Conflux 12 wrap up – Part II

conflux12headerrgbThis 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.

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.

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 12 wrap up – Part I


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.

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.

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!)




Down the Research Rabbit Hole #3 – with Alan Baxter


Research Rabbit Holes can be fabulously inspirational, or horribly time wasting. They can take you in directions that are wildly irrelevant to your story, or can help you add layers of authenticity and meaning to your work. In this series of blog posts I’m sharing some of my favourite journeys down these Research Rabbit Holes, and I’ve also asked some other writers about their experiences falling into these diabolical black holes of eternal fascination.

Today’s guest is Alan Baxter, award-winning author of dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, including the Alex Caine and Balance series. I threw some questions at Alan and here’s what he had to say.

Tell me a little bit about your latest book and what sort of research you needed to do to write this story.
My current novel in progress is a kind of supernatural crime noir thing. Hard to describe, really! It’s set in London and there’s research as well as memory there, as I lived in the UK until my mid-20s and know London well, but still needed to confirm things and double check locations. Google Earth is great for that kind of research. I also needed to research some organised crime and police procedural stuff. All kinds of fun!

How does research fit into your writing process? Do you research first, then write, or do you research as you write?
I do some research first, then more as needed as I go along.

Is research a distraction or an inspiration?
Both! I love it though – one of the best things about writing fiction is the research avenues it can send you down.

magesignWhat was the weirdest thing you had to research?
Probably cults and brainwashing for my novel, MageSign. Weird, but fascinating.

When you’re writing secondary-world or alternate-world stories, how does real-world research contribute to your world-building?
Suspension of disbelief is essential, especially in alternate world stuff, so the more you make the little things convincing, the easier it is to sell the big fantastical things.

Have you ever researched something that made you abandon a story idea?
Not yet! You can always accommodate it, but it does often mean changing what you were planning.

Tell me about a time when your research threw up something that changed your story or a character.
A novella I wrote recently was another one based around crime and police work. Every time I discovered how the police would respond to a certain part of the story, the next part had to change to accommodate that. The whole story kept changing to prevent the police solving the situation before my ideas could play out!

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog and cat. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.



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.