Gerry Huntman is one of the giant brains behind the truly excellent ezine SQ Mag. He's also a writer in his own right, having published over 50 pieces of short fiction, mainly towards the dark end of spec fic. Like me, however, he has a tendency to wander all over the genre as his attention span takes him. His novel, Guardian of the Sky Realms (Cohesion Press), for example, is a young teen fantasy work. You can find more about him over at his Livejournal Blog.
He may also be the only other person besides me who remembers Willard Price's Adventure novels.
Here he takes us on a journey through his development as a reader, and like all good stories, leaves us guessing until the final, climactic reveal of his Precious Thing.
Precious Things: Gerry Huntman
Lee asked me to write a little piece about the ‘one book’ - the one that really affected me significantly.
I find the topic a hard one as I had distinct phases in my life - particularly during my formative years, where reading, and types of reading, were different and had serious influences on my life. I’ll cheat a bit and talk about these phases and then, with a moist finger hoisted into the air, I will choose which was the most profound.
My mother always encouraged me to read, even from a very early age, and I think it had to do a lot with the class system she was brought up in. Both my parents were Dutch migrants, who actually met in Australia, and my mother’s parents were ‘socially mixed’, in the sense that her mother’s family were well off middle class while her father’s family were working class. These days this is nothing, but when they married in the 1930s in Europe it meant a lot, and it did cause a lot of friction. I think my mother always wanted to find a way to have her children climb the social ladder, even though in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s this was almost no issue for me and my brother. Regardless, I loved reading and creating stories of my own so who was I to complain if my mother acquired copious numbers of comics and books for me to read.
At an age when reading meant at least as many words as there was illustration space used in a given book, I improved my reading quickly by reading a lot of the ‘mini books’ that were based on comic and cartoon characters, usually with text on one side and an illustration on the other. Disney’s ‘Little Golden Books’ were particularly loved by me and I can say that they probably represented the very earliest of important reads. That and comic books - Harvey Comics, Disney Comics, etc - all were read voraciously and had positive effects - I even managed to sneak a look at DC comics and the Phantom on occasion.
On the topic of comics, when I was on the cusp of reading full text books, my mother bought for me the complete Classics Illustrated - comics that allowed children to be introduced to classic works. Over 150 of them. It was an amazing experience for me as it gave me the appetite to read these classics, which I eventually did (not all, but most). Another profound effect on me.
I don’t know when or under what circumstance I transitioned to full text reading. The Adventure Series by Willard Price - gosh I read and reread every single book in that series (and yes, boy’s own adventure etc - but it was a different time). I dimly recall a book I read several times at a younger age about children being able to breath underwater and having adventures in the depths of the ocean, but for the life of me the name of the author and the title escapes me - this was formative reading, but Price’s series was probably the big hook on reading novels.
My father was a very big scifi/fantasy reader and could finish a book a night - so we always had a lot of adult speculative fiction lying about the house. It did not take me long to swipe them after him and read them. Did I always fully appreciate them? No - not always as I was quite young, but many books stuck out and I did get a chance to return to them. The Lensman Series was big for me, but I have to say that during my teens the book that affected me the most was The Forever War - I still think it’s one of the best books ever written. At that time scifi was my main gig, but that was because my father preferred the genre - beggars can’t be choosers (in fact my father particularly loved British Scifi and I have had a soft spot for them ever since).
Later, when I had some control over what I could read, I was mesmerised by fantasy - particularly books by Avram Davidson and H Warner Munn. And of course, eventually, I read Lord of the Rings - and was hooked. Horror followed soon after.
So we return to the ‘one’ - was it the first of the Little Golden Books of my early reading, or comics, or a particularly powerful Classics Illustrated edition? Or was it Amazon Adventure, the first of the Adventure Series by Willard Price, or The Forever War? Lord of the Rings? Tough, tough choices and a bit unfair as I implied above. In the end I have to remove myself from the mindset of which I ‘loved’ the most, and instead decide which ‘influenced’ me the most. I choose The Forever War by Joe Haldeman as it was the first adult speculative book I read that TOTALLY captured my imagination, made me THINK, made me GROW and want more.
To further my descent from ordinary son of a bigoted, white, working class, English family to inexplicable arty-farty possible-poofter who 'aint never been t' same since 'e went off to t' Big City darn Sarf, I got me a tattoo for my most recent birthday.
Honestly, I have no idea why, but tattoos are genuinely addictive. I cannot explain it-- although I have confirmed it with others who have them-- but having received my first one, all I can think about is how soon I can go back and get my second, and third, and eighth, and fifteenth.
Seriously. This is me. This is me, now.
So, for today's 5 for Friday, here are 5 designs I'm determined to get.
5 for Friday: Ink Me!
I was lucky enough, for my first two novels, to have astonishing covers created by the superbly talented Nick Castle. Even luckier, Nick was kind enough to create a couple of snips for me to use in promotion, and granted me permission to use the 'hanging jester' section of the cover as my logo, which is why it appears on my letterhead, web pages, and everywhere I can stick it.
I think the above snip is utterly beautiful, and I want it wrapped around my upper arm like a torc.
Madness. The nutty boys. My favourite band of all time. This is fandom, pure and simple.
More fandom, and a choice. I've been a fan of The Lord of the Rings since I was ten years old. I first read the collected edition at that age and re-read it every year until I was well into my twenties. Then, of course, there were the movies. And, yes, basically, it's the overriding literary love of my life.
I'm still undecided over whether I want the original Tolkien-designed logo, the words of the ring itself around my arm, or the full eye of Sauron across my upper back. If my physique was better, there'd be no argument, but I'm a little afraid my fat-arse back fat would make the Lord of all Evil look like he was very, very surprised......
Psi and Phi. I first saw these two letters of the Ancient Greek alphabet entwined together on a tee shirt many years ago at a Swancon. Unfortunately, I was never able to get the tee, but I've always liked the usage to represent a genre and a form of thinking that has meant so much to me over the course of my life. This is one to fill a calf, I think: a nice long, clear space where it can climb, and spiral, and fill.
It's taken 6 weeks to write 5200 words, which for Past Lee is a somewhat glacial pace, but tonight I've finished the first draft of Into the Pit, my psychedelic, post-apocalyptic military SF submission for Cohesion Press' upcoming anthology SNAFU: Judgement Day.
Why is that significant? Well, if you count the picture book manuscript Anthony the Ammonite, it's the second work I've completed this year. And it's been a ludicrously long time since I've finished two pieces of work in the first quarter of the year.
Here's raising a glass to kicking onto number three.
It's taken 14 years, but the Battersblog has just recorded its 150,000th visitor-- or to put it another way, the same number that Neil Gaiman gets half an hour after he farts-- which, given that I rarely have anything worthwhile or deep to say, is a number.
Thanks for reading, and following, and here's to more entertaining nonsense along the way.
I've known Alan Baxter for a while now, although the Australian SF scene being what it is, we've only been face to face on one occasion: a raucous evening at a Natcon a few years back that started with beer and ended with wandering the streets of Perth looking for a decent curry.... and then ended with more beer. It was that kind of Natcon.
Alan writes supernatural thrillers and urban horror, 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. He’s the multi-award-winning author of several novels and over seventy short stories and novellas. You can read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything. He says.
Sounds like a challenge to me....
In the meantime, settle back and enjoy as he lets us view a Precious Thing of real beauty.
Precious Things: Alan Baxter
This my second edition copy of The History of Magic by Eliphas Levi, translated by A E Waite. First published in French in 1860 it was originally translated in 1913 and this is a 1922 second edition of that translation. It's a beautiful book, with ragged page edges and presence and weight.
It's a seminal magical text of the era and seems to hold a magic all its own (which all books do, of course.) This book represents the most I've ever paid for a single volume. My wife and I were travelling down the south coast of NSW and stopped in a small town called Cobargo. There was a great shop there, full of all kinds of antiques and treasures, and in one corner a kind of mini-library. I saw this book and got incredibly excited.
"Are these books for sale?" I asked.
"Yes," said the shopkeeper. "Well, all except the Levi."
I was crestfallen, my hand suspended in space halfway to the book.
"It was the Levi you wanted, wasn't it?" she said.
"Yes. Can I convince you to sell it?" She frowned.
"Well, my rego is due and I've been wondering how to pay it."
There followed much searching the internet and negotiating and I eventually walked out with this book.
I simply can't afford it, and couldn't then either, but I just had to have it. And I've treasured it ever since. It's my own little grimoire.
A couple of years ago, I threw up a post in response to a Triple J segment in which Megan Washington listed 5 songs she wished she'd written. While avoiding life the other night, I decided to revisit the concept, and make it a regular feature of the blog, because why not?
So: 5 for Friday. Whet your appetite: travel back in time to read the original post, 5 Songs I Wish I'd Written. Now, let's journey to The WOOOOORLD OF..... well, today, with a the first entry that is actually the second entry of our brand new segment! 5 for Friday: MADNESS, MADNESS, MADNESS! To paraphrase the immortal Tom Lehrer, Madness have been my particular idols since childbirth.
I've been a rabid fan of the group since 1979, when One Step Beyond strode into my radio and nutted the Neil Diamond/Boston/America MOR pap right in its pasty white face. It was a moment of instant and life-long devotion. 38 years, 12 albums, and millions of sing-a-longs later, I've got a tiket to see them live. For the first time. Am I thrilled? AM I FUCKING THRILLED? So here, by way of celebration, is the first of my Friday Fives. Five Madness songs I need them to play at the concert THEY'RE HOLDING JUST FOR ME EVEN IF SOME OTHER PEOPLE TURN UP, and five songs that show just why they are the greatest band in the history of pop*. (*Yes, they fucking are. Shut up.) ONE STEP BEYOND The song that started it all. The nutty boys. The lads. The Ska Gods. The heavy, heavy monster sound. The greatest introduction to a song ever.
HEY YOU! DON'T WATCH THAT. WATCH THIS!
JOHNNY THE HORSE From my favourite Madness album, 1999's Wonderful, which simply is. It's filled with superbly catchy, singalong masterpieces, such as The Wizard, No Money, and the utterly superb collaboration with the legendary Ian Dury, Drip Fed Fred. But there's something about this song of broken dreams, and the sad descent of a promising mind into delusion and vagrancy, that strikes home, so much so that the opening stanza is the by-line to this very blog. And it's catchy as fuck.
IT MUST BE LOVE
The best cover song of all time? The best love song of all time? Yes, and yes. Just yes.
WINGS OF A DOVE Steel drums, typical Madness hi-jinks, and such a rising sense of joy that it's impossible not to swing in your seat. This is the band at its positive peak, bouncing along for no other purpose than happiness and exultation. Almost supernaturally catchy, it's simply a delightful slice of pop perfection.
BAGGY TROUSERS Come on. You knew it was coming. The greatest explosion of ska nuttiness ever recorded. yes, I could have included Driving In My Car, or House of Fun, or any one of a hundred other slices of brilliance. But play the video, and tell me you'll ever, ever, ever get this song out of your head again. Oh what fun we had, but did it really turn out bad?
Talitha Kalago is an author with a deep love of the horror genre. She lives on the Sunshine Coast, surrounded by tanks of snakes and freshwater shrimp. Talitha loves entomology, rock climbing, reading, web design, photography and video gaming, and is found online at both her website, Traditional Evolution, and her blog.
As might be expected from such a damned cool sort of person, her Precious Thing is both gorgeous, and very, very cool.
Precious Things: Talitha Kalago
When I was sixteen, in 2001, I went to the Southbank evening markets. I was up in QLD alone on holiday and I was actually having a really shitty time. At one of the stalls, I saw a leather-bound notebook holder with a quill etched into it. I brought it for myself, I think it cost about $25. I'd been writing in note books I carried around since I was about six years old. However this was designed to have notebooks slotted inside, so they could be replaced as they were filled. it also has a loop for a pen and another slot, which I keep my kindle in.
I don't think it has left my side since the day I brought it. It sits beside me wherever I am, it goes in my handbag when I leave the house and it rests on my beside table when I sleep. I have filled dozens of notebooks and probably written over 200, 000 words in it. It may be the most treasured possession I own. I don't know what I would do if I lost it.
It's not a book by someone else, obviously. So I didn't learn from someone else's wisdom and I wasn't moved by someone else's words. However most of the books I have written started as ideas and concepts I planned out within it. I definitely learned who I was, through the words I wrote. Everything from love letters, poems, goals, plans, daydreams, snippets of dialogue, ideas, dreams and notes taken during church services, when the pastor really moved me or said something special.
No single notebook could contain all that, no pen could last so long, but the notebook cover protected it all, housed it. I know every ridge and line and stain of the leather. The smell of it. The feel of it. It's almost an extension of me.
It is, by far, my most precious literary treasure.
One of the real issues with my day job is just how much of my energy and commitment it sucks up, often leaving me with very little when it comes time to taking care of the career I really care about. A decade ago, I was averaging ten sales a year. Now I'm lucky if I finish writing three stories in a year.
A case in point is the story I'm currently working on: Into the Pit is intended as a submission for SNAFU: Judgement Day, an anthology of post-apocalyptic military stories that closes on 30th April. I started at the turn of the year, full of piss and vinegar and story ideas. As of yesterday, I'd managed 2000 words. In terms of my previous writing efficiency, that's not even glacial-- it's positively geological.
Thankfully, Luscious has declared today a day of solitary working-- she's got Uni lectures to listen to-- and I've managed to add 1200 words to the story, taking the running total to 3200. At this rate, I may even get this bugger done before the submission period closes.
Into the Pit is one of those stories that has a long lead-up before everything goes tits-up, and it's a relief to get through all the careful placing of chess pieces and finally let rip. Here's the turning point, at 2500 words in....
“A body. I’ve found a body.”
“So?” Burns was behind the Sarge. He turned his back and scanned the room. “There’s bound to be skeletons in a place like this. It was occupied at some stage or another”
“I didn’t say skeleton. I said body.” She backed up until she came up hard against the bar, and turned to face the Sarge, her face white with sudden fear. “Sarge. It’s Burns.”
Sarge vaulted the bar and knelt down next to the body. It was curled up under the shelf, its face turned over its shoulder to stare back at the stunned soldiers. Sarge slowly rolled the body out from its perch, so that it lay on its back in the middle of the confined space. He played his torch over its face, then down the fatigues-clad body and up again, stopping on the name badge above the heart. A single, five-letter word stood out clearly. Slowly, he and Wightman stood and turned to face Burns.
It's Sunday morning: time for a new Precious Things post, and time for a new experience for me-- because, for once, I'm going to introduce someone about whom I know almost nothing.
Pat Cattigan and I have been Facebook friends for 2 years, brought together by a shared sense of humour, usually expressed on posts about football. Pat lives in the original Perth, and follows Celtic Football Club. And that's all I know. Even when I asked if he wanted to provide a bio and photo for this post, he replied with the following:
O Grade in Woodwork. Failed footballer still dreaming of becoming a travelling Hobo.
And, to me, that's the great thing about the internet: under normal circumstances, Pat and I would never meet, or know anything about each other, but here we are, and we all get to know something about his tastes, and something near and dear to me. So, ladies and gentlemen, my pal Pat:
Precious Things: Pat Cattigan
Well. What an interesting question. Firstly I no longer have my most precious literary possession, sadly, I lost it some time ago during some move or other. It was an original Jaws paper back which I bought from a local second hand book shop in Perth (Scotland).
Reason I bought it was because I was obsessed with Jaws the movie. And this was at least a year before I got the chance to see it in the summer of 76 at our local cinema. It also infected me with a lifelong passion for reading and movies, the latter has faded a little.
The bookshop I visited during this time as a 10 + youth was an Alladin's cave of books that is too rare these days and the old man who owned would decide whether I could "have"certain books or not. He didn't let me buy One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for years coz it was too adult.
I couldn't afford new books as we were poor white Irish immigrant trash. And even years later when I could afford them I still bought books there. At some point I stopped going and one day I went looking for it and it wasn't there. A bit like my Jaws paperback which I still hope to find, even though I know it's gone.
I've spent most of the early weeks of 2017 working on a picture book, so I've been playing with rhyme and metre a lot, and think in rhyme and metre a lot. So when one of my favourite Facebook feeds, Grandiloquent Word of the Day, threw this little beauty at me today, it got me playing with rhyme.
Like many of us, the Cheetoh Hitler, Donnie Drumpf, swirls around the empty sewer of my thoughts from time to time, these days. That he is a dangerous, xenophobic, bigot is beyond question. That he couldn't be trusted to sit the right way round on a toilet seat is becoming increasingly apparent, even to those who would struggle to win a battle of wits with a puddle: under which category the vast majority of his voters clearly fit. So when a bout of Google link salad threw this delightful image up...
...I had the makings of the following piece of doggerel. Enjoy.
A very strange beast is the Orange Humgruffin With mind of a fruit and the squawk of a puffin. Sets fire to its nest and stands proud in the flame Points randomly round finding someone to blame.
Speaks only in spirals and a low, droning buzz Threatens walls round his nest but then never quite does. If there’s one fact we know about the Orange Humgruffin It’s quite awful to swallow but perfect for stuffing.
Good news, today, with the release of the 2016 Aurealis Awards finalists. Magrit has been shortlisted in the Best Children's Fiction category: a new category for me, and my 7th nomination since 2004. With six previous nominations and one win, it's time to see if my bridesmaid dress still fits......
It's always nice to be nominated, and it's always great to see the names of friends like James Foley, Kaaron Warren, Juliet Marillier, Deborah Biancotti, Claire McKenna, Kirstyn McDermott and Alan Baxter make the list. But it's always a special joy to see names new and unfamiliar listed: the field of speculative fiction constantly renews, and it's a challenge for those of us with older heads and harder veins to adapt to the new ways of thinking and expression that fresher, lighter word-dancers bring.
So congratulations to all the nominees, and here's to a damn good knees-up on the night.
And on the subject of damn good knees-up (See what I did there? I am available to segue at children's parties), you can now reserve a place to watch me eat at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writer's Centre Christmas in July literary dinner! I'll be performing for my supper, with readings, book signings, possible kitten juggling and even a special guest appearance by a tap-dancing Satan on roller blades*
There are plenty of other dining options throughout the year, so come along for some good food, great company, and the chance to hear some fine literary treats. Or come to mine, it's all good.
(*May not actually happen. Sats is a busy guy, and to be honest, we don't talk much these days. It's complicated, but he met this girl, she doesn't like any of his old housemates... you know how it goes...)