The iceberg

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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.

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Stories in the mist

Writing. It looks so much easier than it is.

I’ve spent most of the last week and a half doing more brainstorming and dreaming. I’m still sitting at that point of frustration, where I can see the shape of the story, I can feel it, taste it, even. But when I try and pin it down in words, it just dissolves like mist through my fingers.

Argh!

I’ve definitely made progress, though, even if I can only describe it as creeping.

Here, have some more of my visual prompts from Pinterest. Which is kind of what this WIP looks like in my head. Intriguing, definite feel to it, some good characters. But a concrete plot? Pff.

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?

Those proofs

My big news this week is that the printed proof copies of The Beast’s Heart have arrived in the London office of my publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, and a small pile of them will soon be winging their way into my waiting hands.

To say I’m excited is putting it mildly. Up until those photos were tweeted, I had only seen the front cover, so I’m still swooning a bit over the detail on the spine and I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming when I read the lovely words they’ve put on the back.

If you would like to receive a review copy, Hodder has information available for book bloggers here.

If you’re an Australian reveiwer, your best bet is probably going to be through Hachette Australia on Netgalley.

News! A Hand of Knaves

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The CSFG has announced it will be opening to submissions on 1 August for its newest anthology, A Hand of Knaves, to be published in late 2018 and edited by my good friend Chris Large… and yours truly!

I’m not sure this is the most sensible decision of my life – I’ve got plenty of stuff going on next year after all (*cough*The Beast’s Heart*cough*), but Chris asked so nicely and I think the concept (which is totally his), of an anthology of stories about scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells is just brilliant. My imagination has already exploded with ideas!

We’re going to be looking for stories of up to 5000 words featuring knavish characters who are anything from mischievous rogues right through to evil bastards. It’s got to be speculative; we want a good mix of sci fi, fantasy and horror and all the sub-genres in between. We welcome stories from and about the full and glorious spectrum of human beings. Our main criteria (apart from those listed above) is that it just has to be good. The catch is that, given CSFG anthologies are a showcase of Australian speculative writing, you do have to be Australian, or an Australian resident, or at least a member of CSFG to submit. Head over to the CSFG Publications page to find out more about the kinds of stories we’re going to be looking for and how to submit.

This is going to be awesome.

 

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So here’s what I’ve been counting down to. *silly grin*

Low-Fantasy-Dodo-Banner-400x200I am beyond excited to announce that on 31 May 2018 my first novel, The Beast’s Heart, will be published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK. (If you click on the image above, it will take you to the announcement on the Hodderscape website.) Here’s a little snippet of what they say about it to whet your appetite:

Set in seventeenth-century France, it is a luxuriously magical retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale – from the point of view of the Beast. Both the writing and story-telling are lush and evocative, rich and achingly exquisite; this novel is the epitome of psychological depth and descriptive beauty.

*Blushes*

The Beast’s Heart (formerly known as Novel Project #1) was my way of immersing myself in one of my favourite fairy tales, and in my very own fairy-tale-come-true was picked up by Hodder & Stoughton out of the open submissions process they (bravely) ran in 2015. (Bravely: they got 1445 submissions! That is a LOT of reading!)

There is a bit of celebrating going on in my house tonight.

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GASP!!!

Sooooo…

That Aurealis Award I was nominated for a little while ago…

Well, the Aurealis Awards ceremony was last night, and…

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I still can’t quite believe it.

I was happy just to be nominated. Seriously, to have my work rated as being on a par with the likes of Lisa L Hannet and Tansy Rayner Roberts, not to mention my very good friend, the extraordinarily talented Shauna O’Meara, counts as achieving one of my big writing goals, right there. My cheeks still hurt from smiling 24 hours later.

I’m not sure how coherent I was in accepting the award, so I’ll repeat all the eloquent thank-yous I wish I’d made here.

Firstly, thank you to Belladonna Publishing for picking up Pretty Jennie Greenteeth and bringing my strange little story out into the world.

Thank you to the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild for being the most amazing writing community ever and for offering generous and incisive feedback and critique on this story (and many others). It was especially exciting to share the shortlist with so many other CSFG members.

Thank you to my beautiful family for all the encouragement and giving me the space and time to write.

A big thank you to the tireless Aurealis judges for their commitment and energy in the face of a task of massive proportions.

And, finally, huge congratulations to all the 2016 Aurealis Awards nominees and winners, especially (again) CSFG members Tim Napper and Kaaron Warren, who won Best Horror Short Story (The Flame Trees) and Best Horror Novel (The Grief Hole) respectively. I have so many good friends among this list of excruciatingly talented authors, I’m still amazed to number myself among you, let alone have come home with an award.

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Touchstones: the Forest

the_enchanted_woodI’ve been thinking a lot about story touchstones lately. Following on from my post on Sapsorrow’s Dress, here’s some thoughts on another one of my personal story touchstones… 

Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood was the first ever chapter book my mother read to me. I remember her sitting down on my bed with this book with a completely intriguing cover, with twisty trees hiding fairy houses, hedgehogs scurrying around between spotty toadstools, and a hovering golden-haired, silver-winged pixie. I remember the anticipation I shared with the three Faraway Tree children as they leaned out their bedroom windows in their new house, and listened to the trees with the mysterious dark green leaves talking together (wisha-wisha) in the wood they so desperately wanted to explore

loved that book.

I’m not sure if The Enchanted Wood is what started my fascination with forests, but it certainly helped shape them in my imagination as places where adventure and magic happens.

Forests are, of course, generally held to be a symbol of the unknown. People entering forests in stories are almost always entering a period of uncertainty and danger. You just have to look at a bunch of fairy tale staples – Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White or Beauty and the Beast. Stepping between the trees is usually an act of desperation or coercion – or foolishness.

And then there’s all the mythic stuff, such as Arthurian adventures like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or the legendary Forest of Broceliande. The Forest is such a powerful storytelling symbol its use has carried right through from ancient times to the present day – take the great forests of Mirkwood and Lothlorien in The Lord of the Rings, the Forest Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi or, of course, the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter, just to name the three most iconic fictional worlds of modern times.

What I love about story forests is that often even the standard rules of danger and malevolence are suspended. They are genuinely ambivalent places. Forests are almost definitely full of hungry wolves and wicked witches and ogres who want to crack open your bones and suck out the marrow. But a forest could equally turn out to be a place of strange sanctuary, or hold an unexpected treasure in its green heart.

Obviously forests represent the wild and the untamed; they stand in stark contrast to other habitats like farms and cities, where the landscape has been subdued and converted to serve a specific (human) purpose. It’s not just the adventure and possibility of danger they represent, though, that makes my heart sing. It’s also the pervading sense of peace that you feel on entering a real-life forest. The different suite of sounds. The smells, the quality of the light, the sense of coming back to a simpler, more fundamental existence that entirely lacks the trappings of civilisation.

mcubbin_lostIf my story brain’s touchstone is a European, fairy tale forest, Australian forests are an IRL touchstone just as potent. My mother took my sister and I on plenty of camping holidays out in the bush as a kid, and I have particularly fond memories of camps without parents in my teenage years, through school, Girl Guides and the Duke of Edinburgh Award. In fact, I think the first time I ever spent a night away from home in the absence of anyone more than a year older than me was on a Duke of Ed camping trip in the Namadgi National Park when I was about 16.

There is nothing quite so magical as waking up to the peace of the early morning Australian bush, when the air is still a bit misty and the sunshine is so new it’s more silver than gold. At this time of day the sun is just beginning to warm up the eucalyptus leaves on the trees and scattered on the ground, and the evaporating dew carries the sharp, clean scent into the air. This feeling, of what it is to be in a eucalypt forest, is the one of the things I tried to capture in my story Adventure Socks in CSFG’s anthology The Never Never Land. The main character is 91-year-old George, who is stuck in a dreary old-age nursing home. His only remaining pleasure is his memories of his wife, and the time they spent living in the Snowy Mountains. (Then George meets Maisie, a new resident who shakes things up a bit.)

He lay in his bed with his mind lost in memories. Hiking through lonely, lovely stands of ghost gums with Rose. Listening to the pure, chiming voices of bellbirds filling the air. Surprising a flock of brilliant rosellas from a tree; or getting a shock themselves when they discovered they were walking amidst a mob of kangaroos resting out the midday heat, stock-still in the shade. The roos had been indistinguishable from the weathered stumps of trees until he and Rose got too close and the nearest ones startled and bounded away.

– “Adventure Socks”, The Never Never Land

(If you’ve never been to the Snowy Mountains in Australia, you should go. It really is some of the loveliest country in the world.) I haven’t written many stories based in Australian forests, though. I’m very conscious that my experience of them (and most of the stories I’ve grown up with about the Australian bush) are predicated on the dispossession of Australia’s first inhabitants, the Aboriginal people. For me, forests are ancient, primal places and the ancient stories of Australia’s forests are not mine to tell.

Just quickly scanning over my files of stories – published and unpublished – there are plenty that are set in or feature a forest. Forests play significant roles in two of my novel projects (so far), and plenty of my short stories. Pretty Jennie Greenteeth, for example, in Strange Little Girls. It’s got a forest and, like all good story forests, this forest isn’t a nice place. It has a nasty secret. I’m trying not to give too much away here, but looking at the metaphorical meaning of the forest that I’ve outlined above, it’s interesting that in order for my protagonist (a 10 year old girl) to resolve the particularly horrifying problem I confront her with, I send her into this forest.

Malevolent secrets. Strange sanctuary. Treasure of a sort. Hmm.

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