Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Deb Biancotti is one of my buds, ever since her brilliant story King of All and the Metal Sentinel beat out my own entry to win the 2003 Ditmar for Best Short Story. Any con we're both at will find us propped up at the bar, swapping war stories and mocking the world, something we've been able to do on far too few occasions over the years since she insists on living on the wrong, Eastern, side of the country. She's also won a couple of Aurealis awards along the way. Her collection A Book of Endings was shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Book. She's now working on her first and second novels. Her story suite Bad Power is being published by Twelfth Planet Press, and her first novella will appear in Gilgamesh Press's Ishtar later this year. She likes cake. And being brilliant, although she'll only admit to the cake.


The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day. -- Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

You don't have to be an artist, that's the thing. You can go to work, come home, fix a meal, drink a beer, rumble with the kids (if you have 'em) or the pets (if you have 'em) or your partner(s) (if you have 'em). But. You don't have to be an artist.

You don't even have to be an artist if you're a writer. You can write for money. Then you can go to the kitchen, fix a meal, drink a beer, rumble with the kids … I think you see where this is going.

I have to pause and admit I admire the bunch of you who have made the decision to either a) work or b) write for money. No, really, I know you want to think I'm being sarcastic. But I have a deep admiration for people who can find motivation for or satisfaction with things that actually MAKE MONEY. It fixes so many problems if you can like what you do to-make-money. And it makes sense. Why serve two masters? Do one thing, dedicate yourself to it, make money to raise your kids and pay for your beer. But, either way. You don't have to be an artist.

An artist does not necessarily do the thing they do for money. By which I mean: an artist may indeed MAKE money from the thing they do. But that's not why they do it. They may work in paint or paper or plastic or digitalia or words or – oh, words. They may be a writer. But what they do, they would still do even if they weren't making money. They may do it less frequently, they may do it for a foreshortened part of their day. (Because, after all, there's the thing they do for money, and then the going home, fixing the kids, rumbling with the beer, having a … whatsit.) But when they work with their medium – their paint or their words or their 'found items' or their glue, or what have you – they are fitting that INTO a day that may, already, have the work and the beer-kids and rumble-meals.

Some artists will not make money, of course, and they will keep making their art anyhow. I mean, that's up to them. I heard once that Cormac McCarthy was so broke he couldn't afford toothpaste. So when a free sample of toothpaste turned up in his letterbox, he figured he'd keep writing. Instead of making money. Do I admire that? You know, I actually think it points to a flaw in the personality. Seriously, you can't afford TOOTHPASTE? Get a freaking job, dude, what is your problem?

Anyhow, those artists have made their choices. They can make great books with or without toothpaste. I mean, you wouldn't want to hang out with them over beers (first of all, because you'd be the one paying – and also because, whoa, their breath would smell super-bad). But what unites all artists – canvas or paper or word or metal or wood or words, or words – is that motivation to keep doing it not for the money, not because it's easy, not for any other reason except one word: “because”.

Because they feel the story in the words or the sculpture in the marble or the *thing* that comes up from inside. Because an artist “must”. While a non-artist simply “can”.

For me, wellbehaved books with neat plots and worked-out endings seem somewhat quaint in the face of the largely incoherant reality of modern life; and then again fiction, at least as I write it and think of it, is a kind of religious meditation in which language is the final enlightenment, and it is language, in its beauty, its ambiguity and its shifting textures, that drives my work. -- Don DeLillo

Saturday, September 24, 2011


A huge call out to the immortal Seanie-- master of puppets, angry young man, bon vivant, legend, and best of friends-- as he puts 40 years of bolshie misbehaviour behind him and joins the rest of us in looking like the result of a zoo project to breed an endangered species of Robbie Coltrane.

Here's to the times, dude. May they continue long into the night.

We were Gods once, and young.... oh, we really were....


Do be do be do ba do be, do ba do be
Carrot with a face

Ohhhhhhhhhh yeah, babeeeeeee.


Dirk Flinthart is as close to a polymath as anybody I know. I first met him over a bottle of wine at a room party at a con in Canberra five years ago, where his first act was to subject me to a rib-cracking bear-hug that lifted me off my feet. and let's be honest, folks, I ain't no bantamweight.... He's been one of my favourites ever since. Right now, in his own words, he's currently at work on a Masters Degree, two novels, five short stories, a heroic poem, a libretto, his 2nd dan in Ju-jitsu, a black belt in Iaido, three children, a cantankerous wife, fifty rebellious acres of Tasmanian countryside, and a bunch of other things even less relevant to the question of ArtHe's written for quite a range of publications now, and has the distinction of being the most-nominated non-winner of all time at the Aurealis Awards (at least, so says Wikipedia. Dirk can't confirm the claim, but does find the idea amusing as hell.) as well as sharing a Ditmar with Margo Lanagan. He says he'd like to be a writer, but his life is complicated with children and... stuff. But when Dirk does stuff, he does stuff very well indeed. A fiery intellect, a stunning turn of phrase, and ideas that fly off the page with careless abandon-- all Flinthart signatures, and all present in the article that follows.


I’m here by invitation. Lee gives me credit for having an interest in the art side of writing. I think that’s very kind of him, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really considered it in that light.

There’s an old division in the ranks of SF writers. The critics used to talk about ‘stylists’ versus ‘storytellers’. Your man Ray Bradbury, now: he’s the archetype of the stylist. Some of his short work is constructed out of next to nothing, but when he’s on song, his writing is so gorgeously evocative that even a story in which nothing much happens and nobody does anything about it becomes a thing of beauty. 

The flipside is the storyteller: the writer whose work is focused on conflict and resolution, plot and action. Want an example? Isaac Asimov is a good choice. His writing style is pretty minimal. If ‘Nightfall’ was submitted today, it would be rejected out of hand, because the language is clunky, the story is overlong, the character names are painful, the characterisation is perfunctory, and there are plot holes big enough to hide a starship. But ‘Nightfall’ has been voted the most popular story of all time - more than once, if I recall - and the wonder of the idea itself sells the story even now. 

I’m a storyteller. I’d like to be more of a stylist, but I have to work hard at it. On the other hand, my love of stories and storytelling goes back farther than I can remember. I tell stories. That’s who I am. 

This is what drives me. I’m not consciously setting out to create Art. I just like stories. I literally get goosebumps when a nifty idea occurs to me. When I’m trying to work through the details of something interesting, trying to make it come out in a way that says what I think it needs to say, I’ve been known to stop driving the car and sit by the side of the road, staring vacantly into the middle distance until everything sorts itself out. That’s what storytelling does to me.

Art, though. What the hell is that about?

For me, art’s a changeable, mutable thing. When I was a kid of eight, Doc Smith’s “Lensman” novels were the coolest things  I’d ever read. They grabbed my head and filled it with wild, wonderful possibilities. They gave me fantastic new dreams. What more can you ask of Art? 

I can’t read Doc Smith these days. I’m all too aware of the limitations of his writing style, and I’m uncomfortable with the politics of his work, and his depiction of gender, and with the simplistic good/evil dichotomy he presents. It’s not Art to me any more. 

Does that mean it never was? 

I read Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ a couple years ago, on the grounds that a writer ought to be versed in the classic works. I’m pleased I can say I’ve read the book, but I didn’t enjoy it. I found it tedious, self-indulgent, and  overlarded with intellectual in-jokery of the sort that makes me regret that Hitler didn’t include Post-Modernists on his list of things to do. Despite that, I recognise that the book is expertly, densely written, and its recursive, often self-referential structure definitively laid the groundwork for the English novel to become something far more wonderful and challenging than the nineteenth-century inheritance with which Joyce was working. Kudos to the man: the book is Art. 

But it’s not my art at all.

My favourite novel is ‘The Master And Margharita’, by Mikhail Bulgakov. It was written in the mid-thirties in Soviet Russia, and smuggled out for publication. I admire the work because it includes every element that I want in a book: a delightful, engaging story full of clever ideas; vivid, interesting characters; powerful social commentary and strong, thought-provoking philosophy and politics; and a wicked, lovely sense of humour. Though I can’t  read it in the original Russian, I’ve read three different translations, and I strongly suspect that the Bulgakov’s language also carries that element of vision and poetry that gives the best works their special shine. 

So where am I going with this? It’s simple, really. I don’t aspire to Art. I write stories because if I didn’t, I’d be telling them in other ways. I do that anyway - the shared webcomic I do with my eldest son, simply for the fun of it; the anecdotes at dinner and parties; the blog; my letters and emails, etc.  I can’t walk away from storytelling, so it makes sense to try and do it well, I figure. 

Do it well. That’s the real challenge. I’ve outgrown simplistic fiction. I would never argue it doesn’t have a place — clearly, Matthew Reilly and Dan Brown are making people happy! — but it’s not my place any more. Therefore, when I create a story, I try to create a story that I’d enjoy reading, which means a certain density, texture, depth, and complexity as well as ideas and action.  I don’t always succeed, but that’s okay: rejection letters are useful learning tools. 

Is this Art?  I write these stories to pose questions to myself, and to frame certain ideas that make me feel strongly. I work at the structure of the piece until it says what I need it to say, and then I carve away everything I can find that doesn’t say it, and hopefully, I’m left with something that carries feeling and meaning, but remains interesting and entertaining to read. Doing that: yes, I suppose it’s an art. Certainly, I get a lot of satisfaction out of a story which comes out right.

Does that make it Art from your viewpoint? I don’t know. Maybe. If the story catches you unawares, cracks your head open, makes you think in a new and different way or helps you uncover an understanding you couldn’t articulate for yourself, it’s probably art. But I wouldn’t know. Once it leaves my hands, I have no control over what it does any more. Beyond that point, it belongs to the reader.

And that’s the dangerous part, right there. Because everyone brings their own baggage to this Art thing, you understand. We look at the famous cave paintings of southern France, and we see beautiful, articulate, energetic, virile depictions of long-gone beasts, and if we happen to be Picasso, we say “Ahh. We have learned nothing!” Yet we really have no idea what that long-dead artist intended. For all we know, those paintings are insulting graffiti, or blasphemous images scrawled in defiance of some neolithic  church. We can guess; but ultimately, we have no context, no certainty, and therefore any ‘meaning’ we read into those images comes from ourselves.

This is the paradox which reveals the ultimate ugliness of the Censor. When Kevin Rudd dismisses any possibility of artistic value in photographs of a nude teenager, he’s telling you about himself, not about the photo. He’s telling you that he can’t look at such images without finding something abhorrent in himself, and his own response — and he is assuming that you must be as perverse and weak-minded as he. When Fred Nile starts a crusade against Serrano’s “Piss Christ”, he’s telling you nothing about the work. Instead, he’s telling you that he’s terrified of the thought that just maybe all the stories about his beloved God really are just a bunch of stories, and he’s desperate to prevent you having the same idea. 

All of this leads me to my final point. I don’t know if what I do is Art. I’ll never know. That’s all right by me. I do this because it’s who I am, not because I want to be remembered. I don’t even really know what Art-with-a-capital-A is, because it seems to me that it’s always personal, and depends as much on the audience as on any artist. But I do know that art is important, because it demands thought. It uncovers new ideas, and drags old ones out into the light where they can be examined properly. Art provokes questions: often very uncomfortable questions. 

And that is exactly as it should be. Because of course, censorship is the diametric opposite of Art, and therefore if we do not have Art, we as a people are forced to live inside the timidity, the narrow-mindedness, and the prurient perversity of Rudd, Nile, and the rest of the censors. 

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be dead. 
- Show quoted text -

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Karen Miller is in serious danger of contracting word poisoning. She's been writing professionally since 2005, and since the publication of her first fantasy novel The Innocent Mage has written 17 novels.  They cover epic historical fantasy, media tie-in work for Star Wars and Stargate SG-1, and the Rogue Agent fantasy series under her pen name K E Mills: there's simply too much Karen for one name, and not even in a He's-Fred-but-on-Friday-nights-calls-himself-Jessica kind of way. Her work has been short-listed for both the James Tiptree Jr award and the Aurealis Award, so you know she's damn good at what she does. When she’s not busy at the computer, Karen enjoys acting and directing at her local theatre company. Before she realised her dream of becoming a professional writer, she studied for and was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (Communications) degree and a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature, and worked in a wide variety of jobs, including: horse groom, college lecturer, PR officer in local government, publishing assistant, and owned a specialist science fiction, fantasy and mystery book shop. She's one of the people I seek out to sit next to at cons: literate, intelligent, bawdy and always, always thinking, not to mention unfailingly kind: my first serious contact with an agent was because Karen bumped into her at an airport and thought she'd be a good fit for me. Karen's website and LJ are always highly readable, and so is the article that follows.


To be honest, this one’s got my head in a bit of a tailspin. And as a result it may well be that what I’m about to say is going to ruffle feelings, which isn’t my intention. But it is what it is … so …

I am not comfortable  with the notion of framing myself as an artist. And I’m not comfortable with the idea of seeing myself as someone who has important things to say, whose purpose is to enlighten the reading public with the brilliance of my insights about … whatever. I don’t think it’s my place. I don’t think it’s my job. I think the audience, the reading public, gets to decide what is or isn’t important about my work, or works of literature in general.

First and foremost, I see myself as an entertainer. A yarnspinner, a storyteller, someone who’s been blessed with the gift of the gab.

Does that mean I don’t have opinions, thoughts, feelings, about a whole range of subjects? Hell, no. I’m about as opinionated as they come. I have more opinions than I know what to do with. But should I use my fiction as a vehicle to parade my various thoughts and opinions?

No. I don’t think I should. Because as a novelist, a writer of fiction, I believe I’m making a promise to the reader who picks up my book … and that’s not the same promise as would exist if I’d written a work of  non-fiction, or autobiography.

And I say that being fully aware of the fact that a writer’s life experience informs all aspect of the writing, that we all proceed using a road map of conscious and unconscious assumptions, beliefs, prejudices,  points of view and perspectives. For example, one reason why I write fantasy is because I really do believe in the concept of good and evil. I believe that power can corrupt. That greed is poisonous. That weak people do terrible things to compensate for their failings. That good people can make a difference in a sometimes dark and dangerous world. And I think there is a style of fantasy fiction that allows me to explore those beliefs. So as far as it goes,  yes, it’s true. My opinions are informing my fiction.

But I also think there’s a fine line that writers walk , a line that when crossed leads us into writing thinly-veiled polemics, into riding our personal hobbyhorses into the realms of non-fictional lecturing. And when we do that, I think we’ve let down the readers. I think when a reader walks into a bookshop and starts browsing the fiction shelves, they’re looking for a great story. Yes, they might also be looking for a story that makes them think, gives them a chance to see the world in a different light, to reconsider their world viewpoint. All of that. But mainly, I think they’re looking for great entertainment.

That’s why I’m wary of falling into what I think is the trap of defining my own work. I don’t think it’s up to me to decide that I’m writing something  ‘special’ or ‘important’ or ‘socially relevant’. I’m afraid the minute I start thinking that way, I’m going to lose my connection to the reader. I’m going to cross the line from entertainer to pontificator.  Most fatally of all, I’m afraid I’m going to start thinking of myself as superior to my readers, that my purpose is to point out to them all the ills of the world that I understand so much better than they do, and that their purpose is to  receive my wisdom with awe and gratitude.

So how do I, as a writer, try to walk that fine line?  To keep my focus on reader engagement, and not reader enlightenment? Thinking about it, I’ve come to this conclusion. I think that if I start a story from a place of polemics: I believe that unbridled capitalism is evil and I’m going to write a story showing that, then chances are my story isn’t going to please a lot of readers, because my primary purpose for writing isn’t to connect with them and entertain them with a rattling good yarn, it’s to lecture them and prove my point.

On the other hand, if I happen to think that unbridled capitalism is evil, but can explore that idea as I investigate the lives of a cast of characters in an engaging way, then I can make my point effectively and subtly, while never making that point more important than the needs of the reader … which is, more often than not, to be entertained.

There’s an argument that gets made that says not to address matters of social importance in fiction is to support the status quo, to give tacit approval to the ills of the world. There are writers who rail against the complacency of audiences who only read so they can have their narrow views of the world  comfortably confirmed. There are people who feel that writers have some kind of obligation to challenge the status quo, to shake the tree, to rock the boat.

My feeling is that while there’s merit to that argument, at the end of the day it’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it.  If we let ourselves become strident and condescending, if we’re so busy shaking our fists and stamping our feet and demanding that people pay attention to what we’re saying because we’re artists – and by implication better and special – that we forget  about the person who picked up our book in the first place, and why they picked it up,  then  I think we’ll most likely lose any chance we have of making a connection that will let us ask questions and challenge preconceptions and  encourage people to see the world through different eyes for a while.

Let the readers decide if the books I’ve written are art. My job, I think, is to do my best to see they’ve not wasted their money.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Catches six year old son pretending to measure things with his father's tape measure...

ME: Give that to me. I've told you that's not a toy.
CONNOR: I'm not doing this for fun!

Where the hell do I go with that?

Sunday, September 18, 2011


What to say about the inimitable Jasoni? I met him during my tutor week at Clarion South back in 2007, and it was love at first sight. He submitted a story that was incendiary, rippling with invention and word play and the sort of internal logic that marks out the very best talents. It was also a play-by-play retelling of Frankenstein. And when I took it apart, piece by piece, and whipped his back with the shards, he took it with humility and much note-taking, and has never looked back since. Later that day, Lyn took him food shopping, where he presented her with a shopping list consisting solely of the words "Pies and pasties and sausage rolls and shot." Clearly, this is a man who does not think like others, but then, this is the man who has gifted us (and I do mean gifted) with stories like Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh, for want of a jesusman, and The House of Nameless. he is a special talent. He lives in Adelaide with his lovely wife Kate and their little boy, and is a shameless punner of the punniest puns in Punnington. You can also find him at


The first thing most folks say when asked to quantify or measure art is the hoary chestnut: "art is subjective" thing. This is true. This is also a cop-out :) Of course, we all see a piece of artwork differently, and that's kind of the point. The muse's feather, brushing against someone's hind-brain, inspiration then spat out through an imperfect medium and absorbed into another brain, via their own life experiences, their own wiring. If the travel of an art-form from creation to consumption were mapped like a circuit board, it would be the most wasteful circuit ever, losing power and capacity at every turn.  

Despite this rather frustrating truth, art is awesome. Couldn't live in a world without it. The creative squeezings of the human brain are, quite possibly, right up there on the apex of human achievement, but more importantly, art is our humanity at its purest, its most important. It's the way we see ourselves, offered up in a heady mixture of truth and bullshit. Beads and mirrors for the human race, offered up by the muses, shiny pretties that, on the face of things, don't amount to much. Does an artist build bridges, farm crops, heal the sick?

If an alien intelligence were to gauge the value of human occupations, I've got the feeling that our skillsets would come pretty low on the list. Can't use a sonnet to unclog a dunny, a marble frieze can't feed anyone, and you sure as hell can't deliver a baby with a string quartet. But all of these things are WORTHY. Because art brings resonance to our existence, and again, holds up the mirror to humanity.

When thinking of the writer as the artist, I would argue (with some bias) that we are the best sort of artists. For we are the bullshit artists. In no other medium does the creator get such leeway, such a scope of opportunity. We're not bound into the forms and modes of a visual medium, and don't have to operate to the rules (or lack thereof) of music. We scribblers get the chance to connect directly with someone else's brain, and I'd even daresay that our medium has the least loss of power in the Muse-Creator-Consumer circuit.

That's not to say that writing isn't without its own modes and restrictions, but we writing folk can perhaps more easily bypass these. It's oh-so-easy to just let the writing mind slip its gears, and since the ascendancy of literature, abstract art has never been easier for humanity to reach. In genre writing for example, there's some amazing stuff in the slipstream genres, a true marriage of the fantastic and the impractical. But damn, when someone gets it right, it keeps me interested, in ways that dragons and moon-rockets and vampires stopped doing several years ago.

When writers give themselves permission to fail and dance about on tall ledges, the results can be glorious. Again, in the scope of genre writing, where suspension of disbelief is much more central to most of these premises, upping the ante becomes that much more difficult to pull off. In Lee's own parlance, no-one remembers the bus drivers of fiction, but everyone remembers the fighter pilots, the guerrillas and the rebels.

We're also the most frequently imprisoned brand of artist, but it's not always the journalists and social commentators who end up behind bars or punished in courts of law. Song-writers, novelists, poets, comic writers and playwrights. The dude who writes an inflammatory statement on a wall, probably even a jingle-writer or two somewhere along the line. Punished for creativity, for saying things that rock the boat.  

So, all hail the bullshit artists, the dabblers in the abstract, guerrilla fighters in the war on literary mediocrity, on mediocrity full stop. When we writers get it right, when that imperfect circuit board operates at something near to full capacity, it's like the muse's feather gently brushes against both writer and reader, in an almost religious way. In fact, you could say that it's an Art Tickle of Faith.

In closing, writers may sometimes be arrested, but incorrigible punsters are usually lynched.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Jason Nahrung is one of the most stylish fellows I've ever met, both in person (he has the best shirts ever), and in his writing. It's always a massive pleasure every time we cross paths, and I couldn't have wanted a more fitting and pleasurable person to present me with my Aurealis Award. Jason is everything I'm not: cool, laid back, laconic, and able to look good in black. He grew up on a Queensland cattle property and now lives in Melbourne with his wife, the writer Kirstyn McDermott, who will be joining us a bit later. His stories are invariably darkly themed, perhaps reflecting his passion for classic B-grade horror films and ’80s goth rock. You can learn more about him at but we've got him for the next few minutes, so sit down and listen, all right?

'I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.'
It's a quote from Oscar Wilde that has seen other iterations. If it makes you laugh, or grimace, or perhaps do both, then chances are you're a writer.
Watching the statistics for the burgeoning self-published e-book market, I can't help but wonder how many of these literary entrepreneurs have spent the day staring at their work seeing no symbols other than a dollar sign. In the rush to make a buck out of the new frontier, where the only gatekeeper is a bank account and access to a print-on-demand facility, is the focus on the art and craft of writing being lost?
It isn't just an issue for self-publishing, of course. Those two aspects of writing -- the art and the craft upon which it is based -- have always sat uneasily side by side, dissing each other with genre aspersions, digging each other in the ribs with sales figures and literary awards. Legacy publishers are guilty of making available poorly edited, structurally unsound and otherwise poorly executed stories; copy editing is the most visible victim of decreasing investment in the finished product.
The situation is made even murkier by the general low regard for writers, and writing, within society. You published a book? You must be rich, now. You wrote a book? Wow, how hard can it be, then -- Publish it yaself, didya? You wrote a book? You must be a snob, a geek, a layabout. No ticker-tape parade for you!
Arguably, of all the arts, writing is the one most accessible: the material requirements are low and the perception is that, to practise it, the skill set amounts to being able to hold a pen, or type, even one-fingered will do. We all have a story in us, we're told; the understanding follows that we are all equally capable of telling that story through the written word. After all, most people in the western world write every day. They learnt it at school. How hard can it be? Yeah, I've always thought I'd knock out a book one day, when I get a spare moment ...
Indeed, the craft can be learnt. Here's a noun, here's a verb; here's where the commas go. Talk to anyone who's read a slush pile, and you'll hear how even those most basic of grammatical instructions can prove mysterious. Almost as mysterious as the professed writer who declares they do not read, or read only their favourite author, or read only one genre. I'm not feeling the love, there.
Which leads me to the art. I don't consider myself to be particularly artful when it comes to stringing my words together. I don't consider that I'm a great stylist. I'm aware of gaps in my literary education. But I love my words. I love changing them around to see what difference it makes. I love taking out the comma, and putting it back in again. I am, I think, a proficient craftsman -- a wordsmith, if you will. But an artist? Hm. Grey areas and accusations of snobbery abound.
I'm not sure the art can be taught, although I suspect a voracious reading appetite matched to critical awareness is part of it; so, too, an ear for nuance and rhythm; a degree of pedantry might also help. Passion not just for storytelling but forlanguage: most definitely. No, I'm really not sure that these things -- this innate, even arcane, talent for using the right words in the right order -- can be taught. 
It's the coming together of art and craft that makes a good book into a great book, and there's no formula for it. It can't be mechanised. It can't be measured in sales figures, either. A technically sufficient, artfully deficient story can tap the zeitgeist and go gangbusters. The artist's sculpted vision may languish. Go figure.
Of course, not all writers want to be artists -- as long as their story is out there, they're happy -- and among those who don't, money isn't the only driving force. We write, and we seek publication -- to have our stories made available to an audience, through whatever channel -- for myriad reasons. Financial and critical success will fall where it will: that's the mystique of the publishing world, the lottery element that stokes the desire of so many aspirants. Accepting our limitations and shaping our aspirations accordingly makes good sense, to me.
The thing is, regardless of what we want from our writing, the vocation deserves respect: if not from the broader community, at least from its practitioners. That respect begins with acknowledging the craft: learning the tools and the materials, finding a voice, making the finished product as good as it can be. Writing is not just the fallback position for those who can neither play a musical instrument nor paint; it is unlikely to be the best paying job you can do in your pyjamas.
Maybe it's in the commas that the benchmark of the writer lies. If you're a writer, the commas matter. 


Enrolments are now open for the Australian Writers Marketplace Online Learning Centre's October intake of my 6 week Writing The SF Short Story Course.

The July intakes rocked the granny's panties, and were full of vibrant, passionate, and altogether excellent commentary, opinions, analysis and most importantly, stories.

If you want my undivided attention for six whole weeks, and a guaranteed half a dozen solid gold stories that will make your fortune and turn you into the world famous Rock & Roll Tyrannosaurus Sex God of Speculative Fiction * you always knew you really were deep down inside, then knock on over to the AWM Online site and enrol now.

I guarantee you'll feel better for it.**

*Actual Rock & Roll Tyrannosaurus Sex God status not included. Some things you just have to work at.

** No genuine feelings of.... actually, no, I do guarantee you'll feel better for it. If you can't feel better after immersing yourself in being a writer for 6 weeks, you're probably not a writer to begin with.


It's spring, and a young genre's mind turns to many things: producing baby books, the glint in the eye of a particularly alluring anthology, popping in and out of each others blogs and.... well, blogging.

Over at the Fablecroft Publishing blog, Tehani Wessely has invited a bunch of established Australian authors to comment on their interactions and personal history with the indie press, and my offering has now been posted.

Surprisingly, I get a bit ranty. Who'd have thunk it?

You can read the ongoing series here, and it's genuinely fascinating stuff. Go, read, enjoy.

Monday, September 12, 2011


In the wake of my ranty ranty art post, I thought it might be interesting to ask some of my more artistically inclined peers-- writers whose art I admire, and/or whose approach and way of thinking has inspired my own thought processes-- to give us their views on the writer as artist.

First to join us is the lovely Thoraiya Dyer. I first came into contact with Thoraiya when she emailed me to ask some searching and incisive questions regarding the Aboriginal spirituality portrayed in one of my stories, and to discuss her misgivings about the difficulty in portraying that spirituality in one of her own works. That story, Night  Heron's Curse, published in ASIM, is frikkin' fabulous, and was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award in 2008, proving beyond all doubt that she has no need to ask the likes of me for advice about anything. Since then, over a dozen of her short stories have appeared in such places as Cosmos, Aurealis and Zahir. her novelette The Company Articles of Edward Teach was winner of the 2011 Ditmar Award for best Novella/Novelette, and Thorayia was awarded Best New Talent in the same year, making us New Talent Buddies or something. Her urban fantasy short story Yowie, from the Locus-recommended Twelfth Planet Press anthology Sprawl, was joint winner of the Aurealis award for Best Fantasy Short Story of 2010. Twelfth Planet Press will publish a collection of her original fiction as part of their Twelve Planet Series in 2012.

I finally met her in person at this year's National SF Convention, and she is as lovely in person as she is in electronica. You can learn more about her at her website, but for the moment, if you would be so kind, I give you Thorayia Dyer:

There are all sorts of parallels between writers and visual artists, and it’s a fun way to explore my taste in books and in paintings. Why do I like what I like? How can I try to write things that other people will like?

My very favourite paintings meet three criteria.

First: I demand outstanding technique. I want to feel like the artist’s fingers have bled, that they have stayed up til dawn to master techniques that a novice couldn’t dream of.

I want to see the evidence in a painting’s composition, movement, colour, brushwork – anything! – that those facets have been studied, that they have been considered, that they have been deliberately applied, that it isn’t all just a happy accident like patterns of moonbeams or rain. Not only because the results are stunning, but because dedication to a skill makes me feel respect and awe for the artist and prepares me to absorb the message.

Second: The message. I want a topic or theme that challenges, moves, informs, or – yes! – even entertains me. As long as it incites some sort of memorable response.

The final criteria, tied in with the message, is the ability for me to understand that message, and here’s where the visual artist has a choice.

To communicate clearly with symbolism that most people will understand (paint a big gold halo around the head of that saint!) and risk being scorned by critics?

Or, to communicate, perhaps with more complexity and depth, with those who are students or lovers of art (the tree in Van Gogh’s Starry Night connects earth and sky; the element is repeated in the church steeple which connects people and heaven, the message is the beauty of nature as a facet of Creation), but to risk having the message missed by many or most people?

Written works follow the same pattern, really.

There are books that have clearly been written in an oblivious, rapturous way by authors who were struck by a good idea, but, even if they did read other books before they started writing, they did not think critically about what they read and how they might apply the techniques they encountered.

There are books that have great technique but no message; nothing to make me think profound thoughts or feel some powerful emotion.

There are books that have messages, but I don’t have the skill to decipher them. (I often like to call this “poetry”! When poetry is self-referencing, the meaning is lost on me because I haven’t read enough poetry, which makes me sad and also feel a bit stupid. But I did choose Veterinary Science and not English Lit.)

Then again, when a message is too transparent, I don’t like it either. I like to earn my supper, when I’m in the mood, and when I hear people complain about a science fiction story that they hated, but that I loved, it can be because familiarity allows me to decipher conventions that they don’t have the tools to decipher.

Sometimes being able to understand a dense literary novel makes me feel clever, and that’s rewarding; who doesn’t like to feel they are good at something they have practiced? The skill to do that is no different to the skill my husband has, which is to take mechanical gadgets apart for the pleasure of seeing how they work and then have the ability to appreciate and applaud some clever engineer’s innovative solution, while I’m staring at it and wondering exactly what it’s for.

Am I difficult to please? Yes, but so is everyone, and everyone has their own criteria, and all criteria are valid. Just because another person doesn’t care for technical excellence doesn’t mean that what they love isn’t art.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I meant to post in the wake of my guest speech at the KSP SF Awards a few weeks back, and commit to blog those thoughts I had spoken in person. I've got a few minutes. Let's do it now.

For the last decade, I have been a writer. I've been writing a lot longer than that-- my first publication was back in 1989-- but for the last 10 years my writing has followed a discrete career arc, with ambitions and learnings completely separate to my day to day existence. I am a writer. I have never considered myself an author, and I delineate the difference thus: an author is one who publishes large works, and plays out their dramas as much in the public sphere as behind the desk-- think Rowlinson, James Clavell, Stephen King; a writer simply writes, and works to create art, and tries to build good fortune along the way without utilising ones self as part of the message. It's not a real solid definition, and it doesn't imply a value judgement to one side or the other, and frankly, you could pick holes in it for fun any time you like. But it works in my mind. However, there's one word in there that people seem to struggle with when I mention it in the same breath as writing, or speculative fiction, and that's art.

I'm not going to argue the relative merits of SF as a genre. You like it or you don't, and either is fine by me. I don't even consider myself an SF writer: I've written poetry, plays, film scripts, stand-up comedy routines, jokes, reviews, interviews, articles, educational courses, and sundry other forms along with SF. So no, I'm not going to argue over whether SF is any more or less worthy than poetry or lichrachoor or dirty limericks. But I will argue that writing is as much capital-a Art as sculpture, or painting, and what's more, I'll even define what type of art it is:

Writing is abstract art, and I can prove it.

Take a look at this picture.

I'll give a nice, yummy e-Freddo to anybody who can name this picture, without looking it up on the net, or asking an art historian friend.

Truth is, you cannot define this picture just by looking at it. It's non-representational. It doesn't look like anything, except for those subconscious links and images we ascribe to it from within our own experience. To you it might look like lit roads at night. To the person next to you it might resemble a micro-chip in action. That guy over there might see a cubist playing Pac-man. It's abstract art, designed to push past the immediate emotional responses of representational recognition ("It's a tree, I like trees, I have a nice memory associated with a tree, I am happy, I like this painting.") and strike emotional triggers from deeper within the viewer's subconsious.

And for the record, it's Broadway Boogie Woogie, by Piet Mondrian. Have a Freddo.

How is all this related to writing? Like this:

Let's pretend there are thirty of us in the room. If I hold up, say, a carrot:

Let's all pretend this is real, shall we?

Everyone in the room sees the same carrot. From different angles, perhaps, but still, the same carrot. Now, if I hold up a picture of a carrot:

Ceci n'est pas une pipe. Ou une carotte.

Again, whilst we aren't viewing an actual carrot, we're all looking at the same image, and the agreement that the image does, indeed, represent a carrot, would be implicit. However, let's now take a look at the word itself:


If I ask everyone in the room to draw the carrot they see when I hold up this word, what odds would you give that every image is exactly the same? What odds on any two of them being the same? What odds on even you and the person sitting next to you producing exactly the same image?

The word 'carrot' only signifies the orange, conical, stick-tasting root vegetable in question because we, as writers and readers, engage in an unspoken compact that this is what that particular arrangement of letters signifies. The word itself, and the letters that make it up, hold no meaning whatsoever outside those which we agree upon. Should any individual member of our little cadre stand up and say "That word does not mean carrot. It means Nose-emancipator", we have no moral right to tell them they are wrong, other than the fact that we have all agreed upon the word's meaning.

Cut a carrot up, boil it, mash it, whatever you like, and it remains, inherently, a carrot. Cut a picture of a carrot out of its frame, glue it to the Mona Lisa, cut it into strips and stick them around a door frame, and it remains, inherently, a picture of a carrot.

Cut the word 'carrot' into its separate letters and place them in a different order, or distribute them throughout different words, and the word 'carrot' disappears. Hell, turn one letter upside down, and the word disappears.  An 'arrcot' is not orange, nor does it taste like a stick, even though it contains all the necessary letters. Unless we all agree upon it, and even then, we'd have to persuade everyone who speaks the language.

Meaning, agreed upon only because of the unwritten contract between artist and audience, eliciting an individual emotional response determined purely by the sum of experiences the viewer brings to the task of viewing the object. Abstract art, magnified by the fact that we, as writers, choose the order and weight we ascribe to each individual abstract element (Letter? Words? Punctuation? what are these things?)we use to create that emotional response.

How many of you, reading this post, heard my voice in your heads? How many heard your own?

Art is not comfort food. Art should never be comfort food. Great art does not reinforce that which we already hold to be true. It challenges the status quo. It undermines belief. It forces us to consider questions about ourself, and our perceived reality, and our place in the infrastructure of our society and culture, that we may never consider otherwise. Truly great art changes the viewer: the experience of viewing alters the audience, so that once the world is perceived in a particular way it can never be un-perceived. The audience, having come to this new state of mind, can never go back. The world is not the shape as it once was. The mind is not the same place it used to be.

Artists have a responsibility to change us because it is the nature of art to show us reality, not as we wish to close our eyes and see it, but as it could be, whether that be for good or bad. Artists look into the abyss and report back what they find. Writers are guerilla artists, because what we do is never representational: by the very nature of the art form it cannot be representational. It can only be aspirational, can only speak to those layers of emotion and reason that exist below the surface. Writers create new meaning with every choice of word, or phrase, or simile: love is not sex is not shagging is not rape is not 'doing it', and each time we choose one description over the other we steer reality in a new direction of our choosing.

Writing was the last of the classic art forms (writing, sculpture, theatre, music, painting) to directly reach the mass audience, and the first-- and most brutally-- to be suppressed, because its audience needs to be taught a set of skills simply to receive it and to form an emotional response, but once those skills are learned, and once that emotive response is formulated, it can never be removed. The mere act of reception forces intellectual and emotional advancement on the part of its audience in a way that other art forms are simply not designed to do. Writing is the only art form that inextricably ties intellect and emotion into the mere act of reception.

To be a writer is to force your way of thinking onto the world in a way which can never be undone. And that, to me, is the greatest aspiration towards which an artist may reach.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


According to Darkcounter, the last two Google searches that sent people to this blog were "pictures of handsome Jehovah's Witnesses" and my old friend "Billie Piper's Nipples".

I'm going to be trying to fit them into the same image for days..... :))


Today has just been one of those days where the good arrives in numbers.

This weekend is Luscious Lyn's annual Jehovah's Witness convention, so this morning the kids and I dropped her off at the Burswood Dome and shuffled into the Perth City Centre to pick up Blakey Boy's birthday presents for next weekend.

As always, kids + me + Perth = the museum, to gape at the mummified thylacine, boggle at the size of the muttaburrasaurus skeleton, open all the drawers in the discovery centre, and generally run up and down the corridors pretending to be dinosaurs. Where the kids used some of their going-out money to make their Mum a badge because they decided she needed one to make up for not being with us. And the birthday-shops in question had mega-cool stuff just begging to be Blaked. And Connor was pulled out of the crowd around a street magician to be his assistant for a bunch of tricks. And even the happy meals the kids had for lunch contained exactly the right random toys to make them happy (A Wolverine for Connor and a singing Smurf for Erin.)

An anonymous street magician and the C-Train deliver the famous 'Making Sure the New Pope is a Fella' trick....

I, of course, did not have a kiddie-toy happy meal. Because I had already picked up these in the shop before lunch. I am 40, and I play with grown up toys....

Even my Ninjago will be ex-ter-mi-nated....

And to top it all off, my first short story acceptance in several months has dropped into my inbox this evening. Subject to editorial requests, Comfort Ghost will appear in the upcoming ASIM 56. I'll let you know when.

Some days, everything comes up sunny.


One of the things I've wanted to do since I started getting back into Lego was to post a MOC-- short for 'My Own Creation-- a common practice amongst the Legorati, who create all sorts of wonderful, amazing edifices and then post photos and/or plans of the construction process so that others can build the same creation. (Such as these guys and these and this and this and.... well, you get the idea) Only two things have stopped me doing so before this:

1. I'm a bit crap, and
2. Compared to guys like this, anything I might do would simply show me up for the utter noob with two left Leggoey feet that I really am. I'm also completely incapable of making up instruction sheets that look like they may have been drawn by a Lego artist with a couple of spare hours to kill before The Big Bang Theory starts. If only I'd paid more attention in Lego class...

Still, nothing ventured, nothing failed. So here's a little ice-skimmer style vehicle I've whipped up and am moderately chuffed over, in wonkyphoto-a-rama! I've listed the relevant pieces, and their Bricklink piece number, under each pic, and in the case of rarer items, also listed the set from which I scabbed them.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.

An easy start: one 2x8 white plate (3034) and two 2x8 white plates with door rail (30586), taken from my City of Atlantis set (7985-1)

Step two: Add the rails to the plate, and flip. Attach two light-bluish gray 1x12 bars with plate ends and round 1x1 plate ends (42445, taken from the Lunar Limo set- 5984-1) to a white 2x4 plate (3020), and attach to one end of the structure.

Step three: Turn the right way up, and attach one 2x16 white plate with angled side extensions (62743), taken from the Ice Dragon Attack set (2260-1)

Step four: two more 2x8 white plate with door rails.

Step five: Invert again, and buttress the overhanging plates with a 2x6 white plate (3795)

Step six: Top side up again, and filling in the single line atop the front spar with, from left to right-- one 1x1 red tile with groove (3070b); one 1x2 white tile with groove (3069b). In this instance I didn't have a plain white one to hand so just shoved the first one I found in. It all gets covered, anyway; one 1x2 modified tile with stud (3794); and one 1x2 white plate with handles (3839), or as they've always been known to me, front guns.)

Step seven: Another 2x16 white plate with angled side extensions (62743) goes on top, and the back end is finished with two 4x1 18 white slopes (60477) and a 2x2 white brick (3003)

Step eight: And finished with, from left to right: a 2x1x2/3 red slope 18 with 4 slots (61409) from the Seabed Strider (7977-1); a 1x4 white tile (2431); a 2x2 white tile with red warning triangle pattern (3068bp06); and at the top of the rear bricks a 1x2 red modified tile with grill (2412) and two more of the red slope with 4 slots.

And she is done.

All comments and small coin donations welcome! and if any experienced Lego builders want to contact me with any advice, please feel free.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


What a fun couple of weeks it has been. Luscious Lyn is out at schools, participating in her first teaching prac, and I've taken my first properly holiday since starting the new day job 18 months ago in order to take on the housey chores in her absence. Which has meant, amongst other thimgs, that a bunch of those niggly naggly little chores that I haven't found time for have finally been dispensed with-- the dishwasher's been removed; the towel rail's been put up in the kitchen; the lego has been cleaned....

Huh? I hear you cry.

It's like this: a few weeks ago, Georgie Girl participated in her school's science fair. Her project involved soaking discoloured Lego bricks in various solutions, from water through to Napisan, leaving them in different levels of light, and recording the results. She won second prize, beaten only by the girls who injected various distillations of iron into apples to compare to haemophilia treatments.

Yeah, I know: makes me wish I'd paid more attention in school and hadn't spent all my time trying to connect the element names in the periodic table together into dirty words.

However, I had purchased a 1994-era police truck on the extremely cheap precisely because it had discoloured bricks: a bit of internet research had clued me in to the best ways to clean up discoloured bricks, and the price made it worth while to give it a try. If I succeeded, I'd get a much better kit for my money. If not, I hadn't paid enough to really bemoan the failure. all I needed was 15% hydrogen peroxide, an oxy cleaner, and a source of UV light.

Vroom, vroom. I am a 40 year old man and I play with adult toys!

Oxy cleaner: check. We have kids, therefore, we have Napisan. UV light, check: thank you, approach of the spring sun. 15% hydrogen peroxide...... hydrogen peroxide.... Beuller... Beuller.... 15% hydrogen peroxide does not seem to have made it to Mandurah. Funny, when you look around at the teenagers in the shops....

Anyway, needs must, and where there's Domestos there's hope.

So, I picked me a large, lidded specimen from Lyn's Tupperware addiction, separated the whites from the colours (See, ladies, men can do this. You just need to provide the proper motivation, is all.) and dropped the white pieces into 500 ml of Domestos and a quarter of a cup of Napisan.

Three days sitting on top of the kids' slide in the sun, and this was the result:

Before and after the bleach/oxy bath

I wouldn't try it on colours because, well, bleach is bleach, innit? But for whites that worked just fine thank'ee.