Sunday, January 29, 2017


Oh, I've had so many things I wanted to blog about this last week : I want to say a few things about the passing of legendary actor John Hurt; to talk about starting my new work-- a piece of military SF short fiction, and how losing one story fragment has led me to another opportunity; and to talk about the new fitness routine that has led to me losing 3 and a half kilos since the start of the year. BUT I've been a-bed since lunchtime last Wedneday with a chest infection that just won't quit, so it's all going to have to wait.

In the meantime, though, I can at least get a new Precious Things post up. This time, it's the lovely Deb Fitzpatrick. Deb's an author of YA and Children's books who I first met a couple of years ago at the opening of the Perth Writers Festival, and it just brings a smile to my face each time we bump into each other: she's a joyous personality, and that's reflected in the positive, enriching books she writes.Her latest is At My Door, a title for younger readers. The Break (2014) is for adult readers. Her two novels for young adults – 90 Packets of Instant Noodles (2010) and Have You Seen Ally Queen? (2011) – were named Notable Books by the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA). The Amazing Spencer Gray (2013), a novel for younger readers, will be published in the US in early 2017. In mid-2017 a follow-up book, The Spectacular Spencer Gray, will be published.

Precious Things: Deb Fitzpatrick

While I don't think of it as a precious literary treasure, I would say that That Book for me is The Bodysurfers by Robert Drewe.

It was the book in which I first saw my own places drawn on the page, lyrically, beautifully – places made valid as literary settings. Rob Drewe grew up in Perth and had already achieved great things in The Savage Crows when I read this book of short stories.

To see the beaches I grew up on written about in this way really opened up some possibilities for me...

Friday, January 27, 2017


An ammonite named Anthony
swam in the prehistoric sea,
protected by a horny shell,
that seemed to do the job quite well.

The first writing goal of 2017 has been achieved: Anthony the Ammonite has been completed and submitted to my publisher for consideration.

Next task: stop daydreaming about it, and write a submission for SNAFU: Judgement Day. Because nothing says consistency of career arc like switching from heart-warming rhymes about cute creatures finding their purpose in life to post-apocalyptic military horror......

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: Scaredy Cat

Scaredy Cat Scaredy Cat by Mark Billingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taut thriller with nicely-drawn characterisation and a structure that enhances what could have been a cliched storyline, cleverly entwining past and present narratives while playfully twisting the killer-couple framework. It is let down slightly by some dodgy gender politics, and a climax that veers towards a 'written for TV' feel, but generally a very satisfying read.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Time for another Precious Thing to be revealed, and for reasons soon to be revealed, today we have no less than two examples for your education, entertainment, and all-round enjoyment.

First off the rank is Greg Chapman.

Greg has been quietly racking up credits as both author and artist since 2009, and has ranked out a series of novellas, stories, and graphic works on a regular basis, including collaborating on the Stoker Award-winning graphic novel Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times with Lisa Morton and the late Rocky Wood. One of the nicest guys around, and a true lover of the dark side of the speculative street, Greg's a constant voice for the inclusion and enjoyment of dark fiction. You can find out more about Greg at his website, but for now, here he is on the subject of his most precious literary treasure.

Precious Things: Greg Chapman

It was Stephen King who said “books are uniquely portable magic” and there’s never been a truer word spoken for a bibliomaniac like me.

Not only do I have a craving for writing books, I also love to collect them (much to my family’s dismay, who groan whenever I see a secondhand book store or hear of a Lifeline book sale). My shelves are filled with paperbacks by Laymon, Herbert, King, Shelley and signed editions by Clive Barker, reference books on Jack the Ripper, forensic science and psychology. There’s even a few Doctor Who and X-Files tomes that I have hoarded over the years – and I cherish each and every one of them.

Yet the one I adore the most is a 1979 Octopus hardcover edition of Forty-Two Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, my all-time favourite classic author. The book is one I indulge in often as it is, in my humble opinion, the embodiment of a perfect edition. Lavishly emblazoned with illustrations by Harry Clarke, it’s incredibly satisfying to look at, let alone read.

Unfortunately the circumstances I acquired it in weren’t especially noteworthy, but I do remember how excited I was when I first saw it. I was living in Gladstone, Queensland at the time and the family and I decided to attend a used book sale, literally in the bowels of the Gladstone City Library. I remember coming across the book in a box and I felt like Indiana Jones finding the Ark of the Covenant. The woven cover of the volume was deliciously rough in my hands and I’m pretty sure I had to conceal my smile from all the other book sniffers around me because I believed I had found literary gold – well in my mind at least.

There’s just something about a used book; the worn cover, the yellowed pages, the lignin scent – and by god, it was Edgar Allan Poe! No one else in my family could see the significance, but I could and that was all that mattered. Since first reading The Fall of the House of Usher back in university I’d always wanted to own an old collection of Poe’s works, and although this wasn’t a first edition, or a volume from the turn of the century, it was – and still is – an absolute treasure. It’s not worth much in today’s money, but to me it’s bloody priceless.

These days books are churned out in their millions on simple paper, very few are illustrated. As a writer and artist this copy is what books were always intended to be – works of literary art. I usually pick up the book at least once a year and breathe in its power and within minutes of savouring the stories and art within, I’m already inspired to make my own. The flame of imagination is well and truly lit.

Just like King said, books can cast a spell over us all.

Precious Things Special Feature: Michael Robotham

(Photo by Philip Klaunzer. Egregiously taken from the Mystery Scene website)

And as a special bonus, I have a few words from one of Australia's greatest ever crime exports (and not in a Kangaroo Gang, Danni Minogue's career, kind of way, but in a God-I-can't-put-this-brilliant-crime-novel-down-and-I-have-to-be-at-work-in-two-hours-and-I-haven't-been-to-bed-yet kind of way), the always-compulsively-readable Michael Robotham.

Michael pointed out that he's recently answered pretty much exactly this question over at the Mystery Scene website, and kindly gave me permission to reproduce his answer. Rather than take advantage of their formatting, editing time, and moxy, it's far better that I point you in Mystery Scene's direction, so that you can have a look at the rest of their cool material while you're there.

So go there and read Michael's Precious Thing in its natural environment!

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Let's make one thing clear: if you've assembled a list of best speculative fiction authors in Australia, and Anna Tambour isn't on it, you've either not read her or you're wrong.

Anna is, quite simply, one of the most original and fascinating speculative voices this country has ever produced. Her novels and collections, such as Monterra's Deliciosa and Other Stories, and Spotted Lily, have garnered fans everywhere they've touched, and awards lie up to throw nominations at her. her 2013 novel Crandolin, for example, was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Her most recent publication is her 2015 collection The Finest Ass in the Universe. As with all her works, it's a sublime treat.

Despite all this, (and the fact you can find her online at her website here), Anna remains one of the most humble and self-effacing people I've ever met. When I asked her for a bio, she sent me this:

There are for each of us, according to his turn of mind, certain books that open up horizons hitherto undreamed of and mark an epoch in our mental life. They fling wide the gates of a new world wherein our intellectual powers are henceforth to be employed; they are the spark which lights the fuel on a hearth doomed, without its aid, to remain infinitely bleak and cold. And it is often chance that places in our hands those books which mark the beginning of a new era in the evolution of our ideas. The most casual circumstances, a few lines that happen somehow to come before our eyes, decide our future and plant us in the appointed groove.

            — J.H. Fabre, The Hunting Wasps

This, then, is one of my very favourite people in SF:

Precious Things: Anna Tambour

My greatest literary treasure is the first book I ever read by myself--a collection of stories such as "The Little Red Hen" and "The Brownies' Circus" and poems such as "The Owl and the Pussycat", "Who Has Seen the Wind?", and possibly my greatest influence for making me a committed and possibly committable satirist, A.A. Milne's immortal "The King's Breakfast" whose glorious illustrations are as important as the words (as are the illos for all the other stories and poems here, including "The Little Red Hen"). 

This book taught me the joy of music in language, the heights simple linework illos can reach--as well as making me sad for children of today who are so often barraged by unnecessary intrusions about the creators themselves. I didn't give a fig about not knowing the others or the disgracefully uncredited illustrators. I just read and gazed and thought about and further thought from this launch pad. 

The book itself is irrelevant to anyone else, but still reigns close enough to stare me down when I forgot how irrelevant I am.

Monday, January 09, 2017


Okay, I'm sick at home, and a whole bunch of my creative friends like this Precious Things ideas, and they've sent me their spiels already. Sooooooooooo...... that's enough of an excuse to pop another one up for our reading pleasure, isn't it?

Donna Maree Hanson is a Canberra-based writer of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and under the pseudonym Dani Kristoff, paranormal romance. Her dark fantasy series (which some reviewers have called ‘grim dark’), Dragon Wine, is published by Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan's digital imprint). In April 2015, she was awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction’ for her work in running science fiction conventions, publishing and broader SF community contribution. Donna also writes young adult science fiction, with Rayessa and the Space Pirates and Rae and Essa’s Space Adventures out with Escape Publishing. In 2016, Donna  commenced her PhD candidature researching Feminism in Popular Romance. Her first Indie published book, Argenterra, was publishing in late April 2016. Argenterra is the first in an epic fantasy series (the Silverlands) suitable for adult and young adult readers. You can find out more about Donna at her website, but for now, here is the story of her literary treasure.

Precious Things: Donna Maree Hanson

Lee asked: what is your most precious literary treasure? What is your most precious literary possession? Tell me its story. Tell me why it's so precious to you, and what it means to you.

This is a hard question. I don’t think I have any from my childhood like Lee does. I read but it wasn’t until I was nineteen that I really started to read again. I’ve always loved science fiction, which at that time was television: Star Trek; UFO; Blake’s 7; etc. In film, it was Star Wars that blew me away. So for books, I started with science fiction mainly. Asimov’s Foundation series took my brain apart and reassembled it, but at the time a lot of the content was over my head but it led me to read more SF that the local library had.

One day, though, a young friend gave me Stephen Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane to read. I was 23 years old. I remember saying to him that I couldn’t get into it. He said just keep reading…and I did. Oh my God! I lived and breathed that book and the rest of the series. It changed how I thought about the world. (Now at that time I hadn’t read Lord of the Rings. Get it! I didn’t know that Donaldson had borrowed extensively from Tolkien.) I went around hugging trees, thinking that world was full of life, and I’d gaze at horse thinking back to Thomas Covenant and meeting the mythical horses and how he could feel them with his senses.

Not only did I read this series, I reread it many times. I had a hard-cover edition of the first trilogy, but sadly I loaned it to someone and didn’t get it back before I left New Zealand. If I could get that again, I would. It would be up there with my literary treasures (as physical books). Right now I have to settle for some old paper back versions.

There was a dearth of fantasy at that time but it turned me into a fantasy reader. In 1986 when I came back to Australia there were more and more books and I was so excited. Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles, and like everyone I know I read David Eddings. But this first trilogy from Donaldson holds the place as the first for me. It rocked my world and changed me and stayed with me. It cemented me as a reader and its influences linger on.

A brief recap on the story:Thomas Covenant is a leper, an angry person. His wife had left him and he’d lost two fingers on his left hand (I think). Then he is magically transferred to the land where he is mistaken as a historical figure. The land heals him of his leprosy. Overwhelmed with feelings and lust he rapes a young girl-- Lena-- a deed which shapes his story in the world. He’s an antihero, probably the first I ever encountered. The world is depicted in exquisite detail and with poetic words and evocative descriptions. Characters that lived for me and that I treasured as almost real. At that time in my life I hadn’t even heard some of those words he used or seen them used in that way. There are evil creatures, minions of Lord Foul, and there are giants, lovely giants. Oh my god! Saltheart Foamfollower! I have loved you forever, and cried and cried when we said goodbye.

I went on to read a lot of Donaldson’s books, but it is his two book duology, Mordant’s Need, that now sits in the most reread books pile. I just have a soft spot for Geraden and Teresa…

I would have to say that Donaldson would have be one of my writing influences because of the effect his writing had on me.

In saying the above, there are so many books that I’ve read and loved and that have been special, but you asked for the most precious, even harder to say, but I chose the first awakening for me. Also, I haven’t really told you about the precious books I own and just like looking at….

Coming up: tonnes of cool people, including Anna Tambour, Michael Robotham, and Greg Chapman. 

Sunday, January 08, 2017


This year, I'm starting a new interview series on the blog. I'm asking fellow authors, artists, creators, and just generally cool people I know, one simple question:

What is your most precious literary treasure?

So, this is Precious Things. Some of the coolest people I know, telling the stories behind some of the coolest things they have: the literary artefacts that helped make them the creators they are.

As is my tradition, I'm going to start things off with my own item, partly to give you an idea of how it's all going to look, and partly because I am a hoary old egomaniac who loves the sound of his own self-importance.

This is The Book. If you've known me long enough, you've heard the story. In 1979, when I was 8 years old, my family moved from Narrogin-- a country town in the Wheatbelt of about 3000 people-- to Rockingham, a seaside town of over 25,000, where I would stay for the next 13 years. The cultural disconnect was enormous, not least because, for the first time, I was introduced to the concept of large-scale, sustained bullying. But my horizons also grew: the range of sports on offer was larger (at one stage, I was playing 5 per week); the libraries were larger, and, basically, existed; there were magical, amazing things like cinemas and drive-ins and shopping centres.... my tiny, self-contained consciousness, which had been enfolded in a comfortable cocoon of working-class English insularity and acceptance of mediocrity, was ready for cracking.

Shortly before my 9th birthday, I discovered a record at the back of my parents' record collection. A Goon Show record. Yeah. We all know how that turned out. I still have it: I claimed it when my parents split up and point-blank refused to give it back to either of them. Plus, of course, I now have many more. So many more. My sense of humour was born. And we all know how that turned out. Crack number one. Call it a fissure. Call it a freaking canyon.

Then, for my 9th birthday, I received The Book. It's official title is Science Fiction Stories for Boys. It's one of those wonderful anthologies you used to see a lot of in my youth: a quickie rightsploitation effort from Octopus Books, sold on the cheap racks at Coles and K-Mart, filled to the brim with stories whose rights expired the day before the junior acquisitions guy got the directive from his Manager. There's not even an editor by-line.

BUT: Wells. Asimov. Bradbury. Kornbluth. Leinster. Fredric Brown. Mack Reynolds. Harry Harrison. Ward Moore. Eric Frank Russell. John Christopher. Harry Harrison...... it's a work of beauty. Some of the stories are genuinely stunning: Aldiss' To Serve a Man is, in my opinion, just about his best short. And Russell's Allamagoosa is a comic classic. If you've never read Brown's Knock, well......

And then there was this story. It Could be You, by Frank Roberts. I've talked about this story before, and the indelible, life-altering impact it had upon me. This is where I found it. This is where it all began.

Something inside me went clunk, and fell out of its slot. And it's never fitted back in. And for the next 13 years, it didn't matter how much I was bullied, and beaten, and ostracised (hint: a lot). It didn't matter how dramatic and painful my life became (hint: a lot). There was somewhere to retreat to: a place where I saw the horizon in a way nobody else could, where I could determine the colours in the spectrum, or the species of my companions, or the fate of worlds. I had found the home of my mind and soul. Everything I have created, aspired towards, and dreamed of, began with that LP, and even more so, this book.

My family aside, my art aside, this tatty book is my most precious possession. It marks the point where I ceased to be my parents' heritage, and began the long, painful, and difficult fight to becoming me.

So there you have it: the first Precious Thing. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 06, 2017


So, here's my first Writer-Guy announcement for 2017: I'm a manuscript mentor for the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, along with the likes of Stephen Dedman, Satima Flavell, Laurie Steed, and Amanda Curtin.

If you'd like an exclusive one-on-one session, with targeted advice and specific plans of action, check out the details below and get your application in.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017


So here we are, at the start of a new year. My too-short holiday is over. I'm back at work tomorrow. And, unless I dig in and force some changes in my life, it's going to be just another year like so many I've had recently-- aimless, drifting, trapped in a path that's slowly making me more miserable and insular, without any opportunity for change.

Normally, this is the time to make resolutions for the coming year. But, as I managed to meet exactly zero of the resolutions I set for 2016 (despite other, excellent, occurrences happening), I'm not going to be so prescriptive this year. I've set some goals, and I'll be keeping track of them. But I'll also be keeping a record of those achievements I reach that are not on the list. The greatest change I have to make is to remain positive-- I slip into depression too easily, and allow that depression to derail everything too easily as well.

So, what goals am I aiming for in 2017?

Finish Ghost Tracks. This is self-explanatory. It's the work-in-progress. It's the work I've been telling everyone I'm working on. It's the work my publisher is waiting to see. It's 15,000 words done. Time to get it done and get it into the world.

Finish Anthony the Ammonite. My little picture book, inspired by my ammonite-obsessed grandson. I'm having fun with it, it's a big change of pace, and it would be nice to see it illustrated and in the hands of my grandchildren.

Get under 100kg and stay there. My weight has been a constant battle, and appear on every annual list I make. I started 2016 at 112kg, and briefly made it as far as 99, before finishing the year as 106kg. Eating better is a big goal, and getting regular exercise. I want to be healthier, and stay in shape. Losing weight and keeping it off I the biggest part of that.

Finish my diploma. I started a Diploma of Project Management at the insistence of work, and quickly fell massively behind as I have very little interest in it. But it's been 1992 since I completed a qualification, so even for the sake of updating my CV, I should get through it.

Display at Bricktober. Okay, this is probably my soda. I'm working on a (for me) massive project for this year's Bricktober exhibition: a SHiP, and the surrounding diorama. SHiP is an acronym for 'Super Huge Investment in Parts: it's a spaceship of at least 100 studs in length. That's roughly 1 1/2 times as long as anything I've built before, even before I start working on the landing pad, support vehicles, and so on that will complete the scene. If you're going to be mad, you may as well be excellently mad.

So there are my goals. There's a lot more that I'll achieve throughout the year, but these are my markers, my milestones.

Strap in.