For a word-nerd like me, this stuff is fascinating.
This beautiful illustration of how language has grown is by Minna Sundberg, creator of the webcomic Stand Still. Stay Silent. You can even order a poster version of it here! (This is clearly only a small part of the forest. I’d love to see the whole thing.)
Hooray! My new story Breathing is out today in Aurealis #95. This one is science fiction, which is a bit unusual for me. I’m still figuring out how to describe it.
This is one of those stories that grew out of my response to a song. I’ve got a few like this. I often find my way into a story through the mood generated by music, or an evocative lyric. I’m a particular fan of using crazy word associations through misheard lyrics (or mondegreens) to spark my creativity.
In the case of Breathing, though, I was caught by the lonely mood of the music and one particularly powerful lyric in the song Hello, by Evanescence:
Has no one told you she’s not breathing?
That line is intriguing. It is rich with unacknowledged tragedy and cruel revelation.
I’ve since found out there is a sad story behind Hello: it was written by the multi-talented Evanescence frontwoman, Amy Lee, about an early tragedy in her life. But I didn’t know that when I wrote Breathing.
I won’t say any more (spoilers!), but if you read the story, let me know what you think!
I love this word. It has so much story at its heart! At a basic level it means clumsy or awkward, but because it is a word that defines itself by the absence of a characteristic, it becomes so much more. It’s almost accusatory.
And “grace” is such a complex word, too. It doesn’t just mean “elegance” (of form, motion and manner), but can also refer to being in a state of favour or having been extended mercy. So to be “graceless” is not just to be awkward, but there are also overtones of having fallen into disfavour and being denied clemency. Pitiable indeed!
Furthermore, there are also some nice ecclesiastical overtones from “being in a state of grace”, which call up echos of a deeper fall into ignominy.
Favourite use of the word “graceless”… In the inimitable Florence & the Machine’s Shake It Out.
And it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back
This year at Conflux we decided to do something a bit different with the writing workshops and run them throughout the weekend instead of all on the first day (Friday), which is how we’ve done it previously. One thing I found is – probably due to the interactive nature of workshops – these are a really good forum to hook up with other people at the convention. I managed to get in three workshops. (Although one was in two parts and probably counts as two.)
I’d asked Alan Baxter to run a version of his Write the Fight Right workshop, mostly because I’d never done it and I really wanted to. (A perk of being in charge of programming!) It’s usually a whole day, so he did a condensed version of it over two hours. It’s great, I highly recommend it and I’d love to do the full version one day. It covers stuff like what it feels like to be punched in the face, the physiological effects of fighting (far more complex than you’d expect), how to use space and even some handy first aid advice. As you’d expect he provides plenty of anecdotes and stories from his own life experience and even pointed us at a few clips of fights to give us a sense of the difference between cinematic show and what a real fight might look like. Hint: the fight between Darcy (Colin Firth) and Cleaver (Hugh Grant) in Bridget Jones’ Diary is more realistic than you might think (quintessential smashing-through-shop-window scene notwithstanding).
I did a two part workshop conducted by Kaaron Warren and Nick Evans called Spray and Wipe. This involved a trip to the Green Shed (a store that sells recycled items donated through Canberra’s tips), where we had to choose an item from the shop as an inspiration point for a story. Kaaron then took us around to the Green Shed Underground (a separate store run by the Green Shed where they sell all their donated books and clothing) and made us choose an outfit for one of our characters and dress in it to write the story.
Hunting for treasures at the Green Shed
Hunting for treasures at the Green Shed
Hunting for treasures at the Green Shed
I decided to have a stab at generating an idea for something for my suite of colour-themed stories I want to begin work on soon, and picked out a very orange biscuit tin to start with. This got coupled with a really terrible orange mumu-style shirt and some fairly tacky orange jewellery. It was when I happened upon some great 1970s cookbooks with predominantly orange covers, however, that my story brain kicked in and an idea really came together.
Orange biscuit tin
Orange shirt, orange beads, orange bangles
Kaaron, Anke and Helen checking out Anke’s bizarre medical instrument
After that, it was back to the con venue and in the afternoon Nick Evans, a journalist by trade, put us through a fairly brutal regime of cutting, rewriting and reworking the 400 odd words we’d got down in the morning with Kaaron. I was completely exhausted at the end of it, but I definitely have the beginning of a story and I’m pretty sure I know where this one is headed!
Finally, on Monday, I did a workshop with life coach Kenny Snable on overcoming negative thoughts to increase writing productivity. This one was great. She took us through the relationship between thoughts, behaviours and emotions and gave us a bunch of strategies to manage the negative ones, and some exercises to help identify and articulate what the actual issue is that is causing us grief.
And this is only a small selection of the smorgasbord of professional development that was on offer this year!
Conflux is over for another year, and once again I’m looking back on it through the golden glow of a post-con high. We were incredibly lucky in our Guest of Honour and MC lineup this year, being David Farland, Alan Baxter and Sean Williams respectively.
Sean came along to Conflux 11 last year and his frank discussion about how he manages his RSI made the Paying For Our Passion panel (inspired by David McDonald’s blog series of the same name) one of the standout sessions of the con. He spent September 2016 as the eminent writer in residence at the ACT Writers Centre, so us Canberra folk have been lucky to see a lot of him recently, including a Guest Author session for the CSFG and a session on his 10 1/2 commandments of writing at Old Parliament House last week. We jumped at the opportunity to have him on board for Conflux 12 and he didn’t disappoint. In his typically warm, funny and approachable style, he set the tone for an exceptionally convivial con.
We had the privilege of featuring David Farland in his first trip out to Australia in something like 15 years. He was really something special, providing a feast of stories, knowledge and industry insight. His contribution to our Breaking the US & UK markets panel was a particular highlight of the convention. And getting to hear more stories and ask him questions at his kaffeeklatsch session on Monday afternoon was a personal highlight for me.
David Farland interviewed by Tim Napper
Crow Shine Moonshine courtesy of Alan Baxter
Alan Baxter and Eric the Demon Monkey
Alan Baxter was our Australian Guest of Honour this year. He ran a condensed version of his Write the Fight Right workshop for us, in which he draws on his background as a Kung Fu instructor, and provided a fascinating running commentary on the Lion Dancers that came along on Friday night to open the con. Alan launched his new collection of short stories, Crow Shine, from Ticonderoga, on Saturday evening, complete with Crow Shine moonshine (not for the kiddies, but then neither is his book).
Being on the con organising committee I don’t get to go to as many panels and sessions as I’d like to. But those I did get to were great and I heard good things about the others. What stands out for me, though, at each and every Conflux I go to, is the people. Each year I hook up with old friends and make new connections and it’s these relationships that are really the root cause of that lovely golden post-con glow. I just meet such great people at Conflux. Lucky for me and my dodgy phone camera, Cat Sparks takes great photos of people. Here are a small selection of her pics that make me happy.
Cat & Shauna
Lyss & Elizabeth
Whilst I didn’t manage to attend many panels, I did manage to get to a few workshops, so I’ll cover those in my next post. But to finish off, here’s a pic of the gorgeous cover art Shauna O’Meara did for the con magazine (she did the Red Fire Monkey logo at the top of the page, too!)
A little while ago I found out about a fascinating community art project called Object Therapy being run by Canberra’s Fix and Make Workshop. In short, it invited members of the public to donate broken household objects for artists to transformatively repair. I submitted two “objects”, both of which were accepted. Interestingly, one was all about emotional connection, memory and sentimental value, and the other was all about raw beauty. They were…
A broken rocking horse.
My grandfather made this for me. I spent hours riding on it when I was a kid, and even as a teenager I treasured it and kept it in my bedroom. It’s not the most elegant or romantic version of a rocking horse you’ll ever see, but it was so much fun.
Add to that, it also doubled as a spaceship/racing car/motorbike if you turned it upside down and sat inside it.
And it wasn’t just me. My kids had a ball with this old thing. My daughter used to ride on it for hours at breakneck speed when she was tiny – barely two. There’s even a great story about how I lost the diamond out of the antique ring my partner gave me and she found it – embedded in the carpet under this rocking horse of all places.
It was well-loved and well-used for probably more than thirty years.
Perhaps that’s why the neck joint finally gave out and its head came off.
A box of broken crockery
I’m kind of a hoarder.
All these bits and pieces were just so beautiful, I couldn’t bear to think of them as just rubbish, so I put them in this huge old styrafoam box that once held seafood, and kept them for years. I think I was thinking one day I’d maybe make a mosaic or something out of them. In submitting them to Object Therapy, I was thinking maybe someone else could use this raw material to make something new and wonderful.
Fast forward a few months, and yesterday I got to be reunited with my objects! Just last week I got a little sneak peek of what happened to my crockery. It went to artist Halie Rubenis and I’m kind of in awe of the innovative approach she took to transforming the objects. I’ve only seen three of them (there are apparently a few more), but…wow. You can get your own preview on Halie’s instagram site. What blew my mind a bit was how she not only used the broken crockery in the artwork she produced, but also the styrafoam box and even the old plastic bags the bits of crockery were wrapped in.
I think the plate in this photo is my favourite. I love the contrast between the formal, almost prissy design of the old plate, and the organic jumble of coral-like growths (former styrafoam box!) now oozing out of the crack.
In addition to giving me the heady rush of contributing to the creation of new art, this project has also been extremely thought-provoking. In the reuniting interview, I got asked a lot of questions about how this project made me think about waste and recycling/reusing/repurposing, and also about whether how I valued the objects had changed. That value question is so hard to answer. It’s easy to look at a finished piece of art and value it for the materials gone into making it. The time and sheer human creativity and ingenuity that have gone into it are much harder to quantify. What do you count? The time working on the actual object? The time brainstorming (and weighing up, and discarding) ideas? The answer is, all of this counts, of course. But it can be hard to justify.
Which brings me to this thought-provoking video I saw at a conference earlier this year in a presentation all about valuing creativity.
And what about the rocking horse?
(It’s beautiful. It’s mended and whole and just stunning. And I’ll tell you all about it after the exhibition on 14 October at Hotel Hotel in Canberra.)
I have spent the last few days on my couch recovering from a truly horrible flu (seriously: I can’t recall ever having been this sick, even with appendicitis.) But, before that, I was very privileged to be able to attend the second part of Round 1 of the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY 2016 program, Intro2Industry. This was an extended 3-day weekend’s worth of seminars on all aspects of the publishing industry, and it was fascinating. And, I have to confess, sobering in equal parts.
First up, a big shout out to the ACT Writers Centre and the wonderful Nigel Featherstone for convening the course. I could not have asked to be placed in more generous, professional or gentler hands for the weekend. Thank you, Nigel, you are a star.
We had presentations from just about every aspect of the industry you can imagine, from publishers, established authors and agents, to writers festivals, booksellers, reviewers and government arts funding agencies. Catherine Milne from Harper Collins gave the opening session on “What do publishers want?” This was both inspiring and daunting, as she described how publishers fall in love with manuscripts and then have to pitch them to the dreaded acquisitions board – a process that sounds just as terrifying for the publisher as pitching to them is for the author. I loved hearing about how half the time the manuscripts they lose their hearts to are ones they didn’t know they were looking for. “Publishers are like two-year-olds,” she said at one point. “We don’t know what we want, but we know we want it!”
Alex Adsett from Alex Adsett Publishing Services was as charming and engaging as always (I’ve seen a couple of her presentations now) – which is not necessarily what you’d expect from a lawyer delivering a session on copyright and contract law. Seriously, if you get a chance to see her in action, do it. She is great. Jacinta Dimase from Jacinta Dimase Management took us through some case studies from her stable of authors. She also got us to do a fascinating exercise in pulling out seven key themes from our novels and posting them up on a wall of the theatre. Seeing them all grouped together from a field of 28 authors writing across a range of genres was fascinating.
One of the most talked-about presentations was from Patrick Lenton from Town Crier Digital Marketing. He talked to us about the importance of authors having an online platform and talked us through a few different options. He was insightful and deeply knowledgeable and I got a huge amount out of his presentation. A key learning is that whatever online presence you decide to have, it has to be authentically you (otherwise you’ll never sustain it.)
A surprise learning from Allen & Unwin rep Deb Sevens and owner of Dymocks Canberra City, Alison Kay, was that “good sales” for a new author from one bookshop might be only one or two books over a month. This was a very sobering presentation, when us starry-eyed, emerging authors all learned just exactly how many books there are in a bookshop competing for each customer’s attention and how there is only room for a few of them to be placed face out. We also talked about the importance of a good cover. It was frustrating to learn how small the window is for a book to be considered a “success” in sales in bookshops, and even more so when we heard from Linda Funnell from the Newtown Review of Books about how sometimes review scheduling can miss this mark.
For me, in amongst it all was this strong thread of love for the written word. Even the in the moments when we or the presenters gave way to their most jaded or frustrated thoughts, everyone who was there was there because they love books. Because they adore stories and they want to get more stories out there to the readers who will treasure them. Even though every pearl of wisdom we received over the weekend came with a warning about the hard reality of the current times, I think we all finished the course in the spirit of “pragmatic optimism” that Nigel took care to foster throughout. I certainly feel as though I’ve been given the best possible preparation for what (hopefully) lies ahead.
I wish all my fellow HARDCOPIERS all the very best for the next stage of their literary journey. (Photo courtesy of Alex Fairhill)
Artist : Jon Molvig (Australia, b.1923, d.1970) Title : Date : 1958 Medium Description: synthetic polymer paint and oil on hardboard Dimensions : Credit Line : Purchased 1961 Image Credit Line : Accession Number : OA4.1961
Here’s a good word for an insomniac. It’s a term for a piece of art, most often music, that evokes evening or night, or, alternatively, a dreamy, pensive mood.
I like it because it sounds musical. It sounds haunting. For me it conjures up purple twilights, glimmering stars and crickets chirping.
Artworks at top: Nocturne Landscape, Jon Molvig; Nocturne: Forest Spires, Tom Thomson; Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket, James Abbot McNeill Whistler; The Falling Rocket (detail)
Well, here is some exciting news! The Never Never Land anthology, containing my story “Adventure Socks”, is due out in ebook on 1 July!
To celebrate, CSFG are hosting some interviews with authors from the anthology.The first one up is Thoraiya Dyer, whose debut novel Crossroads of Canopy, set in a giant rainforest, is due out from Tor in January 2017.
I have been doing some research on pre-18th century paintings of Greek myths lately, and I came across this interesting description by the Museo Del Prado of the Peter Paul Rubens painting “The Rape of Ganymede”, which is in its collection:
Jupiter was so taken with Ganymede´s beauty that he transformed into an eagle to carry her off to Mount Olympus, where she became his cup-bearer. Rubens drew this story from the classical poet, Ovid´s Metamorphoses (X, 155-161). He depicts the moment when the eagle catches the young shepherdess and lifts her into the air.
Uh…just one problem. Ganymede was a bloke. The story is otherwise bang on.
I am fascinated as to how or why the Museo Del Prado has fluffed this one up. The fact that Ganymede is male is key to the enduring fascination with this particular story. By all (other) accounts, the Ganymede myth was held as an expression of the acceptance of homosexual relationships in Ancient Greece.
And it’s not like you could actually mistake the Ganymede in Rubens’ painting for a girl. It also doesn’t look to me like Rubens was tiptoeing around the core element of this story. I mean, look at the placement of that quiver, for goodness sake.