Friday, June 30, 2017


You know how it is. Some artists release a string of songs that speak to the innermost tremblings of your soul. No matter where you are in your life, somehow they seem to know, and find that connection, so that whatever is happening, you can pick up an album, or turn to your playlist, and find the words, and the music, that pick at the tendons of your feelings and bring your heart, and mind, and soul together in a syncopated, three-minute burst of perfection.

And then, you know, there's Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop.

Somewhere in between, there's a strange beast, or at least, in my listening life there is. Over the years, I've fallen deeply in love with an album, only to find that the love is pretty much exactly one album deep. Sure, there's the occasional songs here and there, for a while. But never that tumultuous wrestling with my feelings, never that look across a crowded playlist that says You. Me. One the floor. Right now. Don;t even take your clothes off. I'll chew through them myself. Some of these albums have been with me for years, and yet, they've never inspired me to go much further in pursuing that artist's career, or my emotional reactions to their work.

Leaving aside Best Of's, which are a different thing entirely, here, then, are five albums that I've carried with me since their release, which are still, lock-stock on my playlist in their entirety, but which are unburdened by company.

Five for Friday: One album wonders.

Daisies of the Galaxy: Eels

Sometimes an artist rises out of nowhere, hits you over the head like a gong, and then disappears back into obscurity such that you can't find them and spend your entire time wondering what the hell just happened. Four songs across a great, big, long bunch of years aside, this is pretty much what happened with me and Eels.

First there was Susan's House and Novocaine for the Soul. A while later there was the Shrek movie and My Beloved Monster. Many, many years later, there was a documentary on didhedidn'the maybe killer Robert Durst, and the theme song Fresh Blood.

And in between, there was an album with so many depths and twists and nasty little corners that I've spent years curled up with my headphones on, picking its black baroque little heart apart. Nothing fits. The music doesn't fir the instruments. the lyrics don't fit the message. the rhymes don't fit the lines and the line lengths sure as fuck don't fit what's being played behind them. It's a magnificent, absurd, glorious tangle that verges, at times, on a surreal masterpiece. It will be one of my favourite albums until the day I day.

And nothing the artist has done, before or since, has ever come within a country mile of having the same effect upon me.


Come On, Feel the Illinoise: Sufjan Stevens

Once upon a time, a man said he was going to release 50 albums over 50 years: one for each state in the Union, starting with his home state then spreading out until every corner of his country had their own soundtrack, charting all those moments and characters that they may not want to acknowledge, but which were inextricably linked with their heritage.
To date, I think Sufjan Stevens is still stuck at two. It really doesn't matter, because while Michigan was okay, Come On! Feel the Illinoise! is an outright masterpiece. Covering topics as diverse as Superman, Al Capone, John Wayne Gacy, alien abductions, killer bees, and all points in between, it's a swirling, operatic love letter to a history that he is steeped in. The only problem is, like Eels above, it is so good, so perfect, that it is enough: I've never had any need to listen to much of anything else, because why do so when I can just listen to this magnificent opus again?

Happy Soup: Baxter Dury

Possibly the only album I've ever purchased because I felt sorry for a character in a film biopic. I've been a lifelong fan of the legendary Ian Dury, so when I learned of the Andy Serkis-driven biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, I was all over it with knobs on. And something very interesting transpired: most of everything I'd ever read about the man focussed on, naturally enough, him. But the movie took a slightly different turn. There's a lot in there about his relationship with his son Baxter, and, frankly, how Ian spent his entire time spectacularly fucking it up. Which led me to want to find out about the fate of his son, because the movie ends with him still a youngster, and I needed to know, dammit!

Which led me to his recording career. Which led me to the song Happy Soup. Which led me to downloading the album about half a minute after I'd listened to it.

Which, strangely, has been enough. I love the song. I love the album. But it doesn't obsess me, the way his father's work does.

But I do love the song.

God Shuffled His Feet: Crash Test Dummies

I know so many people who hate this album. For a while there, upon first release, you simply couldn't escape it. The first single, the irritatingly-titled Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm was everywhere. It simply didn't sound like anything around it at the time, and it still doesn't, really, not for all the demi-hipster posturing of bands that have followed. Somewhere, deep within its semi-diffident lyrics and monotone slacker delivery, there was a message that demanded you wade in and remove it, rather than wait for it to arrive in your lap fully-formed.

Frankly, the whole album is like that. It's oblique to the point of indifference, a study in measured allusion and literary pretension that I've never really been able to shake. I've picked up a couple of CTD songs from other albums along the way-- The Winter Song is a favourite-- but nothing sticks like the way this odd, distancing album does.

Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia: Dandy Warhols

An album powered by a song that featured in a TV show I hate and a movie I hate, by a band I'd never heard of. What could possibly go wrong?

Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia is less an album of 13 separate songs than a concept album of 13 separate threads that intertwine between each other in a swirling soundscape that occasionally pauses for half a breath in order to switch directions and talk about something else for a while. It's a perfect fusion of obvious pop influences, catchy hooks, and what passed for philosophy at the fag end of prog rock. And I loves it with much lovingness.

I've heard a lot of songs by The Dandy Warhols. I've never been remotely fussed by them. But for this one moment, they dropped their derivative obviousness in exactly the right measurements onto exactly the right tunes in exactly the right order at exactly the right time. And it's really bloody good.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


It's a good, old-fashioned SF trope: what if the aliens we contact are so far in advance that they don;t see us as equals. But the trope stretches farther, and farther back than that: Voltaire's story Micromegas, published in 1752, shows aliens that consider Earth unpopulated because nothing so small as humans could bear intelligence. Upon interacting with us, they change their opinion: we're idiots.
This is my own, small, visual contribution to that trope. 
"One small step for a Vilognian..."

Sunday, June 25, 2017


I know I've said this about a few people, but Jay Watson is one of the loveliest human beings alive. He's a giant of a man, tall and broad, and just big, but there's not an ounce of malice or intimidation in him. Quite the opposite: he's one of the gentlest, most caring people I've ever come across. And while it is often a truism, in this case it's simply true: there's not a person you'll meet who doesn't adore the man. 
A passionate and long-time SF fan, he's been on more Swancon committees than is healthy, is one of the organisers behind the excellent CrimeScene convention, and is a friend and safe space for anyone who needs it. My first experience of him was sitting at a dinner table, throwing Goon Show lines at each other, and it's been a long, happy association ever since. Now here he is, in his own words. 
Precious Things: Jay Watson

Image may contain: 2 people, beard and text
Jay's on the left.

My father made sure that I was interested in science and science fiction by exposing me to things like Doctor Who pretty much from birth. Because we were poor, we didn’t have many books in the house – those that we did have were ones that Dad picked up cheap at the second-hand bookstore. To this day, I still love the feel of a dingy old second-hand bookshop.
After we moved from Whyalla to Perth in ’78, I began to develop a love for the local library, to the point that I would go there as often as I could to get out new books to read, mostly about science and/or movies. Not long after this, my Dad picked up three books for me at a bookshop that I have treasured ever since – Star Trek 5 (stories adapted by James Blish), Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen (by Terrance Dicks), and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (by Alan Dean Foster).


They were the first books in my personal library (if you don’t count Little Golden Books or Dr Seuss) and, while they weren’t great literature or anything, they meant a lot to me. The Doctor Who and Star Trek books gave me a different perspective on the episodes that they covered, while Splinter of the Mind’s Eye helped to feed my blossoming love of all things Star Wars. They also helped me with my nascent interest in creating adventures for role-playing games, which I was introduced to around the same time by one of my (female) teachers.
While my Dad also introduced me to Tolkein, Asimov, Herbert, Clarke, Smith, Wells, Verne, and on and on, via the books he was reading, those three books still grace my shelves and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

Friday, June 23, 2017


Full disclosure: if I could play guitar the way I wish I could, I probably wouldn't be a writer. If I could act as well as I wish I could, I probably wouldn't be just a writer. If I could draw, or paint, or create visual art... ah, if I could only do that.....
I've always loved the visual arts: deeply, at a level beyond my capacity to articulate. No trip to a new town, a new State, a new country, is complete until I've experienced the art gallery, the sculpture park, the local museum. I think in pictures, explain in diagrams, communicate in sketches and arms waved around to delineate space and placement.
Sadly, as anybody who has been following my Thumbnail Thursday posts, or has seen the few cartoons I actually managed to finish and have published over the years, can attest, it turns out I can't draw for shite.
My sense of visualisation, however, is very strong. When I'm writing-- when it's going well, and the words are flowing at their highest swell-- I have a very clear image of what I'm writing about; so strong that, at times, I'm doing little more than transcribing what I see, rather than truly creating from empty cloth.
Still, words are an artificial construct, a mechanical choice between pre-forged components relying on a social contract between author and audience to assign meaning to the thoughts being relayed. (See?) When I experience an image; when I see the combination of light, colour, form and medium and it sparks of an emotional recognition in me; it feels pure, unrestrained.
If I could, I would. Until then, I rely on my own imperfect tools, and my own limited repertoire of creative skills. But here are five artists who do things to me I can only wish I had the talent to replicate.
Richard Dadd
Mad, murdering Richard Dadd, who slashed his father's throat while out walking, spent much of his adult life in Bedlam, and while there, completed intricate masterpieces detailing a world only he could see, halfway between myth, folklore, and the escapist fantasies of a man trapped in a physical and psychological hellscape.
His most famous work is probably The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, a stunning fantasy scene that became the subject of a typically epic Queen song. But the one below, Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane is my favourite of his works. There's something simply skewiff about the whole thing: the colours are subtly wrong, the dimensions just ever so slightly off, and the face... look at the face. Neither feminine nor masculine but a halfway hybrid; emotionless, dark pits of eyes staring with no message at all straight at the viewer; the almost-dancing sense of movement at odds with the heavy, lumpen nature of the physique.... it's a piece that transfixes me in delight and fascination.

Chris Foss
I started to collect books at a fortuitous time: the early 80s was the point at which books that had been published in the 1970s were filtering into the second hand shops, where young teens like me could afford them. And those books came from publishers like Ace, and Panther, and Pan, and the covers... oh, my God, the covers.
The 1970s were the greatest era of SF book covers ever. There, I said it. And at the forefront of those covers, at least to me eyes, were the mad spaceships, landscapes, and broken-future beauty of airbrush artist Chris Foss.
A master of light and asymmetrical design, Foss was science fiction for me. Forget Star Wars, forget Giger's Alien designs. When the future arrives, I want it to look like Foss promised me it would: full of vast, slab-sided experiments in colour and thunderous energy, with the sound of building-sized engines blowing holes in the vacuum of deep space.
I could pick any number of images that remain lodged in my unconscious, but my favourite remains my first: the giant, fallen robot of his cover for the Panther issue of Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel. Simply, truly, glorious.


Rene Magritte
Ah, the working class English upbringing. Where things that looks like things is what real art is, and anything else is poncy nonsense or summat wot my kid could do, innit?
Suffice to say, the surrealists hit me like a meringue anvil right in the third eye. I love Dali, I love Miro, Bunuel, and the writings of Breton, and the zealous insanity of Duschamp.... but of them all, it was Rene Magritte (and Max Ernst, of whom more later) who took my adoration, and gave me tools of quantification and recreation with which to engage in my own, meagre experiments (the closes any of them have come to fruition, the short.... thing, Brillig, can be found here)
Most famous for his brilliant works The Son of Man and The Treachery of Images, a personal favourite is the work below, The Voice of Space. I love its sense of scale, and weightlessness,  its implied narrative, and the gentle idea that momentous thing can take place in spaces where there is nobody to bear witness.


Max Ernst
Painter, sculptor, poet, graphic designer, surrealist. One of the first polymaths I encountered, and one that has provided me with endless fascination ever since. Max Ernst's life provided me with an early education in how an artist's experiences can be filtered through his artistic philosophies to create a third, multi-textured form of expression. I have drawn so much from his filtering of trauma and hardship that he will always be a central figure of my artistic ambitions, and of my karass.
My own small tribute was a story named after the painting depicted here: Europe, After the Rain, appeared in the Fablecroft Anthology After the Rain, and was, in large part, inspired by this piece, Europe After the Rain II.

William Blake
Which is your Blake? The poet or the painter? It is hard to distinguish between the two: they correlated, at times perfectly, into an ouvre of singular intent and vision. But if I were to argue in terms of technique, I would say that his poetical output forms a wonderful example of a form that was practiced equally superbly by a number of peers, but his painting? Oh, his painting.
There was nobody ever quite like William Blake when it came to painting, and I would argue that there still isn't. His works are the stuff of fever-dreams, of a mind stretched into shapes unbidden and unrecognisable by the measures of his time. They are a pure expression of a singular, individual madness, so unique and unreal that even when he turned his talents towards the supporting walls of his Universe, such as his illuminations of the Revelations, it produced images unlike anything the mainstream could ever have expected. The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun is what they got, instead. Open Dante, and Blake gives you The Lover's Whirlwind. Work in miniature, and you get my favourite of all Blake's work, an epic compression of scale, power and movement that is the A4-sized The Ghost of a Flea, reproduced below.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


My stint as Writer-in-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre approaches like a monster riding a runaway train over a cliff while on fire (Of course I'm ready. Why wouldn't I be ready? What would make you think that? Ha. Ha ha ha. Oh, you. Am I ready, you ask. Hahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaahhhhhccccchhhhhh.....)

From the 10th to the 24th I'll be ensconced in one of the Centre's delightful cabins; staring out at the beautiful gardens while I pretend to write; visiting writing groups to spread love, bonhomie and my usual blend of fatuous advice; mentoring aspiring authors who haven't yet worked out what a complete fraud I am; and generally living the life of a swanny writah dahling while I work on my next round of rejection fodder.

I'll also be helming a workshop:

World Building 101 will be an intense, 3 hour session in what I do best-- bringing the odd into the mundane; tipping normality so that it doesn't look quite right, whatever angle you view it from; and generally injecting a note of weirdness into your work. We'll be discussing, and practicing, the elements of fantasy world-building, and smashing through a series of exercises designed to give participants the beginnings of a whole bunch of different fantastical stories. You can see my full itinerary here, including the literary dinner on the 11th July, for which tickets are still available.

The workshop takes place from 1-4pm, Saturday 22 July, at the KSP in Greenmount. Bookings are open now through Eventbrite.


There's not much to say about this one. Okay, yes, Barrabas was chosen first time out. But isn't it nice to see him coming back to defend his title. May the odds be ever in his favour.
"Choose now: Jeremy Smith or Barrabas!"
"Between you and me, this is all getting a little bit old."

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Colin Sharpe is one of those irritatingly handsome men who you can't hate because he's also extremely likable and manages to keep the terrifying things he does to kittens a secret. He's a father, a cyclist, a rock-climber, hockey player, an Inventory Controller and an artist, but not always in that order. He has been involved in many aspects of Perth fandom, in many different roles, and was proudly one of the editors of the superb manga anthology Xuan Xuan.
Here he discusses his passion for comic books, and reveals his Precious Thing as an issue that those of us who were there at the time will recall with the kind of horrified fascination that we had the first time Johnny Depp sucked, or Al Pacino did that weird shouty thing he does, or the first time we saw Rob Liefeld's work, or heard a Mariah Carey song, or realised Steven Segal was serious......
Precious Things: Colin Sharpe

My most precious literary possession is one that may come as a surprise to some, perhaps not to others, and for those that immediately know of it, and what it represents, it does come with preface, and a story.
When Lee asked what my most treasured literary possession was, it did not spring to mind immediately, I had to let the question percolate. I started to think of all the books I own, of all the texts I keep coming back to, and what has shaped me the most over the years, artistically. Comics, I started to think, it’s obviously a comic.
Graphic narrative is my preferred medium, and although I like working in colour sometimes, some of the best artwork and graphic storytelling I’ve ever seen, is black and white, and my favourite artists do their work in this way. I thought about the comics I have in my collection, and I realised that there was only one work that has shaped me artistically more than any other, Cerebus.
Cerebus, as a whole is one of the most beautifully drawn comic books I have ever read, and it was consistently drawn, once Dave Sim partnered with his background artist Gerhard, in a way that I still take inspiration from. The storyline quality varied greatly from its start as a parody of Conan and other pulp adventures, to many other sources, and evolved into musings by Sim on politics, religion and gender. The story along with the fantastic art in the beginning were what drew me to Cerebus, and when I get to the issue that is the most treasured, the art is what kept me coming back, and the story in a quite different way. Lee asked what is my most treasured literary possession, and there are many issues to choose from, but there is one issue that stands out, and the reasons to choose it are complicated, and I will try and explain, as concisely as I can, what they are, and what it means to me.
The issue in question is 186.

For those of you who know of it, the preface and story I mentioned at the start become clearer, but for those who don’t, this issue is the one where the narrative is violently disrupted by ‘Viktor’, an analogue for Sim the creator, who writes an essay about the male ‘light’ and the female ‘void’. It is every bit as bad as that may sound, and it was a very lengthy read, in the middle of what many would have described as a more intelligent funny animal story up until that point. It was a turning point for the work, after which it descended into what I will describe as madness, as it became clearer and clearer that the creator actually meant, and believed, that an entire gender were nothing more than a void that consumed the other’s light, their soul and creativity.
This issue coloured all before it, and certainly soured all that came after. I did continue to buy Cerebus until it ended at issue 300 (it was slated to end at that issue for a long time before issue 186 came out). At first, I thought it must not be the author’s true intent, and later it was more for the art, and as a record of what I would then aspire not to be.
Issue 186 of Cerebus marks two halves of Sim’s work, the first of which inspired me to be a comic artist. It showed me that there were other ways to draw comics, that you could tell all manner of stories with incredible art, and that they didn’t have to be about superheroes with miraculous powers. It showed me that you could publish them yourself, and that you could create a community around your work, the letters pages in the back of Cerebus could be as interesting as the book. The letters section also included previews of other independent books and artists, many of which rank among my favourites still.
The second half of Cerebus, after 186, inspires me to be better than Sim was. To create work that unifies and elevates us all, rather than belittling half of us. Issue 186 had a preview for Terry Moore’s comic Strangers in Paradise, which is another of my favourite comics, and that led to discovering Poison Elves, and Charles Vess, and Thieves and Kings, and many other of my favourite comics. Issue 186 of Cerebus is my most precious literary possession, and the reasons for it to be so are complicated, and messy, but it did ultimately shape me.
Not in the way the creator intended perhaps, but there is a lesson in that as well.

Friday, June 16, 2017


Back when I was growing up, it's fair to say that the explosion of artistic experimentation represented by the post-war literary boom, the New Wave, the Sixties, sexual liberation, good music, haircuts longer than a piece of peach fuzz, and colour television hadn't really reached my hometown of Boganville. When I first started to entertain the idea of becoming a writer, benchmarking options were fairly thin on the ground: what i looked on as some sort of aspirational holy trinity consisted of everybody's starter for 10: Asimov, Bradbury and Heinlein.
It's far to say, I don't exaggerate when I say going to University was the saving of my soul.
Over the years, I've stumbled across countless authors who have filled in gaps in my education, my understanding of the Universe, and paved the way for me to become an infinitely better human being than I was the day I first walked across campus (First, yes, I pretty much do separate my life into before and after day one of Uni, and second, if you think I'm an arsehole now, that's probably fair, you should have known me then). 
So, for today, here's a list of five authors whose works I remain in love with, who continue to inspire me, and for whom I am, unashamedly, a fanboy. 
James Ellroy
Voice. Pure, individual, unique voice. The man writes crime like nobody else. From The Black Dahlia on, everything Ellroy has written-- and make no mistake, he writes a brilliant story-- hinges on that helter-skelter, edge-of-madness voice. Every Ellroy novel is a carnival ride through the sticky residue of the human soul, and it's utterly, utterly compelling. He's probably most famous for his LA Quartet (The Black DahliaThe Big NowhereLA Confidential, and White Jazz), but the Underworld USA trilogy, especially the middle volume, The Cold Six Thousand, is his great tour de force. 

Catharine Arnold
Nottingham-born author of hidden histories of London, covering topics like the City's funerary practices, criminal underworld and insane asylums, I am an unabashed fanboy of Catharine Arnold's work. Her book Necropolis: London and its Dead was the source text for the development of Magrit, and I could be mining her work for inspiration to my dying day. Check out Bedlam: London and Its Mad for another astonishing read. 

China Mieville
I've been a Mieville fan ever since I reviewed The Scar for a website on first release. I've assiduously laid my hands on everything I can find ever since. I love his slightly-gothic worldbuilding; his long, looping approach to plotting; and his use of mundane props as indicators to deeper weirdnesses beneath. And, in what seems to be a peculiarly English literary tradition, his notion that the weird itself be presented as mundane and unworthy of comment: what is, just is, and it is the imposition of the outside voice, that insists on seeing the weird as weird, that causes the disruption of reality. The City and the City is, for me, his best work, but I also have a deep love for The Iron Council

Jonathan Lethem
Lethem occupies a place I want to manage, straddling speculative and realistic works and themes and seamlessly moving between them at will. I first came across his story collection Men and Cartoons when it was gifted to me by a fellow writer, and have jumped on everything I can find since. His not-quite-SF work, As She Climbed Across the Table, about a woman who falls in love with, literally, nothing, is among my very favourite works. 

Philip K Dick
I don't really know what I can say about Dick that hasn't already been said, or written, or filmed, or blogged, or printed on a tee shirt. I mean, come on: UbikDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Or, you know, pretty much literally anything the man ever wrote. Fucking genius. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Sometimes, when life throws you lemons, you just have to find a good quality gin to go with it. We all gots stuff, amirite? Even werewolves need walkies. 

"Just wait thirty minutes, it'll all be fine."

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Amanda Curtin has always been one of those authors I've found slightly intimidating, as well as an aspirational benchmark. It seems like she's been on the stage at every Perth Writers Festival I've ever attended, always speaking with an encyclopaedic understanding of the industry; her name is always attached to every study I see produced about the state of WA writing; she appears to be associated with every literary market in WA I can't get within kilometres of getting published by.... men stand aside as she walks by, women swoon, horses stamp their hooves nervously......
Having finally met her this year, she is, of course, utterly lovely. She still dresses up as a bat and fights crime at night, but gently, with a soft-spoken voice and an interest in how the criminal is getting on. She's also published two novels, Elemental and The Sinkings, and a short story collection, InheritedElemental was shortlisted for the 2014 WA Premier’s Books Awards (Fiction and People’s Choice categories), and in 2016 it was published in the UK and in a new Australia/NZ edition. She has been a freelance book editor for more than 30 years (accredited with the Institute of Professional Editors) and has a PhD in Writing. She's got a beautifully-written and welcoming website, and is equally approachable on Facebook or Twitter. And she's here, as erudite and articulate as ever, to talk about her most precious literary possession.
Precious Things: Amanda Curtin

author shot

When Lee asked me to write about some object of a literary nature that is precious to me, what eventually came to mind is something that isn’t precious and isn’t literary.
Many years ago my father hired a metal-detector and went on a camping/prospecting trip to the Eastern Goldfields. He didn’t discover gold, but he came home with lots of stories. And this—a ring unearthed on the site where the gold-rush town of Kanowna once stood.


It’s made of thin brass, with a red ‘stone’ of some manufactured origin—the cheapest kind of trinket. But it fascinated me. Who had bought it, worn it, lost it, abandoned it? Did it mean something to them? How did it find its way into the red dust of the goldfields?
Years later, I went to the site of Kanowna myself—not to prospect for gold but because, by then, I had read a lot about what the town had been like at the height of the gold rush, a thriving place with a population of 12,000, exceeding Kalgoorlie in municipal importance. I was keen to see for myself what was left.
I was shocked to find that the reality of an Eastern Goldfields ghost town is nothing at all like I’d been led to expect by Hollywood westerns. Our ghost towns are bare earth, razed to nothing, everything of value carted away.


But you can’t erase history as easily as that. Stories remain.
My first (and so far only) ghost story, ‘Rush’, came from thinking about these things, and I suspect this modest little ring has many narratives it could tell. But it’s precious to me for what represents. It inspires curiosity. It reminds me to dig. It makes me question absolutes like ‘deserted’ and ‘empty’ and ‘worthless’. It whispers ‘what if?’ What a writerly little thing it is.
Which I guess qualifies it, after all, as precious and literary.

Friday, June 09, 2017


When I was in my final years of high school: of barely-moderate achievement; from a family with a fair to middling military history; living in a Navy town; surrounded by friends who either came from a military family or had aspirations to join the military, I pretty much sold my mother on the idea that I was going to join the Army. I had long harboured a dream to join the Air Force-- I was, as I still am, deeply in love with military aircraft, and wanted more than anything to be a pilot. However, when my eyes betrayed me, I decided I couldn't bear to be in the Air Force and not fly, so the Army it was going to be. I applied for, and was accepted into, the Australian Defence Force Academy, and convinced my Mum that I was on my way to becoming a Lieutenant in the Intelligence Division.
Two days from the flight, I had a panic attack and cancelled everything. Instead, I enrolled in an English degree, and stayed at home for the next three years while I learned to write poetry. I literally ran away from the Army to become a poet. 
To her dying day, I don't think my mother ever quite forgave me. 
My first publications were poems, and I still, every now and again-- especially when the creative well is dry and I need to kick something into gear through sheer wordplay and condensed imagery-- turn to poetry. There's a comfort in working within the form, and a sense of pure satisfaction whenever I make it work (not often enough: I'm just not good enough, or disciplined enough, to be a real poet). My most recently completed long work is a poem, of sorts: a 32-stanza picture book I'm waiting to hear back from my publisher about.
So here, for the fun of it, are 5 poets whose work I love, and whose views of the world have influenced my own work.
Spike Milligan
Spike Milligan is my literary hero in so many ways it verges on the absurd. A gently insane polymath, a hundred-mile-a-minute explosion of sounds, wordplay, visual imagery and absurdism, I fell in love with him on first exposure to The Goon Show and have never stopped. His poetry veers from heartbreaking to nonsensical to all points of the emotional spectrum, and so often hides depths within doggerel that more disciplined, traditional authors cannot see, never mind reach. Trying to be him when I grow up is like aspiring to replicate a lightning storm: still, there's a part of me that wishes. 
I could pick so many, but the one I'm fondest of is probably his most famous, even if many people don't realise he wrote it.
On the Ning Nang Nong
On the Ning Nang Nong 
Where the cows go bong 
and the monkeys all say BOO! 
There's a Nong Nang Ning 
Where the trees go Ping! 
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.

On the Nong Ning Nang 
All the mice go Clang 
And you just can't catch 'em when they do! 
So its Ning Nang Nong 
Cows go Bong! 
Nong Nang Ning 
Trees go ping 
Nong Ning Nang 
The mice go Clang 
What a noisy place to belong 
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!

Brian Patten
I discovered Brian Patten's work while trying to rebel against a very traditional approach to poetry being taught by a Year 11 teacher I didn't like, didn't agree with, and didn't want to work for. I failed the course-- I failed the year-- but I kept the love of Patten's work, and to this day, the following poem is still my all-time favourite.
Little Johnny's Confession
This morning
being rather young and foolish
I borrowed a machine gun my father
had left hidden since the war, went out,
and eliminated a number of small enemies.
Since then I have not returned home.
This morning
swarms of police with tracker dogs
wander about the city with my description
printed on their minds, asking:
‘Have you seen him,
He is seven years old,
likes Pluto, Mighty Mouse
and Biffo the Bear,
have you seen him, anywhere?’
This morning
sitting alone in a strange playground
muttering You’ve blundered You’ve blundered
over and over to myself
I work my next move
but cannot move;
the tracker dogs will sniff me out,
they have my lollipops.

Roger McGough
You probably can't be English-born of my generation and not be aware of Roger McGough. For a long time he seemed to be the face of English pop poetry: the TV-friendly, whimsical master of gentle verse for after-dinner talk show audiences. But he has greater roots than that: from the fun and nonsense of Counter-culture jesters Scaffold to a series of poems that helped outline the absurdity of the English condition, his works stick in the mind and somehow, never quite leave. Originally a Scaffold single, this is my favourite.
Goodbat, Nightman
God bless all policemen
and fighters of crime,
May thieves go to jail
for a very long time.
They’ve had a hard day
helping clean up the town,
Now they hang from the mantelpiece
upside down.
A glass of warm blood
and then straight up the stairs.
Batman and Robin
are saying their prayers.
* * *
They’ve locked all the doors
and they’ve put out the bat,
Put on their batjamas
(They like doing that)
They’ve filled their batwater-bottles
made their batbeds,
With two springy battresses
for sleepy batheads.
They’re closing red eyes
and they’re counting black sheep.
Batman and Robin
Are falling asleep.

Dorothy Parker
A perfect combination of acid-etched observation and utterly objective satire, Parker's poetry (and short stories) cut through the verbiage I often burden my works with and say the things I want to say with stunning simplicity and a turn of word so sublime I could weep for one-hundredth of her skill. For a while, after my first wife died, I wore a tee-shirt with her poem Resume on it: very few people got the intent. The one below, however, says so much in six lines that it makes me shake my head in admiration, every damn time.
Unfortunate Coincidence
By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying -
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

Bruce Dawe
A legendary figure in Australian poetry, at the time I was in High School he was one of only two Australians (the other being Les Murray), who was taught to us. He was the first poet to show me that message and voice could be as important as the traditional measures of rhyme and metre, and that an essential Australianness of voice could be transmitted without losing quality or universality of message.
For a long time, reciting enter Without So Much as Knocking was my particular literary party piece, and it remains, to this day, a poem I hold close to my heart.
Enter Without So Much as Knocking
Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.
(Epigraph: Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.)

Blink, blink. HOSPITAL. SILENCE.
Ten days old, carried in the front door in his
mother's arms, first thing he heard was
Bobby Dazzler on Channel 7:
Hello, hello hello all you lucky people and he
really was lucky because it didn't mean a thing
to him then...
A year or two to settle in and
get acquainted with the set-up; like every other
well-equipped smoothly-run household, his included
one economy-size Mum, one Anthony Squires-
Coolstream-Summerweight Dad, along with two other kids
straight off the Junior Department rack.

When Mom won the
Luck's-A-Fortch Tricky-Tune Quiz she took him shopping
in the good-as-new station-wagon (£ 495 dep. at Reno's).
Beep, beep. WALK. DON'T WALK. TURN
the congestion here just gets (beep)
worse every day, now what the (beep beep) does
that idiot think he's doing (beep beep and BEEP).

However, what he enjoyed most of all was when they
went to the late show at the local drive-in, on a clear night
and he could see (beyond the fifty-foot screen where
giant faces forever snarled screamed or make
incomprehensible and monstrous love) a pure
unadulterated fringe of sky, littered with stars
no-one had got around to fixing up yet: he'd watch them
circling about in luminous groups like kids at the circus
who never go quite close enough to the elephant to get kicked.

Anyway, pretty soon he was old enough to be
realistic like every other godless
money-hungry back-stabbing miserable
so-and-so, and then it was goodbye stars and the soft
cry in the corner when no-one was looking because
I'm telling you straight, Jim, it's Number One every time
for this chicken, hit wherever you see a head and
kick whoever's down, well thanks for a lovely
evening Clare, it's good to get away from it all
once in a while, I mean it's a real battle all the way
and a man can't help but feel a little soiled, himself,
at times, you know what I mean?

Now take it easy
on those curves, Alice, for God's sake,
I've had enough for one night, with that Clare Jessup,
hey, ease up, will you, watch it --

Probity & Sons, Morticians,
did a really first-class job on his face
(everyone was very pleased) even adding a
healthy tan he'd never had, living, gave him back for keeps
the old automatic smile with nothing behind it,
winding the whole show up with a
nice ride out to the underground metropolis
permanent residentials, no parking tickets, no taximeters
ticking, no Bobby Dazzlers here, no down payments,
nobody grieving over halitosis
flat feet, shrinking gums, falling hair.

Six feet down nobody interested.

Blink, blink. CEMETERY. Silence.

Thursday, June 08, 2017


One day, I'll get someone clever to turn this into the cover of my autobiography.
"And I still say we're lost."

Sunday, June 04, 2017


Daniel I Russell is a horror author and psychology student who, like myself, travelled from the heartlands of England to the Western Australian countryside. He, however, came from Wigan, so you can understand where the horror and the need for psychological understanding comes from.
With a fine line in sick storytelling, and an equally fine line in sick jokes, he's one of the few guys around who make me laugh in the way I truly enjoy-- heartily, both at the joke and at the discomfort of those who don't get it.
He's alive on the web over here, and thanks to the mysteries of techonockery, he's live in front of your very faces as he delivers his Precious Thing in person! In his full, filmic glory, heeeeeere's Daniel!

Friday, June 02, 2017


A little while ago, I posted my alternative, all-female, Five for Friday Avengers line-up. It was carefully worked out, beautifully rationalised, and, you know, I'm ready and waiting, Marvel.......
Master 12, who is much more a DC fan than a Marvel fan, has demanded parity. So, utilising the same rules, (all females; secondary characters that are too cool to dispose of, but never seem to get any real primacy), and the same set of character definitions (A Tank, a General, a Conscience, a Street Warrior, and a Wildcard: check the original post for rationalisations.), here is my all-new, all-female, Justice League.

The Tank
Okay, straight off I'm going to bend my self-imposed rule and include a character who has had her share of limelight moments, but is notable more for an unfortunate piece of costuming than any decent stories or characterisation she's been given.
Power Girl is not just super-powered, she is Superman's cousin from an alternative Universe. She's Supergirl grown up, with the power set, the back story, and all the potential that a female analog to the most powerful being on Earth should have. And yet, outside of a few brief highlights (The Harley Quinn team-up series, for example), and a long-running Justice Society of America alumnus (and let's be honest, outside of geeks and nostalgists like me....) what we get is: boob window.
Yeah. Boob window. Because comics aren't for fourteen year old boys, right?
So let's put her front and centre of the highest profile team in the company. Let's treat her seriously. Let's do her right. 
power girl
Power Girl, by Kevin Maguire. With Huntress, and without the goddamn boob window. 

The General
One of my favourite comic book characters, and one I've always wanted to write, is The Question. A genuinely morally ambiguous character, sticking to the shadows, pulling hidden strings, always leaving the reader uncertain about his motivations and the longer game he seems to be playing...... For a while there, Batman supporting character Renee Montoya filled the role, adding shading as a morally suspect cop who had left the force and was tempted by the opportunity to operate outside of the law. It was promising stuff, so naturally it was retconned the hell out of her story when DC went through one of its regular pulling up of tree roots.
I'd like to bring her back, and leave the League dancing to the tune of a character they have to trust is on the side of the angels...
The 2nd Question
Renee Montoya as the question. Artist unknown. 
The Conscience
Two paranormal investigators. The two oldest characters in the DC pantheon. Fused together at the soul, torn apart, refused, killed separately and together until eventually, one chooses to rebuff a return to life in favour of staying in Hell to comfort those souls who live there because she knows the Universal truth that only angels are supposed to know: You can leave any time you want.
Give me open slather, and a six-issue run, and there's no doubt in my mind that I would want to write Doctor Occult before any other character in the DC Universe. Give me the all-female Justice League, and the need to give it a conscience, and there's no contest: it's the immortal personification of love, the ego to Occult's id. Rose Psychic.
Rose Psychic, by the legendary Charles Vess. 
The Street Warrior
It's fair to say, I likes me a good psycho. Not the oooh-looks-at-me-I'm-so-cwaaaaaazeeee psycho of a Harley Quinn or Joker. I mean the I-will-cut-your-fucking-balls-off-with-my-fingernails psycho of a Mr Zsasz or Amanda Waller. So how about a young girl so obsessed with her monocular super-soldier father that she trains herself for umpteen years to think like him, act like him, and perform like him. And finishes it all off by tearing her own eye out so that she can look like him.
Another sordid, twisted, brilliant back story that's been retconned within an inch of its life over the last few years, but I think it's time to bring back the Ravager that almost destroyed the Teen Titans, who filled the Dark Side Club deathmatch ring with abducted superteens, and dared to challenge the god Big Barda to a throwdown, don't you?
Ravager, artist unknown.
The Wildcard
In all of my reading of DC comics over the years, there is one character that has been wilder than all the others. One I would give your right arm to write (I'm not giving my arm. What am I, stupid?). One that sat astride my favourite books of loons (which I would give your left arm to write) and made even them look askance at her. 
Crazy Jane of the Doom Patrol. Named for a painting by Richard Dadd, the famously criminally-insane artist. Burdened by 64 separate personalities, each of which has its own superpower, and only some of which are even remotely benign. Whose best friend is a sentient street that becomes a sentient planet that is destroyed and becomes a sentient brick. Who is supposedly cured, and stable, but come on, this is comics......
Oh yes, Crazy Jane. When you absolutely, positively, need a wildcard to fuck with the entire world.
Crazy Jane, by Richard Case.

So there you have it. Now Master 12 will talk to me again, and I can wait to see whether DC or Marvel call first. Our phones are standing by......

Thursday, June 01, 2017


You know how sometimes you can finish something, step back, and realise that all the elements are, individually, almost right, but that, taken collectively, all the little bits of not right add up to the whole thing looking like a clusterfuck and shitpile loved each other very much?
Yeah, that.