Insomni-argh

insomnia

I don’t know how many of you writerly types out there suffer from insomnia – but I do. It’s currently 1.40am and my feet are too hot to sleep. Also, it’s a full moon, which, weirdly, seems to be a thing with me and insomnia.

It’s definitely linked to bouts of creativity and not being able to turn my brain off. I used to suffer from it a lot – upwards of 5-6 nights a month when I mostly wrote at night. (Here’s me talking about it over on David McDonald’s blog as part of his excellent Paying For Our Passion series.) A couple of years ago I switched to getting up early and doing most of my writing then (which was not easy for a natural night owl, btw) and this had a transformative effect on my sleep habits. Now I generally only get one night’s worth of insomnia every couple of months, which is a definite improvement.

But, guess what, tonight’s clearly the night. Because here I am, sitting on the couch playing mah-jong and drinking a glass of wine at 2am, whilst sugar-plums dance in my head. Sigh.

Wishing you all a good night’s sleep.

Adventures in the South

I’ve just come back from a week’s holiday in Hobart, Tasmania. I’d never been before, despite having a mother who is a confessed Tasmanophile and plenty of friends who have been telling me for years how much I’d love it. And I have to agree: Tasmania is a beautiful place and Hobart is a beautiful city. We based ourselves there for a week and did a few day trips, as well as taking a bit of time to soak up the city itself. Here are a few things that really stood out.

ningina tunapri

I’m going to mention this first, because while there are many wonderful things about Tasmania, I think it’s important to acknowledge the darkness and heartbreak in its colonial past. ningina tunapri is one of the permanent exhibitions in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery that “explores the journey of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and is a celebration of all Tasmanian Aboriginal generations.” There are some genuinely inspiring and beautiful parts of this exhibition – the baskets woven from water iris were especially lovely. But I left in tears after reading through some of the atrocities early British colonists perpetrated on the Indigenous Tasmanian people, and of the heroism of those people. Importantly, this exhibition presents these stories in the words of the Aboriginal people themselves. I have so many thoughts on why this is important, which I might save for another time. But what has really stayed with me is how the grief and anger over those terrible events is something that is still here and will always be there. It can’t be fixed, but it must be respected. (In my mind respecting that hurt involves things like acknowledgement, empathy and demonstrating commitment to eradicating racial discrimination.)

Mount Wellington

2016-04-15 11.47.07Mount Wellington looms over the city of Hobart at 1000 metres above sea level. It is huge. We drove up it on the evening of our first day in Hobart, and again on the morning of our last day. It is one of the most awe-inspiring natural monuments I’ve ever encountered, and looking up at those crazy rocks above me, I can understand why things like that get worshipped as gods.

Driving up it at dusk, in the mist, we felt as though we were about to drive off the edge of the world. The road is narrow and winding, and the drop at the edges was terrifyingly sheer. Mt Wellington’s most impressive feature is this giant wall of vertical rock columns called the Organ Pipes, which are the result of cooled-down magma from ancient volcanic activity. They are enormous and simply astoundingly picturesque. Especially when you suddenly find them looming over you half way up the mountain.

20160410_174711The crazy rocks and sheer elevation of the summit makes it one of the eeriest places on Earth. The first evening when we went up, the wind was so strong, we could barely breathe, let alone stand still. It was almost impossible to hold the camera still enough to take photos. And, holy hell, it was cold. Our car said it was 5 degrees out. Apparently Mt Wellington often gets snow in summer.

We went back on our last day in Hobart and did a bushwalk along underneath the Organ Pipes, which was pretty challenging. A lot of the path crosses old rock falls, and it’s pretty rough. But, bleak as the landscape is, it is very lovely. And the air is crystal clear.

2016-04-15 11.28.40.jpg

The Huon River

This is a part of Tasmania I’d like to explore a bit more. The trees were huge, and the water in the river is this amazing mahogany colour from all the tannin in the leaves of the forest that fall into it.

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Hobart wharf

The harbourside at Hobart is a great place to wander around – during the day and at night – with all the old Georgian architecture and the fishing boats piled with lobster pots.

Sadly we concluded it was not lobster season, because we couldn’t find any places serving lobster.

Daci & Daci Bakery

There’s probably not much more I can say about this temple of deliciousness, other than to note we went there three times in the space of the six days we spent in that city.

It is absolutely the quintessential shop of treats, with its polished wood counter and tables, its gleaming glass displays filled with all manner of cakes and pastries, its gloriously mismatched tableware and the sheer array of sugar dusted, cream filled, fruit garnished, toffee glazed, chocolate coated delicacies. We can definitely recommend the chocolate eclairs, the creme brulee and the violet meringue.

The gin

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Tasmania is, apparently, known for producing quality booze. My partner spent a fair bit of time sampling the various whiskys the island has to offer. I’m not a whisky aficionado, but I am partial to a gin and tonic, and I’d heard good things about Tassie gins. On the left here is a gin and tonic made with Forty Spotted gin by Lark Distilleries. It is one of two I had the pleasure of sampling that are flavoured with native Tasmanian botanicals. The bartender at Lark made this G’n’T with a couple of Tasmanian native pepper berries and a curl of ruby grapefruit rind to bring out those flavours in the gin. It was delicious.

The talent

On our last night in Hobart, I caught up with fellow writer Chris Large for a drink at a cosy bar in Salamanca. We spent an hour or so yakking about writing and stuff over a glass of really excellent Tasmanian Merlot. I usually only see Chris when he comes up to Canberra for Conflux in October, so it was nice to be able to meet up on his home ground for a change.

The verdict?

I’m really keen to go back. Next time, maybe we’ll do a BnB hop around the island, instead of basing ourselves in one corner. Or possibly even one of those 3-4 day hikes through the wilderness (my other half only does glamping). There’s so much more to explore.

 

Goodbye 2015, Happy 2016!

2015-2016

In preparation for doing this roundup, I’ve just reviewed my writing achievements for 2014, by way of seeing how I went in 2015 by comparison. It’s brought home to me the truism that you should never compare your writing achievements to anyone else’s – not even your past self’s, apparently.

I made a deliberate decision to focus on a novel projects in 2015, and to try not to be distracted by short stories. I still wrote a couple, bad girl, but made no sales. Two of the stories I sold in 2014 came out in 2015, so it wasn’t a complete wasteland of ignominy. Also, one of my short stories from 2014 was listed on Ellen Datlow’s recommended reading longlist, which is a definite win.

I achieved a fair bit under the heading of “novel projects”. Novels are, of course, more complex beasts than short stories, and my achievements here feel more intangible, but I’m counting them anyway.

I got additional feedback on Novel Project #1, rewrote a chunk of it, got it into submittable form, wrote a synopsis (a proper one) and developed the basis of a pitch and a query letter.

(Most writers I know complain a lot about having to do write synopses and query letters and I am happy to add my own mewling whine to the cacophony. It was horrible. It was hard. It was not about crafting beautiful imagery or sculpting layered, authentic characters or building immersive worlds or choreographing breathtaking action. But it also kind of was, in the most abbreviated, chop-all-its-limbs-off and pull-out-its-beating-heart way possible. In the end, it was, I confess, deeply satisfying. Like the way I imagine it would feel after having run some kind of endurance race. Painful process, fist pump outcome.)

I submitted NP#1 to several agents, got one request for a full MS, many rejections, and one chunk of invaluable feedback. So I’m calling it a win.

I have now submitted it to a couple of publishers, and so we wait…

I did a huge amount of planning and research for Novel Project #4, and also a big chunk of writing. It’s now sitting on just under 60,000 words. I wish it were further along, but the win I’m counting here is in the planning process. I’ve never properly planned a novel before, so this was a first. I’m pretty happy with my novel plan and I feel like I really know where I’m going for with this story (and its sequels). So: yay.

So… in contemplation of the year ahead, what are my plans and goals? Hmm. Finishing the first draft of NP#4 is high on the list, along with getting it beta-read, and beginning the process of getting it into the kind of condition worthy of a publisher/agent’s attention. I definitely want to reacquaint myself with the art of writing short stories and make another couple of sales. I want to do some overseas travel, which might not sound like writing, but it’s definitely research. I’d also like to focus a little bit on developing my craft and perhaps take some time (and spend some money) on doing some courses/workshops.

Here’s to chasing dreams and wrestling them into reality. I wish you all a happy, safe and prosperous 2016.

xox

HNY 2016

Spring

Every year, there is a point where I look around and notice that spring has arrived, whether or not winter is officially over. Well, this week in Canberra we had that change in the light and the temperature and the smell of the air that announces that spring is here.

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Book launch! Aurealis Awards! All the fun!

Last Saturday was a whirlwind of genre fiction goodness. First up I spent the afternoon at the launch of Ian McHugh’s award-nominated collection Angel Dust. His stories range from whimsical fantasy about turning fairies into wishes right through to one of the most fascinating and memorable sci-fi stories I’ve read, which interrogates how our assumptions might hamper our ability to understand and relate to an alien species. You should get it and read it. It’s awesome.

Ian Ian's launch

After that, I headed home for a nice cup of tea with the eternally energetic Nicole Murphy, which provided a much needed breather before the evening’s entertainment kicked off: the 2014 Aurealis Awards!

This year, as president of the CSFG, I was invited to present the awards for best collection and best anthology. I had the very great pleasure of being able to hand over the former to the formidable writing team that is Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannet for their collection, The Female Factory; and the latter to Garth Nix, who was collecting on behalf of Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, for their anthology Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories.

Seeing as it was also the 20th anniversary of the awards, we were encouraged to get into the spirit by donning 90s clothing. My effort was limited to digging out from the back of my cupboard a pair of boots I bought in 1992 (covered in approximately 20 years of dust and cobwebs) and teaming these up with a felt fedora and a pair of big hoopy earrings. But some people went to quite a bit of effort…

Ginger (aka Melbourne writer Maureen Flynn), Posh & Baby Spice
Ginger (aka Melbourne writer Maureen Flynn), Posh & Baby Spice

 

It was a great night, and I really hope I can go next year when it will be in a location yet to be disclosed, but probably not Canberra. Check out the full list of nominees and winners over on the Aurealis Awards blog.

Garth Nix, Margo Lanagan, Ian McHugh
Garth Nix, Margo Lanagan, Ian McHugh
Ian McHugh, Dennis Murphy, Me
Ian McHugh, Dennis Murphy, Me
Shauna O'Meara, who didn't stuff up the powerpoint slideshow even once
Shauna O’Meara, who didn’t stuff up the powerpoint slideshow even once
Tehani Wessely, Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannet, Liz Grzyb
Tehani Wessely, Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannet, Liz Grzyb
Thoraiya Dyer, Cat Sparks, Rivqa Berger
Thoraiya Dyer, Cat Sparks, Rivqa Berger

 

Keri Arthur
Keri Arthur

All photos courtesy of Cat Sparks

Reading, for the love of it

I was only going to do two posts on reading. Then Elizabeth Fitzgerald asked me what makes me really want to read a book, and I conceived a third. Then I read this Huffington Post article: 20 New Classics Every Child Should Own, and a fourth popped into my head. I decided to do this one first, just because reading to my kids was first  on my list of why I read books.

lemony snicket

The Huff Post article made me sad my kids are past the age of picture books. (I consoled myself with the thought of the new list of wonderful gifts I now have to chose from for my littlest friends.) But it also made me think about why I choose the books I do to read to my kids. This list of 20 new classics was compiled by Jordan B Nielsen, a children’s book buyer for an independent book store, and reviewer of children’s fiction. She was driven to create this list as a response to her dismay over her experiences with adults who, buying books for children, eschew purchasing more recently written books for the books that they loved as a child.

Nielsen is sympathetic; she acknowledges that the choices of these adults for ‘time-worn favourites’ come from a desire to share with a child a much-loved reading experience from their own childhood. But, as she rightly points out, there are so many really wonderful new books for kids out there.

This made me think about why I choose the books I do to read to my kids. Without doubt, there is a selection in there of books I have read and loved, and that have played no small role in shaping the literary landscape in which my imagination plays. A selection of these includes:

  • All But A Few, Joan Aiken
  • The Harry Potter books, J K Rowling (technically I read these as an adult, but I started before I had kids.)
  • The Snow Spider, Jenny Nimmo
  • The Ramona books, Beverly Clearly
  • The Faraway Tree & Wishing Chair books, Enid Blyton
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (which might be the best book ever written) and its sequels, by Diana Wynne Jones; actually, make that pretty much anything by Wynne Jones
  • Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
  • The Ordinary Princess, M M Kaye
  • Playing Beattie Bow, Ruth Park
  • Pretty much anything by Roald Dahl.

But I am totally with Nielsen in agreeing that this is only a small selection on the vast and wonderous selection of enchanted worlds on offer for children thesedays. Some stories that were not around when I was 12, but which we have dived into gleefully (I invite you to imagine the howls of protest when I close the book and insist they go clean their teeth after I have read myself hoarse over the course of three chapters in an evening):

  • The Skullduggary Pleasant books by Derek Landy (A skeleton detective? Awesome. Not to mention his equally awesome teenage sidekick, who is the protagonist and a great female character.)
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black. Oh how I wish these had been around when I was a kid.
  • The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. I can’t tell you how much I love this man’s work. These books were written to be read to kids by adults.
  • The Beasts of Clawstone Castle, Eva Ibotson
  • The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke
  • The Tashi stories by Anna Fienberg

Which brings me to the one guiding principle I have in selecting books to read my kids. I don’t so much want to share with them the experience of reading a specific book, as the experience of being completely transported by a wonderful story. The clues I look for? An intriguing title, a beguiling concept, fascinating characters, a world that makes me want to get dinner over and done with so we can pile onto my son’s bed and sink together into the pages.

Parenting win
Parenting win

My 12 year old daughter just finished reading the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare – books I have not read (yet). She came out of her room yesterday, and curled up next to me on the couch with a sad little look on her face. She snuggled up against me and said forlornly “I’m going to miss them.”

She was talking about the characters in the story. And that makes me feel like I’ve done it. I’ve shared enough of my own reading experiences with her, and we’ve shared enough new ones together, that I’ve succeeded in instilling in her the love of reading and story that is so precious to me. Now she can go off and have her own experiences that will enable her to shape a unique landscape of imagination of her own. I have given her that gift.

Score.