Sunday, November 11, 2012

We've moved!

That's right - we have moved to our own domain at

Come on over and have a look - some major improvements!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

CD REVIEW: Jailbait by Anni Piper

Anni Piper
Black Market Music

I do not usually review music but music is a big part of my life. Listening to this particular CD, I felt inspired to review it.

I picked up my copy of Jailbait on a whim several months ago after spying it in the racks. It dates back to 2004 so is hardly a new release but it was housed in the blues section, was an Australian compilation by a white female singer. I was intrigued and I decided to give it a go,

Jailbait is a fine collection of original tracks, all written or co-written by singer, Anni Piper.

While Piper's voice is not a growling 'blues' voice, it is nonetheless a pleasant voice which suits her material.

The music is a mixture of styles. Prominient in the first six tracks is the slide guitar work of Marcus 'Bro' Adamson. Any good slide is going to get my attention.

As an overall album, Jailbait is not going to reach out and grab you by the throat. But it is nonetheless a good listen, importantly of all original works.

If you like blues then this definitely worth having a listen to.

Ross Hamilton - Author
It Hides in Darkness award-winning novella
Funny Shite if life is full of shit, let's make it funny shit
Ross's Rant opinion and general ranting
Words by Ross book reviews and writing-related stuff
Diary of a Novella - experiences in being published
reviewer -

Monday, September 24, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Bitter Seeds

first posted at

Bitter Seeds
Ian Tregillis
Milkweed Triptych 2


The year is 1939. Raybould Marsh and other members of British Intelligence have gathered to watch a damaged reel of film in a darkened room. It appears to show German troops walking through walls, bursting into flames and hurling tanks into the air from afar. If the British are to believe their eyes, a twisted Nazi scientist has been endowing German troops with unnatural, unstoppable powers. And Raybould will be forced to resort to dark methods to hold the impending invasion at bay. But dealing with the occult exacts a price. And that price must be paid in blood.


Alternative history is about positing a ‘what if’ scenario where history as we may know it is re-written. Bitter Seeds, the first in the Milkweed Triptych trilogy, suggests a very different World War Two, at least as far as Germany and Britain are concerned.

Stories about Nazi Germany coming up with some sort of weird or wonderful new technology or even magic to change the path of World War Two are not new. The challenge therefore for Tregillis was to make this fresh enough to maintain interest. This he easily achieves.

In Bitter Seeds we see the battle between science and dark magic. There is little I can really say without throwing in spoilers all over the place. What I particularly liked about the magic construct used in the story is that it does not come without a price. Nor does it appear in a Harry Potter-esque fashion that it just happens because it just happens. Matters become increasingly grim and quite dark through this use of Enochian magic.

I noted in a review by Andrew J McKiernan over at Thirteen O’Clock, a problem with the use of ‘Enochian’ as the magical construct used by the Brits. Andrew has existing knowledge of this and as such he had concerns about the apparent lack of research by Tregillis in this respect. But if you are like me and know nothing about the Enochian (other than the name making me think of Enoch Powell,) then any such shortcomings would not be apparent.

Like pretty well any good story, the central theme becomes the people and how they are relating to increasingly brutal circumstances. We see some frightful decisions being made due to the needs of the time and circumstances, in pursuit of a greater good. Some things go wrong – terribly wrong.  For my liking at least, I found the character of occultist Will Beauclerk to be the best presented, most rounded character, possibly because of the degree of distress he was going through at the heart of these dark events.

“It was here in this room almost exactly a year ago where Marsh had severed Will’s finger. It was here where Will had pleaded with him to do so. Here Milkweed had repelled an invasion, destroyed a fleet. Today the air tasted like the stones at the bottom of a centuries-old well. The bones of the earth steeped in tainted water and the shells of dead snails.”

The Orbit range of titles often includes interviews with authors. The interview with Tregillis at the rear of the book is quite interesting, not least in how he describes the germ of the idea coming after reading about a WW2 Allied project for building ships out of ice – truth can be stranger than fiction, even though the ice ships do not make it into this trilogy.

I found this a quite gripping read which passed my ultimate test of whether or not I want to read more – I most certainly do!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Autographed copies - an update

UPDATE - if you are outside Australia, contact me at ross [@] to work out postage costs.

And now here it is - my novella, It Hides In Darkness, published by Creative Print Publishing in the UK, is being launched internationally on October 8.

Would you like to be in the draw for a couple of free issues? Then head over to Facebook and 'like' the page

For anyone that is interested in a personalised autographed copy, then you need to purchase a copy here and I will dash it off, pronto - the price is post inclusive and only $9:

 But if you just want to get your hands on a copy without my scrawl defacing things:

BOOK REVIEW: The Blinding Knife

first published at

The Blinding Knife
Brent Weeks
The Lightbringer 2


Gavin Guile is dying.

He’d thought he had five years left–now he has less than one. With fifty thousand refugees, a bastard son, and an ex-fiancée who may have learned his darkest secret, Gavin has problems on every side. All magic in the world is running wild and threatens to destroy the Seven Satrapies. Worst of all, the old gods are being reborn, and their army of colour wights is unstoppable. The only salvation may be the brother whose freedom and life Gavin stole sixteen years ago.

The opening book in this series, The Black Prism, was a weighty read but worth it, The same can be easily said for its successor, The Blinding Knife.

What strikes me more than anything is the depth that Weeks has gone to in creating his world. A central point of things is that of the casters – people who are able to use a particular colour in the light spectrum as magic. Different colours produce different results, with differing influences on the personality and thought processes of the caster involved.

Most casters are proficient in casting within one, perhaps two colours. The Prism, the national leader of the Chromaria in many respects, is a master of at least all the visible colours in the light spectrum.

Crafting from light comes at a cost – the more you use it, the faster you hasten towards your end. Eventually your particular colour will take you over, potentially turning you into a colour wight.

Gavin Guile is the current Prism although he is really Gavin's brother, Dazen, having stolen his brother's identity sixteen years earlier.

Unlike those headed towards becoming a wight, Gavin is instead beginning to lose his colours, his abilities, a sign that he is approaching a premature end to his life.

In what might be seen as a possible allegory regarding our own world where nature is out of balance, the magic – the colours – are running out of control with dire consequences.

The outward protagonist is the Colour Prince,  the leader of a rebellion against the Chromeria, the ruling body of the Seven Satrapies of Gavin's world. The Colour Prince has rejected the teachings of the Chromeria, surrendering himself to being remade by his colours but as more than a colour wight. But beyond the continuing advances of the Colour Prince, Gavin also has to deal with internal politics,  treachery and his own inner demons and secrets.

My only gripe was the lack of a short introduction reminding us of the events of The Black Prism. At first I struggled a little to remember just who was what. But Weeks soon reintroduces all the principle characters and it starts coming back to you. The story is well supported by two detailed glossaries and an appendix discussing more of the details of colour and crafting.

This is a fascinating, compelling read. It is more than just a successor to The Black Prism, both extending and strengthening the story.

Highly recommended

BOOK REVIEW:Lady of the Shades

first published at

Lady of the Shades
Darren Shan


A man tormented by ghosts, a woman whose love could kill, and a deadly secret that refuses to stay buried – sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction. Ed, an American author on the hunt for his next story, arrives in London. Ensnared in an illicit affair that can only be conducted in the shadows, Ed's world is turned upside down as a series of shattering revelations blurs the line between what's real and what's not.


Are we ever truly free of our past, from ourselves?

That question seems to be an underlying theme in this novel.

Ed Sieveking is an author of the supernatural, the macabre. And his is haunted by  ghosts. Or are they merely manifestations of his own subconscious? He doesn't know. But he is haunted by them all the same and Ed rightfully wonders about his own sanity.

In London, Ed is researching material for another book. And he meets a girl, beginning a relationship with her that son becomes complex, not exactly helped by Ed's own past and the secrets he carries with him.

The eventual revelation of Ed's past is a little abrupt but Shan has still made it work within the context of this particular story.

As the story progresses, the macabre touches become a little more pronounced. While I was able to eventually guess somewhat where things were leading, I was still caught out by the macabre depth of the ultimate twist in the plot.

As for Ed's ghosts, will we ever learn whether they are real or not?

This in an easy novel to get into. The flaws in Ed's character make him strangely interesting. I found Lady of the Shades to be a strangely satisfying and engaging read – definitely worth checking out.

BOOK REVIEW: The Woman Who Died A Lot

first published at

The Woman Who Died A Lot
Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next 7
Hodder & Staughton

Thursday Next is at a low point in her life: she is four months into an enforced semi-retirement following a near fatal assassination attempt. She is yet to walk without a stick, has double vision more often than she doesn't, and has limited mobility in her left arm.

A time, then, for relaxation, recuperation, and rest. A time to spend with her beloved family, avoid stress, take it easy, meet old friends and do very little. If only life were that simple...


Why do I keep doing this to myself? I just love the Thursday Next novels but they are just so damned hard to write about.

The last instalment in the series, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, was almost exclusively set within BookWorld, the odd construct which lies behind the pages of literature. But this instalment is set entirely on Thursday's own world. Not quite our world as we know it but identifiable as generally pretty similar to ours.

One of the fascinating things about Fforde's Thursday Next novels is the way he takes the odd, the different, putting ti together in a quite believable sense. And this instalment is no different in that respect except that it is the loss of some that, to us, strangeness which propels the plot.

Thursday is not the woman she once was, still recovering from the terrible injuries suffered in One of Our Thursdays is Missing. But at the crunch, mentally she is as sharp as ever.

Yet again, Thursday finds herself up against the Goliath mega-corporation but with another twist which keeps it from going stale. And Fforde has once again managed to weave that interaction into a wider story.

When trying to describe what happens, I find myself in real difficulties. How can I do so without making it sound like absurd nonsense that is not worth your time in picking it up. But, while indeed delightfully absurd, Fforde's genius is in making it all make a strange form of sense.

Funny. Multi-layered, Enjoyable. Just go and read the damned thing!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Diary of a novella - Chapter 1

Over the last couple of months I have found myself on a more-than interesting little journey. So far I have learned all sorts of things that I had not thought of or not given sufficient thought to. And so here go - the first of a string of posts that shall be documenting what it is like as an author being published on the small press scene.

So how was the story born?

One of the things I toy with for inspiration is browsing websites such as Ralan to see what potentially interesting anthology markets might be calling for submissions. I came across one that was seeking horror stories set in the Confederate States in northern America. This idea intrigued me and I scribbled various thoughts but they did not get beyond my writing journal at the time.

I subsequently took on some post-graduate studies in writing at the University of Canberra. One subject was a project to undertake an independent writing project. I decided this was a good opportunity to explore my fledgling ideas for a horror story set on a plantation within the Confederacy.

Developing the piece saw me exploring aspects of life within that place and that time, leading me to a rice plantation rather than the stereotypical cotton plantation. I had a supervisor at university who kept on eye on my project and she put me onto a quite valuable source, transcriptions of interviews conducted in the 1930s with surviving former slaves. This provided a wealth of information for developing a style of voice.

I was also intrigued to learn of what was at least a phase of slave owners bestowing names on slaves, that were sourced from things like classic literature. This in turn lead to character names like Cassie (Cassandra), Ulee (Ulysses) and Pompey.

Years before I had read in a historical novel about a startling punishment on a slave plantation which involved the use of a cat - the feline not the cat o' nine tails. I subsequently came across other references to that and similar punishments. It seemed dark enough to warrant an adapted use of the same in my story. A reader of an early draft of the story, described that scene as completely absurd and unusable.

There is a scene with an attempted rape. The same reader above, was infuriated, declaring that I was merely attempting to titillate and therefore the story was 'unpublishable'. I did not go into rape in any light manner. But this was intended as a horror story for adults. And there is a perverse side of me that enjoys proving others wrong.

The setting in a southern state also provided another aspect I thought full of prospects for engaging the senses - venturing into the swamps. In the end the swamps did not feature as much as I had first intended but it was still an interesting piece of landscape to explore, seeing as I have never seen one other than on the television.

This proved a fascinating experience for me to be writing about this particular environment. And as a 'true' speccie fiction head, the supernatural simply had to enter the piece.

At the end of the day, I finished the novella, received a High Distinction for the content (but marked down a little on some other aspects - grrrrr) and the adventure was pretty much over for the time being.

Stay tuned for Chapter 2.

In the meantime, here are a couple of links - an Amazon link for worldwide distribution (but more details on other options shall be detailed before long) and for my Australian friends, a link to obtain an autographed version (should you be interested in my scrawl across the otherwise virginal white paper).
Click me for an autographed version

Monday, September 17, 2012

Copies of It Hides in Darkness

And now here it is - my novella, It Hides In Darkness, published by Creative Print Publishing in the UK, is being launched internationally on October 8.

Would you like to be in the draw for a couple of free issues? Then head over to Facebook and 'like' the page

You can order a copy direct from Creative Print Publishing. Or from Amazon. And a heap of other places.

But for anyone that is interested in a personalised autographed copy, then you need to purchase a copy here and I will dash it off, pronto - the price is post inclusive and only $9:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Such exciting times!

There are some things that make the frustrations of being a writer, all feel worthwhile.

In all honesty, I doubt we ever entirely get over the thrill of seeing our name in print. I admit that I still get a kick out of it. But sometimes it is an even bigger reason to get excited.

My small novella, It Hides In Darkness, won a competition being run by Creative Print Publishing in the UK. The prize was having it published as a standalone piece. The email informing me of that was such a thrill. But finding myself on the cusp of my first proper solo work being released as me even more excited.

As I type, it is not too long after receiving the email confirming that the proof copy is back from the printers and apparently looks pretty darn good. And a copy is about to start winging its way Down Under for me to give it my seal of approval.

Another great buzz.

The excitement grew even more on realising that the book (my book! yeehaaaa!) is already available to order!

Exciting times - and not necessarily in the tradition Chinese sense.

Following on from this excitement, I feel safe in announcing that yet another little publication is on its way. Stay tuned for those details!

Now if you have an opinion on what I'm blathering about or even just feel like saying hi, then don't be afraid to leave a comment or post something to me via Twitter or Facebook. I don't bite - at least not always. Or even follow the blog by email. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cheats should never be allowed to prosper

I have blasted on this overall theme before today and now I’m at it again.

Recently there were some noises being made about the review-for-hire scene where an author could pay these dodgy operators the appropriate fee in return for which the ‘reviewer’ wrote glowing things about the author’s work. So I blasted about that over at awritergoesonajourney.

On top of that, articles seem to be popping up all over the place about British crime writer, RJ Ellory, being caught out and admitting to writing reviews of his books on Amazon under pseudonyms. Needless to say these reviews were glowing. For example, writing as ‘Jelly Bean’ he described his work as ‘one of the most moving books I have ever read.’ Other alleged comments include: ‘It is so beautifully written I felt as though it enabled me to be a part of that era even though that can never actually happen’ and ‘I would highly recommend this book to anyone who really wants to experience a class read’ and even better still, describing his own work as a ‘modern masterpiece’.  Even more moving was ‘whatever else it might do, it will touch your soul.’

Remember – this was the author describing his own work while pretending to be other people. How does he even have the gall to be doing that?

Not content with using his masquerade to write his own bogus reviews, Ellory used the same opportunities to blast some of his competitors’ work while remaining safely hidden - or so he thought.

Bear in mind this was not just a once off. It seems that Ellory has done this multiple times under different aliases. Yet now that he has been caught out he has admitted to doing it, noting that ‘I wholeheartedly regret the lapse of judgment that allowed personal opinions to be disseminated in this way and I would like to apologise to my readers and the writing community.’

A ‘lapse of judgement’ implies something less than a series of deliberately written and posted bogus reviews with Ellory pretending to be someone else. But note that his apology is not actually apologising for that. His apology only seems to be for letting his personal opinions sneak in ie deriding the work of others. If he really does think his work is actually represented by those over-the-top descriptions, then RJ Ellory has MAJOR egotistical problems and needs to be worrying about psychiatric care and getting fitted for his straight-jacket. Nonetheless, I am not seeing any apologies from him for a quite deliberate deception of others.

I recently had a brief online debate with someone else on this subject. That other seemed to think that writing bogus reviews was nothing more than a bit of harmless self-promotion. I heartily disagree. It is nothing short of deliberate deception, telling lies to the whole world in a deliberate attempt to con people into buying your material. That is not self-promotion. How can it be self-promotion when you are in fact hiding the fact that it is yourself writing that nonsense?

Equally interesting in the article linked above, another author, Stephen Leather, justified his admitted practice of writing bogus reviews by saying “Everyone does [it].” I disagree in the strongest terms. If you have any personal ethics, you don’t do that. If you have any basic decency and honesty, you don’t lie to the world like that. And I do NOT know great swags of authors who think this is all such a great idea as Leather does. I can only think of one rather self-righteous author/self-publisher whom I believe engages in that style of behaviour. And in my opinion they have the morals of a particularly unscrupulous sewer rat.

The argument has become that nobody is being hurt by this practice of bogus reviews. Like hell! While Amazon’s ‘review’ system has quite rightly become thoroughly discredited for just the sort of practices being discussed, the genuine reviewers at other places and in other media are also sooner or later going to find themselves quite wrongfully disparaged.

These idiots should be supporting genuine reviewers as good reviews, provided they are warranted, can mean more sales. Instead, these fools have been pursuing stunts that damages the credibility of reviewers and thus in the long run, only doing themselves damage.

It disgusts me that the likes of Ellory has stooped so low. It further disgusts me that his apology does not seem to extend to being sorry that he deliberately lied to and deceived people. It infuriates me that the likes of Stephen Leather insist that nothing is wrong with such a practice, quite falsely stating that ‘everyone does it.’

My counter-argument is how about people show the likes of Ellory and Leather what they think of that duo and anyone else pulling such stunts – boycott them! Refuse to buy their work! Hit them in the pocket as cheats should never be allowed to prosper!

Now if you have an opinion on what I'm blathering about or even just feel like saying hi, then don't be afraid to leave a comment or post something to me via Twitter or Facebook. I don't bite - at least not always.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Vale: Leslie Nielsen - and his lesson for all of us

In a very sad day, Leslie Nielsen has passed away at age 84.

To a great many of us, Nielsen was best known as a comedy actor but this came very much in the latter part of his career. During his approximately 60 years in front of the camera, he was for the longer part a serious actor. Looking back, his was one of those faces that only in later years were you able to recognise.

In my opinion at least, Nielsen's turning point for wider-spread popularity and recognition was being featured in the 1980 film Airplane (Flying High in Australia). There he was able to play some very  funny lines with a wonderful deadpan attitude. I vividly recall seeing this at a drive-in theatre one evening in the small northern Victorian town of Kerang, together with my fellow boarder where I lived. We were both bored and he suggested we go see a film. We didn't know what was being shown and it just happened to be Flying High. And this became the start of Nielsen's career as a comic actor, best known for his role in The Naked Gun series of films although those were far from the only comic roles he played.

Nielsen was a real prankster behind the camera and sometimes in front of it as well. Some years ago I saw a clip of him being interviewed. He was answering things in a generally serious manner. But the whole time he had a rubber bulb secreted in one hand, squeezing it as he spoke, making copious farting sounds. And he had the poor interviewer completely fooled into thinking Nielsen was indeed suffering from copious flatulence until late in the interview when he revealed just what he had been doing.

It was this transition into comedy later in his career that saw Nielsen doing what he really wanted to do. And he was damned good at it in terms of delivery, timing, body language and facial expressions.

I think that there is a lesson there for all of us. What is that we really want to do? And if we aren't already doing it in some way, then why not?

Rest in peace, Mr Nielsen and thank you for the entertainment - and the inspiration.

Now if you have an opinion on what I'm blathering about or even just feel like saying hi, then don't be afraid to leave a comment or post something to me via Twitter or Facebook. I don't bite - at least not always.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Review originally posted at

Throne of Glass
Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury Publishing

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake. She got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament - fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin's heart be melted?

I did not initially realise that this title was actually young adult but I think it has sufficient story-telling to fit either young adult or adult markets. The protagonist, Celaena, is a strong character and in many respects this is a fairly strong and quite creditable novel. I did however have some concerns.

The first and biggest of these, at least to my anal retentive nature, is an error I like to refer to as Spidie Screw-up. In the 2002 film Spider-Man, our arachnid hero, Spidie, leapt off a tall building after his love interest had fallen over the edge. He accelerated through the air, caught her and with a deft squirt of spider web, was able to save her. That scene was strongly criticised for the simple reason that it defied the reality of gravity.  Even allowing for Spidie streamlining himself to be less air-resistant that his sprawling, arm-waving target, he simply could not have caught up with her as depicted due to the fixed nature of gravity and it should have been bye-bye to Kirsten Dunst.

Unfortunately Mass has made the same error, even worsening it by having Celaena not just catch up to someone in free-fall but at such as speed that the collision knocks the wind from her chest. Sorry, but that’s Spidie Screw-up all over again. It is disappointing that this was not picked up on and corrected during editing.

The above was a continuity or reality error. My other couple of concerns are more structural. Without being able to describe it too much and avoid spoilers, there were some unexplained and quite curious deaths around the Glass Palace. Overall there seemed to be much less concern being shown about these by people in general than one would have thought. This is also a country where magic was suddenly forbidden in relatively recent times. The appearance of some cryptic marks at the scene of the killings, apparently drawn in blood, did not appear to strike anyone much as possibly being magically related. For me at least, both of these points detracted from the

Monday, July 30, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

originally reviewed at awritergoesonajourney

The Lotus War Part 1
Publisher: TOR
ISBN: 9780230762886
Release: August 2012

The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild.

The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

When a new title is heralded as dystopian Japanese-inspired Steampunk Fantasy, that definitely catches my attention. Yet can it live up to such hype? Yes it can – easily!

Steampunk is one of the curiosities of the literary world. It either seems to work or it doesn’t. There does not appear to be anything much in the way of middle ground. Jay Kristoff’s debut novel has easily landed in the ‘it’s working’ territory.

The way Kristoff has made his novel work has been by creating something that is eminently believable. And while I am hardly an authority on Japanese culture, the little I know being more inspired by James Clavell’s Shogun years ago than anything else, I was never in any doubt that I was in an alternative Japan, where much of the power was indirectly held by a Guild whose insidious side effect of their technology has thoroughly impregnated this society. I felt a distinct sense of this novel’s setting describing our world in a not-that-far-off  future with the impacts of global warming, pollution and land degradation. In that sense, the dystopian aspect to the novel rings true.

The implications of political power are never far away. And like anything with a quasi-feudal setting, it is ripe with intrigue and rebellion, although in the end not quite where you expect it to be coming from. Yet even with that development, while aiding the dissenters, could it not cause even more difficulties in the longer term? Sadly, to find out we shall have to wait for subsequent instalments in The Lotus War trilogy.

If I was going to be critical of anything in particular, it would be that the bonding between Yukiko and the thunder tiger seemed to occur a little too easily, considering the earlier degree of the beast’s hostility. But misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. [Oh dear Lord – did I really just go and quote Shakespeare? After high school I swore I would never do so again. Damn.]

While steampunk-inspired, Stormdancer is not just a novel for fans of that subgenre. It should appeal to fans of speculative fiction generally.

For me the ultimate test of a story is do I want to keep reading. And the answer is an unqualified yes!

Good one Jay

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The spectre of editing

Having reached the lofty ranks of people with their own book being published by a 'real' publisher (OK, it's only a novella being published by small press in the UK, but allow me my brief moment of grandiose self-appreciation), this in turn lead to the dreaded final editing phase.

I freely admit to being an appalling self-editor, quite probably worse than average. It seems the more I study a wretched piece of prose, the more I see what I want to be there rather than what is. It was only on seeing the actual proof that I discovered errors that had slipped through. Oh shit. So another editing phase was put back in my hands. After I finished crying out "woe is me," I was able to talk an editor friend of mine into going through it for me as well. Between the pair of us we (meaning mainly her) discovered a real barrow-load of things that needed fixing up.

So there's lesson number one - get someone else to go over your work with that fine-tooth comb.

Then it was fix-it-all-up time. And I was thoroughly cranky and annoyed with myself by the time I had finished that. It was a considerable relief to send the finished thing off. But this was only a short novella.. I thought about what it must be like to properly edit a novel-length manuscript in that degree of detail, or my wretched thesis that I am currently writing. Good Lord  Almighty - if I let my hair grow long enough, I'd be tearing it out in fistfulls trying to fix up my usual scatter-gun collection of errors in a 70,000-plus word piece.

Lesson number two - get it right in small batches to begin with and save the little that is left of my already dubious sanity.

Now if you have an opinion on what I'm blathering about or even just feel like saying hi, then don't be afraid to leave a comment or post something to me via Twitter or Facebook. I don't bite - at least not always.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What is the future for literary review in Australia?

The Fairfax media group has been in the press quite a bit lately. This coverage has primarily been about the attempt by mining-heiress Gina Reinhardt to basically force the Fairfax Board to give she and her allies three seats on the Board and editorial hiring-and-firing control, in defiance of the Board's existing stance of editorial independence. To the Board's credit, they have to date refused to bow down to that pressure of someone who rather obviously has ulterior motives behind her move. Anyone who thinks it is merely an investment decision by Hancock Prospecting is kidding themselves but that has already been extensively covered elsewhere.

In other circumstances, the real Fairfax story would have been its financial difficulties but these do not make nearly as dramatic reading as that of the Reinhardt push. Fairfax announced not long ago that 1,900 jobs were to be lost across the group. One of the impacts has now been announced. At the Canberra Times, the literary editor's job has been canned and all book reviews in the daily newspaper for Australia's capital, are to be simply taken from existing reviewers in Fairfax publications in Melbourne and Sydney.

Now I can hardly blame the Fairfax group for needing to rationalise things on a purely economic basis. But there are some other quite noticeable flow-on effects, externalities to use a term from my old economics background.

In global terms, Australia is still a relatively small fish with a population of a bit over 20 million. There are a limited number of large metropolitan papers with literary reviewing. By reducing the reviewing to merely that of Melbourne and Sydney, the review of literary matters has been significantly reduced. The critical pool of information being made available to the public is therefore also reduced ie the opinion of an even more reduced pool. This also means in practical terms that with fewer books being reviewed, details of fewer books will be going out there to the public. This is bad news for all authors and literary consumers.

There is yet another aspect - what type of literature is now going to be reviewed? Perusal of the literary pages of either Sydney Morning Herald or The Age, the two main mastheads of Fairfax, sees a distinct preference for what I like to call Serious Literature. This Serious Literature is not necessarily the popular literature that actually sells. The concept most definitely does not include genre fiction - crime, sci fi, fantasy, horror, and romance. While the odd one may be reviewed, that is an exception rather than the rule. The Canberra Times, in part due to the efforts of reviewer Colin Steele, did see genre fiction being reviewed to an extent - perhaps not enough to keep the genre authors and fans as happy as we would like, but it was occurring. With this cutting of Canberra-based reviewing, a source of genre-review is gone. Please do not think I am entirely opposed to Serious Literature. For example, Tim Winton's literary ability as a wordsmith puts me in awe. But, rightly or wrongly, it isn't necessarily the style that I wish to read for pleasure. And I am sufficiently self-aware to realise that I sure as heck don't have his stylistic abilities in my own writing.

Now I am sure that there will be those out there who are already saying "well all you need to do is get your reviews into the Melbourne and Sydney press." However Fairfax are in a cost-cutting mode. There is no way that they are going to expand literary pages to increase the amount of reviewing, for the simple reason that this means more expenditure.

There are one heck of a lot of books being published every year across the world. Australian authors are competing in a pretty tight market. Having your work reviewed is a way of generating sales. By reducing the total amount of significant reviewing, Australian authors therefore have even fewer opportunities for review. And the statistics reveal just how poor a return the overwhelming majority of fiction authors in particular actually make from their writing. The JK Rowling's etc with the headline-sized advances and royalties are very much the exception. So this move by Fairfax reduces the amount of local content being covered and Australian authors will find themselves in increased competition to try and get their product covered.

Yet another externality rears its nasty little head - gender representation. The disparity between coverage of female and male authors respectively has been a real issue. Reducing the amount of reviewing merely reduces the opportunities to ensure this gender disparity - intended or not - can cease to become a matter of concern. Perhaps even more concerning was that in response to a quite reasoned and sensible blog post by author Tara Moss which discussed this issue, one Cameron Woodhead responded with " this is the kind of privileged whining that annoys the crap out of me" - and Mr Woodhead's claim to fame - a book and theatre reviewer for The Age. When I politely asked Woodhead a question by a responding comment to that blog, he was quite rude and disparaging.

Uh oh.

The primary reason for Fairfax's financial difficulties was the Board's failure about ten years ago to realise the impact of increased online news reporting and advertising. The 'golden stream' of classified adverts became increasingly lost to companies on the Internet. It is hard to see how that lost ground can ever be recovered. Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd were similarly caught out but have had the greater size and disparity to cover that loss by other means. Not so Fairfax even though it is the second largest media operative of this type in Australia. Yet finger-pointing about whose fault it was does not address the simple economic reality in face of falling revenues to cut costs otherwise we could all wave bye bye to Fairfax.

So just how do we go about addressing the damaging impact arising from Fairfax's self-preservation tactics? Unfortunately I do not have an immediate answer. But it does strike me that perhaps there is a role for government here in funding or subsidising increased literary reviewing and coverage? How about the ACT government subsidising this sort of coverage in the Canberra Times? Or a federal scheme for the press in general seeking to retain, replace or even increase these opportunities for literary reviewing and coverage.

Before closing, I would like to give a shout out to the literary editor at the Canberra Times, Gia Metherell. Gia has been a strong supporter of the arts in Canberra, particularly in coverage of not just national literature but also the strong Canberran literary scene. Gia's position has been declared surplus to requirements under the cost-cutting. So it's goodbye to Gia and thank you for your efforts. Similarly, Colin Steele, a long-time reviewer who was indeed prepared to cover genre fiction, shall similarly be lost to reviewing, along with the rest of the reviewers producing content from Canberra - a perfect example of the resulting loss of critical reviewing coverage. Frankly speaking, it's a major bummer.

It is a sad day for authors and readers as well as those who are losing their livelihoods.

Now if you have an opinion on what I'm blathering about or even just feel like saying hi, then don't be afraid to leave a comment or post something to me via Twitter or Facebook. I don't bite - at least not always.

Monday, July 9, 2012

It’s all in the wording…

To my considerable delight, not long ago I received word that a horror novella of mine had won a competition run by a publisher in the UK with the prize being publication as a standalone book.

The competition was for unpublished authors (prior publication in anthologies did not disqualify from being considered ‘unpublished’).

The proof arrived via email for me to proof read. So I went through it very carefully, found some errors on my part and raised some queries.

Where I now became unstuck was in certain matters relating to those edits. The publisher referred me back to the submission rules which were that the submission was to be ‘print ready’. The distinction here was that this meant ‘ready to be directly turned into print’ and not the more usually experienced process of final editing before going into that final proof stage.

This was my misunderstanding. On re-reading the submission rules etc., I now see what they meant. But as usual, I had rushed off to the end point of submission without thinking a little more deeply about this ‘print ready’.

The down side is that I now feel more than a little foolish for not realising that there was a quite specific aspect to the wording that they had used. However the up side is that in agreement with the publisher, I can make those changes and fixes myself, paying more attention to their house style and send it off to them once more for the publishing to proceed. That in turn means a better looking product.

So the lesson is – pay attention to the words.

Lesson learned.

Now if you have an opinion on what I'm blathering about or even just feel like saying hi, then don't be afraid to leave a comment or post something to me via Twitter or Facebook. I don't bite - at least not always.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Oh Mr Bunny, how I have changed

Not another review or my usual blather, not even a rant. This time I simply have a small reflection on how we change, or at least how I have changed.

I'm originally a country boy. Not growing up on the farm as such but by my teens I knew how to shoot and as I grew older, I liked hunting mainly for rabbits and foxes. But that was more years ago now than I really care to recall.

A few minutes ago, here on campus at the University of Canberra, feeling like a change from my coffee brewed in the plunger I wandered over to the cafeteria to grab a refill before they closed the coffee machine off for the day. This was later afternoon. As I was walking back to the building housing the graduate research student office, I paused to watch some rabbits.

Now rabbits are an introduced species in Australia. They are officially feral. In the bad old days, we were in a state of seemingly perpetual rabbit plague and despite reductions in numbers due to introduced disease control, they are still not that hard to find. So it is not surprising that we have a few here and there on our quite ruralised sort of campus with all its open ground, shrubbery etc.

While watching the rabbits, it occurred to me just how much I have changed. The desire to grab the rifle and start letting rip a few head shots is long gone. After the hideously premature death of my better half in 2004, any such remaining desire to go and kill things just shrivelled away. My rifles had already disappeared during the guns buy-back scheme in Australia in the 1990s. Not that I had anything fancy, just repeater and semi-automatic 22s. The licence had long been allowed to lapse.

In all honesty, if I had still had a firearm of some description around the house back when I was cracking up badly, I probably would have blown my brains out. So Prime Minister John Howard actually did me a favour there (possibly depending on your point of view).

Once whenever I looked at rabbits, I assessed how old they probably were (the amount of reddish fur is a rough guide to increasing age) and how hard a shot it might be. Now, I was just watching them feed, admitting quietly to myself that yes, they're still strictly speaking vermin, but there was something peaceful about the sight of them quietly munching on the grass, not overly worried by the presence of a few students wandering around. Then a young kit (the correct name for young rabbit) dashed out. It seemed so harmless and vulnerable. Exactly what did I used to enjoy about giving these animals the lead pill treatment in the past - a .22 calibre lead pill injected with great velocity?

It seems that I have indeed changed.

Now if you have an opinion on what I'm blathering about or even just feel like saying hi, then don't be afraid to leave a comment or post something to me via Twitter or Facebook. I don't bite - at least not always.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

BOOK REVIEW - The Mancode: Exposed

One of the good things about the wonderful new world of e-books is that you can splurge on things that you may not have in the past. And there is no way I would have splashed out the spondoolicks for a harcopy version of The Mancode:Exposed, with the justification that it ain't my thing. And I would have missed out. But I can live with paying a princely sum of $2.99 for the e-book and having a bit of a read here and there on my Kindle emulator on the laptop - that's right, I don't have an e-reader. Actually I didn't pay $2.99 at all as there was a freebie release for a while and I got in there. But you will probably get the general idea.

In all honesty I cannot now remember just where I first came across this. I have a vague recollection of Rachel Thompson writing a guest blog post somewhere that lead to me grabbing a copy of The Mancode. I read a couple of pages, had a snigger and left it sitting to one side in the mass of electrons on my harddrive. I now wish I hadn't left it sitting there unattended for so long.

Rachel Thompson has a razorsharp wit with an edge so keen that she surely leaves trails of blood around behind her. I kept laughing while asking myself "did I really just read that?"

Some people will not like it, forgetting that this is satire, it is humour. The Mancode has a really biting edge to it that made me want to start writing the male response to it all. And yes, there are references to penis and vagina. And sometimes you are slapped in the face with all the subtlety of being thumped with a dead fish. You have been warned. But don't let that put you off grabbing a copy for a read.

Definitely worth clicking on the image or other link to get your own copy.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Weekly Inspirations - Week 1

 Jessica Kristie, , is an author and poet in the US. Jess recently released a new book, Weekly Inspirations for Writers Creators. Having purchased this e-book and had a flick through the collection of 52 sets of thoughts on inspiration and motivation, I decided to work through them as best I can, sharing my thoughts etc in this blog.

So here we are, off and running.

 Week 1

Week 1 is about approval, approving of yourself, about reminding us whose opinion really counts. Jess asks us to reflect on things that have made us proud.

I have had a history that heads into the dark side of things at times, having fought depression and an alcohol problem. Perhaps not surprisingly, I don't always find it easy to identify things that I am necessarily proud of. But there are a few. I think.

Jess insists that the one whose opinion really counts is you. Of course there is a limit to how far that goes. But in a creative enterprise like writing, your opinion really is the one that counts. As people like Stephen King insist, as writers we are writing for ourselves. So there is my first thing to keep in mind - when it comes to my writing, the ultimate person to really be kept happy, is me.

So what things am I proud of?

A little while back, someone whose opinion I respect, was quite complimentary about two stories of mine in a hopefully-soon-to-be-released self-published collection, enthusing over how he was able to so easily see the stories I was telling. That meant I was making the sort of connection I was aiming for and I think is something to be quietly proud of.

In recent times I have submitted a couple of stories to monthly competitions run by Spinetinglers in the UK. One of these came second in a comp, then the next one came first. Both placements paid money, which is always nice, and I received some good feedback from readers, both on the site and fia social media. Making that sort of connection is also something to be quietly proud of.

In both cases above, I also have ask myself, could I have possibly done anything better with any of these stories? In brutal honesty, yes, I could have done better - a word here, a phrase there, more creativity in the way in which I structure my  narrative.

So there we have it - my week 1 reflection.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

One reason why research can be distressing

I am one of those people who find research for their work, a fascinating exercise. In fact too much so as the research can be incredibly fascinating, leading me down all sorts of interesting diversions that keep me from getting back to what I am supposed to be doing. It is a thing of excitement, intellectually stimulating, generally keeping me pretty happy. Well, it was.

My main research activity at present is some of the nitty gritty for my work set in World War 1. Intellectually I think we all know that it was a pretty horrible thing. Reading interesting diaries and letters in the collection at the Australian War Memorial was already sobering, the diary etc coming to an abrupt end and you realise that is because the author has been killed. But as I pull apart aspects of the Australian involvement at Pozières, part of the infamous Battle of the Somme, the true horror of it all has been coming home in spades. It is little wonder that so many ex-serviceman became so anti-war. And it is increasingly upsetting me.

More than ever I think this story as it really was, not as it was later mythologised and glamorised, needs to be told. We need to remember so that we never forget what a God-awful thing war is.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Queensland - beautiful one day, hell for writers the next

I normally reserve ranting for Ross's Rant, but as this is a literary issue and I normally use this blog for literary-related matters, the rant is landing right here.

First up, let me make a couple of things very clear from the outset. No, I do not live in Queensland. No, I have not won any major literary awards and nor do I expect to.

With the recent election of a new Liberal National Party government in Queensland, among the first actions of new premier Campbell Newman is scrapping the annual Queensland Premier's Literary Awards.

This is such a big saving isn't it. Queensland would probably save more money just by dumping a politician. Literally hundreds of millions of dollars are being thrown around at other things (just read the news if you don't believe me) but getting rid of the literary awards is such a major cost saving. What a load of bollocks.

Here's a thought - aren't we supposed to foster things that make money? And doesn't sale of books, just as sale of any other merchandise, add to economic activity? It does. As does publication of said books, printing, transport etc etc. And literary awards such as these foster development in what is actually overall a quite poorly paid endeavour to begin with. But Campbell baby thinks it is much better to just crap in the face of writers everywhere, not just in Queensland, by saying 'screw you, not interested'.

A couple of hundred thousand may sound a lot on the face of it, but take a moment to look at the actual state income and it is so small as to be utterly insignificant.

The Premier's statements also note that the savings go beyond the awards and include the cost of resourcing the awards. Which is just pollie-speak for 'let's sack some public servants'. And inevitably, any cutting of resources from Arts Queensland would have an impact wider than just dumping the awards, just as any such cost cuts would do in any jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, what's the betting that something life-saving like the Association of Retired LNP Purveyors of Buttscratchers gets handouts of more than that? Or some other cronies.

Meanwhile, the Brisbane Lord Mayor has just announced the grand new plan to put libraries ahead of bookshops.

Now on the surface, it sounds good, doesn't it, sending more people to libraries. Me, I love libraries. At least libraries that have lots of lovely books. However the specific focus of this act of Mayor Quirk is to remove activities from bookshops.

Hold on a moment there, Quirky-boy. Why does a bookshop have any function or encourage visiting? To get punters in to buy stuff. But having just admitted there has been a problem with bookshops closing, His Lordship's answer is to deliberately remove yet more business opportunities for the poor old bookseller. And with the demise of Borders etc, those bookshops being damaged are the smaller, independent booksellers.

Hmmm just why is it that Queenland pollies seem so frightfully interested in killing off the literary side of life?

Monday, March 5, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Know No Fear by Dan Abnett

review first published at awritergoesonajourney

The Blurb
Unaware of the wider Heresy and following the Warmaster’s increasingly cryptic orders, Roboute Guilliman returns to Ultramar to muster his Legion for war against the orks massing in the Veridian system. Without warning, their supposed allies in the Word Bearers Legion launch a devastating invasion of Calth, scattering the Ultramarines fleet and slaughtering all who stand in their way. This confirms the worst scenario Guilliman can imagine – Lorgar means to settle their bitter rivalry once and for all. As the traitors summon foul daemonic hosts and all the forces of Chaos, the Ultramarines are drawn into a grim and deadly struggle in which neither side can prevail.

The Review
The cover includes a quote from The Guardian, although it is almost lost in the cover artwork: ‘Dan Abnett is probably the best writer of dark military SF in the world.’ I have to agree. Abnett has become one of my ‘must read’ authors.

The Horus Heresy has been a real success for The Black Library. While this is the nineteenth in the series, that is not counting audio titles. Dan Abnett is definitely one reason for its success with four novels and an audio drama co-authored with another of The Black Library’s better authors, Graham McNeill.

What I particularly like about Dan Abnett his ability to tell a dark story but without becoming overly oppressive as can happen with other authors in this style. But his story telling is definitely still dark in nature. I felt desperation growing as I read this latest offering.

This novel returns once more to the early days of the Horus Heresy when word of the Warmaster’s turn was yet to spread very far. We see the treacherous Word Bearers at their demonic worst as they turn against an unsuspecting Ultramarines Legion.

I also liked the way this was structured, each sequence with its time mark, clearly placing it within the storyline. With so much happening, it could have been easy to get lost without those references.

Know No Fear is typical Abnett stuff – fast paced, impressive action sequences and a storyline that pulls you in.

At novel’s end I was left wondering a bit about one character, Oll Persson. I am a bit puzzled about just what he actually was and where it was that he was leading a small group of survivors to. Or is this just a leader to draw the reader in for the next novel? Or maybe I am just reading too much into things?

Definitely a must read for Horus Heresy fans.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Real life is better than fiction

There is an old adage that a paint cannot actually paint what a brilliant sunset really looks like because the glorious colours look just too brilliant that they would be accused of hamming it up. Similarly the 'real life' depictions of people can only go so far in creating farcical situations before being accused of just being unrealistic. So to prove that real life is truly better than fiction, an author who shall remain nameless (in this blog for now at any rate) reports that earlier today she became "...trapped in the David Jones escalator wearing a maxi skirt that was angrily being devoured into the bowels of the moving stairs. Shrieks, escalator off, security, management, grumpy customers, screwdrivers and a very large pair of scissors followed."

Images of the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges immediately started banging on the frontal lobes in my nasty little mind.

Now I'm not really breaking any confidences as this was posted on Facebook. But I'm not that unkind as to post her name here. Yet.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Little things becoming special

I use this blog to usually blog about more serious things. But sometimes you just have one of those days you just want to share.

I arrived back home yesterday and the plane was some 15 minutes early due to the howling tail wind. That was nice.

Today I received an unexpected and quite nice message from a celebrity I respect, checking up to see how my recovering from surgery is going. That was really nice to receive.

I had a pile of mail waiting for me and I went through that today and discovered a postcard from someone else I quite respect who is currentlyin Europe. It was a fascinating postcard with a historical explanation of what the image was about. I really liked receiving that.

Since quitting the smokes back before Christmas, I had been waiting for the return of my sense of smell that I am told happens. And it arrived sort of as I was walking by a coffee shop this afternoon, suddenly smelling the goodies far better than I am used to. And that is with a slight cold or late hayfever interfering with things.

These are small things in themselves but just seemed special to me in odd little ways.

Maybe it's a case of small things and small minds. :-)