Purple prose

Hoboy, do I have a very special treat for you.

I was doing a bit of a clean up in my study this weekend and made a couple of hilarious archaeological discoveries. Here’s the first.

Context: I have none. I don’t even remember writing it. I must have been about 11 or 12. I remember discovering Alfred Noyes’ poem The Highwayman around that time, so that’s a possible source of inspiration.



(I think she’s kneeling, not pregnant, in that last pic.)

It’s got everything, doesn’t it? A catchy title, killer cover art, kissing (“for two minutes”), broken ankles, drunk highwaymen, secret forest lairs, murder, egg sandwiches…


Confessions of an unashamed Harry Potter tragic

Following Bloomsbury’s announcement the other day that the whole HP series will now be released in house colour editions…

…I spent a chunk of time this morning* working out which books I’ll get in which house colours.

1. Hufflepuff. That’s me. (Already got it, so I figure I’m committed.)
2. Slytherin. COS is all about Slytherin.
3. Gryffindor. Two generations of Gryffindors in this one.
4. Hufflepuff. Coz Cedric Diggory.
5. Gryffindor again. OOTP is all about Gryffindors.
6. Ravenclaw. Given all that biz about the tiara.
7. Slytherin. This is a pretty Slytheriny chapter in the HP story.
What do you reckon, fellow Harry Potter tragics? How are you going to play it?
*I was out, having brunch with my other half, so, NO, I wasn’t procrastinating.

Vasilisa the bewitching

I came home from work today to find a very exciting present waiting for me.


See how it says “artwork”? So excitement. So I opened it…


And this is what I saw. SQUEEEEE! I KNEW IT!!!


Then I turned it over.


Isn’t it completely glorious? I cannot wait to have this framed & up on my wall. (And I got bonus postcards! AND my pre-ordered copy of Vasilisa the Wise – which got launched last Thursday! – will be arriving just in time to make it onto my Christmas reading pile. What is Vasilisa the Wise? Oh my sweet. If you love fairy tales, Kate Forsyth’s enchanting storytelling, or the bewitching, other-worldly illustrations of the extraordinarily talented Lorena Carrington, head over to Vasilisa’s website and check her out.)

The iceberg


If you are a writer, you have probably at some stage of heard of something referred to as ‘the iceberg principle’. It’s pretty simple really. The premise is based on the idea that 90% of the iceberg lies invisible, under the water, with only 10% visible above the surface. This is a metaphor for what you know about your story, world and characters, vs what actually makes it onto the page for your reader to see.

Just by way of example, here’s a sentence from one of my WIPs:

If she had been at home, she most likely would have been abed with a hot brick and one of her housekeeper’s restorative tisanes.

That might have taken you all of two seconds to read. And it probably took me a couple of minutes to craft the actual words that went into it. But that sentence also represents at least 45 minutes worth of internet research on:

  • 18th Century remedies for period pain
  • Lydia E Pinkham
  • Liquorice root, including where it grows and what its medicinal properties are
  • the medicinal properties of Dandelion root

Which is basically just my way of reassuring myself that it’s OK to have only produced 200 words after getting up at 5.30 am and writing for 1.5 hours before the family gets up and we all have to get ready for work/school/etc. And also goes some way to illustrating why it takes so damn long to write a bloody novel.

And now I have had that stupid Lily the Pink song stuck in my head all day. Yeah. You’re welcome.



Crazy times at Conflux 13

Well, wow. That was intense.

Conflux 13 is over & it was amazing. I feel like I’ve been operating on overdrive for a week now. Where should I start? OK, highlights.

1. Meeting Ellen Datlow. Idol from my youth. Giant of the fantasy & horror genres. Hard not to spend the weekend in a total fangirl tailspin.

2. The panels. What’s not to like about spending the weekend talking with like-minded and fascinating people like Angela Slatter, Kirstyn McDermott and Aiki Flintheart about things like Fairy Tales With Teeth and ClawsBeastly TransformationsMagic Schools and Deadly Dance?

3. Winning second prize in the CSFG/Conflux short story comp for my story Flawless! (Which I’ve now been invited to read at the next meeting of the Canberra Fairy Tale Ring. as it fits neatly with the AFTS November theme of Snow White.)

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4. Interviewing Zena Shapter for the launch of her new novel, Towards White, out from IFWG Publishing.

Zena Towards White
Photo courtesy of Cat Sparks

5. Drinking creme de violette bellinis and planning a live-tweeted rewatch of The Lady and the Highwayman and perhaps also A Hazard of Hearts (both movies based on Barbara Cartland novels made in the 1980s).

6. Discovering who was the mysterious origami master leaving perfect tiny dragons and unicorns all over the con.

7. Watching our guests of honour Ellen & Angela, & MC Kaaron opening their thank you goody bags to reveal a beautiful cast glass key by Canberra Fairy Tale Glass artist Spike Deane. I’m given to understand they were well received.


8. And last, but definitely not least – because this is what it’s all about when it comes down to it – is spending time with beloved friends and kindred spirits, both new and old, talking about writing, publishing, reading, movies, games, art, history, research, language and anything else that moves us and connects us and makes us part of the same tribe.

(All photos, except the first four, by Cat Sparks.)


Conflux 13: Grimm Tales


Conflux 13 is almost upon us! I have been a bit swamped the last few days putting the final touches on the program and scheduling all our wonderful panellists, but it’s almost there! And I am SUPER excited for this year’s con.

Firstly, what’s not to love about a dark fairy tale-themed SF con? *Swoon*

Secondly, the Guests of Honour this year…

Ellen Datlow and Angela Slatter! Hell, if I swoon any harder I’m gonna give myself consussion.

It was reading Ellen Datlow’s fairy tale anthologies in my early twenties that basically showed me that fairy tales were not just dragonflies locked in amber for all eternity, and that writers were still using all my favourite tales as inspiration for new stories. Which kinda inspired me to start writing my own stories…

And I will let you in on a secret and tell you Angela has been one of my author crushes for a while now. If you are into stories that draw on fairy tales and folklore all twisted up with a large pinch of darkness and more than a few shreds of cobweb, Angela is your gal.

So. Conflux! When I’m not running around troubleshooting or recovering from all of that in the con bar, here is where you’ll be able to find me:


10am – Con 101 with my good friend Elizabeth Fitzgerald. New to cons? A bit shy? We’ll have tim tams.

11am – Magic school. I’ll be talking magical education both real and imagined with Angela, Lyss Wickramasinghe and Dion Perry.

2pm – Fairy tales with teeth and claws. I’ll be moderating this conversation between Ellen, Angela, Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung.

4pm – Beastly transformations. A subject dear to my heart, you might say (boom-tish!)


11am – Not for children. I’ll be talking about the dark roots of classic tales with Ellen, Angela and Kirstyn.


9am – It’s early for a Sunday, but I’ll be soaking up the company at the Conflux 13 Guest of Honour Breakfast.

11am – Anthology makers. I’ll be honest, I put my hand up to mod this discussion between Ellen, Cat Sparks (who is launching her anthology with Liz Grzyb, Ecopunk, at Conflux) and Michelle Lovi of Odyssey Press hoping to get some hot tips for editing A Hand Of Knaves at the end of the year.

1.00pm – Deadly dance. I am really looking forward to this one. Dance & death in SFF fiction with Angela and Aiki Flintheart.

3.30pm – The Canberra Fairy Tale Ring agreed to let Conflux  host it’s September meeting (just a teeny bit later than usual). Conveniently this month’s tale is The Girl With No Hands, as that was the title story in one of Angela’s earlier collections of twisted fairy tales. So she’s going to come along to that too.

If you’re in Canberra over that weekend, come along to the Vibe Hotel & say hi. It’s going to be spectacular. (Ticket info on the Conflux website here.)



Operation First Draft: Week 2

This week has been a bit of an exercise in frustration, and a reminder that writing is not all about just getting words on the page. Sometimes it’s about sitting there, staring into space, maybe for hours, with the same song on repeat. Or going for a long drive, or a run, or sitting on the bus with that song on repeat. Or delving back into your research to try and pad out some ideas, or generate new ones. All the while, with that one song on repeat.

It doesn’t feel very productive, but this is also the kind of thing I rarely get time to do in the normal course of things.

So, in the interests of at least presenting an appearance of productivity, here are a few snippets of visual inspiration I found while trawling through Pinterest.

Dreaming up a city

So this weekend’s writing job, while I do a bunch of other, non-writingy jobs, is to start dreaming up a city for one of my current projects.

I’m a big advocate of the setting-as-a-character-in-its-own-right school of world building. My favourite novels are the ones you want to keep re-reading because you just enjoy being in the world of the story so much. Think JK Rowling’s Hogwarts, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern, Terry Pratchett’s Ankh Morpork, Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood, Diana Wynne Jones’ Moving Castle. And just to show this works outside fantastical stories, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden and Georgette Heyer’s Regency London. In fact, one of my big motivations behind writing The Beast’s Heart was to write myself a fairy tale world I could go and live in for a little while.

I have some sketchy ideas for this city, but so far it’s really just been a backdrop for the action in this new story. I want to level it up a bit, deepen it’s character, really bring it alive. I want my city to have twisty, shadowy alleyways lined with crooked buildings, cobbled streets and piazzas, a complicated clock tower, avenues of terraced mansions, moonlit shenanigans on rooftops, a river with treacherously damp water stairs, a monumental bridge lined with statuary, and a royal palace with towers and turrets. I want it to have all this and hold out the tantalising promise of more.

I have a whole Pinterest board of city inspiration.

I love looking at old photographs of cities in times gone past for inspiration.

I also love using old paintings and drawings for city inspiration. I find it interesting to look at what drew the artist’s eye. What was it about the city they thought was worth capturing? Rooftops? Stately buildings and squares? Shadowy spaces and archways leading…where?

And I’ve been mainlining illustrations by the likes of Anton Pieck and Arthur Rackham, who did delightful, fairy-taleish cityscapes.

What are your favourite literary cities? And what brings them alive in your mind?

Ending the drought

For obvious reasons, I have been on a self-imposed ban on consuming any Beauty and the Beast stories for the last – oh, I don’t know – five years. But the manuscript is finished. The edits are done. Last week I even watched the Disney live-action B&B movie for the first time. And now I am ready to wallow in other people’s Beauty and the Beast imaginings. So.

What Beauty and the Beast retellings should I indulge in? What are  your faves?

To get you started, I’ve got these two lined up ready to go. An old, old favourite and a brand new treat (all freshly signed from Kate’s fascinating talk at the National Library in Canberra last week!)

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Gimme your recs! Go!