Friday, October 20, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS

I love a good soundtrack album. A good soundtrack album highlights the narrative of a movie, and provides a beat-by-beat visceral reminder of that movie's significant moments, while simultaneously bringing a contributing artists out of their self-enclosed zone and forcing them to create something to service a wider narrative, or at least to define a visual moment within their own, unique sound.
At their best, soundtrack albums can transcend the movie itself and provide a listening journey all their own, akin to a concept album of the highest water. The very best, for me, become an entity in their own right: you don;t have to watch the movie at all to appreciate the nuances, the narrative, and the emotional impact of the music within.

Here, then, are five of my favourites.


Five for Friday: Soundtrack Albums.


1. The Crow

A thunderous slice of industrial darkness to accompany one of the best comic book movies ever released. The movie is a shadow-drenched revenger's tragedy filled with gallows humour and an overwhelming sense of despair highlighted by one, small, story of light and hope, with brilliant visuals from a director who has never been better. The soundtrack, curated with loving care by Emo poster God Trent Reznor, is a superb combination of covers, re-recordings and originals by bands that were close to the creative process of the original comic book. The Cure song Burn was the lead from the album, and the one most remembered, but I'm going to highlight the song that opened up a whole new fandom for me: the mad-as-fuck industrial After The Flesh, by the mad-as-fuck My Life With the Trill Kill Kult.






2. Purple Rain

Not only one of the best soundtrack albums ever recorded, but I doubt I'd get thrown out of any room for suggesting this is one of the best pop albums ever recorded, period. This is Prince at the height of his pop-funk fusion power: sexually intense, soulful, lyrically ambitious, and with a band so tight and perfectly attuned that every song on the album is a perfect slice of pop brilliance. The movie itself isn't bad, but without this album it would be lost in a sea of mid-80s boy-meets-girl-in-an-electro-synth-teen-haze movies. The album will outlive memories of the film. It really is an utterly brilliant work from an artist at the height of his powers. When Doves Cry, the stand-out track, sat at number one on the charts for something like 486 years. I could highlight any of the other songs off the album, (Darling Nikki is a favourite) but fuck it: it's too brilliant not to share.





3. Tank Girl

I make no bones about it: I love this glorious, B-grade failure of a movie. I love the original Tank Girl comics. I love Jamie Hewlett's visuals. I have a crush a mile-wide on Lori Petty (this movie is the reason why I watched Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn and went, "Meh".) Hiring Courtney Love to put together the soundtrack was simply the most Tank Girl thing anybody could have done. And truth is, it bangs. Songs by Bjork, Devo, L7, Portishead, and more give it an absolute shitload of indie cred, and the great centrepiece of the album, as indeed the movie, is a cynical, fuck-you reworking of Cole Porter's Let's Fall in Love by my lifelong-time rock crush Joan Jett,and Paul Westerberg. It's wonderfully, psychotically loopy, just like the movie and the album producer who spawned it.




4. Rocky Horror Picture Show

It may not be the greatest movie of all time. But for those of us who have raced up and down the corridors of a midnight screening, covering our heads with newspaper and firing water pistols at each other; who have hurled buckets of confetti at the screen and time-warped out into a deserted car park at 3 in the morning dressed in fishnets and sou-westers, it will be remembered as one of the greatest movie experiences of all time. It's the movie that defines cult, and the soundtrack-- filled with perverse show-tune brilliance-- is eternal. Think about this movie. Think about what goes on in it-- the cannibalism, the gay sex, the transvetitism, the braniwashing. And then think that almost every wedding since the mid-70s has featured the guests doing the Time Warp. That's when we started to win the culture war, my freaky friends.




5. Blues Brothers


Full confession: I think the movie is overrated. But the soundtrack. Oh, the soundtrack. Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, all blasting out career-defining songs (for many of us, this was our first taste), and all backed by a genuinely brilliant blues band, made up of the spine of Booker T & the MGs with some very choice additions, including the vastly underrated blues voices of Belushi and Aykroyd. There's nothing fancy or tricky about this album. It's just top-notch performers doing what they do best, on brilliantly penned numbers, with an unrestrained love and joy. And it swings. Hard.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY FIND YOUR FANTASY JIMINY CRICKET IN THE SKY FUNNY



God's a psycho. The Bible is the greatest fictional work ever to feature an unreliable narrator. And Jesus is a member of the cartooning Death Panda fraternity: always funny. Always.



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Experiment 1. Experiment 2: 2016-2049. Experiment 3: Late 3100s?
"Dad, can I borrow...... what the hell?"

Friday, October 13, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: EARLY GODS WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG


Way back when I first started out to be a writer-- no, not back in 2001. Before that. Nope, before that. before that-- yep, back in the late 80s, when I began University and first set out to myself the idea that I might do this writing lark for actual monies, I was a simple boy from a working class background with a very mainstream and staid set of cultural influences.


Except in two regards: one was music, because I had my own boombox and could absorb the late night programs on the FM channels that were still fighting for ascendancy with my parents' easy listening AM mainstays, and using progressive programming and an aggressively contemporary-- still mainstream and radio friendly, but at least up-to-date-- playlist aimed at attracting a younger audience.


The other was reading. My mother was a keen reader, and although we didn't have many books in the house, she was an avid user of the local libraries, and our house had pretty much an 'if you can reach it, you can read it' system in place. Consequently, I was exposed to a wide range of what passed for literature in Rockingham libraries in the 80s (lots of Zane Grey and Jackie Collins, maybe not quite so much Don De Lillo and Jorge Luis Borges...) So I read Lord of the Rings at ten, was openly reading Erica Jong before I finished primary school, became a lifelong fan of Dick Francis and Robert Ludlum at a time when my peers were still reading Roald Dahl and John Marsden, and generally had the run of the local libraries. At a time when you could get a maximum of 2 books out if you were under 15, and 4 if you were over, I had a "how many this week?" relationship with the staff at the little library in Safety Bay that worked wonders for both my imagination and my biceps.


And then there was science fiction. SF was the genre that gave me the hunger, the one that opened my mind to not only what was being done in literature, but just what could be done. When I first started to write, seriously, with intent, in those early years of University, when all my horizons were limitless and my ambitions stretched light years beyond my abilities, I wrote science fiction. And when it came to influences, these were the gods I carried in my back pocket, whose words shaped the style of writer I wanted to be. Earlier on, I discussed 5 writers whose work I love and who influence my current ambitions. Now it's time to look backwards, and talk about those who influenced my early steps.




Five for Friday: Earliest Influences

1. Isaac Asimov

For readers of my vintage, it seems that Isaac Asimov was a nearly ubiquitous gateway drug. It's hardly surprising: he wrote umpty billion books, and his straightforward prose, liner plotting and classic structuring make his short stories particularly easy to assimilate for a reader still learning the dictates of the genre. By the time I reached University I was an avid collector-- the second-hand bookstores were thick with well-thumbed, cheap copies of his work. I soon moved on to more sophisticated exponents, but for a while his industry, work ethic, and ability to mine seams of thought were a template for what I wanted to achieve.



2. Ray Bradbury


I first read Bradbury in primary school. The Golden Apples of the Sun was the book that captured me, A Sound of Thunder and The Golden Apples of the Sun the stories that sank their hooks into me and refused to let go. Bradbury was SF's first great poet, with a style and lyrical simplicity that has rarely been equalled. No other writer of my youth could entrance, frighten, seduce and horrify me simultaneously the way he did. Even now, very few writers can. There was something special about him, something I could not define but that I wanted to capture. Several of my published stories (Murderworld-- about a man trapped in a murderous reality show who chooses instead to walk naked amongst the heavily-armed combatants and persuade them to help him plant a garden-- is the one that springs most immediately to mind) have tried.



3. Harry Harrison


I've blogged before about the SF collection I received for my 8th birthday, and which changed my life. One of the stories in that collection was an excerpt from The Stainless Steel Rat. Once I understood what an excerpt was, I sought out the book. And the next. And the next. Because, dammit, while they were simply told stories, and never pretended they were nothing more than good old-fashioned pulp fun, they were fun. Those stories were the first time I understood the power of voice, of having a distinct and understandable style that could provide a context greater than the simple progression of words on the page. I've dabbled in humour all my life. This was one of the earliest of my influences in that direction.



4. Roger Zelazny

I read Eye of Cat when I was thirteen, and I was never the same again. Zelazny was one of those rare writers whose works never seemed to duplicate what came before. Isle of the Dead and Lord of Light are masterpieces. His collaboration with Philip K Dick, Deus Irae, is delightfully insane. And his short stories, particularly A Rose for Ecclesiastes and The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth blew the lid of my mind. To my unformed reader's mind he was a fucking wizard, and he remains a seminal influence-- looking back, my Father Muerte stories, in particular, owe a lot to his ability to meld different influences into a narrative. When my story, The Glow of His Eyes, the Depths of his Gaze was published, a friend sent me a text that simply said "Zelazny wannabe :)". It was the nicest compliment I received that day......



5. Brian Aldiss

Very early in my University days, I discovered the extensive collection of New Wave SF works in the Uni's library. I fell in love with the works of Harlan Ellison, in particular, as well as Spinrad, Lafferty, Rucker, and Sladek, amongst others. But it was Brian Aldiss who inspired me as a writer: Ellison's looping, hyperactive anger was such a singular voice that I could never hope to recreate it. The others had shades of what I was looking for (particularly Sladek, who could easily have made this list). Aldiss-- more reserved, more analytical-- produced works as equally outrageous, but there was meat on the bones that I could study. Hothouse and Barefoot in the Head were particular favourites-- I still, in fact, occasionally use the latter title as a way of describing someone I think a bit off-kilter. His peak is shorter and less flamboyant than Ellison's, less intensely personal than Sladek's, less outright loopy than Lafferty's. But for giving me a framework in which to start critiquing myself, and tying outrageous flights of imagination to a clear narrative structure, I have Aldiss to thank.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY SAYS SCREW YOU, PERSPECTIVE!



Not a straight line in the whole thing, not an angle that matches any other, but I have an overwhelming fondness for this cartoon. It's one of the first truly good ideas I ever had, and one that requires more than an appreciation of nob gags to get. I've been writing these sort of righteously-deluded characters ever since.



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Time was quantum, as Professor Smedley well knew. It didn't matter if he got dressed now or later, he would still be dressed...

Friday, October 06, 2017

THEY CALL ME...... THE WHITE RAVEN!

The International Youth Library is the world’s largest library for international children’s and youth literature. Founded in 1949 by Jella Lepman, it has grown to become the internationally recognized centre for children’s and youth literature.

Each year, the Library awards the White Ravens – an annual book catalogue of book recommendations in the field of international children’s and youth literature. This year’s White Ravens catalogue contains 200 titles in 38 languages from 56 countries.

The print catalogue will be launched at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair, and all 200 White Ravens books will be on display at the International Youth Library’s stand at the 2018 Bologna Children’s Book Fair.


FIVE FOR FRIDAY: PROJECTS AMONGST THE SAVAGES


So, if you read my post earlier in the week, you'll know that big changes are afoot in the New Year. You'll also know why my writing world has been so moribund lately, and how my career has slowly diminished to the point that its sliding off the rails looked pretty much exactly like the train set fight in Ant-Man, with about as much impact on the surrounding landscape.


This is also a partial explanation as to why Five for Friday posts have been on hiatus for the last 3 months: Real Life (tm) has pretty much eaten everything away.


Still, here we are. With the revelation that, all being well, I'll be full-time Batthaim admin staff come February next year, it seems only fitting that the first Five for Friday post since that particular discussion be on the subject of just what I'll be aiming to achieve in my two-year tour of duty amongst the housebound of outback Western Australia.


Five for Friday: Full Time Writing Projects




1. More Children's Books


A bit of a no-brainer, this one. With Magrit doing well, and Ghost Tracks on the way to being submitted by the end of this year (all the issues I've had in the last 18 months having dented, but not destroyed, progress on this project), it makes sense to dust off some ideas I've had kicking around since my first post-Magrit-sale flush of enthusiasm and see them through to completion. In particular, I'm looking towards the following two:


The Boy From G.O.B.L.I.N.-- a runaway and perpetual troublemaker is forcibly inducted into the Guild Of Beings the Lurk In the Night, a society of monsters tasked with ensuring the supernatural and the ordinary remain separate; and


Antimony Lavage: All Antimony wants to do is drive the train that clatters past the back of her house every day; the one that takes the newly dead and their grieving families from the Necropolis to the magnificent garden cemetery at the edge of the City. But the job is hereditary, and the family who owns it isn't sharing.




2. Bear Hunts


A crime novel. Edward 'Bear' Burrage got out of the game when his mother fell ill. He moved them away from the city, settled in a nice, harmless, seaside town, and dedicated himself to keeping his nose clean and looking after her as the dementia slowly claimed her. When he loses his licence after foolishly celebrating a lottery win, he's blackmailed into helping with a heist on a local Council. And when it goes wrong, and the pieces of his carefully constructed safety start shattering, Bear starts hunting down those responsible.




3. Tales of Nireym


Many years ago, I sold a fantasy story about a young scribe in a strongly patriarchal society, who stumbles across the story of a girl called Nireym, and how she escaped her role and started an underground movement of resistance among the women she met. It's an okay story, and it makes a few points along the way, but I always felt there was more to it than the 4 or 5000 words I committed: the world-building had greater depth than the narrative, and I always felt it deserved more-- there are stories and themes to be explored, cultures to be compared, a deeper and wider narrative to be unearthed. It would take a novel, and now it might just be time to write it.




4. The Canals of Anguilar


Similarly a story I wrote a couple of years ago for the Review of Australian Fiction, featuring a city entirely inhabited by cowards, which could only be reached when all other bolt holes had been dug out. Part dark fantasy; part crime story; part examination what exactly counts as cowardice and bravery, and how the two can be confused, the original story ran a shade over 8000 words, but never really explored the themes and setting to my satisfaction. Like Tales of Nireym before it, I came away feeling that I could have done so much more, given a longer framework. The difference is, I made a start on this one, before everything when splooey-- there are nearly 12,000 words waiting for me to return to them.




5. The Claws of Native Ghosts and Other Stories


I've been chipping away at this one for a few years now: a linked collection of short stories, connecting events throughout the history of Western Australia by revealing a hidden, supernatural  history running alongside, and affecting, European occupation. To date, 3 stories have seen print in magazine format: the titular tale, which concerns itself with the Pinjarra Massacre; Comfort Ghost, which intersects the current Fremantle Arts centre with its past as an asylum; and Disciple of the Torrent, about the Batavia Mutiny. A further story, centred on CY O'Connor's suicide, is in the editing stage. Two years of uninterrupted research and writing should be enough to put together the 8 other events I have listed to work with, as well as any others my research might lead me towards.



Thursday, October 05, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY IS JUST KICKING BACK



Not funny, but there's a louche attitude I like in this one. If I were Luc Besson, I'd make this panel last 14 hours and it would lose $300 million at the box office. Aren't you glad I didn't?


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Wednesday, October 04, 2017

15/18 OF AN 18 MONTH PLAN

It's July 2016. Every morning I park my car in the car park at work, and give myself five minutes to cry before I get out and face the day.

Today is no different. what was a dream job when I started has become a nightmare I can't bring myself to face, but can see no way of escaping. 2 years under a manager who was psychotically work-obsessed to the point where the three co-ordinators who worked under her (I am one) would take turns in being the first to talk to her, so we could report back which personality we were dealing with that day, have taken a toll. She left some months ago, but has been replaced with someone even worse-- a career money, utterly disinterested in the welfare of her staff and of the projects being worked upon in the name of her section. She ignores vital paperwork, distributes blame in buckets, throws her co-ordinators under buses on a daily basis, is untrustworthy, cowardly, and is ruining everyone around her. Already, of the two co-ordinators with whom I've worked for the last 4 years, one has left to take up a job with another City. The other will soon fall pregnant and take a year's maternity leave. Me? I've cracked under the stress. I'm seeing a work-appointed therapist, and I'm on a work-management program. I can't sleep. I'm eating every piece of badforme in sight. I'm drinking. I've used up all my sick leave. Writing is out of the question. There's no hope.

Today is a therapy day. My therapist asks me a simple question: What would you be doing, if you had the choice?

I'd be at home. Writing. But it's impossible.

Why?

I have a mortgage. I have a wife who studies. I have children who have to attend school. I need to feed everybody, clothe them, give them a better life than I had. It's this new thing called 'the real world'.

Yes, he says. I've heard of it. But why you?

It has to be me. My wife studies. She needs that support.

Have you talked to her about that?

What's there to talk about. This is just the way it is.

Why don't you find out?

So I go home, and tell Luscious that I can't take it anymore. She knows what's happening at work, but this time, I unload the full deal. everything that's been happening. All of it. I can't take it anymore, I tell her. I've been at this game for almost 25 years. I'm depressed. I'm burned out.

I don't know what I'm expecting: sympathy, reinforcement, a bit of 'screw your courage to the sticking-place'. After all, this is just the way it is. I'm the income earner. Everybody else has their own things they're trying to achieve. What I'm not expecting is for her to point to the house around us and reply, "Well, I've been doing this for 25 years, and I'm burned out, too."

I hate my job. But Luscious hates hers, too. Yes, she's studying, and she loves it. But she wants it to lead to something. She doesn't just want to be a housewife with a degree. She wants to be out in the workforce, making a difference to the world at large.

She wants to work. I want to be at home.

I look at her. She looks at me.

And that's when we sit down and start to put together The 18-Month Plan.

Put simply, it's this: if I can hang on for 18 months-- through to January 2018-- Luscious will graduate her Bachelor of Arts and enrol into a post-graduate teaching qualification. She'd love to be a teacher. It's something she's thought about doing on several occasions. She's had to fight for a long time just to get to the point where she can contemplate completing a degree, and now that she's about to, she'd love to keep going for another year. Give her that year, and when she graduates, she'll take a job in the country. She'll do the standard two-year tour of duty, re-enter the workforce, and be the primary income winner for the family.

As to me, I'll stay at home. I'll cook the meals, do the cleaning, run the household, and write.

And that's what we set out to do.

We've had some good fortune. Luscious' graduated her degree with marks so high that she was invited to undertake an internship at a school, giving her invaluable 'live' experience that will place her at the head of the graduate queue when she graduates. The hated manager fell pregnant, and her maternity leave replacement is a brilliant, experienced manager who understands what my team and the department we belong to is about. The atmosphere in the office has improved immeasurably. Work is enjoyable again. But I'm over it: I feel no loyalty, anymore. I'm counting down the days. And there aren't that many left.

Luscious has one more term left. After that, assuming she isn't successful in the job applications she's already making, she'll be appointed from the graduate pool in the time-honoured fashion. I'll hand in my notice. We'll leave. By the end of February, we'll be in a town somewhere in the Western Australian countryside. Luscious will be a teacher. And I'll be at home. Writing. Looking after the house. Putting my twenty-five years experience in the arts industry towards setting up a consultancy and curation business. I have a completed novel that I couldn't bring to edit because of the depression. I'm 2/3 of the way through a children's novel that's taken far too long to complete. I've got a list of incomplete projects running to nearly 60,000 words in total. Over the next 2 years I'll get the chance to resurrect my career, and watch my beloved wife achieve the recognition and respect she has long deserved. We're one phone call away.

We're 15 months into the 18th month plan, and I've gotta wear shades.


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

TOM PETTY

Sad news today with the death from a heart attack of Tom Petty. Petty first came to my attention in the late 70s, just before punk hit the mainstream radio stations I was about to listen to in my bedroom when I could escape my parents' AM tastes. Rock and Roll had been over-produced into a bland melange of easy listening tripe in which the likes of Chicago, Boston, and Steely Dan brought the elevator into your living room.

Petty represented a form of American rock and roll where voice was still important, where an individual sound could be identified, where an artist could have a look that stood him or her out from the beige, bearded multitude. He was at the crest of an awareness in my pre-teen self, a coterie that included the likes of Bob Seger, Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett as part of my musical awakening.

I would never have said that I was, outright, a Tom Petty fan. Yet every playlist I've ever created has used his music as a cornerstone. He's one of those artists who has always just been there. His music has been a consistent part of the tapestry of my life. It's not until you isolate him from the rest of the iPod and play him, one song after another, that you realise just how many great songs he recorded, how they've always been with you, and how, somehow, without ever really concentrating, you know every single word of every single damn song. And you sing along. You always sing along. 

 So here, by way of saying thank you for the music, for being part of my tapestry, and for giving me so many joyous riffs and rock and roll moments, are 5 of my favourite Tom Petty songs. They may not be the most famous, or the acknowledged classics, but they're 5 of the many that loosen my vocal chords. I bet you sing along.


1. Don't Come Around Here No More. 

My absolute favourite Petty track, and one of my favourite songs by any artist. A swirling, defiant track, it's the perfect combination of Petty's unique vocal delivery, guitar style, and quirky arrangements. The accompanying video is, without a doubt, one of the greatest music videos ever filmed.

 



2. Billy the Kid
This is a broken song. Petty's voice has diminished to a croak. The guitar layovers are discordant, and loose. Nothing fits. Where Petty's arrangements were always as tight as William Shatner's corset, here they're all over the place, rambling and mistimed. And that's why it works. It's a portrait of a beaten fighter, rising for the last time, whispering "You never knocked me down, Ray" as he's carried from the ring, defiant to the last. It's wonderful stuff.







3. Last Dance With Mary Jane

Petty's stock in trade was a dark Americana that played like a shadowed counterpoint to Bruce Springsteen's more obvious work-- filled with hopeless characters that accepted their fate and rolled the taste of failure around their mouths, savouring it. Springsteen's characters went down to the river. Petty's smoked dope and had desperate, doomed sex. This is a slow, despairing love song to a girl that escaped his dreams, but we all know that where she escaped to was just another version of where she had escaped from. It's darkly delicious stuff.







4. You Don't Know How it Feels
The later you go into Petty's career, the more his slides from pure rock and roll into an electrified country sound that was the perfect primer for my discoveries of Steve Earle and Todd Snider. This is a great example, full of fuck-you false humility and a love of poking at the pain centres in the artist's own psyche.







5. Two Gunslingers

Two gunslingers meet in the middle of a deserted street. The ultimate symbol of Americana. Then Petty does what Petty does: twists the image into a story of loneliness, and despair, and ultimately, the rejection of a story that was written by others with the hero as unwilling and un-consulted victim. There's hope at the end: battered and damaged hope, flickering only because the characters reject their assigned roles in favour of a sort of despairing unknown.






Tom Petty was a unique voice, a dark jester who picked apart the false nostalgia of the Bruce Springsteens and John Cougar Mellencamps and laughed at its pretensions. He coloured my sense of what a rock and roll song could do, without me ever really noticing or valuing it as I should. He will be missed.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY IS THE NEW MADONNA



No other bear would have made this work. None. Pandas are the Death of cartooning. Funny every damn time.


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Adoption Agency.

"We want a sun bear."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY HAS JUST THREE DAYS TO DO IT



I loved Time Team. It tickled every archaeological pipe dream I ever had (I should have listed it higher on my Uni options, I know I should.) But just once, wouldn't it have been nice for them to dig up something really cool? Like an unknown Roman Legion, or a Harrier jump jet?


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"Now get out there and give us a battle Time Team will be proud to dig up!"

Sunday, September 17, 2017

GRILLED BY CHILDREN. WITH FAVA BEANS AND A NICE CHIANTI.

And while we're at it, the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre has posted the interview I conducted with members of their youth holiday program Press Club on Youtube.

So now you can hear more of my fatuous, deluded self-idiocy, but with added vision!

The whole thing is h'year.

HANGING FROM THE HORROR TREE

I've been interviewed over at Horror Tree about many things, including why.... uh... I'm not really... you know... a horror author...
 

PRECIOUS THINGS: LYN BATTERSBY





Well, here we are. The 29th, and final, Precious Things post. And I can't think of anyone better to round off the whole thing than the woman I call 'Luscious', Lyn Battersby.

Lyn is a talented author and editor, with a writing voice I think is utterly unique. Her writing has taken a back seat over the last couple of years while she finishes a University degree. She's currently in the final stages of a post-graduate teaching internship, and as one of the top two or three students in the state, she'll have her pick of assignments when the adverts are answered towards the end of this year. Once she's settled in her new job, she'll be back amongst the pages where she has made her home over the last 15+ years.

For now, however, with thanks to the 28 friends, colleagues, peers, and artists I like and admire who have created this series, it's time for the artist I love to speak.

20130617_102603


Dedicated to Lee and Connor.

And Rebekah Holyoake.


necklace

This is my prized literary possession. It’s not a book, or a poem, or a letter from an author. It is a piece of jewellery created for me by fellow Perth author Stephanie Gunn in honour of a story I wrote in the early 2000s. Called “The Memory of Breathing necklace”, it has pride of place in my jewellery collection and is one of the few pieces I own that is mentioned by name in my will.

So, what did I do to deserve such a beautiful gift?

In early 2004, I began work on a story called The Memory of Breathing. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, it centred on the execution of a child, brought back to life after being put to death for murder.
The story was a hard one for me to write. I was in the midst of a fierce custody battle for my first three children and facing the loss of my pregnancy. The day the story was bought (by Sally Beasley for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine), I had lost the battle with my ex-husband (he used my ill-health and threat of miscarriage against me) and started to bleed heavily.

No, I didn’t lose the baby and now I have Connor, a highly spirited child who is the life and joy of our entire family. I have a close and loving relationship with all my children and I feel I actually won the war with my ex.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet.

I still struggle with the memory of that loss. The ramifications of the custody battle have taken a battering ram to my psyche and I don’t think I will ever heal from the wounds. Connor is a beautiful child, but his health is never great and I still live in fear of losing him. I don’t take his existence for granted because I know it doesn’t matter how wonderful you are as a parent, fate can easily rip your children from you.

This is why the necklace is so important to me.  The twisted stand of beads represents the double-helix of human DNA and it is this which ties me to each of my five children. At the centre of the strand is a large stone, which I see as the relationship that Lee and I have forged. It is my strength when I feel I can’t go on.

I’ve had many moments in my life when I’ve found it hard to breathe. I feel so overwhelmed by life and how quickly it all changes. And yet, there is Lee and with us are our children, the most precious things I have in my life. I wear this necklace quite often, because it grounds me and reminds me what really matters in my life.

Today I don’t write as often as I used to. I have many other things going on in my life and I barely find the time to create fiction. The Memory of Breathing remains my best-known story and even now it sits with a production company awaiting development into a movie. I love that story and I’m proud of it. It reminds me that loss is always with us, but that we go on because of the love we receive from our friends and family.

Thank you, Stephanie, for the gift of my Precious Thing.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY DOES ALIEN COPS BETTER THAN LUC BESSON. WHICH ISN'T SAYING MUCH.



An example of my gag writing being infinitely better than my drawing skills: this looks like I tried to get it to completion but gave up when I couldn't get what was in my head onto the page.

Damn good gag, though.




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"It looks like some sort of ransom note."

Sunday, September 10, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: CAT SPARKS







Cat Sparks has done pretty much everything there is to do in Australian speculative fiction. She's been a publisher, illustrator, and editor. These days, she's expanding her long-standing writing repertoire: she's just released her debut novel, Lotus Blue, and is putting the finishing touches to a PhD in climate fiction.

Here, she takes us back into the depths of her childhood, and goes some way to answering what so many of those of us who call ourselves her friends have wondered: how did she get like that?
 

Ghosts cover

I had thought this particular gem lost to the mists of time – or the travails of practical adulthood at least, but when Rob and I moved house last August, a process by which so many peculiar things went missing (including our Optus set top box and half my winter smalls), at the other end when we unpacked, there it was, a book I swear I had not seen for decades, the book that freaked out my living ghoulies back in the day when I was a 70s preteen.

The introduction to Aidan Chambers’ Book of Ghosts and Hauntings explains that such things fall into four distinct groups: experimental ghosts, crisis ghosts, post-mortem ghosts and ghosts who persistently haunt the same place. The book contains everything my nine-year-old mind could possibly have wanted to know about ghosts, mediums, séances, haunted houses and things that went bump in the night.

The pages were peppered liberally with fanciful black and white illustrations of things people really might have seen: The ethereal ghost of Lady Hoby; a redcap brownie jigging on the tiles; young men tumbled from their bed by a poltergeist; witches cavorting around headstones; a lubin bewitching a ploughman; evil spirits lifting cows by their tails.

The book also featured stern photographs of old stone buildings in which supernatural incidents reportedly took place. Other more interesting photographs of spiritualism in motion included: psychic energy table turning, the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, an infra-red light séance room photograph in which a medium levitates a table. A section on fake spirit photography: the (paper cut out) witch on a broomstick, the loving (cotton wool) ghosts, a ghostly figure on the stairs -- the product of photo-montage and transparent tissue.

And there, nestled in innocently amongst all the rest of it, sat chapter four, page 27, The Hideous Face with Flaming Eyes. No photographs were offered as accompaniment, instead a rather fetching ink illustration.

Ghosts sketch

The story was excerpted from In My Solitary Life by Augustus Hare, set at Croglin Grange in Cumberland. No date was offered, only the fact that the Grange had been owned by the Fisher family for hundreds of years. The Fishers, so we were told, moved out, renting the house to two brothers and a sister. And then one fateful night…

… the sister still felt the heat too great for sleep, and sat up in her bed, still watching the moonlight through her window, for she had not closed her shutters…

She became aware of two lights flickering in a nearby belt of trees… The lights belonged to something moving closer…

Suddenly, she could never explain why, the terrible object seemed to turn aside, and to be going round the house, instead of straight towards her. She sprang from her bed to unlock the door, but at that instant she heard scratch, scratch, scratch at her window, and saw a hideous brown face with flaming eyes glaring at her. She took comfort in the thought that the window was securely locked on the inside, but all of a sudden the scratching ceased, and a kind of pecking sound took its place. The creature was unpicking the lead! A diamond shaped pain fell onto the floor, and a long bony finger came inside, and found the latch of the window, and turned it.

Cutting to the chase -- eventually one of the brothers shot the window-scratching creature, which limped off into a vault in the nearby churchyard. Next day, they found the thing, wounded leg and all, inside a coffin!

 My spongy, susceptible nine-year-old mind believed every word of this account. Every. Fucking. Word. And the knowledge that such a creature had been discovered in the everyday world slid beneath the surface of my comprehension, forming an impermeable layer. That thing was out there somewhere, which meant it might come after me some day.

Cat-1976

A couple of years later my parents decide to take me & my younger sister on a trip through Europe by way of the Panama Canal and Italy. We eventually wound up in the UK to visit a bunch of relatives.

 One of the aunts we met had been making Wombles to sell at a local fete. You remember Wombles? They were everywhere at the time. For no good reason that I can recall, I decided to make myself a doll out of leftover scraps of Womble fur. First I made a skeleton out of pipe cleaners, then sewed on the fur and gave the thing big round sewn-on eyes. I named this doll Miss Fuzzy Wuzzy and my mum made her a little outfit out of denim scrap. Mum was good at making clothing for our dolls.

 But Miss Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't like other dolls. She was an absolute hairy-scary fright. So frightening, in fact, that I then went on to make a magic talisman to hang around her neck to stop her coming alive in the middle of the night and murdering me. Miss Fuzzy Wuzzy was so much like that scratching thing with the hideous brown face and flaming eyes at Croglin Grange. The talisman was a bright pink plastic bead with multifaceted sides, like a dewdrop crystal. I guess it worked because I'm still alive to tell this tale…

Thursday, September 07, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY GETS ON THE PITH

Given the lined note-paper, and the care I took sketching out, I'm going to say it was one hell of a boring team meeting I was stuck in at the time. I clearly was too bored to come up with something funny.

0092

"Hello? Base camp? I haven't found the elephant's graveyard yet, but I think I know someone who has..."