There's no denying it: Kaaron Warren is an awards hoover. Over three novels and umpty-million short stories, she's won everything from the Aurealis, Ditmar, and Australian Shadows Awards to everything Canberra critics can give her to the Shirley Jackson Award. She's one of our very few world class authors-- she'll be a Guest of Honour at the 2018 World Fantasy Convention-- and if that wasn't enough to make you hate her through sheer envy, she's also one of the loveliest people I've ever met. Her latest novel, The Grief Hole, is, like most of her other work, an utter tour de force.
She's one of my favourite SF people, and as always, it's an utter pleasure to be in her company. And as always, no surprise to find that what Kaaron writes about isn't what is seen in the surface but what lies just below, easily missed until she brings it into the light for examination.
A visit to my grandmother’s house was always full of words. From the moment we arrived there was chatter about school and friends and what the mean kid did. About what was for lunch and how well the bread dough was rising, and whether or not it was helped along by my uncle saying, “Arise, Sir Bread” every time.
After lunch was quiet time, but even more filled with words. There were piles of Family Circle and Women’s Weekly to read, and of Australasian Post (courtesy of my jokester uncle). I would nestle myself in a corner with a packet of lifesavers and read my way through the piles. Then I’d go to Nana’s bookshelf. She loved historical novels the best, so there was Georgette Heyer and Catherine Cookson, books I read in a sitting or would borrow to take home and finish that night. I was already keener on ghost stories than these historical romances, but I loved Heyer and Cookson for the way they told the story and for their descriptions. I learnt a lot about dialogue and setting from these books.
My most prized literary treasure, though, is this book.
When my Nana died, I inherited some of her books. Not the Georgette Heyer’s for some reason; they went elsewhere. But I did inherit this book. I’ve never read it. The Garfield bookmark shows where my Nana was up to.
Tears prickle my eyes as I type this. Looking at this book, and the bookmark there, makes me miss her so much. I’m not sure I’m sad she never finished this book, or if it gives me a sense of eternity, as if there is no ‘ending’, there is simply a bookmark keeping a record of where you’re up to for when you come back.
It's been too long since we've visited fellow artists' precious things: the KSP Residency kept me away from all but the most basic blogging, and since I returned to the day job, the weight of work has been ramping up so that I've had very little time to myself for such things. Thankfully, the skies have cleared (I can't wait to tell you about The 18 Month Plan tm) and we have a chance to get back to business with one of Australian Speculative Fiction's most divine lunatics, the brilliantly unique Adam Browne.
For a start, Adam's more than a writer: he illustrates his own works, and they have titles like Pyrotechnicon: Being a True Account of the Further Adventures of Cyrano de Bergerac Among the States and Empires of the Stars, by Himself (dec'd) (a wonderful confectionery of a book I was proud to read pre-publishing), "Other Stories," and Other Stories, and his latest,The Tame Animals of Saturn. He has a tendency not to appear in major presses: such is often the fate of truly original voices, and Adam is truly original-- if you'd like further proof, my favourite of his short stories involves the soul of Michael Jackson being implanted into an immortal spaceship, and grooming a street urchin to travel the stars with him forever. And that's the easy version of the synopsis.
Spend five minutes at Adam's blog, luxuriate in the writing and drawings, then come back here to enjoy an insight into one of the most intriguing and fascinating writers Australian speculative fiction has ever produced.
I was trying to think of the right book -- I liked this idea and wanted to do it justice - but I was floundering around, looking at my bookshelves, considering this and that - The Dictionary of Angels by Gustave Davidson was one - others by Borges - and so on.
Then I chanced on this - this Puffin edition of Arthur C Clarke's Islands in the Sky. The illustration on the cover was what did it - my Madeline cake; bringing back all the sense impressions of that period of my childhood - the years of absorbing every bit of Clarke's pro space propaganda ... space, where it's clean, where there's none of the mufflement and mess of a suburban family life - where, for Clarke, he would be valued for his intelligence, and not scorned for his sexuality...
I was going to be an astronaut when I grew up... It took me too long to grow out of that.
Growing up should be a feeling of increased power and freedom but often it's the opposite.
Now I still love SF, but I tend to favor the eastern European style, which is all 'wherever you go, there you are' in its themes - the real Frontier is us - that sort of thing- see Solaris, or Upon The Silver Globe - also, from the West, Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora - a masterpiece.
I'm still grateful to Clarke for his heartfelt and lucid writing - he was using SF as a means to an end, in which he sincerely believed - even if I don't believe in the same thing any more, I'm still fond of the man. It was only recently that I realised I used to think of him as a friend. And really, thinking about it, I realise that feeling hasn't gone away.
As part of my recent Residency, I was asked to provide a list of 10 writing tips, to be reproduced in the Centre's newsletter.
What the hey: here they are, for you to argue over.
Know what you want to achieve from each session: it’s easier to get words down if you know where you want your story to go.
Set reasonable targets: don’t try to achieve something that puts you under pressure before you start. Better to set a moderate target and exceed it, than otherwise.
Be disciplined: writing time can be minimal. When you have it, don’t get distracted by other things. When it’s time to write, write and only write.
Be regular: you don’t have to write every day, but try to set aside time on a regular basis. 500 words, once a week is better than zero words every day.
Embrace your weird: nobody thinks like you do. If your narrative starts to deviate, take a chance on your instincts and follow it. You might be tapping into that voice that is uniquely yours.
Tell your story first: turn off your internal editor until the first draft is done. Only edit once you have the narrative written. Never start editing until the story is told.
Forget the marketplace: don’t worry about where the story could be sold until it is complete. There will always be a market, but there’s never been one for unfinished stories.
Ignore your surroundings: if you want to complete stories, train yourself to ignore everything around you while you are working. Whether it is the laundry, your spouse, or a cocktail by the beach, they can all wait until you’re finished your session.
There is no perfect environment: the world is too busy, noisy, and fast-paced to wait until you have the perfect combination of circumstances in which to create. Learn to work while surrounded by noise; while on public transport; on a variety of recording media… whatever it takes to get words down wherever you are, whenever you’re there.
Ignore your muse: the world does not care if you are a precious, fragile creative soul. The world cares only for your completed stories. Be a professional, working artist: fly if you can, grind them out if you have to, but accept that your words are the only currency that counts.
On a whim, I entered a competition for 50-word short stories last week. I didn't win, so I thought you might like a little bonus reading material for your day: here are my entries, for your reading pleasure.
The fences were electrified. Designed to keep us from the world. Topped by razors. Patrolled by wolves. Governed by black eyes. Grass stopped at their edges. Water refused to flow. Inside, damnation. Outside, gun barrels. I closed my eyes. I gripped the wires. I burned. I climbed. I flew.
Mother calls. We answer, our voices muffled. We strayed from sight, and it is late. Home promises warmth, and rest, and love. We have strayed, and cannot find our way. Mother calls. We answer. The earth is cold. It fills our mouths and eyes. Mother calls, and calls, and calls.
THE ASSASSIN’S BENEDICTION
The bullet changes everything. You hear it before you feel it: a whistle that nature has never produced. Then a punch that turns the world upside down. And she’s gone. Your love. Exorcised. Nothing is ever the same. Your life is a ghost. That is my gift to you. Knowledge.