received the unexpected advice from the same editorial assistant that the editorial board decided that the article is 'outside the scope' of their journal? Excuse me? You ask me to write a piece for you on that subject then tell me that it is not what you want? And ask me to in future send them material that is more in scope with your requirements? What a bloody cheek!

Having the piece ultimately rejected because they do not like the finished product is one thing. But when a publication's editorial staff request you to do a piece on a specific subject, within specific constraints and you deliver, only to have them can it for being 'out of scope' is another thing entirely. So I have wasted time, effort and money. Oh, and no kill fee either.

In fairness, said editorial person suggested two alternative markets which I have investigated. One would require a rewrite to extend the piece by another 800 words and is a non-paying market anyway. The other is for academic, refereed pieces and nothing like a market for the piece in question. So that advice was frankly rather useless anyway. And I am stuck with a white elephant.

As a freelancer, you lack the power to do anything about stunts like that. I am pretty damned sure that they would not like to be working for nothing.

Not happy, Jan. Not frigging happy at all.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Loss of identity

A writer that I admire ever so much is Tessa Kum. Even in her blog, she is able to turn the most wonderful of phrases. I should be so envious that I hate her guts but instead I just quietly sit in awe, thinking things like “I wish I’d thought of saying it like that.”

In her latest post, Tessa talks about the loss of identity in depression. This struck such a chord with me. In a near-blinding moment of epiphany, I realised that is just what I experienced. With my mental health crumbling, a workplace made it abundantly clear that I was not wanted there. My job was not just taken away from me, I was eventually told that there was no longer even a desk for me to sit at. Never mind repeated medical advice warning my beloved ex-employer against these stunts. Or the workers compensation finding that linked that mental health injury to the workplace. Instead, that Awful Bloody Shithole (those in the know will understand the acronym) repeatedly and wrongfully denied any such link being found. Every single day when I was actually well enough to drag myself into the office, it was knowing that there was nothing for me there any longer yet also knowing that I was well and truly trapped there at the same time.

After years of investing so much of myself into my work, having worked ludicrous hours and weekends that I did not get paid for or even get time in lieu, at a less-senior level that had no business being expected to have to work such hours, I no longer had that identification of myself in the workplace to hold on to.

The great love of my life could neither understand nor cope with the mental jellyfish I had been turned into and it ultimately drove her to taking her own life. So not just one life had been ruined, a second was lost to the world entirely.

This loss of identity to people who desperately need that, is crippling. It cost me everything. And to paraphrase Forrest Gump, that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Time heals all wounds, but it also makes you bloody old

Words help create images. They can pull forth old memories that you had forgotten about. As I began typing this entry, a song by Billy Ocean is playing on a nearby stereo, dating back to when I was 13 and had my heart broken for the first time. For literally years I could not hear that song without remembering how I felt at that time. And it hurt.

It just struck me as Billy O hit the chorus, that it didn't hurt me any longer. Well nor should it - that was 33 frigging years ago. Instead I found myself thinking fondly of that particular girl, wondering briefly how she was etc. Now is probably where I should be saying something about wine or some similar crap but I write enough drivel as it is without resorting to that.

Then my thoughts turned to what does Billy O himself look like now. So I looked him up. OK, it is over 30 years ago but all the same, this made me gasp. Now I suddenly feel ooooolllldddd.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Crimethink anthology

Back in 2008, the Internet Review of Science Fiction (www.irosf.org) published an essay of mine, Space Opera Rules; But By Whom? I have not even thought about it for ages but to my surprise I have just received an email asking for permission to include that piece in a forthcoming anthology, Crimethink.

This collection is being put together in support of the work of Doctors Without Borders which I suggest is an excellent cause to support. I was quite happy to support the anthology. It should be available in the near future: crimethinksf.blogspot.com.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

reflecting on Elizabeth Kostova

I had the distinct pleasure last Friday evening of interviewing Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves in front of an audience. This was a fun experience.

Elizabeth had a lot of interesting things to share with the audience about her novels, her writing process and experiences.

What really stood out for me though was her attitude.

This was a whirlwind trip for Kostova. Having just arrived from the other side of Australia, Kostova had radio interviews during the afternoon in Canberra then off for this evening presentation. She was later telling me that she had to get up at 4:30 the next morning in order to catch the first flight off to Sydney, to then catch a flight to New Zealand where she was giving another presentation that night. With all this happening, she must have been feeling knackered, to put it mildly. Yet Kostova was more than pleasant, answering questions in detail and joining in some gentle unscripted fun.

Afterwards, Kostova uncomplainingly signed a great heap of books for fans and bookstores. Each person seeking an autograph received at least a pleasantry and often a short chat. I could have easily spent another couple of hours chatting books and writing with her.

In my experience, not all authors are that accessible to their public and I think Elizabeth Kostova has set a benchmark that others would do well to try and emulate.

in conversation with Elizabeth Kostova

Part 1 of an interview with Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves - www.awritergoesonajourney.com

Monday, March 1, 2010


I’ve just come from the crapper, where I had a nice crap before flushing said crap down the sewer.

Hands up who thinks I’m being rude? Well, me old china plates, you’d be wrong.

Popular urban myth has it that one Thomas Crapper invented the modern toilet or lavatory. That is incorrect. The flush lavatory, properly called the Silent Valveless Water Waste Preventer was patented in 1819 by Albert Giblin who may have been an employee of Crapper’s. And other forms of the toilet with running water had been appearing since the late 18th century. So why is Thomas’s name associated with the toilet?

Crapper’s plumbing business installed a range of toilets with the system proudly bearing the name ‘Crapper’s Valveless Waste Preventer’. These were installed far and wide so it is not surprising that crap and crapper became part of the English language.

There is some debate about whether or not Thomas was responsible for the word crap entering common English usage. However it is apparently indisputable that the word did not appear before his time with the first appearance of the word crap as either a noun or verb not appearing in a dictionary until 1859, when John C. Hotten's A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words included the definition: "Crapping case, a privy, or water-closet."

The name of common products entering the English language as common verbs and nouns is not unusual. In Australia for example, we tend to shine our shoes with ‘nugget’ rather than boot polish – Nugget was an old-time brand of boot polish. While there are similar sounding words to crap in other languages which have in their time influenced the evolution of modern English, such as Dutch (krappe), German (krape) and the Old English ‘crappe’, none of those words have any actual relation to defecation or excrement. Consequently, it is a pretty safe bet that in referring to crap, crapping and the crapper, we are merely reflecting the popularity of the device installed by Thomas Crapper and his plumbing business.

Still think I was being rude? Then sod off. :-)

Here endeth the lesson.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Going too far

Comedy often pushes the boundaries, forcing us to look at ourselves and society. When that is successful, there is an underlying truth to the gag itself. Take for example the classic and phenomenally successful Golden Girls. One of the things that made that show work so well was the underlying truth of a fear of dying alone, hence the four women banding together.

When things go too far, it is usually a case of a poor joke, made in worse taste, that doesn't have that underlying truth. This was never more evident than with The Chasers' frankly appalling gag about not bothering to give dieing children decent gifts because they are only going to die anyway. The only truth underlying that was that there are seriously ill children out there, dieing from terrible disease. That was not a reflective truth, merely an awful and unfunny truth that The Chaser crew made a shocking error in judgement in even coming up with a gag to exploit it. Matters became worse with an evident degree of butt-covering and buck-passing within the internal politics of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park, did an episode which reflected on the often nonsensical media and public obsession with celebrities. Why that obsession exists is hard to pin down. The effect on the celebrities themselves can be harsh. A case in point - how many 'child stars' end up basketcases? The episode in question revolved around Britney Spears. Where Stone and Parker pushed the envelope too far in my opinion, was with the set-up. The Southpark kids trick their way into Spears's dressing room by pretending to be her children. A depressed Spears, hearing that her children had arrived, cheers up, only to be crestfallen when she realises that it is not her children at all, but just more people wanting something from her. The depressed Spears then blows most of her head off with a shotgun.

That aspect of the Southpark episode was essentially making fun of depression, the underlying truth being that depressed people can kill themselves. For me, that unfunny truth overwhelmed the remainder of the overall truth underlying the episode – that of unfathomable obsession with celebrities and celebrity status. Perhaps I am more sensitive on the issue than others because of my own past with depression and the phsycial scars from a failed suicide attempt.

It is Family Guy however that are really incurring my wrath. This is a show that also often really pushes the boundaries. It has some very clever characterisation, particular with Brian, the talking family dog, and Stewie, the baby. However a recent episode used as its comedic line, making fun of Down's Syndrome and former US Vice-President hopeful, Sarah Palin. Now I am not a huge fan of Palin and what she stood for during the last presidential campaign. But, making fun of the fact that Palin has a child with Down's Syndrome is going too far. What underlying truth is there in making fun of something like that? I was left with a distinct impression that the creator simply doesn't like Palin and the Republicans and decided this was a way to express little more than hate.

Politics and political characters are things that are the staple of a lot of comedy. They all too often simply beg to be made fun of. But this stunt by Family Guy was nothing short of nasty and entirely unjustified.

There are times when I am made to feel ashamed of both being a writer, including my comedic writing. This was one of them. Pushing boundaries is one thing but simple cruelty as point-scoring is another and not acceptable.

Kids make cruel fun of people who are different. Where I grew up, people of other than generally Anglo-Saxon ethnicity was a rarity. They were different so they often became targets. There is one girl in particular that I hope to meet again one day so that I may apologise for my role in her regular humiliation. Lord knows, my parents would have had several layers of skin off my bum if they had ever found out the things we were saying and doing to the poor girl. Part of me knew it was wrong but I kept laughing at it anyway, which just encouraged the worst perpetrators even more. Another child who was at my primary school briefly, was of considerably lower intellect than whatever passes for average. I sometimes laughed at others who were making fun of that poor kid as well. At least I had the decency to feel guilty about it afterwards and stopped.

What I have just related was the stunts of pre-teen kids, thirty-five years ago. This controversial episode of Family Guy had about as much depth as those childhood cruelties. Surely as 'adults' they should know better by now?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Another rejection amid major competition

I have just received a rejection for another short story. This one was submitted to an anthology being produced in the USA for release as an ebook.

The editor advises that they received over 5,000 submissions to the anthology. My story apparently made it to the shortlist, so that was an accomplishment of a sort even if it didn't make the final cut. But all fiction is subjective, it does not mean that my story was crap. I just need to have another look at it before sending out once more.

This experience shows just how big the competition can be in the short story market, emphasising the need to make sure your story is the best that it can be.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Too funny!

One of the most unexpected and funniest things I have ever read. It is from Jessica Simpson's twitter thingy. I quote:

Dear elderly man at the gym:its hard 4 me 2 keep composure whilst punching at chipmunk speed when ur ball sack spills out of ur wind shorts

Maybe it is just a sign of my warped sense of humour but I find that hysterically funny. I have GOT to find a way of working that into a comedy script!