Conflux approacheth


Conflux 11 is almost upon us! I’m especially excited about it this year, as I’ve been part of the organising committee and had particular responsibility for pulling the program together. There are still a few bits and bobs to sort out, but we are almost there.

Unfortunately I’ll be travelling for work on the Friday and Saturday, so despite it having completely taken over my spare time in the last few weeks I’ll miss those days. But I will be at the banquet on Saturday night, and there all day Sunday and Monday. Here are  the panels you’ll be able to find me on:

2.30pm Sunday – I felt that – vivid prose, with Shauna O’Meara, DL Richardson and Alan Baxter.

4.30pm Sunday – Messing with mythology, with Amanda Pillar, Rob Porteous, Jane Virgo and Alis Franklin

10am Monday – Food in fiction, with Alis Franklin, Gillian Polack and Garry Dalrymple

4.30pm Monday – Fairy tales: princess complex, with Val Toh and KT Taylor


On Sunday at 5.30pm, the CSFG will be launching their latest anthology, The Never Never Land, containing my latest story “Adventure Socks”!  Hope to see you there!

The Never Never Land
The Never Never Land

Busy Brewing Community…and a surprise!

Well, it’s been a while. Almost exactly a month! I haven’t been being slack, just busy. In fact here’s me over at Earl Grey Tea Editing explaining just exactly what I’ve been busy doing.

This has meant I’ve not done an enormous amount of writing lately, which always leaves me feeling a little flat. But, today came with a lovely surprise. My story Music For An Ivory Violin from Aurealis #74 has appeared on Ellen Datlow’s recommended horror reading longlist! I’m over the moon!

That’s an actual castle-in-the-air goal I can tick off my list.

Aurealis #74
Aurealis #74

Don’t let this calm demeanour fool you. It’s baby goat time again.

giphy goat

Paying for our passion – writing v. sleep

If you haven’t checked out the excellent Paying For Our Passion series of guest author blogs David McDonald is doing over at Ebon Shores, I highly recommend it. Mostly because of the insight it provides into how different writers make this writing thing work, but also because (full disclosure) my guest blog went up yesterday.

Here’s what David has to say about his inspiration for the series:

Juggling your creative time with a full time job can be draining at the best of times, how much more so when you feel like the time put into writing is being wasted because it isn’t immediately a huge success? And, what about people who have to juggle being a parent or a full time carer as well? People with a chronic illness? How do they cope?

Because this is a personal issue, we often keep it to ourselves. Worse, sometimes we don’t talk about it because we think everyone else is living the rockstar writer lifestyle and we are the only ones struggling to find that balance–and we don’t want to look like a failure. I thought this was a subject worth exploring, and hopefully seeing how others deal with these challenges might a) help new writers realise they aren’t alone b) give us all ideas that might help.

So far, David has had guest posts from a range of Australian authors and editors, and has even started profiling some New Zealand authors after a recent trip there. I highly recommend the post from writer and poet Maureen Flynn as one that’s particularly moving.

So, what I have I sacrificed in the pursuit of literary glory? Well, the hint is in the title of this post. It’s fair to say my creative career can be characterised as a constant battle to balance the conflicting needs for sleep and writing time. Go read the article, and check out some of the others!

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 Writing Part 1

I’ve had quite a literary week. On Monday I went to see the entertaining and debonair Joe Abercrombie talking about his new book, Half the World, at Harry Hartog’s (and what a beautiful Canberra bookshop that is.) I had the opportunity to chat to him before and after his talk; beforehand I quizzed him about the sex scenes he writes (!!!) and after the crowds had drifted off my CSFG buddies and I had a chance to chat to him about a bunch of things including the fantastic covers on his books.

Meeting Joe Abercrombie at Harry Hartog's
Meeting Joe Abercrombie at Harry Hartog’s (That’s me on the right, behind Shauna O’Meara. The rest of the CSFG crew, behind Joe, from left to right: Craig Cormick, Ross Hamilton, Tim Napper)

Then on Wednesday, we had our first general meeting of the CSFG for 2015, which my good friend Kimberly Gaal and I kicked off with a session on goal setting for writers.

How are these two things linked? Well, one question Joe was asked on Monday night was what is he reading now? His initial answer to this was interesting: he said “I don’t read anymore.”

I found this interesting because a quick Google search will throw back at you plenty of quotes from high profile writers telling aspiring authors that the one thing they must  do is read. But even so, this is not the first time I’ve heard a high-profile author say they just don’t read anymore.

Joe then went on to demonstrate that, actually, he does read (of course). But when he talked about reading, it was very clear that it’s not something he does for leisure these days. He reads a lot of non-fiction for research, and he indicated the fiction he reads now is mostly in genres other than what he writes (dark fantasy).

At our CSFG meeting on Monday, one of the things we talked about in relation to goal-setting, was doing a reading challenge as a useful way to expand our horizons, connect with readers, understand markets and feed the muse. (Here’s a great post from Elizabeth Fitzgerald over at Earl Grey Editing about reading challenges.)

This all got me thinking about what and why I read. I absolutely do not read anywhere near as much as I used to. I have no hesitation in saying it is one of life’s great pleasures. I was an inveterate bookworm as a child. I read Charlotte’s Web when I was six. I started reading the likes of Anne McCaffrey and Tanith Lee when I was about thirteen. I read and read and then I reread and reread again. In University, I wrangled my degree so that it was about 85% English Literature subjects. This meant I (was supposed to) read something in the order of thirty to forty books a year. I can’t say hand-on-heart that I did read that many, but I read most.

But now…

I find reading uses a similar part of my brain as writing. It also scratches a similar itch and fills in the same few spare hours. So for me, it’s often a choice. Read or write. Still, I definitely do read. I just have to be very selective. I’m also pretty brutal now about finishing books. If it’s not doing what I want it to do for me, I stop reading it. I do not have time to persevere with duds. I set aside one massively popular bestseller just recently because I could not stand either of the two main characters and I did not want to spend another minute in their company. If I decide I want to know how it ends (I’m not fussed right now, I don’t want either of them to prevail), I’ll go see the movie.

Having said all that, I do still read, and it is still one of my favourite ways to spend an hour. Or three. Or eight. Like most people who love books, I have a to-read pile that in its darker, more unstable moments could kill small children if it toppled over. So in my next blog post, I’ll talk about what and why I read, and how I prioritise that growing stack beside my bed. And the one on the bookcase. And the one beside the bookcase on the floor. And –

*sound of books falling*

*muffled screams for help*

Conflux 10

Spectacular artwork for Conflux 10 by Shauna O'Meara
Spectacular artwork for Conflux 10 by Shauna O’Meara

As usual, Conflux was a whirlwind of delights. I caught up with writer friends from all over the country, and even other bits of the world. I attended a bunch of book launches, bought a bunch of books, went to some fascinating panels, and sat around eating pizza & drinking cider & chewing the fat with some fantastically interesting people. Highlights?

The guests of honour were great. Hearing Margo Lanagan talk about her early career, and how she wrote Tender Morsels was a definite highlight and I came away from that one with inspiration tickling away in the back of my brain. Alisa Krasnostein also gave an interview on some of the remarkable things her small press has done, particularly in promoting spec fiction written by women. I found her deeply inspirational as well.

I can’t think of a panel I didn’t enjoy, but the standouts for me were:

  • editing anthologies (one day, maybe!)
  • grief, loss and trauma with Margo Lanagan, Richard Harland, Kaaron Warren and Isobel Carmody (who wasn’t on the panel, but was in the audience and commented on a piece of her work that was read out)
  • describing the journey (a panel on how you describe the world of your story through your character’s eyes), with Kaaron Warren, Russell Kirkpatrick, Simon Petrie and Isobel Carmody.

Even spending time staffing the CSFG dealer’s table was extremely pleasant, as it meant I got to sit and chat with the likes of Kaaron Warren and Rob Porteous.

The convention was a little smaller this year than it has been in previous years, I understand. But everyone seemed to think this was not such a bad thing, as it meant more opportunity to actually connect with the other attendees. Kudos must go to the hero of this year’s Conflux, Karen Herkes Ott, and her small but mighty Conflux 10 team.

I was so inspired by their incredible efforts that I  have ended up as the Vice-President of the Conflux Committee, and will be involved in organising next year’s convention! I have a feeling that’s going to be a heap of work, but I’m kinda excited, because based on the brainstorming the new committee has done already, it’s going to be awesome.

Coming up: reading & panel discussion at Conflux 10

Spectacular artwork for Conflux 10 by Shauna O'Meara
Spectacular artwork for Conflux 10 by Shauna O’Meara

Conflux is on this weekend!! This is the annual Canberra spec fic convention, and lucky for me it has a very strong focus on writing.

I’m participating in a couple of events:

  • On Saturday, 4 October at 12.0o, Simon Petrie will be launching his new collection of short fiction, Difficult Second Album, by Peggy Bright Books. At the launch, some of the other recent titles from PBB will be showcased, including Use Only As Directed. So I shall be doing a reading from “The Blue Djinn’s Wish”!
  • On Monday, 6 October at 4pm, I will be part of the Denouement – the Journey’s End panel with Richard Harland and Daniel O’Malley!

I’ll also be doing my bit to staff the CSFG table in the dealer’s room around lunchtime on Saturday & Sunday, so please come along & say hi!

Perspective from the tip of the iceberg

I’m convening the CSFG novel writing group this year, and last month we did a session on connecting the reader to your story through point of view. We did an exercise where I got everyone to write a short, descriptive scene from a character’s point of view. I got each person to read out their scene, then the rest of us shared what information we had gleaned from the scene about that character. I only gave the group 10 minutes or so to write the scene, so they were very short. But, what was remarkable was just how much we all got out of a few well-placed details.

You’ve probably heard about the iceberg writing model. You know the one: only 10 per cent of what you know about your story, your characters and your world, makes it onto the page. The rest stays ‘under the water’, as it were, in the murky depths of your writerly brain. You need to know about it; it’s an important foundation for that tiny 10 per cent of your story that is the only part to ever see the sun.

Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at

Well, after hearing what we all got out of these tiny snippets of writing, it struck me that if you include the right details, your readers are going to be able to take that measly 10 per cent and use their imaginations to construct something far larger and more complex than that iceberg tip you gave them. They’ll be able to stand on it and look down through the ice into those depths you left lurking there. They might not see quite the same things that you do, or their vision might be clearer, and they might see stuff you never even knew existed.

But, for me, anyway, that’s part of the whole pleasure of reading: exercising your imagination and using the writer’s words like Lego bricks – to construct something wonderful that only you can really see.



The fear of not being original

On Wednesday night, at the monthly Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild general meeting, we had a fascinating presentation from author Russell Kirkpatrick. I’m gonna say it was about story shape, because that’s what he said it was about. But that’s kind of like saying Lord of the Rings is about hobbits.*

Somehow Russell talked us through sculpting the shape of a story using an analysis of wave files from his extensive and eclectic music collection, with a particular focus on prog rock. I’ll just leave that there.

One thing that really jumped out at me, though, was a point he made at the very beginning of his talk. This was: don’t let the fear of not being original stop you writing your story. He illustrated this with clever 1 second grabs from three wildly different songs. This showed how a particular element that has current, on-trend appeal might get picked up and used, not just in different songs, but across a range of music genres, either because it is currently looping in the common creative consciousness, or, if you’re more cynical, to deliberately broaden the appeal of a song. Probably even both. And what’s more, they get resurrected, as samples, years later for new works, by new artists in new genres that didn’t exist back then.

This struck a chord with me (see what I did there?), because earlier that day I had been thinking about an online news headline I’d seen. This is it, complete with the pic that accompanied the story:

A curious Ohio boy who sneaked into an abandoned house over the weekend discovered a mummified corpse hanging inside a closet, unnoticed for nearly five years

A curious Ohio boy who sneaked into an abandoned house over the weekend discovered a mummified corpse hanging inside a closet, unnoticed for nearly five years.

You can see the appeal, can’t you? There is story there. Layers of it. I spent my entire ride, both to and from work yesterday, immersed in it.

Imagining the boy: a bundle of trepidation and curiosity, creeping through the dusty, creaking, damp-ridden dark; peering into empty rooms, lit only by murky shafts of light leaking through boarded-up windows. Seeing the cupboard, wondering if there was anything interesting inside…

Or thinking on the story behind the guy who died – a homeless man who had bought the house for cash after inheriting a sum of money from his mother. What was it about finally owning a place to live that drove him to such despair that he took his own life?

And that’s just based on what was in the news article. There are endless possibilities for making stuff up from there. What about the police officer who had to attend the property after the call from the boy’s mother? Did she see something off-kilter that lodged in her mind and had her waking up in the middle of the night months later, wondering about the verdict of suicide?

Or…is there something else entirely? Something lurking under the floorboards of the house, scuttling through the roof space. Something bitter and steeped in spite that talks to you in your sleep and leaches the peace from your waking hours. Or perhaps it is the house itself. What happened there that sank into the fabric of the peeling wallpaper? That spreads across the sagging ceilings like black mould, and taints the very air with a grief you breathe from the moment you step inside?

The scope is endless!

But, it’s hardly original, is it?

Despite the fact that this one actually happened, I reckon you could probably find a dozen crime novels built around the premise of “Curious Kid Discovers Body In Abandoned House” without trying too hard. And probably another dozen each of psychological thrillers, horror stories, kid’s adventures and paranormal romances to boot.

And you know what? They’ll all be different. Some will be great. There will be memorable characters, sadness that stays with you and killer twists. And some will be pretty ho hum.

But at the core of each of them is that same identical 26 word hook (or one-second sound grab). Because the potential for story here is just so immense.

So, yeah. Maybe there’s a thing in your story that’s not so original. Write it anyway. Make it good. If it’s good enough, it probably won’t matter that we’ve seen it before. We can just lose ourselves in it all over again. The frisson of familiarity might even be what makes it for us.

Madonna’s Express Yourself v Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, anyone?


*Russell is from New Zealand. I kind of had to mention hobbits.

How lazy writers are endangering the human race

Here’s me, moonlighting with a guest post over on Alan Baxter’s blog about lazy character development and sexism in animated kids’ movies.

Alan is a writer of dark spec fic and horror, including two novels, Realmshift and Magesign, as well as the extraordinarily useful writers’ resource Write the fight right (he’s a kung-fu instructor, too.) He’s got enough accolades and short stories published to give anyone an inferiority complex, so when he asked me to write up an email rant into a guest post, I was too scared to say no.

Just jokes. But it did give me the opportunity to have a whinge about something that has bothered me for years, especially when my 10 year old daughter asked me last year why there weren’t any cool movies about girls. (I think by ‘cool’ she meant ‘with fighting in’.)

I admit, I was so incensed by Pixar trumpeting the fact that they’d finally (after 17 years) made a movie with a–gasp!–girl in the lead role, I was all set to be completely exasperated by Brave. 

A girl and her mum
A girl and her mum…and a squillion highland warriors

But I wasn’t.

loved it.

Still, an evening’s worth of research using Wikipedia revealed that I was not imagining it…if the sex ratio of the human race (OK, lets go with the idea that action figures, toy dinosaurs, rats, mythical entities and monsters of all descriptions constitute, at least temporarily, citizens of the human race) was anywhere near what it appears to be on the basis of a quick census of Pixar & Dreamworks’ characters…we don’t need to be worried about global warming, folks. We’re well on our way to extinction.

And after two posts and a guest post in one week, I need a Bex and a lie down.