Friday, October 27, 2017


One of the better exercises I run during my workshops is also one of the simplest: I give participants a list of final lines from stories already published. Participants pick one and use it as the opening line of a new work. Once the story is completed, simply delete the (un-original) opening line and voila, complete story!

It often prompts participants to ask which of my own closing lines I would use, or which is my favourite. So here's a list of five of my favourite closing lines. do the exercise yourself. See what you come up with. Then show me: I'd love to see where it takes you.

Five for Friday: Closing Lines.

Leaving the sounds of the living world behind, Marius the King descended into his Kingdom.
Marching Dead, Angry Robot Books.

I began crying when the first bombs fell.
Silk, All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories

We entered without looking, and closed off the past.
Father Muerte and the Joy of Warfare, Aurealis 37

We marched out, and he led us, singing, back home through the ashes of our dead.
Europe After the Rain, After The Rain

They laughed, until the only sound in the entire world was the pounding of waves in his ears.
Disciple of the Torrent, Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land

Thursday, October 26, 2017


My one and only ever thumbnail about Halloween. I just find it hard to joke about sweeties.... (sob)...... sigh...... I need a licorice all sort......

Halloween 001

"Excuse me? Do I come to your house on your special day and demand candy from you?"

Friday, October 20, 2017


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

Here, then, are five of my favourites.

Five for Friday: Soundtrack Albums.

1. The Crow

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

2. Purple Rain

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

3. Tank Girl

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

4. Rocky Horror Picture Show

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

5. Blues Brothers

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017


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


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

Friday, October 13, 2017


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

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

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

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

Five for Friday: Earliest Influences

1. Isaac Asimov

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

2. Ray Bradbury

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

3. Harry Harrison

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

4. Roger Zelazny

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

5. Brian Aldiss

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017


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


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

Friday, October 06, 2017


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

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

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


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

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

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

Five for Friday: Full Time Writing Projects

1. More Children's Books

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

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

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

2. Bear Hunts

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

3. Tales of Nireym

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

4. The Canals of Anguilar

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

5. The Claws of Native Ghosts and Other Stories

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

Thursday, October 05, 2017


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


Wednesday, October 04, 2017


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Have you talked to her about that?

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

Why don't you find out?

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

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

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

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

I look at her. She looks at me.

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

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

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

And that's what we set out to do.

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 03, 2017


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

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

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

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

1. Don't Come Around Here No More. 

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


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

3. Last Dance With Mary Jane

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

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

5. Two Gunslingers

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

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