Saturday, December 24, 2011

Last-minute gift idea! Rage Against the Night charity anthology


Merry Christmas everyone. If you've forgotten the horror-lover in your life, grab them a copy of the Rage Against the Night anthology. All proceeds go to current Horror Writers Association president Rocky Wood, who is battling motor neurone disease.

Featuring Stephen King, Peter Straub and more. (I also managed to sneak a story in there!)

Here's the official spiel:

Under the onslaught of supernatural evil, the acts of good people can seem insignificant, but a courageous few stand apart. These brave men and women stand up to the darkness, stare it right in the eye, and give it the finger. These are the stories of those who rage against the night, stories of triumph, sacrifice, and bravery in the face of overwhelming evil.

Here's where you get it:

Amazon (Kindle):
Smashwords (multi-format ebook):

Please support this book. I'm honoured to be a part of it, and Rocky really needs a helping hand.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Grant year, week 49: tidying up loose ends

Of all my 'grant year' goals, the one that I've probably failed at most is the weekly blog!

I can live with that.

I don't actually have too much to report, but I feared that with Christmas almost upon us, I'd need to get a blog post in or else leave it all hanging with my last post, which was 'beginning to polish the second draft'.

Here's where I'm at: I finished polishing the second draft. The book is now out with readers. I've even had some feedback. But I haven't looked at it in depth -- what I'd like to do is wait until it's all in and then take a couple of days off work (annual leave -- all the grant money is gone!) read through the comments and figure out what I need to do for the third (and hopefully final) draft.

I haven't been idle in the meantime. Well, not totally idle. I've written an article for Writing Queensland (the magazine of the Queensland Writers Centre) about my grant year. This will appear early next year.

I've also started working on a Storify of my grant year, which pulls together all my tweets, blog posts and photos from the year. It's a work in progress. If you like you can check it out here.

This is also part of the process for my acquittal. It's not part of the formal process, but it's part of getting my head around what I'm going to write in my acquittal. And I'd really like to do a good job with my acquittal because, as I've said before (and will say over and over again) I'm extremely grateful to the Australia Council for investing in my project.


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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Grant year, week 44: back to work

 I've just started polishing the second draft, I'll probably end up changing enough to call it a third draft. :)

The break has been longer than intended, for a range of mostly boring reasons. But looking on the bright side, the extended break will give me a bit more perspective. Just 20 pages in, I've already noticed this. I thought the first 50 pages were pretty solid, but already I've found quite a few typos and clumsy language.

Which brings me to my next point. I don't know what it's like for other writers trying to 'break through' but I find I vacillate between frenzied terror brought on by the fear that I'm missing opportunities ALL THE TIME and lethargy/apathy, thinking that there's no way I'm going to 'make it'.

Somewhere is the sweet spot, where I get my best work done and manage to not make irrational decisions that may damage my real opportunities.

I've been thinking about submitting Skin Deep to the Pac Mac Manuscript Monday, but I want to make sure I send them something that represents the best writing I'm capable. At the back of my mind is the frenzied terror guy, screaming that they could close subs AT ANY MINUTE... but I'm trying not to listen to him. If I send them something crap, it will do more harm than good, right?

However, at the other end of the scale is the guy that's telling me there's no point subbing anything, anytime -- because I suck. So, at some point, you have to make the decision that it's as good as it's going to get, and then send it out. Because if you don't send it out, they can't say 'yes'!

I'm still fairly happy with what I've achieved this year. The schedule has slipped a bit. But I'm still hoping to have something halfway decent in the hands of my beta readers in time for Christmas holidays.


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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brisbane Zombie Walk 2011

I actually wasn't intending to go this year, because every year I try to go, something happens and then I can't go.

But of course, I didn't plan to go, so I found myself not only free this afternoon, but also in the Valley.

Here's some photos...


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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Macabre: out now on ebook

Just in time for Halloween, the award-winning Macabre is out now in ebook format!

Macabre: A Journey Through Australia's Darkest Fears features a whopping 205,000 words of Aussie horror -- the classics (Henry Lawson, Marcus Clarke), the modern masters (Terry Dowling, Kaaron Warren), and some of the nicest people I know (Stephen M Irwin, Shane Jiraiya Cummings and the rest of you... you know who you are!).

Oh, and if that's not enough for you, my short story about the dark heart of journalism 'Feast or Famine' is in there too.

When I first held Macabre in my hot little hands at WorldCon last year, I remember thinking, 'This is awesome. This is massive. What's the shipping cost going to be on this thing?' So it's awesome that it's now being offered as an ebook, so that this weighty tome can be offered without the weight.

It's currently available at Smashwords and Amazon, and will be available elsewhere before Halloween.

And, if you still decide you want the brick, I'm told POD versions will be coming soon.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Grant year, week 41: 1st rejection

Well, I didn't get into the Hachette MS Development program. They had 260 applications, and from those chose 10 to take part.

I have to admit, it knocked me around for an hour or so. But I've bounced back well. I think in part because of this article by Tobias Buckell, where he talks about 'milestones' and 'goals'.

Milestones are things you’d like to have happen to you. Selling a story. Selling a novel. Getting nominated for an award. Winning an award.

Goals are things you can actually achieve. Finishing writing a story. Writing a certain number of words. Writing a certain kind of story.


Early on in my career I hit upon a method of focusing and rewarding only the activities that I could control. I knew I wanted to sell a story, but that it was a random pellet. So I focused on writing and submitting stories. No one could stop me from that. I celebrated every 100 rejections (with champagne and nice food and a little mini-celebration) I got as proof that I was laying down the right actions toward hopefully getting a story sold.

So, even though the rejection was initially painful, I'm still on track to reach my goal -- to have a polished MS by the end of the year.

Where do I go from here?

At the moment I'm in the process of printing out the second draft to send back to the editor and also to an early beta reader.

After that, I need to polish, and then send to a couple of other beta readers.

Then a further run-through of the MS to incorporate feedback.

And then I just have to sell the damn thing!

The other thing that's helped me keep my chin up is attending the Emerging Writers Festival yesterday.

I got to catch up with writer/editor friends, and the festival itself resulted in some interesting ideas/opportunities.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The process of writing — Speakeasy

I used to be very much seat of the pants but I generally like to have an idea of how the story ends these days.

I had too many experiences where I had 2/3 of a story but couldn’t finish it. And for novels—I definitely plan. Even though pretty much everything ends up changing.

I think you’ve got to have a plan, but be flexible.

That’s how it is for me, anyway!

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Grant year, week 39: 2nd draft finished!

Well, kinda. I think it was Trent Jamieson who said that the rewriting is finished when you run out of time. So, I think I would like to rewrite the epilogue, if I have time.

I've been really slack with my updates on the blog. Apologies for that. The reality is that there hasn't been a hell of a lot of news. I've been slowly plodding along with what I'm calling my 'continuity sweep' of the second draft. I rearranged so much, structurally, that I needed to go back and make sure that it all made sense.

And it did, pretty much. There's one thing that's niggling me, so I think that means that it's still not quite right. But I feel like if I had to send it off to the Hachette thing tomorrow, I'd feel okay about it. And I'll only have to send it off to the Hachette thing if I get shortlisted. Which, obviously, I hope will happen.

So, from here. I'll probably give myself a night off tomorrow. (I'll most likely still be writing, but just not working on Skin Deep). I've had some ideas for the follow-up book. One of which, bizarrely enough, came from my daughter. She said that she'd seen mandarin skin on the nature strip outside the house. She said maybe it's a burgular.

It got me thinking about a guy who's under some kind of magic spell and the mandarin is some sort of hypnotic prompt. He's out there, watching, quietly eating his mandarin. I don't know. If Skin Deep is anything to go by, by the time it reaches the book, it will bear no resemblance!

Anyway, next steps are to send the second draft to a couple of people who have offered to be early beta readers (if there is such a thing) and also the editor, who has kindly agreed to have another look.

And then hopefully, if I can iron out this final problem, it will just be a text edit and it will be good to go to the second round of beta readers.


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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From the archives: 2009 interview with Sara Douglass

Q. Fantasy seems to be going from strength to strength while other speculative fiction genres (with the exception of supernatural romance) still 'struggle' - what's the appeal of fantasy?

I have to come at this by saying I don't read fantasy myself and haven't for about 15 years (if I write in a genre I can't possibly read it) but from things my readers have said, it provides a sense of adventure and romance that simply isn't readily available in real life.

Q. Can you tell me a bit about your latest book, The Infinity Gate?

Dear heavens - I wrote that when I was feeling really ill and then my world fell apart entirely, so I am trying to remember back through the fog of pain and illness! It is the conclusion of the Darkglass Mountain series. I am not too sure what I can say without revealing the plot, but we get an appearance by Axis' long-dead (or so he thought) half-brother Borneheld, even more Icarii get killed off, and Ravenna (almost) redeems herself. But the major surprise in this book is the Skraelings - they finally reveal who and what they really are and <em>do</em> redeem themselves!

Q. In late 2008 you were diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. How has this affected both your approach to writing and how you feel about the writing itself?

I was pretty stressed writing The Infinity Gate and was thinking I needed a whole heap of time off but how can I do it - then I got the cancer diagnosis and realised that if I didn't take a year or more off then I would die. Fortunately a couple of years earlier I had taken out income protection (I cannot recommend this highly enough) and I received a huge payout - so now I am free at last! Free at last! I can escape writing for at least a year! I needed a break so badly and the best thing that the cancer did was a) force me to take it and b) give me the money to do so. So I am taking off for as long a I can - writing was getting too stressful and I need a big-time break from it.

Q. I've heard from other fantasy writers that making a career out of it really can be like 'stepping on the treadmill'. Was this what it was like for you and, from the point of view of unpublished writers, do you think it's a cautionary tale (not getting the cancer, of course - more about being careful what you wish for)?

Yes for me taking on writing as a career was definitely stepping onto the treadmill. When I was writing for fun and working elsewhere, writing was my escape from work. It was enormous fun! Then I began writing as a career and it became 'work', and yes it becomes as stressful as other careers. It was no longer fun. I really, really needed a break. I'm not too sure how to escape that treadmill - I really admire any writer who maintains the level of fun for their writing as they did when it was a hobby and not a means of living.

I also found writing fantasy peculiarly stressful as you are so often trapped into writing trilogies - instead of being able to embrace new ideas each year for a new book you're trapped into the same project for years on end - I have grown very, very tired of that. I am reading a series of crime novels at the moment - they've gone on for 20 years and I really admire that author for being able to stay with the same characters for 20-odd years and still maintain interest and verve and freshness in both characters and writing.

Q. Could you see yourself just giving up writing entirely? Or, at least, when you get back into writing, doing it more on your own terms?

Yes, I can see giving up writing - writing does not define me, so I don't 'need' to actually write. But on the other hand I can just as easily see myself producing the odd book occasionally and really enjoying it. I don't think I will ever, under any circumstances, do a trilogy or series of books again. I just don't have it left in me, and I don't want to commit to that level of writing (and stress) again, but I can see myself doing stand alones every so often. I am also keen to try different genres - I would love to be able to slip into historical romance at some point. But going back into writing will be more on my own terms rather than on other people's - be they publishers or readers. I think I want to do what I want to do, now. And who knows what that will be? :) Overall, however, I am going to give other areas of my life much more attention and time. Writing will take a third or fourth seat.

You can join Sara Douglass for a live chat from 8am (AEDT) today. Go to the Flycon home for more details.

I thought I'd post this in case anyone would like to read it. I didn't know Sara but she seemed to have her priorities straight.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11


When the September 11 attacks happened I was living in the UK. I was at HTML training course that day. The trainer said, 'Okay, now open a browser window and go to the BBC website'. There was a screengrab of the twin towers, smoke billowing out of them. At first it seemed like a sick joke. And then we continued our training. No-one really understood the enormity of it. I don't think anyone could really believe it.

My (now) wife and I were booked to fly to New York the following week. (We ended up going in October. It was the first time I'd ever been scared of flying, and that fear persists to some degree even today. There were US flags in virtually every window. Lower Manhattan stank. I was surprised at how up-beat New Yorkers were -- they were getting on with their lives).

We came home to the share flat we were living in that evening and the TV was on, and those same pieces of vision playing over and over again. The second plane hitting. The towers falling. I still think no-one could believe it.

I was part of an online writing group back then. I'd entered a short story competition and I won. On September 10 I posted in the forum. Topic: 'Has the world gone mad?' The words had a slightly different meaning a day later.

The events of September 11 had a lot of us questioning what we were doing with our writing. People (including myself) wondered whether we should be writing such dark stories, when the world seemed so dark, all of a sudden.

When I told that story when I was on a horror writing panel at Conjure in 2006, someone in the audience said -- I can't remember her exact words, but the gist was that the lives lost in the September 11 attacks paled into insignificance compared with lives lost in the third world (or maybe she was referring specifically to the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). And I couldn't answer her. I couldn't articulate what it was about September 11 that made it different to all that other death and suffering.

Over the past could of weeks I've been working on the ABC's '9/11 Remembered' coverage. And I think that this is the first time I've really reflected on the events of September 11.

The thing that really gets me is 'Day before the storm: photos from September 10, 2001'. The photo I've used above, by Mike Horan, is a perfect example. On September 10, 2001, people were just going about their lives. Mike, like probably thousands of people that day, posed for a photo in front of the twin towers.

"...the date has the appearance of a timer counting down the dying moments of an old world since replaced by the tense and paranoid world we live in today"

Who would have thought that those towers would be gone less than 24 hours later? There's so much melancholy in those photos. They raise the question of 'what if?' over and over again.

That resonates with me because I'm fascinated by stories about the small choices people make, and the impact those choices have on their lives.

The other reason September 11 had such a massive impact because it was carnage on an untold scale, live on TV... and it was spectacular. The second plane hit when cameras were trained on the twin towers due to the first impact.

Anyway, it's been quite a rough seven days, to be honest. I keep thinking about all those people who died. People who just got up to go to work and never came home again. People who were faced with the choice of being burnt to death or jumping out a window. And I also think about the terrorists who carried out the attacks, and what sort of lives they had, that they decided that's what they had to do to make a difference.

I keep seeing the twin towers in my mind. Thinking, 'what it?'.


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Thursday, September 08, 2011

The day before the storm: Photos of Sept 10, 2001


Here's a poignant look at the events of Sept 11, 2001. The photos and stories of people who were there the day before.

There's also a Flickr group:

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Grant year, week 35: tunnel vision

Tunnel vision is what I wished I had. It's what I'm aiming for. Not quite achieving.

I've been working on some prep work for the ABC's '9/11 Remembered' coverage. It has been really engrossing work. It has also affected me emotionally. Reading first-hand accounts of people who were in New York City and Washington DC on 9/11. Also reading some background published in the years after 2001. Like 'the jumpers', which I'd somehow forgotten about (or maybe blocked from my memory).

Towards the end of last week I was feeling a bit freaked out. I decided that I probably need to vent, by writing a short story. Which I can't do at the moment because I need to stay focussed. Now that the grant is over, I don't have that safety net that allowed me to follow (writing-related) diversions. The only time I have is in the evenings, after the kids are asleep, and maybe a bit of time on the weekends.

There are things I'd like to do. I'd like to enter another manuscript into Pan Mac's Manuscript Monday.

I need to critique the last act of a friend's manuscript.

I've also got a growing urge to start work on a totally unrelated MS. This thing would be deadly to get into. It's alt-history, set in the 80s, and would require a lot of research.

It's probably the worst possible thing I could do at the moment.

Sounds like I'm having a whinge! I know pretty much all writers face the same issue, daily. Finding time to write. And dealing with the fact that no matter how much time they can find, it's never enough!

Anyway, that's where I am. Now, back to work on the 2nd draft.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Grant year, week 33: unscrambling the egg

This is a momentous day -- it marks the last of my official 'grant days'. I still owe the grant some time (from where I was on a grant day but then ended up having to look after sick kids etc), but in terms of actual grant money, it's all gone.

Do I regret taking three days a fortnight? Do I wish I could have a 'do over' and take a block of three months? Not really. I think the project gained something from having day-to-day stuff filtering into it. It took longer but I realised that although I thought I'd 'planned it out' the planning was only fairly superficial, and I needed that time to work through some of those issues.

And I still am working through some of those issues! The past fortnight I've been working on Skin Deep all day, every day (save for a few days where the kids were sick). At the start of the year, I wanted to have something structurally sound by this point. I'm not quite there, but over the past two weeks I've been working with the editor to resolve some structural issues, and I think that the book will be better for it.

At the moment it's... well, you know when you set to tidying study/junk room. One thing leads to another and you find yourself, in the middle of the day, with a room with all the cupboards empty. Piles of rubbish near the door. Stuff you want to keep but aren't sure where to put it in another pile. Books stacked up beside the bookcase in the rough order you want them. You know that eventually things are going to work out. You know pretty much exactly where you want everything to go. But in that moment, standing in the middle of the room that looks like a bomb has hit it, it's a little bit daunting.

That's where I am now.

I think that at the start of the fortnight I had a manuscript that was okay, structurally. But what I have now has the potential to be so much better. It's going to take me a bit of time to get there, but I'm confident I will get there.

I realise that this isn't the most efficient way of writing. But I've learnt lessons along the way and I've also learnt things about my book that I wouldn't have if I'd written it faster. There are happy accidents that occur when you decide to rip out a storyline, or merge two characters, or keep the core of a scene but change the setting. Ideas collide in ways you never would have thought of.

I'm still aiming to have something structurally sound by early October. Something that's worth sending to beta readers by early November at the latest.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Grant year, week 32: editing

I decided to take a two-week block of time off my day job to work on the second draft. This hasn't worked out as well as I thought it might, but there's been at least one major breakthrough that has made it worthwhile.

We've been hit by sickness, which has meant that writing days have had to be postponed. So I haven't got as much done as I would have liked to.

The editor and I have been batting emails back and forth. The editing process hasn't been exactly what I was expecting. I've drawn a parallel with what I thought counselling would be like, and how it actually was. Before I went to counselling, I thought I would go in there, tell the counsellor all my problems, and then the counsellor would say, 'You've got to do this, this and this'. In reality, counselling (well, my experience of it anyway) is more about being asked questions, and then talking through it to find your own solutions.

And this is how editing has been. So many questions. There were the questions the editor asked. Things that didn't make sense to her. Some of these I knew the answers to, but many I hadn't even thought about. And then there were the questions that these questions raised. Writing is like making a whole heap of decisions. Each decision takes the novel in a slightly different direction and closes off the other alternatives. You start with a book where pretty much anything can happen. But by the start of the third act, you have to tie up all the loose ends and deliver the pay-off.

At times, I thought the questions would never end. But I reached a point where all the questions related to one particular storyline. And I looked at the storyline and realised it was hardly attached to the rest of the book at all. So... the storyline has got to go! (Although, I may build it into book two).

And this is the other aspect that I've found working with an editor helps. In previous projects, I've found that the tendency is to pretend these problems don't exist. I have talked myself into believing that the gaping hole/elephant in the corner doesn't exist, and that if I could just paper over it enough, no-one would notice. But editors notice. That's their job. And so you admit that the fault is there and get on with fixing it.

I don't know if I'm going to hit all my deadlines this year. I still want to have something structurally sound by October, in case I make the cut for the Hachette thing. But I'm less confident the book is going to be of 'beta reader' quality by that point.

I would still like to have Skin Deep in the hands of beta readers by the end of the year. Some lovely summer reading for them!

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

London: recollections from a decade ago

London riot police, November 2010

(Photo: Hozinja/Flickr CC BY 2.0)

About 10 years ago my wife and I lived in London for about 18 months. For much of that time we lived in Bow, in the East End. Even back then London in general and the East End in particular seemed in decline/in decay and it there was the general impression that it wouldn't take much to prompt a complete breakdown.

In the middle of winter, we'd often have groups of teenagers huddling in the damp, freezing stairwells of the estate we lived in, and I can remember wondering what sort of home life they must have for this to be preferable. And not just home life. There must've been literally nothing else for them to do.

There was a general feeling of apathy at one end and fear at the other. Any attempts to improve the community were quickly quashed. We lost count of the number of times the glass was smashed out of the phone boxes on the edge of our estate, until they just didn't bother trying to fix it anymore. Someone tried to open a slightly trendy cafe across the road, and within a day someone had smashed the plate glass windows. After it was fixed, the glass was smashed again. The cafe closed down shortly after.

One night, my wife was walking home from the tube. She saw a group of kids (early teens) trying to smash a light in a railway underpass. She asked them to stop doing that. They followed her home, yelling abuse at her and joking that they should rape her.

Whenever I tell people this story, they remark that it wasn't a smart thing to do, telling them to stop. And maybe not, in the context. But maybe if more people stood up to these kids, London wouldn't be where it is now. You should be able to try and maintain order in your community, without fearing for your safety, right? Londoners are relying on the police now, but clearly that's nowhere near enough.

Another time, my wife was on the bus and there was this old woman yelling abuse at a black man. Really nasty stuff. And everyone just sat there, staring down, not wanting to get involved. It took my wife to say something before anyone else would.

Shortly before we came home, one of our flatmates was mugged on the steps, coming up to our flat. They stole her Christmas shopping. She made a complaint to the police. Our flat was egged. A brick went through the window. I don't know what, if anything, happened to the muggers. But whatever it was, it certainly didn't make us feel any safer.

The thing was, we could leave any time we wanted. There was this guy on the next floor up, he was in a housing commission place. He had no choice. He was stuck there.

And I think about those kids, sitting in the stairwell. Trapped there. Nothing to do. No options. Living in a community that's falling apart and that's not going to get any better.

What have they got to lose?


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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Grant year, week 30: the unknown unknowns

Still working on the second draft. Focussing on two structural issues this run-through: merging two characters and also restructuring the opening of the book, which has flow-on effects. I'm also noting any loose ends that need tying up (there's a few of them).

Due to the restructuring, I've had to write some 'pick-up scenes'. I'm taking that term from film-making, where it refers to scenes that are shot after principal photography has finished.

One of them is a back story, and it got me thinking of that old Donald Rumseld quote:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know.

Writing one of these scenes made me realise how little I knew about the subject matter. Luckily I had some great reference books at hand.

At this point my goal is to have a second draft done by early October. And then, depending on the quality of that draft, send to beta readers that same month.

Still confident that I can have something polished by the end of the year.

I've also been thinking more about the follow-up book, which is tentatively titled 'Dark Matter'.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Grant year, week 29: starting the 2nd draft!

I met with... I'm tempted to say 'my editor' but I better not because I'm not paying her anything (yet)... I met with a friend who's doing WEP out at UQ. She had kindly offered to do a structural edit on Skin Deep and this week we met for the first time since I handed over the MS.

It was quite daunting, giving Skin Deep to someone to read, knowing how rough it was. We had a great discussion and between us have come up with some concrete ideas on how to make Skin Deep a better read. It was so good having someone who is intimate with Skin Deep, to bounce ideas off (and also to have an outside perspective on it). I don't know how keen Claudine will be after the 1000th email starting with 'What do you think of...'

Since then I've been beavering away on fixing some pacing problems in the opening chapters and also merging two characters. It's quite complex work. You shift a chapter and then of course there are multiple flow-on effects. It's challenging but also rewarding. I was saying to my wife that (and I don't know if this is all writers or just me) sometimes you know that something needs to be changed but the tendency is to try and avoid it, and tell yourself it's okay. I don't know if this is just laziness or what! But when you finally bite the bullet and start making the changes, it's really invigorating seeing it all come together.

I'm swapping chapters with a writer friend of mine, which will be great because we're both aiming to have our second draft finished by early October (in case we make the cut for the Hachette MS Development program). So that should help me stay on target to have something polished by the end of the year.

If I don't make the cut, my plan is to give the MS to two or three 'beta readers', with a view to having a polished MS ready for agents/publishers by the end of the year.

It feels so good to be back in the saddle.

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Monday, July 04, 2011

Grant year, week 26: getting back on track

I went to State Library on Friday, to do some research on the back story. Nothing major. I just needed to have a look at some archive stuff from 2008 and see what was happening in the news then.

I spent a good ten minutes beforehand, out the front of State Library where the buses stop, crying my eyes out. I don't know if I mentioned it here, but Mum got to read the first draft of Skin Deep before she died. She liked it, but she found it hard to follow all the characters. Which was a really astute observation, because I'd also arrived at the same conclusion. There are too many characters who don't really do much. So Mum was my first beta reader. :)

To be fair, the dearth in activity hasn't been all down to Mum. I lost some writing days before she died because the kids were sick. So I've deferred those writing days. It's tricky, because obviously with a grant you don't get 'sick days' or 'personal leave' days. I have to make up those days from my annual leave. But because I've gone part-time, the annual leave doesn't accrue as quickly.

Right, I'll stop whinging now.

Yes, I've had a break. And now I'm fired up. Not just for Skin Deep but all the next projects. I can see three, possibly four, Harry Hendrick books. And there's also a sf story set in Reagan America.

Looking through the microfiche was really interesting. I haven't done that since working on 4157 a few years back. Yes, you can look up news stories via database search. But if you're looking for the general feel of the time, nothing beats microfiche.

The downside with microfiche is that, I don't know if this is everyone, or just me, but I get motion sickness from watching the pages scroll through! (I get the same thing when I was Prezi presentations).

But it was worthwhile. I'd forgotten some of the things that happened, even though it was only three years ago.

I've also got another project I'm working on. I've been sworn to secrecy. All I can say is, watch this space!

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Eulogy for Mum

Mum was a determined and feisty woman, and she loved a good laugh. She wouldn’t have wanted to see us all moping about. She didn’t want a fuss.  Right up until the last she kept a positive frame of mind. So I’m going to try and keep this upbeat.

Mum didn’t have an easy start in life, and I think this is why she tried so hard to make sure us kids didn’t go without when we were growing up. Even though money was often tight, she made clothes for us and for my sister’s Cindy dolls. She also designed tshirts before it was trendy. This may be hard to believe but when I was little I was skinny as a rake. My family nickname was ‘Ironman’ and so Mum made me my very own Ironman tshirt.

We often marvel at how brave Mum and Dad where when, aged around 30, they left their family behind and set off for a country they’d never even visited to provide us with a better life.

Mum loved making costumes (and for a while she actually worked for Brisbane Costume Hire). Whenever there was any sort of fancy dress party, Mum would make elaborate costumes. Spring cleaner, a caterpillar poking out of lettuce, the Milky Bar Kid. In primary school she made me a costume that for our mediaeval day that was so elaborate I DIDN’T win ‘best costume’ – because they thought it must’ve been hired.

Mum had an adventurous streak and she knew what she wanted.

Shortly after Mum and Dad married in 1968, Dad knew this dodgy geezer who used to swap cars all the time. Dad was trying to get rid of his bomb and went to see what Stan had on offer … and ended up bringing a London Taxi home. You know, those black, blocky things? Mum took one look at it and said, ‘I am NOT riding in the back of that thing!’ So Dad had to trot off and find something else.

Another story from those early years. Mum wanted to learn how to ride a motorbike, so she got her provisional licence and Dad rode them out to a quiet country lane so Mum could practice. Mum got on, Dad hopped on behind her, and away they went. They crossed a rise and there was a policeman and, when he saw Mum weaving back and forth across the road, he signalled for her to stop. Unfortunately, Dad hadn’t yet taught Mum how to stop, and frantically trying to explain how to stop the bike as it hurtled down the road. The policeman had to dive out of the way to save himself. Luckily, he had a sense of humour.

Mum actually ended up becoming a driving instructor – for cars, not bikes. Mum told us about this one client who had the disturbing habit of swerving into the path of oncoming traffic for no apparent reason. Eventually, Mum told her, ‘You are never going to get your driver’s licence’. But the woman kept booking lessons.

Motorcycles also ended up playing a big part in Mum’s life. After she met Pete the two of them travelled extensively on Pete’s bike, and later in a campervan and caravan which they renovated together.

There’s a saying that goes something like: life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. That totally WASN’T Mum. She travelled Australia extensively with Pete – she’s seen far more of this country than any of us since we emigrated in 1980. She has worked as a fruit picker, seamstress, admin assistant, driving instructor, gardener, cotton chipper.

I wanted to include some funny stories. They don’t really mean anything on their own but together they give an idea of how Mum was always up for a laugh, even at her own expense.

Her brother Chris told me about this time in the mid-70s when he was around at her place helping look after us kids. Mum was buzzing around the kitchen trying to sort out dinner for us and some food for the dog.

When things had quieted down, everyone was in the lounge room when there was an almighty bang. Mum and Chris rushed into the kitchen to find the room coated in dog food, with the tin embedded in the door.

What had happened was that in her rush to get everything sorted, Mum had left a tin of dog food on the stove, which she’d forgot to turn off!

Sharon recently told me of an incident where Mum put some rice on to cook, came back to the stove a while later to find the rice had disappeared. Mum was freaking out, trying to figure out how rice could just disappear, until she realized that she’d not put rice on to cook. It was sugar!

So Mum had her moments in the kitchen, but I still think her roasts were the best ever.

Mum loved a good laugh.

When Sharon and Mum were working for the Stubbies clothing company, one afternoon they were rushing for the bus. There was a bit of roadworks going on. Sharon jumped over the hole in the ground, her friend jumped over. Mum went to jump over... then realized the skirt she was wearing was a bit tighter than she remembered. Down she went, into the hole. Sharon was laughing hysterically, Mum was too, and the people who came to offer a helping hand must’ve been thinking ‘what are these two on?’.

One time, this was a few years ago now, she was out with Sharon and Hayley, who at the time was wearing a patch over one eye to strengthen the other eye. Mum had bought fairy floss for Hayley and Ben. Ben was at home. Hayley was going: ‘Mum can I take my eye patch off, Mum can I take my eye patch off, Mum can I take my eye patch off’. Sharon said no.  Then Hayley handed Sharon something and Sharon, thinking it was fairy floss, put it in her mouth – only to discover it was actually Hayley’s eye patch. Mum laughed so much she wet herself.

When Mum and Pete were living in Trangie, in western NSW, for a while they lived on a massive property. One night they were coming home from the pub and realized they’d forgot to leave a house light on. Driving into the property, they got off the beaten track and drove around in the pitch black for ages, trying to find their house. After about half an hour mum managed to spot the chook house and regained her bearings.

On a more serious note, Mum was always there for us. Mum has always had faith in us. In fact, at times Mum has had more faith in me than I’ve had in myself.

Carol remembers when she was little she said she wanted to be a nurse when she grew up - Mum said "No, you want to be a Doctor". She said she wanted to be an air hostess - Mum said "No, you want to be a pilot". Mum believed us kids could do anything, but at the end of the day she just wanted us to be happy.

In recent years Mum really enjoyed her garden at the property at Gin Gin.  She was so proud of the fruit and vegetables she grew there and took great pleasure in nurturing her crops.

Before Mum and Pete got the place at Gin Gin, Mum told Sharon: I want a humpy dumpy on a bit of land, with a verandah where I can sit in a rocking chair and shell peas. Pete bought her the rocking chair and the humpy dumpy – for her 60th birthday last year we bought the red colander to shell the peas in.

I know that people are going to say that Mum died too young. And, obviously, we all would have liked to have had her around for a few more years. But I think it’s important to remember that Mum really LIVED her life. She didn’t take a back seat and let life wash over her.

We wouldn’t wish for another week or month with Mum as she was.  We would wish that she never got sick and she never had to suffer what she did.

I’d like to end with a quote that, I have to admit, I only found because I was searching for quotes. It’s by Grace Hansen, and it goes like this:

“Don't be afraid your life will end; be afraid that it will never begin.”

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Grant year, weeks 22 and 23: revising and research

I'm still working through my 50 pages plus synopsis for Hachette. Each time I do a read through I find more things to fix or tweak. Each time I do a read through I find it harder to maintain focus. I think because it's such a short segment of text, after a while you start thinking, 'yeah, yeah, I've read this a thousand times'. But then when you really focus and think, does this really work? I know what it says, I know what it means, but will someone coming fresh to it understand? That's when I find new things to fix.

The research has been very low-key but also necessary and rewarding. It's the sort of thing I could have done before I started writing, but then again I had so much information buzzing around my head when I started writing, it probably wouldn't have sunk in. I've been looking at investigative journalism. I watched 'The Moonlight State' and I'm reading Phil Dickie's The Road to Fitzgerald.

Both look at corruption in Queensland in the 1970s and 80s. Dickie's book has been particularly useful from the point of view of seeing how small pieces of information are pulled together to reveal a bigger picture. Car rego numbers, lease information, information about companies and who owns them. Each piece of information, on its own, doesn't mean much. But put them all together and you can bring down a government.

The Road to Fitzgerald is a great read. Highly recommended.

And it's important for Skin Deep because in the first draft, Harry just sort of gets this information and doesn't really do much and then all of a sudden he's got this massive story. Part of his journey should be to rediscover his passion for journalism and to play a more active role in his own narrative. It sounds pretty obvious, right? But often these details can get lost in a first draft.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Time travel question (aka I lost my wallet in the future)

Okay, so I'm not talking multiverse because, let's face it, that's a cop-out.

And I'm not talking Back to the Future/Primer either because... well... physics isn't my strong point but you can't create matter, right? If the concepts of Primer worked, they could've just used the machine to duplicate bars of gold bullion, in the same way the machine duplicated people.

I travel two weeks into the future. So during that two weeks, I effectively disappear (think I just contradicted myself, but go with me, okay?). In the future, I drop my wallet in the lab.

I travel back in time, to just after the moment I left.

Is my wallet in the future? When that moment arrives, will my wallet reappear?

(Can someone lend me $50? I can pay you back in a fortnight)

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Grant year, week 21: editing, networking

I'm still working on my first 50 pages plus synopsis. The way I tackle it is to do a run-through of the first 50 pages, then the synopsis, then go back to the first 50 pages. I find this gives me a 'mini-break' and I spot new things to fix each time.

I've also given the first 50 pages to a writer friend (in exchange for 50 pages of his novel) and we swapped critiques this week. It's really interesting seeing how other people interpret your work. Something that you intended a certain way can be read in an altogether different context. Critiquing other people's work is good also because through it you learn to read your own work in a more detached way. (That's the theory, anyway).

Caught up with another writing colleague this week and we swapped notes. It's good having that bit of extra time in the week to do things like this. There's this idea that writers are lonely beings who do it all by themselves. The reality is that, while no-one holds your hand while you write, it's important to have a network of other writers to talk to.


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Sunday, May 22, 2011

New t-shirt: S.U.C.H.I.S.L.I.F.E.

Grant year, week 20: editing

I'll keep this short, as I don't have much to report.

Still working on my first 50 pages + synopsis for Hachette MS Development.

Have been doing some critting for friends.

That's about it!

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Grant year, week 19: editing

Have been playing around with Scrivener to output copies of my manuscript for the editor and my Mum. Mum's copy I was aiming to make it look like a book and it was pretty cool seeing my words in a book-ish font/layout. Hopefully Mum will be around for the proper book version, but that's not the most likely outcome, unfortunately.

I've started copy editing the first 50 pages for the Hachette Manuscript Development Program.

It has been a fairly quiet week, to be honest -- the calm before the storm, no doubt.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Grant year, weeks 17 and 18: the end of the beginning

Wow. Somehow I missed week 17's post entirely, and week 18's is a couple of days late.

Must've lost track of time in the race to the finish line.

Finished the first draft. Well, sort of. It's never really that easy, is it? As soon as I'd 'finished' I knew that there were at least two things that needed to be changed before I send it off for the structural edit. Both relate to tattoos. Specifically the first two tattoos (so of course references to them are littered throughout the MS!).

There was an African component to the first two tattoos, because initially I was going to feature the Kihebo massacre as one of the 'flashbacks'. But probably two-thirds of the way through the MS I realised that it was just going to complicate things, since the bulk of the back story relates to stuff that happened in Afghanistan.

So, I still have to go back and change some of that stuff, and then over to the editor it goes.

It's exciting. This is also a dangerous time for me. Well, not dangerous in the sense of the dangers that my protagonists face. You know, bullets, bashings, death. But there's a danger that I'll rest on my laurels and not keep the momentum going.

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Brimstone Press titles to be pulped on Saturday (updated)

UPDATE: Seems there's a fair bit of confusion surrounding Angela's original email. So much so that she's sent out a clarification. In short, it's only her personal stock she's pulping, since there is no longer a Brimstone Press website and so no avenue for people to buy those titles. Macabre is still available at bookshops, as will be Paul Haines' collection, The Last Days of Kali Yuga. Other titles were being offered to contributors at the prices outlined below. Also, Angela says she's going to look into offering earlier Brimstone titles as ebooks/POD. But still, it's okay to rush out and secure your copy of Macabre! :)


It's with heavy heart that I pass on the following email from Angela Challis (Brimstone Press). I've worked with Angela several times, I was 'staff writer' for the well-received but short-lived BLACK magazine, and my stories have appeared in several Brimstone Press anthologies.

If I had the money, I'd buy up some of these titles just to stop them being pulped. Angela and Shane Jiraiya Cummings put so much work into them, they're beautiful books and -- in the case of Macabre -- culturally significant too. Unfortunately, I'm skint at the moment.

So please, if you want any of these books, get in quick...

Via Angela Challis, Brimstone Press:

This is a courtesy email to let you know that all stock of Brimstone Books will be pulped at the end of this week.
Should you be interested in additional copies of the title in which you appeared (or indeed, any other title listed below), I am happy to send them to you at the low costs listed below plus PPH  ($10 for <500g parcel and $15 for <3kg parcel – more expensive for O/S postage).
Should you be interested in picking up any of these titles, please drop me an email (, and I’ll provide you with a precise amount due for postage before you make your decision (no polite conversation is required or expected)
Again, I will be pulping all my stock on Sat May 8 after which time the following titles will no longer be available ...
Shadow Box CD      $5
Black Box CD          $8
Book of Shadows    $5
ADFHv1 (2006)       $8
ADFHv2 (2007)     $13
ADFHv3 (2008)       $8
Macabre                 $25
Single Author Titles also available ...
Shards     $8    (this title will still be available as an ebook available through Amazon, Smashwords, etc – but due to the format, it does not contain the art work of Andrew McKiernan)
The Last Days of Kali Yuga  $20     (this title will still be available at the Author’s Melbourne Launch to be held at Dymocks Southland on Sat July 2nd at 12 noon)

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Monday, May 02, 2011

My Little Pony


My 6yo took this photo. All I did was show him how to use the macro setting.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

John Birmingham vs the zombies

(Hopefully by the end of this post I'll have done enough to justify the link bait)

I went to The Reader at State Library today -- an if:book Australia symposium on the future of writing, publishing, technology and readers.

There was a lot of food for thought, but Dale Spender's address 'New Reading, Same Heresies' really got me thinking, because it dovetailed nicely with something else I've been thinking about lately.

(Apologies for all the cliches -- brain is tired)

Dale talked about the history of reading, about how when the church controlled reading, it was a highly specialised thing. Only the select few could do it, it took 14 years to learn how to do it, and so on.

After Gutenberg, the church wasn't keen on everyone having access to books. Printing presses were smashed, books burnt.

Dale then went on to talk about how, at various times, reading has been portrayed as something that undermines society.

It got me thinking that that's not unlike how video games are percieved at the moment.

So, looking at books as a form of entertainment, and as a way of learning via something that is entertaining, why should reading be valued more highly than playing video games.

Take John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy and put it up against Left 4 Dead 2.

I'm sure that JB will tell you that Axis of Time is just an excuse to take bad-asses from the near-future and send them back to 1942 to blow shit up. But it also says a lot about how community standards have changed (for better and for worse) since the 40s.

Left 4 Dead 2. It's a video game, you take part in it. And yeah, it's mostly about taking to zombies with shotguns, pipe bombs and chainsaws. But if you play it right, it's a social game (it's designed to be played with friends). You learn about team-work, strategy, loyalty, betrayal and, if you're like me, how much you suck at it.

I value reading. I want my kids to read. Literacy is hugely important. But so are the things kids can learn from video games (not Left 4 Dead 2, but age-appropriate games). Technology is going to be even more important to our kids than it is for us. It's going to be an increasingly integral part of life.

What do you think? Is tech smarts as important as book smarts?

(PS: I thought about putting the zombies up against James Joyce, or Jack Kerouac ... is that a fairer comparison? What do we gain from ploughing through the classics -- that's the special bonus question)

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Grant year, week 16: slow progress

I didn't get my word count this week. But I just checked my overall stats and I'm 15,000 words in the black so I'm not going to kick myself too hard. The thing is, I've plotted out (roughly) the final act, so I know what I need to write. Just having trouble getting there. My wife hypothesised that maybe I'm scared of finishing the first draft. And I think she's right. Because I know from past experience that that's where the hard graft really starts! How about you, anyone else out there scared of finishing first drafts.

I think I mentioned earlier that a friend/colleague has offered to do a structural edit. Which is great, but I've got to figure out the best way to spend my time while she's working on it. I don't want to spend time copy editing on chunks that may end up on the 'cutting room floor'. So, I think what I'll do is research to flesh out the description/characters in my second go-through. And also spend some time plotting the second book.

I'm going to pitch Skin Deep as the first book in a series, so I need to have the second book at least plotted out. I probably need to start writing it too. And I've got some ideas that I find as exciting as the premise behind Skin Deep. So I need to capitalise on that enthusiasm (you know, the enthusiasm for the next book, that you always get when you're mired in the current book!).

The other breakthrough that came this week was the name for my fictional outlaw bikie gang. I'm not going to lay it out there just yet because I want to think it through a bit more. But it's tough-sounding, it's not even an actual word, but it's based on a military word (which fits the bill, because a lot of the early bikie gangs were formed by veterans returning from WWII -- Hell's Angels is a classic example of this).

The name is important because the gang features in book two.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

'Feast or Famine' to feature in YB Australian Fantasy and Horror

Ticonderoga Publications is walking on sunshine to announce the contents for its inaugural The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror anthology.

Editors Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene have produced a list of 33 excellent tales by some of Australia's biggest names as well as some emerging writers.

The anthology collects 150,000 words of the best stories published last year from the Antipodes.

"We're pleased with the number of fabulous stories that were published in 2010 that we had to choose from.", Liz Grzyb said.

"You could hold this anthology up against any international collection - Australians rock for diverse voices, imagination, and compelling writing," Talie Helene added.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Grant year, week 15: writing (just), thinking

I went up to Gin Gin to help my Mum out early this week, and then on Friday I had to postpone my writing day because it was a pupil-free day for the kids.

My wife took the kids out this afternoon, so I just scraped through with my 5,000 target.

I didn't set the world on fire in terms of writing, but I did lots of thinking and planning this week about the 3rd act. I had a vague idea of what was going to happen but when confronted with the start of act three, I didn't know what to write!

I'm ahead on my word count so if I have time I might write a couple of alternative endings.

There are some interesting links in my delicious skindeep tag.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Woohoo! Macabre wins Australian Shadows award

Macabre: A Journey Through Australia's Darkest Fears is an important book. Editors Angela Challis and Marty Young set themselves an interesting and uneasy task - to showcase Australia's long history of dark fiction publishing, contrasting that with new output from today's established and emerging writers from the horror genre. They succeeded by avoiding the risk of aiming for whatever might have been popular or attractive in horror's many sub-genre's at the time they selected the included works, while showing deep, nay loving, respect for truly Australian tales from our past.

Big congratulations to Angela and Marty, and everyone who contributed!

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Friday, April 15, 2011


Alan Baxter's written fight tournament – Begin!

My friend Gary Kemble came up with this idea and it’s a good one. Now that I’ve finally made my short ebook about writing fight scenes available, Gary suggested I run a written fight scene competition here on my blog. He actually said: “You should host a fight-writing kumite on your blog. Best 500-word fight scene wins… something? That’d be fun!”

I reckon that would be fun. So it begins here.

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Mum's dog Storm

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Grant year, week 14: writing, planning, (unofficial) networking

Steady with the word count this week. Almost at the end of the second act. I think my initial assessment about the first act being so long was incorrect. I think what I've done is missed the end of the first act. I thought it was in one place, but it turns out it is probably much earlier. If that's the case, then my novel is more likely to hit by 90k mark (it might be 10k or so over).

I've started thinking about how I'm going to use my downtime after I finish the first draft. I may have someone to do a structural edit for me. Even if I don't, I need to give the book a bit of time to 'breathe' before I look at it again. There are a number of things I want to do before I even attempt any editing. One is to re-read Stephen King's On Writing (even if it's just the practical bits). Another is to read or re-read all of Kim Wilkins' columns from Writing Queensland. I'm also going to read my first ebook purchase -- Alan Baxter's Write the Fight Right -- because my book has a couple of fight scenes in it. There's some more research I need to do. If I have time left after all that, I'm going to work on Metamorphosis (the last WIP).

Met up with a writing friend on Friday. We're going to meet regularly to critique each other's writing. I really want to get back into the habit of critiquing, because I think by looking at other people's writing, it makes it easier to look at your own writing in that same way.

I've had a few offers from friends/contacts to be beta readers for Skin Deep, which is exciting/frightening. I know this sounds cheesy but the idea of actually showing it to anyone at this point is terrifying. But I guess that's the point. Now is not the time to show it to anyone! At some point I will have to open the door.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Grant year, week 13: writing under difficult circumstances

This has been probably my worst week so far. The past fortnight actually. Even though I did a lot of words last week, it's the most detached I've felt from Skin Deep. And I think a lot of those words will be extensively rewritten.

My mum is sick. She was down in Brisbane for her radium and so I caught up with her on Friday (which is normally my writing day). We had a really good (emotionally draining) catch-up.

Some writers thrive on stress. Writing is where they go to escape. I'm not one of those writers. I find it really difficult to write when things are rocky on the home front.

I also tend to think 'why bother?'. It's even harder than usual to find the drive to write when, in reality, it's probably the least substantial thing I do. What I mean by that is, I could stop writing this novel right now and no-one would suffer. There's plenty of people writing novels.

However, mum (like a lot of mums, probably) is my number one fan (and not in that creepy Misery way). At many stages, she has had far more faith in me than I have had in myself. And she has said she wants to read Skin Deep. So I've got a bit of extra motivation to kick on and get this draft done. :)

And it hasn't been all gloom and doom this week. A friend and colleague of mine, who has completed the (by all accounts) fantastic WEP course out at UQ, has offered to do a structural edit on Skin Deep.

And I did still get my 5,000 this week, so I'm still ahead of the game.

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Bike riding

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Grant year, week 12: writing, writing, writing

I hit 70,000 words this week. I'm about midway through the second act. So, my second act is looking kinda short. My first act is too long. Which may just mean that I need to move that first climax a bit earlier.

I've decided that I'm going to create a fictitious outlaw motorcycle club for the purposes of my story. One reason is that I don't particularly want Bandidos or Hell's Angels turning up on my doorstep saying I've misrepresented them. The second is that I'm planning on using the whole bikie thing in the second book (yes! There's a second book -- provided I can sell this one) so, again, misrepresenting an outlaw MC is not high on my 'Dumb things I gotta do today' list.

So anyway, it's funny, trying to come up with a name that isn't actually an existing motorcycle club, outlaw or otherwise. I was thinking Scurvy Dogs but, yep, there actually is a Scurvy Dogs MC. And speaking of cool MC names, how about the Pissed Off Bastards!

At the moment they're just referred to as TK -- the letters I use when I don't want to have to look something up immediately. (I do a search and replace for TK and then do the research). Maybe I should just leave it at that. :)


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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Grant year, week 11: researching and writing

I'm going to keep this brief because I want to try and knock over another thousand words tonight.

Had a more successful trip to State Library to check out Phil Dickie's The Road to Fitzgerald. It was so good I've decided to buy a copy! (Got it second hand, it's on its way to me now).

Have also been doing more reading on outlaw motorcycle clubs.

In The Brotherhoods, Arthur Veno has a totally different take on it to Steve Utah (Dead Man Running).

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Grant year, week ten: writing and researching

Mostly writing. I had one-and-a-half 'writing days' this week, and I was meant to have one on Monday, so I was going to see if I could get to 60,000 words. It would have been the first time I'd written 10k in a week since before kids, when I was writing '4157'.

But because of the quake in Japan I've got to shift my writing day to Wednesday, so that's not going to happen. However, I have done 57,000 words so I'm happy with that. I might aim for 65k by the end of the week. What I definitely want to do is stay ahead on word count. So, regardless of how much I write per week, still aim for 5k each week, as a minimum.

Into the second act, I'm starting to face some hard decisions. And I'm starting to realise that there are things that don't work, that will affect the structure, that need to be changed. I'm not stressing because I can see the changes that need to be made. I have answers!

There are some other things that I've yet to decide on. For example, the order that the tattoos appear. At the moment, it's kinda chronological, which makes sense. But maybe it would make more sense for them to appear in reverse chronological order ('Memento'-style). But I can't really make those decisions until I've written the whole book, given it a little rest, then had another look at it.

Other things I'm starting to wonder about is the pros and cons of using real people in a fictional story. Not the main characters, of course, but the backdrop. Skin Deep has a political sub-plot, which involves the rise of a Labor star, following a long period of conservative rule. So, I can make up history, or I can make up people. I can make up a fictional conservative PM, or I can imagine a world where Peter Costello succeeded from John Howard and went on to win the 2007 election. But, I'm not trying to write alternative history! And if the book sells into the US and the UK, which I obviously hope it does, then the knowledge of local politics won't really matter.

The research this week has been mostly online, looking into the 2006 Black Hawk crash off Fiji, in which two men died. Have also been reviewing a couple of books I own about the SAS, and also reading a book I bought recently, about outlaw motorcycle gangs in Australia.

Have also taken some photos down the Gold Coast (see previous entry on that).

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Skin Deep: Gold Coast

I've decided there may be a scene or two set on the Gold Coast, so I took the opportunity to get some photos. (You'll notice there's no 'sights' in there)

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Grant year: first act done!

Just finished the first act. It's almost 50,000 words long. I read an article by Kim Wilkins that suggests the breakdown of a novel is 20-30 per cent for the first act, 50 per cent for the second act, then whatever's left over for the finale. She says it's not an exact science, but it could mean that my first draft is over 150,000 words long. Which would make it harder to sell.

Having said that, I'm determined to let this story unfold in a natural way. Given I've got the grant, I have the luxury of exploring various storylines even if I end up cutting them later on. The last novel I wrote, I allocated 5k per chapter, but each chapter was only vaguely defined in terms of scenes. So I ended up with many chapters where I was struggling to find the 5k. So I definitely don't want to do that with Skin Deep.

The other thing I'm starting to realise is that it's going to be too confusing to incorporate elements of the protagonist's service in Africa as well as his service in Afghanistan. I'm not making any hard decisions yet, but I'm getting a strong feeling that I'll end up dropping the Africa angle.

I think I might spend my writing day this week giving the word count a push. I'm on track, but if I end up writing a 150,000+ first draft, it's going to mean it will take longer to write and longer to edit. And if I decide to cut it back to 80-90k, that's going to take a lot of structural work.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Grant year, week nine: writing and researching

Had a fairly frustrating visit to State Library on Friday. All my fault -- nothing to do with State Library!

I think, in my head, I imagined a montage scene from a movie about an investigative journalist. Looking through books, newspaper clippings, finding out 'stuff'.

I thought I would just go to the library and find out 'stuff'.

The day got off to a bad start because it was raining and I had to walk from the far end of Southbank, because SLQ's car park is still being repaired after the floods. So, even though I had an umbrella, by the time I got there, my shoes were squelching.

Then I had problems connecting to the shared wifi using my Mac, even though I've used it previously at SLQ and it has worked fine.

I got on one of the SLQ computers and started searching. But my searches were so vague that I may as well have been searching from home. Which, as it turns out, would have been a perfectly viable option for most of what I wanted to do (except I needed to renew my library card).

The last time I did newspaper research for a book was when I was working on '4157'. That was when State Library was inbetween buildings, so I spent the day out at Camp Hill (or maybe it was Cannon Hill). That was a different situation because I had quite a narrow search. I wanted to look at newspapers from specific days so I could see what was in the news that day, and get a feel for the era.

Back to the present, I couldn't find any Brisbane-specific books about tattooing or outlaw motorcycle clubs. The one general book I found about outlaw motorcycle clubs wasn't on the shelf.

I did find a couple of juicy titbits looking through online newspaper archives. There was a big police operation targeting the Finks a while ago. The defence counsel described the MC club as "Rotary but with tattoos".

There was another brief about a bikie who, after getting busted, updated his MySpace status thus: 'Goin to jail... yawn'.

Yesterday, when my wife and I were cleaning out the study I found some Writing Queensland magazines that I've been meaning to get to. In one of them, Kim Wilkins has some advice about research. And one bit is kind of a no-brainer. Basically, it's know what you need to find out before trying to find it. So, I wish I'd read that a couple of months back!

So now I'm thinking, maybe I don't need to research now. Maybe I need to use my writing days to power through the word count, and make a list of all the specific details I need to research. And then, if something major comes up, I'll know it and I'll be able to tackle it if and when it comes up.



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Monday, February 28, 2011

New tshirt: Welcome to the party, pal!

I often find myself thinking this when I hear about the trials and tribulations new parents are going through!

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Grant year, week eight: writing and planning

I should probably just drop the 'writing' from my 'Grant year' titles -- it's pretty clear that every week is going to involve writing! Even if it's rewriting.

Okay, so it's been a quiet week. I still hit my target, in fact I'm ahead of my target. I'm not going gaga over that however because I think the first draft is going to be quite a bit longer than the 90k I'm aiming for. I'm currently at 42k and I'm just about to finish act one. So, the second act is usually longer than the first, and the third is usually shorter, but it could be 120k.

Which I'll still get done by the end of June, if I stay on track with my 5k/week word count.

Why does it matter how long it is? Technically, it doesn't. If you write a brilliant first novel, chances are that you'll find a publisher for it -- it just might be a bit harder. The Company of the Dead, by David Kowalski, springs to mind. But there's so many factors that come into play. Kowalski's book was kind of an alternative history thriller action romp (yes you can quote me on that). Multiple timelines. In structure similar to John Birmingham's blockbusters. There's an expectation that kind of book will be longer. The reality is that first-time novelists have better odds if their manuscript is about 80-90k.

Anyway -- getting a bit ahead of myself here, since I haven't even finished the first draft.

As well as the writing, I've been doing a bit of informal planning. And by informal planning I mean that I've been thinking about the problems with the book (the bits I haven't written yet) and how I can fix them. This week I finally figured out how two main characters are going to meet at the end of act one. I had a few ideas but they all seemed contrived. Finally settled on something this week. And even though it's vital these two characters meet at the end of of act one (it's the first major climax) I can change it later. In fact, if I was really struggling, I could leave the final chapter of act one and dive into act two.

The other problem that I've gone some way to resolving is how some of the sub-plots connect. In real life, not everything connects. Things just happen, right? Unfortunately, we don't give novelists the same leeway. People expect the details to mean something. So I'm starting to work out how the things that are happening in Harry's life now relate to things that happened to another character. I guess you could call him 'the ghost'.

I imagine what will happen is that some of these sub-plots will become integral to the story. Others not so much. Similarly, there are characters who I've breathed life into who I think may end up on the cutting room floor.

This week, I really need to get down to State Library. Act two is going to be much harder to write. It's where Harry starts unravelling the mystery. So I need to start ravelling it for him!

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Grant year, week seven: writing and networking

I really caned the word count this week. So much so that I was able to work on a short story that I'm planning on sending off to an anthology this year. (More on this - hopefully - down the track).

I had originally planned to do some research at State Library. I've been behind the eight-ball on this count because of the flooding. It hasn't hurt too much, because I'm in the early stages of the book. But I'll probably go back and layer in some detail on the rewrite anyway. Although State Library was open, the car park wasn't. And I had the car, not the scooter, so I ended up driving around looking for somewhere to park, which was tricky because I didn't have any change.

This is a riveting story, isn't it! I decided to cut my losses and get in some writing at The Three Monkeys (which features in the book) and then realised that I had forgot to charge the Mac Book the night before and had very limited writing time. I managed to get a thousand words done in that session.

Then I decided to have another crack at State Library. I fluked an unmetered spot really close, and managed to charge the Mac and get another thousand words done.

At midday I met a writer friend of mine. I told her what I know about the grant application process, and she offered to be a 'beta reader' for Skin Deep, and also offered to put me in contact with her agent, which was very nice of her. So, it was a very worthwhile meeting.

I'm starting to feel that the opening act of Skin Deep is going to be a bit long, but that's okay. Once I know which are the important storylines, I can trip some of the others.

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