Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hip Hop Happy New Year...

New Year's Eve tomorrow. Unbelievable.

2010 has, on the whole, been a pretty amazing year for me and the family. Toby has turned from a baby into a little boy, work has been crazy busy but really rewarding and satisfying. I've published my first scholarly papers, spoken at my first academic conference, seen the last of the 'Darklands' books finally hit the shelves, become an iAddict, been invited to edit the special edition of Write4Children, won a teaching award, gone to the Sydney Writer's Festival, visited with my sister and her two gorgeous girls in Perth in July, had the worst case of tonsillitis EVER, and just generally kept very, very busy. Min has been busily beavering away at her PhD, which is shaping up nicely now and Toby has been, well... you'll see...

The last couple of weeks, you might have noticed my absence here at Musings... and also on Twitter. This is because, after all the above mentioned hijinks, I decided that my Christmas holidays would be just that - holidays - and so in the spirit of Susan Maushart I rewarded myself with something of a 'shutdown'. The only things I've used my iPad for in the last couple of weeks have been reading and the odd game of 'Plants vs Zombies.' It's been nice. Refreshing, even.

So 2010 has, on the whole, been a good year.

And so, to 2011, which is shaping up to be another busy one: Perth Writer's Festival in March, the new edition of Into White Silence coming out some time in the new year, another big year of teaching, a big conference to speak at in July (I'm talking about Neil Gaiman - yay!), a book chapter to write, the special edition to put together, a house to renovate and, of course, a family to keep on their toes :)

Speaking of which, here's my new year's gift to you all. It's our current favourite song in the WHOLE WORLD! And it comes with some pretty mad dance moves, too. What spins me out the most is remembering that this time last year Toby had just started walking, and look at him go now...*

So happy new year, everyone. Hope you have a relaxing and restful start to 2011. Thanks to those of you who've been reading this meandering little blog during the last year, and who have taken the time to let me know.

In the meantime, Party on!

*Apologies for: a) the shaky camera work , (b) my 'singing' and (c) partially putting my thumb over the camera lens for the middle bit. It's still pretty cute, though, IMHO...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

It's the silly season again. This time last year, Toby wasn't walking. How time has passed.

Before I get onto the 'What I've been up to' part of this blog entry, I'm going to throw in an idea that Min came across the other day and which, I think, is lovely.

I don't know what it's like in your family but in mine, in the past, Christmas has tended to be, well, rather stressy. There's a lot of lead up to 'The Big Day' and a lot of planning and panic and pressure and, from time to time, Christmas itself has become more of a chore than a celebration; desperately trying to cram everything in to the one little window of time.

Not this year though - Min read somewhere that the best way to deal with Christmas is to engage in a little 'mental shift' and to think of it not as one single day on which everything must be perfect, but to think of it as a season - a couple of weeks of relaxing, family, cooking, shopping, and taking it easy. This takes the pressure off, and makes the whole thing fun. We've been thinking of things from this perspective and, I have to say, it's turning out to be one of the most lovely festive seasons I can recall.

So, anyway, what have I been up to since I saw you all last?

Well, for the most part, and aside from a little administrative work this last week, I've been having a holiday from, well, life.

A couple of weeks ago, with all my teaching for the year done, my marks submitted and my admin up to date, Min and Toby and I came across to Perth to stay with my Mum and Dad for a few weeks, and to attend the wedding of an old friend of ours.

The wedding itself was on Rottnest Island, which is one of my favourite places in the world - it's a little daggy, rather run down, the accomodation is basic and they gouge every possible cent out of you while you're there ($6 cucumber, anyone?), but it has the most beautiful beaches, no television reception, no cars or internet, and within 10 minutes of getting off the ferry, you can feel the rest of the world slipping away. It's a lovely thing, and just the ticket after a fairly full-on year of work and family. Mum and Dad came over with us and had some much enjoyed 'Toby time'. We swum at The Basin, ate at the bakery, and generally caught up on sleep and reading.

And our friend's wedding was lovely, too.

Then back to Perth for a combination of pre-christmas prep, family catch ups, planning some home renovations for when we return to Canberra in a couple of weeks and, for me, starting the wheels in motion for a special edition of a scholarly journal which I've been asked to guest-edit for late next year.

This is pretty exciting, actually. The journal is a U.K. based, online publication called Write4Children, and has a really nice broad approach to the scholarship of children's writing, encompassing both theory and practice. I'm curating a special Australasian Edition, and have had some very interesting and exciting abstracts submitted. At the moment I'm considering how to form up and shape the edition in terms of threads and ideas, and then when I get back in January I'll be getting onto the selected writers, chasing up the finished pieces, organising the peer review process, then copy and proof editing. It's going to be a lot of work, but I'm very excited to think that at the end of it there'll be a really solid and permanent contribution to scholarship, and one which I had a big hand in putting together.

I'm also champing at the bit to get back so that I can start writing again. This year I have some big plans. Hopefully.

Anyway, that's where I'm at. Right now it's about 35 degrees outside here in Perth, whereas back home it was snowing a couple of days ago in Yass, which is about 45 minutes up the road from our house. I think I'd rather be here, though the forecast for Christmas is for 38 degrees, and that'll really test things out.

In any case, I hope you all have a lovely Christmas with your families. I'll be back for a New Year's Post some time in the next week or so, probably once we're back home again.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Brief Break

Hi Everyone -

Just letting you know that I'm not abandoning my post here (well, at least not permanently)

I'm just taking a week or so holiday with the family in Perth, and will be back to blogging again soon.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

... And Flooding Rains

Just a quick one, for the moment, as I'm about to walk out of my office for the final time this year and in four hours I have to be on a plane to Perth.

Which is not a bad thing, the way events are moving here in Canberra at the moment. Like a lot of the east coast, we've had some rain in the last few weeks. So much so that there is a fair bit of flooding going on. This morning they started evacuating Queanbean, and earlier today they opened up all the floodgates on Scrivener Dam for the first time in, well, pretty much forever. (Actually, I seem to recall reading somewhere that this last happened in 1976)

To give you a rough idea, here are a couple of photos that one of my colleagues took, a little earlier today. The first is of Scrivener Dam (For those not in the know, Scrivener is the Dam which creates Lake Burley Griffin, which is, in turn, the main water body around which Canberra is built)

(Photo: Greg Battye)

This one shows four of the five floodgates open (the fifth, closed, is on the right of the picture) and the water pouring into the Molongolo River, which is usually a slow moving, muddy trickle, but which now looks like this:

(Photo: Greg Battye)

In any case, it's a good time to be leaving Canberra. Preferably not in an Ark, either, though I suspect that's not far away.

As of ten minutes from now, I'm actually on leave and this time tomorrow will be sitting out the front of a little house on Rottnest Island in Perth, along with Min, Toby and my parents. I imagine that there'll be beer involved.

Anyway, as I have a few little bits and pieces to do before I can leave, I'm going to sign off now.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cheerful Reading

I've just recently (thanks largely to having a few chunks of unexpected downtime last week) finished reading Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy, which he wrapped up with the hugely satisfying Monsters of Men. I'm now about to launch into the second book of Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy, having chewed through the first book in a single day on the weekend.*

I'm not going to post my reviews of them here. That's what Goodreads is for, but I am struck by something which I think I'll probably do a little thinking about in months to come:

During the 1980's and into the early 1990's in the late to-immediate-post cold war era, there was an explosion (for want of a better term) of Australian post-apocalyptic YA fiction, much of it speculative. I'm sure you can think of more than a few titles which threw their YA protagonists into 'end-of-the-world' type scenarios. Victor Kelleher's Taronga was one of my favourites.

Now I'm wondering if we're seeing the beginnings of a similar thing happening, but on a more global scale. The post-apocalyptic being very much used in YA as a social response to wider issues. But now the focus has moved, slightly; Patrick Ness' books deal with power, government and control. I'm only a little way into Suzanne Collin's trilogy, but can see similar concerns there which touch on ideas like the social contract and totalitarianism. A few weeks ago, at an artist's talk here at UC, I spoke about how the global political climate during the years following on from 9/11 had an enormous impact upon my Darklands books, and particularly Skyfall.

It's interesting, I think, to consider the possible forces that shape our written culture, and particularly to look at the sort of material our adolescent readers are engaging with, and in this terror-aware world in which we now live, I suspect there's some pretty strong influences just starting to reveal themselves.

Dunno. This is a little off-the-top-of-my-head, rather garbled and definately in need of some further consideration.

What about you? Do you have any suggestions for contemporary YA spec-fic that might be wrestling with some of this stuff?

*which is a good effort, but not as good as Imogen, who managed to get through the entire trilogy in a single day.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What? It's Friday Already? (or, the week my tonsils went psycho)

(With apologies to Allie at Hyperbole and a Half)

I'll be completely honest with you - to a certain extent, everything is still a little bit hazy.

That's probably the lingering effects of the codeine.

I'm also a bit light-headed still, but a week without food (or coffee!) will do that to you, I'm told.

Still, at least I'm here. That's something.

It's not been a good week.

It started well. Sunday saw Imogen's cousins return to Australia to live here in Canberra after 17 years in Hong Kong. We met them at the airport, took them back to their temporary accomodation, cooked up a lovely BBQ lunch*, then took them to their new Canberra house for a walk around and to make plans for what to do before they move in. It was lovely. A nice family afternoon.

Little did I know that, while we were having such a nice time, this was happening in my mouth**:

By the time we got home from Min's cousins' house, I was feeling decidedly unwell. Headache. Niggling sore throat, and just utterly, utterly wiped out and exhausted. Toby went to bed at 6.30. I went to bed at 6.40.

By 6.00 am the following day, the situation had deteriorated significantly:

I called in work and cancelled. Min called up our local doctor and made an appointment. She took me in. The doctor looked down my throat for about two seconds and then made the following diagnosis:


That's about the last thing I can remember, to be honest. From that point on, I've been on heavy painkillers, and anti-biotics. For a while there on monday and tuesday my throat was so swollen that the only thing I could swallow was water, and even that hurt.

Wednesday I perked up a little bit as the antibiotics took effect. I think I only slept about 14 hours that day.

Yesterday I was a lot better, and today well enough to come into work for a little bit.

So that was my week. In the meantime, I've missed Toby's second birthday***, a valuable week of marking time, plus my writing student's annual 'Get Real' exhibition, which I'm quite upset about, plus god knows how many other things.

Still, it could be worse. And my mum and Dad are here for the weekend, which always helps when a boy is sick.

Have a good weekend all. Don't upset your tonsils...

* which, on reflection, I should have eaten a lot more of...
** Musings from an outer spiral arm proudly presents, for the first time anywhere on the interwebz: Loltonsils!
*** Technically I didn't miss it - I was there for it, just not entirely awake the whole time.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I love music. Hell, thanks to Penni Russon, I just spent my entire week's coffee money buying the new Paul Kelly app for my iPad* I grew up playing music: piano, organ** and then later guitar.

Min is also musical: she plays violin, and sings like an angel. For our wedding present, a number of our immediate family clubbed together and bought us the piano which now sits in pride of place in the lounge room.

I love listening to music. When I write, I'll often have something playing softly in the background or through my headphones, if I'm at work. Usually classical. My faves are all the ones you'd expect: Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Bach. At home, I can't do anything houseworky without something on the stereo: Paul Kelly, the Oils, Crowded House, Missy Elliot and numerous others.

So I guess it's natural that Toby seems to like music, too. He's in a house full of it, surrounded by instruments and encouraged to sing and dance at every opportunity. We recently got him his first guitar - $15.00 from Paddy's Markets in Sydney, and worth at least twice that for the enjoyment it's giving both of us***

He's also showing the odd sign of becoming a Jazz musician when he's older, too...

And then, of course, there's the piano...

It's a good way to grow up, I think.

*Incidentally, Penni, you're right: awesome. Just frikking awesome. Everything in life should be that awesome.
** Don't bother making jokes about it. Trust me, I've heard 'em all.
*** We do an awesome duet of 'From Saint Kilda to King's Cross'.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On Meeting Writers

I won't bother apologising for the long break between updates. It's marking season at Uni, and you can imagine the fun of that for yourself.

I'll tell you a couple of bits and pieces though...

Yesterday, I met David Malouf. He came to UC to work with some of our students, and deliver a couple of lectures (neither of which I was able to get to, owing to teaching and other commitments, worse luck.) I did get to meet him and chat for a couple of minutes though.

I'll be honest with you and admit that I thought I was over being impressed by meeting authors. Until I became one (whatever that means) I used to hold writers in pretty high regard. One of my fond memories of childhood is Roald Dahl sending a casette tape to accept the WA Young Readers Book Award, right back in the 1980's when I was about 12 years old : I remember being so thrilled to hear his actual voice, and he apologised for not being able to get there to accept the award personally. It was a pivotal moment of my childhood. Seriously.

When I first got published, one of the best parts of the whole thing was suddenly finding myself thrust into this world full of people whose names I'd been intimately acquainted with - often for years - as the authors of books I loved. One of the most memorable moments of my first time at the Somerset Festival of Literature in Queensland was finding myself swimming in the hotel pool beside Isobelle Carmody.*

Of course, you soon work out that authors are just like you - people who write.** And it wasn't long before I managed to get my obsessive author-fanboy geek out of my system.

Until yesterday.

Did I mention that I met David Malouf?

I stood there, trying desperately to make conversation, all the while wrestling with the fact that this friendly, unassuming bloke wrote some of what I consider to be the most important and beautiful Australian novels of the last century. He wrote Remembering Babylon, for goodness sake*** He writes gorgeous poetry. Geoffry Smart did a portrait of him. Other people write long and often utterly misguided literary critiques of his words.

And when we were introduced, I shook his hand and do you know what I said to him?

"Uhm. It's a pleasure to meet you." (pause, awkwardly, then: ) "I'm a huge admirer of your work."

Yep. I became a cliche. A tonguetied one, at that.


Still, it's nice to know, in a way, that the mystique is still there for me, especially in this open-access, ultra connected age that we live in. It's nice to know that that the little kid who sat in the WA state library and just marvelled at hearing his favourite author speak is still tucked away inside there somewhere.

*I almost drowned, then and there...
** bear in mind that this was before web 2.0, so there was none of this instant blog and twitter access that we have nowdays. Authors had a lot more, I dunno... mystique, I guess.
*** I used to teach Remembering Babylon to year 12's as part of English Lit. It was a book that opened a lot of minds, including my own.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Back from the Dead...

Right, a proper post today. Sort of.

So the last couple of weeks have been utterly brutal, in a lot of ways. I've never had so little time to do anything other than the essentials. Each morning when I get out of bed, every minute of the day ahead is already accounted for. This explains the lack of blogging, and the general silence of me in the twitterverse and everything. And this looks set to continue for at least the next couple of weeks.

There have, however, been a few high points.

The most recent, as of just a couple of hours ago, was the announcement of the winners of the Prime Minister's Literary Awards for this year. As I talked about earlier in the year, this is the first time that YA and children's writing have had their own categories, and with prize money equal to that of the 'grown ups', too. I'm absolutely thrilled to see Bill Condon take the inagural prize for his Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God. Bill is - I've thought this for a number of years now - one of the most under-rated writers in Australia at the moment. A few years ago I did a reader's report on his novel No Worries and it struck me at the time as one of the most interesting and profound pieces of YA fiction I'd read in years. He's also one of the nicest, most quietly spoken and humble people you could hope to meet. I can't think of a better recipient for this important prize. (Though I'd have been equally as pleased to see any of the shortlisted writers pick up the gong - it was a brilliant shortlist, I thought).

I'm also particularly pleased because Confessions... is another Woolshed Press book, just like Into White Silence, and my longtime friend and editor Leonie Tyle was the one who commissioned and worked on it - it's a fantastic feather in her cap, and an honour that's been a long time coming.

So well done both of them.

In other news - I mentioned in my last post that I'm currently in love with Scrivener 2.0. This is quite simply the most useful writing tool that I've come across in years. A few people have commented here and on Twitter about their own love for it, and I fully understand where they're coming from. For $50 ish dollars, this is worth every cent. I particularly like the corkboard function, which enables me to do my planning and structuring, but also to jump quickly and simply between various points in my MSS. It also has brilliant research functionality which enables you to dump in anything - images, pdf's, whatever, and to associate them with whichever part of your document you intend to use them.

At this point, I'm using it for both fiction and academic writing, and finding it soooo useful for both.

And finally, on the subject of academic writing, you might remember that a few weeks ago now I posted about the impending release of my first two actual research papers. Well, the first of them is now out and about and, because it's in a free online journal, you can even read it!*

It's actually very strange, seeing it up there live and for real. It reminds me of the giddy anticipation I felt when my first book hit the shelves - kind of like standing at the start of some new and exciting avenue in your life.

Anyway, it's stopped raining outside, and so I'm going to take the opportunity to go and get Toby from daycare without getting wet. Or struck by lightning.

See you all later. It's good to be back...

*If you can't get to sleep tonight, I'd recommend it. Particularly the first half...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Status: Alive, but Brain Dead. (ie: A Zombie)

Yeah, I know, it's been two weeks. Argh.

In truth, this is a bit of a place filler, because I'm about to walk out the door to pick up the kidlet from daycare, and that's the best bit of my day at the moment.

The last couple of weeks haven't so much slipped by as screamed past at several times the legal limit, while leaning out the window and blowing Vuvuzula. I've been buried, utterly, utterly buried in myriad teaching, marking, endless seminars, trying desperately to get some writing done, getting prepped for the big end-of-semester influx coming up in a couple of weeks, visiting with my brother and sister in law during a flying visit to Sydney, and just generally being dad to an energetic 2 year old.

And, by the time I get home of an evening, I've been feeling utterly brain-dead. Staring at screens all day'll do that to you, so I'm afraid I've neglected you all. And will probably continue to do so until next week.

But don't let it get you down, I'll be back, and have lots of interesting things to write about. My new love affair with Scrivener,* for one thing...

In the meantime, though, it's time to go home to bed.

Back soon.


*seriously, if you write , you NEED this on your machine. I don't know how I lived without it...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I Caved In...

I'm in the middle of three crazy days at the moment, where pretty much every single minute of every single day has been accounted for, with the result that certain things, like blogging, have taken a backseat. That's why there's been this deafening silence here since last week.

But, anyway...

I love my iPad* for all sorts of reasons. It seems like every time I turn around, I'm finding a new use for it. I'm running all my class lists and records off it nowadays, as well as all my lectures, marking and meeting notes, meaning that my teaching has become virtually paperless in the last couple of months. I use the calendar function on it for all my appointments, and unlike my old paper diary, I actually use the calendar, which has made for a more efficient life. I'm using it for design (like the blog title up there), email, internet, magazines, journals and all sorts of other things.

But there was one function I was determined not to capitalise on. Determined.

I wasn't going to read books on it.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I'm one of those people who always claimed to like my books printed. On good, old fashioned trees. And that hasn't changed. I like being able to hold a book, to heft it in my hand and feel the weight of it. I like the smell of paper and the texture of it. I like the soft crinkle of paper as you flick the page. I like (don't hate me for this) being able to dog-ear the page I'm on.**

So when I got my iPad, I decided that the one thing it wouldn't be is an e-book reader.

Until the other day, when a colleague of mine presented a fantastic paper here at the uni, about the future of the book. She also has an iPad and, unlike me, is an avid reader on it. In her talk, she broke down a lot of the objections regularly raised in relation to the e-reader. She talked about the economics, the portability and the convenience, but for me the moment she changed my mind about this particular issue was when she talked about the tactile aesthetics of reading on the iPad.

She made the point - and I can't argue with her on it at all - that the iPad is, in its own way, just as much a sensory and tactile piece of reading equipment as a book. The smoothness of the screen below your fingertip, the oh-so-subtly muted polish of the machined aluminium chassis, the cosiness of surruptitious reading at night with the lights off, the tweaking of font size, brightness, contrast and 'paper' colour until you're looking at exactly the reading surface you want to look at.

That was what got me. It's not about having the same tactile reading experience as with a book, but it's still about tactile engagement with the words on the page.

So, last weekend, I bit the bullet and bought my first e-book on Amazon. John Birmingham's After America. I'm roughly halfway through it now.

And, I have to say, I'm enjoying reading it. Even aside from the fact that its a damn good read, the iPad is almost always with me nowdays, and therefore so is my book. When I have five spare minutes*** I've got reading material. When I'm eating and couldn't normally manage both a thick bestseller and my food, the iBook is a one-handed operation.

The tactile stuff is living up to its promise, too.

So, reluctantly, I have to admit it. I'm... well, not a convert; I'm still going to be buying 'proper' books, and I don't think a book will feel quite 'real' to my until I'm holding those bound and covered pages in my hot little hand. But I won't not be buying e-books, either. They've definitely got their place.

*I might have mentioned this already...
** But only in my own books, of course.
*** something that hasn't happened since 7.00 last tuesday morning

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Such a Perfect Day

Of course, I probably shouldn't be referencing Lou Reed in the title, because unlike his - let's be honest - fairly ironic take on the perfect day, today actually was pretty damn good.

I was a little worried that this weekend might be a bit of a trial, actually. I mentioned it in my last post. But today was lovely.

The little angel slept in! Until almost 7.30!*

Then we cooked a slap-up breakfast of bacon, eggs, mushrooms and toast with coffee (for me) and a toby-cino (for him)

Then, off to the pool. Foolish dad thought that on a freezing, blustery 7-degree Canberra morning that the indoor pool would be almost deserted. Shows what I know. Turns out that Belconnen pool was the most popular place in Canberra this morning. Still, no matter, we spent a very pleasant hour-and-a-half floating, splashing, playing in the fountains, jumping off the wall and sinking like a stone to the bottom of the pool.**

Home. Light lunch, and then Toby had a nice little 2.5 hour nap, while Dad did the housework and got stuff ready for next week.***

Then it was off to my Mother-in-Law's house, to take her up on her very generous offer of a Toby-Sleepover.

After dropping the bub off, I headed into civic for an early meal, a beer, and a very pleasant couple of hours reading 'After America' by the versatile John Birmingham which I took great delight downloading to my iPad for $16.00 while standing in Borders beside the $39.00 hard copy. (Sorry, John, but sometimes you gotta make a selfish decision...)

Now I'm home. Just had a shower in our lovely new bathroom, got a glass of nice Clare Valley Reisling in hand and a bit of Crowded House playing softly. The heater's going, the dog's curled up at my feet, and tomorrow I can even sleep in until 8, or even 8.15 if I want.

And sure, the house feels absurdly empty without either Min or Toby in it. And sure, I keep fighting back the urge to ring and just check and 'see how things are going', but that's fatherhood for you. Min'll be back home monday morning, (at the moment, she's having a day off touristing and shopping in Copenhagen) and Toby tomorrow, so I'm going to just enjoy a rare night to myself. Probably in bed with JB's book.

Yep. Pretty much a perfect day.

*7.30 might not sound like much of a sleep in to anyone reading this who isn't/hasn't been the parent of a toddler, but - trust me on this - 7.30 is like 11.00 in normal world time (which is a little like dog-years)

**Only a couple of times.

***And played Farm Frenzy 2 on his iPhone

Friday, October 15, 2010

Just Reporting In

As predicted, solo parenting week has been, well, rather hectic. And exhausting*

It's all going well, though - thanks largely to insane amounts of rather OTT organisation on my part beforehand.

Of course, tomorrow and sunday will be the big test - how will Tony cope without the relief of daycare? Will he start speaking about himself in the first person? Other rhetorical questions?

I'll keep you posted.

*though this wasn't helped by the fact that certain family members chose Wednesday night to wake up and yell every hour or so...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I'd Like To Thank The Academy...

Just a short one, this evening. Night two of solo parenting going well. The scary thing is that I've put Toby to bed for the second time since Imogen left, and she still hasn't arrived at her final destination. The joys of international travel.

Anyway... I've picked up a couple of accolades in my time, for various things, but it has recently been brought to my attention that our humble blog here has made the list!

(You'll have to look closely to find us. Down near the bottom. At number 98, to be precise.)

So there you go. Made the top 100. Out of 126. That's almost as good as some of my year eleven maths results.

Thanks followers (and non-followers) I couldn't have done it without you.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Flying Solo

A couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, Min got invited to coach the ANU team in the second annual Copenhagen Negotiation Competition which means, of course, that she's off to Copenhagen.

Actually, as I write this, she's just taken off from Sydney, launching into a 30 hour effort - Denmark via Bankok and London. Luckily, I'm told that Princess Mary greets all Australian visitors to Denmark at the airport with a can of VB and some Vegemite on toast. I'm not sure how true this is, but I like to think it'll happen.

And, of course, the other upshot is that I'm a solo parent for the week. Yep, just me and Toby, batching it.

Thus far it's going well. We've watched an episode of playschool, made sausages, mash and peas for dinner ** Then (as tends to happen with dinner nowdays) Toby threw the mother of all tantrums, had a bath, and went to bed, where he fell asleep in an instant.

So now I'm sitting alone, in a suddenly very quiet and empty house. I've also done two loads of washing, already. In a while, I might go sit outside and have a beer and contemplate the next seven days. I've got my meals planned, the shopping done, Toby's daycare bag already packed for tomorrow, our lunches made, and have swept the floors. I'm organised. Bring it on, I say.

And, of course, I've been thinking about single parenting. This is the first time I've had all the parental duties to myself for any extended period. (I've done some short hops before, of course, but never even a complete overnight.) Min's done it several times while I've been off for various writer's festivals and uni obligations, but this is my first time in the pilot's seat.

It's kinda daunting, in its own way. Already, after just a few hours, I'm finding myself thinking differently. More logistically, for one thing. But I'm also looking forward to it - I really need to know that I can do something like this.

So, anyway, if there isn't a lot of blog action from me this week, you can probably guess that it's because I'm knee deep in toddler-town.

Should be fun. And, of course, one day I'll use the experience in a book.

**this particular dinner is something of a tradition in my family: when I was a kid, whenever mum was away, Dad made bangers and mash. I've got fond memories of eating bangers and mash for dinner on the night after my sister was born, so I felt kind of obliged to carry on the tradition.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's a Love Story...

...don't worry. I'm not about to go all Taylor Swift on you.*

But as today is the 10th of October, 2010 (ie: 10/10/10) I thought I'd tell you a true love story.

This couple I know, who shall (for the moment, at least) remain nameless, have been together for quite a while, now. In fact, one of their early dates, during their first year of seeing each other, was on the 6th June, 1966. (6/6/66). They went to a restaurant in Perth - a steakhouse located at 680, Oxford street, Mt. Hawthorn.

That night, the bloke in question asked the girl in question** if she'd like to have dinner there with him again, eleven-and-a-bit years later, on the 7/7/77. Her reply, only semi-seriously, I suspect, was that she'd probably have four kids by then, which could make it difficult.

"Doesn't matter. Bring them along." was his reply.

Eleven-and-a-bit years later, they did indeed go out to dinner again. At the same steakhouse. The girl was only half correct; at that point, there were only two kids, and the third well on the way. (And the two, despite being invited, were actually dumped with their grandparents for the night. But that's kinda beside the point.)

Then (You can probably see where this is leading) on the 8/8/88, they went there again. By now, the steakhouse had become a modern French joint, and on this occasion the kids - all three of them - did come along.

On the 9/9/99, the family went again. By this point, the restaurant was Thai. Their eldest son brought his (then) girlfriend.***

Tonight, that couple will be heading off to the Royal Thai Restaurant, at 680, Oxford Street, Mt Hawthorn, for dinner. This year, just like in 1966, it'll be just the two of them. Their eldest now lives in Canberra with his wife and son. The middle child and his wife are off hiking in southern Patagonia, and their youngest lives in the USA with her husband and kids.

I hope mum and dad have a fantastic evening. And I can't help but wonder what they must have talked about that evening back in 1966, and if they even considered the possiblity that almost half-a-century later they'd be sitting down together in the same restaurant (or the same place, at least) with their family spread across the world, all of us very far apart, but still very, very close.

Happy 10/10/10 Marg and Dave. Enjoy yourselves.

*though I will admit, here in very small letters at the bottom of the page, to owning the CD. And to occasionally playing it. And singing along. Usually while house cleaning...

**I know you've all worked out that it's my parents by now, but I'm going for dramatic effect here, so go with me on this, okay?

***Not, sadly, his current wife, although that would have made for a much better story...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Just A Short List...

Gotta be quick with this one, owing to an impending meeting, but I wanted to mention that the shortlist for the ACT Book of the Year Award was announced yesterday. This is the one I sat on the judging panel for earlier this year, and I'm really thrilled to see the list finally out in the public.

Carving so many fantastic books down to a shortlist of only five was one of the most difficult things I've ever done, but I (and the other judges on the panel) are all really happy with this final list. Owing to my position as judge, I'm not going to make any comments about them at the moment, other than to mention that the shortlist, in no particular order, is:

The Lake Woman, by Alan Gould

Rugged Beyond Imagination, by Matthew Higgins

Valley of Grace, by Marion Halligan

Bills of Rights in Australia, by Andrew Byrnes, Hilary Charlesworth, and Gabrielle McKinnon.
The Blue Plateau, by Mark Tredinnick

Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors, and also to the rest of the very talented ACT and regional writers who entered - it was a fantastic privilege to read all your wonderful books.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Referee's Decision is Final

In the last week, I've submitted my first two articles for refereed journals - one here in Australia, and one overseas. Both were accepted for publication, which is good news. Both came back with overall positive reports from the peer reviewers*

It's funny, though - after ten years in the writing industry, countless newspaper and magazine reviews, not to mention editorial and readers reports, I thought I was done with nervousness about putting something I'd written 'out there'.

Turns out that I was wrong.

I've got pretty clear memories of the day that The Darkness was released, waaay back in 2000. I remember knocking off from work (one of the longest school days of my life) and driving directly to my local Dymocks bookstore, in the Morley Galleria. Before going into the shop I stood outside for a couple of moments and reminded myself that there was no point rushing in, because the book wouldn't be there, anyway. But, once I entered and made my way to the 'young adult' shelves, right at the back of the shop beside the 'alternate lifestyles' section, there, to my shock, was a single copy of my little blue book, parked spine-out on the shelves beside Nick Earls' 48 Shades of Brown and all five million copies of David and Leigh Eddings' The Belgariad.

It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

Mainly because, up until that point, the whole 'publishing a book' thing hadn't been real - it'd been a sort of abstract idea, but with nothing tangible to show for it. Suddenly though, there was a copy of my book - my book - with my name on the front cover, sitting in a public bookstore for anybody with a spare $14.00 to just walk in and purchase, whenever they wanted. They didn't need to ask my permission, or wait for me to send them the latest draft of the MSS. Hell, they didn't even have to know me.

And, it also occurred to me in that moment, perhaps just a little too late, that when they read it, they didn't have to like it. My writing was 'out there' in the public eye, and totally open to criticism.

One of the most nerve-wracking realisations of my life.

Over the years, and the course of another ten books, I've gotten past that feeling. Nowdays when a book hits the shelves I just treat it with more of a resigned shrug and a que sera sera. Naturally some people won't like it. Hopefully more people will. Either way there's nothing I can do about it. I pretty much thought I'd gotten through the nerves.

Which is why I'm a little surprised to find myself so suddenly twitchy about these peer review articles. The thought that they're going to be published in proper academic journals is not an all together comfortable one, even though I'm happy with both pieces and it's an intrinsic aspect of my job. But still - it's one thing having my creative writing published; that's just stories, after all. These are somehow... different.

I think it's because academic writing is published for one specific purpose: to encourage debate. And discussion. And (occasionally) argument. We've all heard horror stories about academic feuds which have taken place in the pages of various journals and textbooks, sometimes for decades. There's also a strong and very edgy body of scholars who have specialised for years in the study of writing and children's literature and - if I'm being honest - I'm very aware that I might be seen as treading on some toes by weighing in to the conversation. Bloody upstart.

Of course, I know most of this is completely in my mind. Without exception, all the academics that I've met in the last couple of years at conferences, festivals, symposiums and other such functions have been nothing but lovely and supportive.

But that doesn't kill the nerves, though. I think only time and getting a few more of these under my belt will do that.

*For anyone not familiar with the workings of academic publishing, it goes like this: you submit your piece to your chosen journal who then send it out to (usually) two or three anonymous peer reviewers - other academics familiar with your field. They read the article, make any suggestions that occur to them, decide whether or not your arguments and / or data are academically sound**, and recommend either for / against publication in the journal. Once (if) it's published, you get points from the national research assessment bodies, which earns your university money, which means you get to keep your job. Which is nice.

**or, alternatively, full of shit.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's all about Horizons...

There's a little content box a bit down on the right hand side of your screen there which speaks to my inner geek* - it's the NASA 'Photo of the Day' application.

Anyway, last week, (on friday or saturday, I think...) those of you with an appreciation for all things spacey might have noticed the following photograph there:

This is the Space Shuttle Discovery, rolling out to the launchpad for her final flight, scheduled for November 1. After she returns to earth for the last time, there's one flight (the Endeavour) scheduled for February 2011, and then a possible flight by the Atlantis in June. After that, it's all over for the Space Shuttle Programme, which is something I find terribly sad, in its own way.

Why? Like everything, it's all about childhood, really.

Here, from 1981, is a pic of the Columbia lifting off on her maiden voyage, and the first ever space shuttle mission - STS-1:

I've got vivid memories of this moment. When they launched Columbia, I was 9 years old, and living at Cocos. There was no TV on the islands, but a few lucky families had those new fangled 'Video Cassette Recorders' and got relatives and friends in Perth to tape shows and post them up on the fortnightly supply flight. These tapes were handed around the island from family to family, many of them literally played to pieces.

Someone taped the launch of the Columbia, and I remember watching it with my dad, on our blurry little portable TV and feeling utterly blown away by the power and grandeur of it.

But more than that - it was the ingenuity which really got me: men and women had built this thing - this spectacular machine - and now, as we watched them on our little screen on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, they were setting off into space on it. I guess that part of the power of that moment for me was the fact that, as I mentioned yesterday, on the Islands our horizons were so tiny - everywhere you looked was empty ocean. To a nine year old, living in such a tiny little world, watching a machine like the Columbia leap into the sky was more than just cool - it was liberating. For my 9-year-old self, it was a moment filled with possibilities.

And so now, when I look at that picture of Discovery on her way out to make that leap for the final time, and when I think about the end of the shuttle era fast approaching, I can't help but feel kinda sad - it's not just the end of a technology; it's the end of a tiny little sliver of my childhood.

Of course there'll be other spaceships, and other grand moments, but none will ever quite match the power of that instant viewed through the eyes of a child.

I guess that's one of the reasons I love writing for kids.

It's all about horizons.

*if we're being honest, my 'inner geek' isn't that far in. Just below the skin, really. Except for the bits where it breaks through...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Two (or three) Wheels

A little housekeeping, first.

The astute among you* will have noticed a new banner at the top. I made it on my iPad, using a funky little text design app called 'Type Drawing'. I'm not convinced that I've got it completely right yet, but I kinda like the idea. Let me know what you think...

Now, down to business.

Bikes have been a big part of my life for a long time now. When I was a kid, growing up on the Cocos Islands, our bikes were our ticket to freedom; the island we lived on, called West Island was a long skinny, flat coral raft, about 7 kilometres long and about 500 metres across at its widest point. It was also about 2 metres above sea level. As kids, we must have explored every accessible inch of that island on our bikes. We rode them out onto reefs, along beaches, into mangroves (every bike on the island was painted in this sort of thick black tarry paint, to prevent them rusting out within three weeks, and so we pretty much rode them anywhere. I remember being awfully upset seeing my shiny blue bike disappear into the island workshop, and re-appear a couple of days later looking exactly the same as everyone elses...) and even up and down the island's runway.**

As an adult, in my 20's, I got into triathlon in a big way, and spent countless hours cruising around Perth and Fremantle with my cycling mates. Most saturday mornings we'd hit out from the uni at around 6.30ish, and put in a 50-80k ride, usually around the river and up the beaches, and stopping for breakfast down in Fremantle, or perhaps up in the hills, if we were feeling energetic. A few times a year we'd do a big ride down to Mandurah or Rockingham and back, notching up a hundred+ kilometres in the morning, and then going home to sleep all afternoon. I've got some really good memories of trundling around Perth with the boys, chatting and taking in the scenery.

Since moving to Canberra, my cycling has dropped off a fair bit. A year or so ago I traded in my racer for a more practical commuter bike, with big fat tyres and suspension, for the ride in to work, but I don't do it nearly as often as I should. Partly this is because the state of the roads and cycle paths is pretty disgraceful here, but mainly because of the high prevalence of utter bogans with whom you have to share the road.***

But still, I love being out on a bike and, for as long as I can remember, cycling has been one of the big pleasures of life for me.

I particularly remember my first bike. Don't know how old I was when I got it, but it was a red tricycle, with white wheels. I can clearly recall riding endlessly up and down the path around our house, and probably had my mother living in constant fear that I'd set off down our (incredibly steep and unforgiving) driveway**** My trike had a little platform on the back, which you could stand on and use to scoot the bike along and this - most importantly - was shaped like an aeroplane wing, with little 'go fast' ridges and a slightly scalloped trailing edge.

I can't remember what happened to my little red tricycle. I guess it got thrown out eventually.

But anyway, a week or so back, we decided that it was time we got a bike for Toby. He's been scooting around on one at daycare, and loving it.

So we went to Toys R Us, and spent a good chunk of time considering the relative merits of the multitude of models on display: did we want one with parental steering? mini-bucket seats? horns and rear-vision mirrors? seat belts? a sun shade? Drink bottle holders?***** Should we get him the one in neon green plastic, or bright blue plastic? (Or would getting him a blue one be buying into gender stereotyping?) We were determined to avoid the various merchandised ones, which ruled out the Elmo, Thomas and Bob the Builder Bikes******

Then, just when it seemed all hope was lost, we spotted it. Right up on the top shelf, on sale.

A little, shiny, red metal tricycle, with white wheels.

It looked eerily familiar. And it was perfect.

And Toby loves it...

*ie: all my readers.

** there was this great system: if a plane was landing, a siren would go off, and you had about three minutes to get off the runway and to a safe distance. I suspect this has probably changed in the intervening years.

*** On my last ride in to work, about 6 months ago, I was almost killed by a P-Plated commodore full of idiots who deliberately swerved into the bike lane at 80kph, passing within about 2cm of my handlbars, while one of them leaned out the window to whack me on my helmet. Sadly this isn't the first time something like this has happened to me here in Canberra, and I've been a bit loathe to get back on the bike since.

**** I never did. Though I did spend a disproportionate amount of my childhood trying to persuade my brother to give it a go...

***** I am not making any of that up.
****** That either....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Young Over-Achievers...

A rare saturday blog post from me, owing to Toby having a sleepover at his grandmother's house last night!

I mentioned in my last blog that I was off to launch a book on Wednesday night.

The book in question was The Griffin's War by Katie J Taylor, one of my former Uni of Canberra students, and a very impressive young woman.

I've mentioned Katie here before, but thought I'd talk about her in a little more detail here. Hopefully she won't mind.

Firstly, here's the book I launched for her this week ---->

If you look closely at the fine print at the top of the cover, you'll notice that this is book 3 of her trilogy The Fallen Moon.

And if you look at the date of my last post, about Katie's first book in the series, you'll notice that it's dated almost exactly a year ago.

That's right. In the last 12 months, Katie has put out not one, or two, but an entire trilogy of very readable, *very* hefty fantasy books. And she's already finished the drafts of the next three in this world she's created. The 'Fallen Moon' books are also just about to hit the shelves in the USA.

Speaking as someone who took the better part of an entire decade to put out my own spec-fic trilogy, I can only take my hat off in admiration. In fact, I think it's safe to say that Katie is one of the most prolific writers I've ever met.

But that's Katie for you. If you ever get a chance to meet her, and to listen to her speak, then you should take it - she's a fascinating writer to talk to. After just a few minutes, it quickly becomes clear that Katie is a writer whose characters are utterly alive in her head. The minutiae of her worlds are similarly alive to her. As someone who works in a very different way, and who has a very different approach to narrative, it's quite amazing to be privvy to such a dedicated young writer.

At the launch the other night, she made a fantastic speech - she talked about her recent experiences at World Con in Melbourne (which, sadly, I didn't manage to extricate myself from the rest of my life in time to attend) and the realisation she came to one night there, having met so many of the world's top spec fic writers (She has a copy of her book with some incredible signatures in it, including - and I'm very jealous of this - George R.R. Martin!) that really the writing game isn't about yourself as a writer, or about the success or otherwise of your books, (that way lies madness), but it's about other people - your readers. It was an incredible thing for someone still starting out in this industry to talk about: I'd been at this game a lot longer than Katie before I came to a similar realisation, and when I did, I think that in many ways it was a moment that really released me from constraints in my writing - It was fantastic to hear Katie talk about it in such a thoughtful and reflective fashion.

So congratulations to Katie on The Fallen Moon (I'm not going to spoiler it here, but have reviewed all the books on Goodreads for anyone interested), and also to Harper Voyager for taking on such a talented young writer and giving her such a supportive start to what will, I suspect, be a very long and productive writing career.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Little More on Inertia

Last week I wrote briefly about inertia.

This was largely because I didn't feel like I was having a particularly good week. I got a lot of little stuff done, but somehow the big stuff (like writing, for example, or working on the couple of academic papers that I've been plugging away at for what feels like forever) wasn't getting done, and not for lack of time, but motivation.

In my rather bleak post last week, I put this down to inertia, and suggested that;'s irritating when the brain and the willpower don't come into alignment. For a writer, it's dangerous.

But today, I'm going to disagree with that.*

Because after due thought and consideration, I've come to the conclusion that inertia isn't dangerous, or even bad. It's a necessary part of the whole creative process.

At the moment, I've got my next book sitting on my computer, almost finished. It's somewhere in the region of about 35,000 words, and I expect it'll top out at around 50ish. (It's going to be a lot shorter than my last few books, which is not a bad thing, in my opinion.) It's been at that point for roughly two months now, on a sort of jumpy pause, halfway through chapter twenty-three.

But where last week I was letting this really bother me, the weekend gave me a chance to recharge my batteries and get a little perspective. (There's nothing like working in the garden to help clear the mind...)

And the conclusion I've reached is this: The book will finish itself when it's ready to be finished.

Now, I suspect that this isn't the way a lot of writers work, or think. But it's the way I need to work and think, for a few reasons.

One is because this book is going to be an important one for me. It's different to all my other stuff; very different. It's much more commercial than most of my previous works, but that's not a bad thing. Up to date, it still has an awful lot of me in it; I'm enjoying writing it, I'm loving the story, and most importantly I'm having a lot of fun with it, and I want all this to continue right through the draft. This book is going to involve a little bit of re-imagining of myself and my writing, and if I try to force it out onto the page, all I'll end up with is a disingenuous piece of writing, that has nothing of myself in it. So for that reason, I'm loathe to try and force it out.

Another reason is that the reality of my life now is very different from what it was a couple of years ago. Back then - when I was writing 'Into White Silence' for example, I had the luxury of being able to put a couple of months aside and just bury myself in writing. Not so much any more - now I have fatherly duties which take up (and are the best part of) most of my weekends. I have my job at uni, which is work I love doing - both the teaching and researching - but which leaves me mentally wiped at the end of most days. Time has become a commodity, and if there's one thing that good, genuine writing needs, it's time. So I'll just have to accept the fact that I might need to space my writing more widely across the year, and get used to writing in those periods where I have my mojo on.

Finally there's the requirements of the book itself. During these last couple of months of inertia, I realised the other day, I've been mentally tweaking, exploring and shifting a lot of tiny aspects of the story around in my head, and improving it as a result. This makes me wonder if, just perhaps, this story isn't ready to be confined to the page quite yet.

So there you have it. I'm reversing my position on inertia. For the moment, at least. It's not dangerous, it's natural and probably necessary.

Now, I'm going to have a nap...

* I read somewhere that all good blogs engage in public debate. Well, that's just what I'm doing here. Only with myself.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What I Did on My Weekend...

If there are a few typos in this post, then I'll apologise. I've got some minor typing issues at the moment, mainly to do with the fact that my left thumb is currently encased in an enormous bandage.

If you follow me on Twitter, and if you were following along last friday night, then you'll already know the sad saga of my evening. But, for those of you who weren't* here's the abbreviated version:

Friday night, Min and I planned to do a chinese steamboat dinner - yum. We had scallops, pork, beef and chicken all marinading, along with yummy enoki mushrooms, cloud ear fungus*, and a simmering stock of chicken infused with szechuan peppers and soy and tsing zao.

Oh, yeah, and cabbage. That Chinese cabbage called Wombok.

And it was the cabbage that brought me unstuck. I was cutting it up in to managable pieces when I managed to almost slice the top off my left thumb. It was a lovely cut - an almost perfect circle, with just a tiny little hinge holding my fingertip onto the rest of my finger.

And there was some bleeding, too.

"Hmm... ouch." I said, very calmly.***

Then, with Toby asleep in bed, we called my brother in Law - the awesome Joe - who drove all the way across Canberra on a friday night, picked me up and took me to the emergency room at Calvary hospital, where I had the following conversation with the Triage nurse.

Me: Hi. I've managed to slice open the tip of my finger.
TN: How.
Me: With a kitchen knife, while making dinner.
TN: What were you cutting up?
Me: Uhm... Cabbage.
TN: (slightly incredulous) Cabbage?
Me: Yeah.
TN: Is your tetanus shot up to date?****
Me: Yes.
TN: Okay. Well, sit down and wait over there. But I should warn you that there are people in the waiting room who've been there since three this afternoon*****, so you're looking at a minimum 5 hour wait. Probably closer to 6 or 7.
Me: You're kidding?
TN: *Shrugs*

So at that point, and resisting the urge to point out that it would have been quicker to drive to Sydney and get it looked at there, I left, choosing home surgery as a more viable alternative. Luckily, while stopping at a late night chemist on the way home to pick up supplies, the nice pharmacist suggest I go to the medical centre down the road and just three minutes from the emergency room of the hospital which is open every night until ten. I went there. I didn't have to wait. I got the top stitched back onto my thumb. I find myself questioning why TN didn't just send me right there in the first place, but I guess she had her reasons.

Then Joe drove me home. It was 10.30. Min had put the steamboat stuff back in the fridge and ordered a pizza.

Saturday morning here was one of those gorgeous spring days, which in Canberra are particularly lovely; cool, damp, sunny. You can taste the season in the air. We'd planned to get to work at taming our feral garden, and weren't about to let the fact that I had a thumb encased in bandages stop us. Saturday morning saw the three of us outside in our wellies, weeding, digging, planting.

One of the first things we did when we bought our Canberra house was to build two big garden beds and fill them up with good soil. And for first couple of years that we lived here, our garden beds were the envy of the suburb: silverbeet, cucumbers, zucchini, spinach, garlic, spring onions, basil, coriander, rosemary, sage and, of course, tomatoes. Lots and lots of heirloom tomatoes. Black Russians, Green Zebras, Golden cherries, Romas, Black Krims, and others I can't quite remember. At one point, we had about seven different species of tomato in our gardens. Right through summer we ate them with everything: a thick sliced Black Russian, on toast, with a liberal sprinkling of salt for breakfast on a summer morning is just delightful. As summer wore on, we got ourselves a preserving kit and started bottling and during the winter months, when all outside was dark, cold and dead, we had the pleasure of opening our own jars - filled with garden tomato, basil leaves and a dash of balsamic vinegar - every time we needed them.

Then, a couple of years ago, things changed. Toby came along and, for some reason, last year's gardening was less than successful.

Now, though, he's old enough to toddle around out there too, and to 'help'. Occasionally he even pulls out weeds, and not plants.

So Saturday morning was great; the three of us out in the sun, under our flowering plum tree, with the dog, getting in seedlings and pulling out all the winter-dead plants and prepping the soil for the upcoming growing season. With the wet winter now behind us, it promises to be a really good season, and we're going to make the most of it. Right now our broad beans are flowering profusely, promising a nice crop before a lot longer (one of the things I love about early summer is the broad bean harvest; such an earthy, springy taste, and they grow through winter. And they're good for the soil, too...) Our third generation parsley plant is going nuts, and our oregano and sage have come back to life. We also have a cos lettuce growing out the side of one of the garden beds, where it self-seeded last year.

The garden has become one of the big pleasures of our lives (Oh god, I've become my parents!) and last weekend it was just fantastic introducing Toby to it, too.

Anyway, I should get on with my day, and stop bothering you all.

*ie: anyone who thinks that life deserves more than 140 characters
** Black. Looks like a cloud crossed with an ear. Texture a bit like seaweed. Min loves it
*** Or words to that effect.
**** I didn't know you could get tetanus from cabbage, either.
***** At that point, it was 8.30

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bathrooms. Books. Workshops. Inertia.

Let's start with inertia, shall we?

Perhaps its because the ongoing saga of our bathroom renovations has thrown the last three weeks of our lives into utter disarray, or perhaps it's because I've got the middle-of-semester blues, or perhaps I'm just having a flat spell, but the last couple of weeks I've been finding it increasingly difficult to fight the overwhelming urge to do nothing. It's a little like everything has ground to a halt, and I just can't find it in me to get going again.

Which is utter crap, of course, I've got about a million and one things to do, most of them distressingly soon. Blog posts, for example. But still it's irritating when the brain and the willpower don't come into alignment. For a writer, it's dangerous.

Okay. Enough with the whinging. Now on to workshops...

Last friday I spent the day up in Sydney working with a group of fantastic young writers, and also fellow scribblers Jacqueline Moriarty and Suzanne Gervay run by the New South Wales CBC and held at the Australian Maritime Museum which, in addition to being a fantastic venue, is also the home of the Endeavour Replica, which I helped to build, rig and sail in Fremantle back in the early 1990's. Part of the day was a tour of the ship, which I haven't set foot aboard since it left Fremantle, and it was lovely to be back aboard her.

The rest of the day was fantastic - one of the best parts of this job is meeting and working with young writers, and a number of the guys and girls at the workshop have already done some incredible writing.

Tomorrow, I'm working at UC with students from Gold Creek High School, as part of our 'Uni Student for a Day' program, and that also promises to be fun.


I recently finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy (another of those big holes in my reading which I've been intending to fill for ages). It had quite an impact on me. I may have raved about it slightly at Goodreads. As I mentioned in my review, I think that one of the main reasons this book resonated so strongly with me was because of the portrayal of fatherhood within it. It captures all the utter powerlessness and desperation that comes with being a parent, and particularly a father (IMHO). It's a thoroughly beautiful, if completely gut-wrenching book.

Finally, Bathrooms:

In theory, our bathroom should be more-or-less finished tomorrow, except that while I've been typing up this post, our bathroom guy just called to let me know that there's been a problem with a benchtop, and we'll have to wait until thursday. This isn't overly surprising. Lately, I've been feeling a little bit like I'm on Grand Designs. I keep expecting to turn around to find Kevin McLeod in our hallway, looking terribly earnest and just slightly smug and saying something like "Tony and Imogen are convinced that they're going to come in on time and on budget*, but I'm at all convinced that they'll be able to achieve such an ambitious schedule on a project like this..."

Still, I can't complain. As of last night, at least we have a functioning shower again for the first time in three weeks.** This, if nothing else, has had a dramatic impact upon our quality of life. I'll stick some pics up here when it's all done***

Anyway, that's the brief summary of life at the moment. With a bit of luck tomorrow will see me in a more cheerful mood.

*We haven't. On either count.
** I smell a lot better, now.
*** Next year, on current projections.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Those Pesky Kids...

Here's something one of my students found glued into the endpaper of one of the books from our library, circa about 1982:

Says it all, really...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Into the Depths of Chaos

I've been resisting the urge for the last week to post yet another little lefty rant here, and to propose that at the moment - with both the major political parties effectively on good behaviour bonds and desperately trying to look stable and responsible, while the public service run the country - we're getting the best political governance we've had for a decade and-we-should-consider-just-leaving-things-this-way.

I'm not going to do that, however. Because, let's face it. There's no point.

So, instead, I'm going to talk about bathrooms.

Specifically, our bathroom. Or what remains of it.

It's amazing the way that the loss of one little room can throw an entire family into complete chaos. Until a week or so ago, I wouldn't have believed it possible, but - trust me on this - it's absolutely the case. Even a bathroom which is, let's face it, pretty much a single purpose room.

A while back, we decided to have our bathroom done up. We made this decision for two reasons:

1. Our house was designed and built (along with every other house in our neighbourhood) in the 1970's as a 'Guvvy'; that is, to be used as 'government housing' for either government workers who had to move to Canberra, or for low income housing. This means that the house was built to a plan, a budget, and a certain standard*. When we purchased it, a lot of the house had already been renovated, but not the bathroom. We inherited the original, 1970's bathroom, complete with narrow, shallow, enamel-less bath, peeling water damaged paint, mouldy roof, uneven water-catching floor and permanently dirt-ingrained grouting.

2. The whole room, like pretty much anything built in Canberra in the 1970's, was lined with asbestos.**

So a few weeks ago we bit the bullet, organised some quotes, and chose a nice bloke to do up the bathroom. We picked out new taps, showerhead, tiles... all the usual stuff. We try not to think too much about the dollars involved.

Of course, the downside was that we'd have no bathroom for a couple of weeks, but we consoled ourselves with the fact that we'd booked the renovation in for spring, when it'd be getting warmer, and our respective workloads would be a little under control.

"We'll manage." Min and I told each other. "How difficult can it be?"

Well, quite difficult, as it turns out.

Partly because our bathroom man had a cancellation, and bumped our job forward a month-and-a-half, which put it into the busiest part of the uni semester for me, and the trailing-but-still-bloody-cold final weeks of the Canberra winter. Still, at least we'll have our lovely new bathroom sooner.

In the meantime, though, we're facing down the challenges of a house where all the bathroom stuff (and it's incredible just how much stuff can come out of such a small room - Toby's bath toys alone filled a green bag, which is now sitting outside on the back porch) is crammed into whichever cupboard or horizontal surface will hold it. Then there's the challenge of keeping a toddler out of a room which currently:
  • Has no door and
  • Has drying concrete on the floor, drying waterproofer on the walls, a gaping hole where the shower drain used to be, power sockets hanging out of the walls and a sharp steel strip along the floor where the new shower base will sit. In other words, it's the most interesting room in the house at the moment.
Then finally there's the fact that, well, we don't have a shower. I'll be honest here; I like my showers. Especially in the mornings. It's safe to say that after coffee, a shower is perhaps the most important part of my daily routine. I'm one of those people who doesn't actually feel conscious until I've had my morning shower. At the moment, I'm showering in the bathroom down the hall from my office at work, by which point I've usually been up for hours, and feel like a sort of grotty zombie, and the feeling never really goes away.

It's not all bad, though. For one thing, our new bathroom, when it's done, will be lovely. It'll be the first time that both of us have owned and lived in a house with a really *nice* bathroom. It'll help us pretend we're on holidays in a hotel.

Also, from a personal perspective, I love watching professional tradespeople at work. I'm someone who likes building things and working with my hands, and have had various degrees of success with various projects. Min and I (with help from family) did most of the renovation work on our old house in Perth ourselves, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It also gave me an appreciation for the skill involved in creating and constructing so many of the things we take for granted. Like bathrooms, for example. There's a lot of pleasure to be had from watching people who really know what they're doing, and at the moment, I can't wait to get home in the evenings and see what the guys have done during the day - and because the job started with a complete strip out of the whole room, I get to watch it on a step-by-step basis, which is teaching me a lot, too.

So it's not all bad. Sure, the house is in disarray and we can't park our cars in the garage at the moment (mainly because it's full of tiles and wall paneling), but there are a lot of pluses, too.

And, of course, in a couple of weeks, we'll have the largest shower in Canberra.

Now that's worth waiting for.

** Actually, turns out that this also applies to the toilet and laundry, neither of which are covered in the existing reno, and the latter of which I did up myself last year. Oops.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Who I Voted For...

Today, for the first time in my voting life, I didn't cast my vote for the Australian Labor Party in either the house of reps, or the Senate.

And, I'll be honest, it hurt. It wasn't an easy decision.

I'm also sitting here now, at 10.40 on election night, looking down the barrel of a Liberal minority government, with Tony bloody Abbot as Prime Minister, and wondering what the hell happened to common sense in this country.

But, and I want to be totally clear on this, I don't regret my voting decision - not for a moment.

When I stood there in that polling booth this morning, Imogen was in the booth next door, and Toby was standing between us, holding our hands. And when I looked at those ballot papers, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't vote for a party which backflipped on the CPRS, which stopped processing of refugees for political gain, which is committed to coal power at the expense of funding alternative energy sources and which has, during the last couple of months, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is more concerned with winning government - at whatever cost - than it is with governing. But mostly I couldn't vote for a party which is so utterly ruthless in regard to environmental policy that it didn't have the moral fortitude or political courage to set an ambitious, or difficult emissions reduction target for this country.

And, of course, the only alternative was the Liberals. Might as well vote for Kerry Packer.

So, for the record, I voted for the Greens in both houses, and preferenced Labor. Neither of my first preference candidates managed to get up, but that doesn't really matter, because that's not who I was really voting for.

This morning in the polling booth, I looked down at my son standing there, and I voted for my grandkids.

And, from the looks of the voting figures, most notably the first preference figures for the Greens, I wasn't the only one.

As we sit here on the verge of three years of complete parliamentary shitfight, I just hope to God the major parties get the message that I, and a lot of other Australians, sent them today, in no uncertain terms.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Get it India!

I'll start by apologising for the bad pun in the title. Ever since I became a father, I just can't seem to get away from the bad 'dad' jokes.


A few years ago now, back at the turn of the century, Imogen and I attended a W.A. Premier's Literary Award dinner at the State Library of Western Australia. At the dinner, I sat next to one of the other shortlisted authors; this blonde woman from Melbourne named Kirsty Murray, whose book Zarconi's Magic Flying Fish got up that evening to win the prize for best children's book.

We had a great night, all of us, and Kirsty and I kept in touch as the decade progressed.

Kirsty writes (among other things) historical fiction - it's one of her real passions. I've heard her talk about it on a couple of occasions (actually, I've got vague recollections of the two of us doing a panel on the subject at some-writer's-festival-or-other, but I can't recall any specifics, so it's quite possible that my brain is just making it up.)

In any case, the point is that not only does she write historical fiction, but she writes it beautifully. Reading her books is reading the work of a true craftsperson - her dedication to her art is evident in every carefully chosen word, and every perfectly constructed sentence. For me, the difficult part about historical fiction isn't so much finding material to write about - the past is just loaded with tiny and intriguing little cul-de-sac's of narrative just begging to be explored - but making the past come to life; getting all the tiny details and elements correct, but also writing in such a way as to capture the sensory aspects of a time and place which I can have no direct experience of.

Kirsty is an absolute master of this, however, and a few weeks ago she asked me if I'd launch her latest novel India Dark here in Canberra, and - as I mentioned at the time - I was thrilled to be able to agree.

Even more thrilled to get the book in the mail a couple of weeks ago.

On Monday afternoon, I took a break from my reading for the ACT Book of the Year Award* and picked up Kirsty's book.

At midnight on monday, I finished it.

And, I have to say, I'm so thrilled to be launching it. It's beautiful. The writing and storytelling is sublime, but most impressive (for me, at least) is the way that Kirsty has taken a fascinating chapter of Australian history, and breathed life into it; utterly convincing, utterly believable, and utterly engaging life.

I'm not going to go into the specifics of the plot and so on here - I'll save that for my launch speech on friday evening. Suffice to say that it's a fantastic achievement, and everyone should read it.

Congratulations, Kirsty.

*In case you're wondering, as of this morning my reading status there is: 6 books to go, 6 days to the judge's meeting. It's probably going to be closer than the election. More interesting, too.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Words Words Words Words Words Worlds....

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that it didn't take me long after my July Blog-a-thon to slip back into my bad old ways, aren't you.

Well, have I got news for you!


You're right.

Still, here I am. With bronchitis, nonetheless. But the antibiotics are cutting in now, and I can go for up to half an hour without coughing, which is nice.

Anyway, on to the serious stuff.

I spend my life swimming in words: when I'm not writing them, I'm speaking them or reading them, or assessing them. My 'spare time' is spent either weaving them together or pulling them apart. My own words, other people's words - doesn't matter.

Worlds of words.

And, of course, the upshot of this is that - like most people - most of the time nowadays I take words for granted. It's gotta be a pretty special set of words to leap off a page and catch my attention, and most of the time I just swim through them without noticing how beautiful - how powerful and miraculous - even the simplest word is.

The reason I mention it is that Toby is starting to talk at the moment.

Well, technically he's been talking for a little while, now, a couple of months at least. He started his first basic words back in about April or May; 'mum' 'water' 'milk', that sort of thing.

But lately, something has gone 'click' in that little brain of his, and now he's picking up words on a daily basis: he repeats whatever we say. He points excitedly at anything he recognises and tells us what we're looking at (Drives home are great fun; 'Car! Car! Car! Bus! Car! Car! Car! Truck! Car! Tiger!*)

Every word is a delight, to him and to me. The sheer joy that is written all over his little face at just having that simple, most basic skill of communication; the ability to name an object, and the connection that comes with it, reminds me every time of the sheer beauty of human communication; of what it brings to a life, and of what you can do with it.

This was really driven home to me when we were in Perth a couple of weeks ago. To Min and my amazement, Toby's cousin, Meri, who's about 18 months older than him and therefore a much more fluent speaker, could talk to him, and understand exactly what he was saying to her, even when we couldn't.

"Toby is thirsty. He wants water." She'd tell us, and suddenly the last five minutes of Toby trying to climb up onto the kitchen bench made sense.

"Toby's being silly." Meri informed us one evening, just as our son tried his best to stick his tongue into a dripping tap.

Watching the two of them talk - and they had long conversations on a few occasions - was one of the delights of the trip. Just like watching this little growing miracle of language is an ongoing delight now.

If nothing else, it's been a really good reminder to me not to take my words for granted - every single little utterance that Toby makes is hard fought for; he struggles to get his tongue around difficult sounds, or to tack on that extra syllable, or to pick one word out of a string of others. But when he gets it, there's delight all round.

And as a final, vaguely related offering, here's a video that's been doing my head in slightly. It's an Italian parody of a 60's pop song, sung in gibberish, but designed to sound like American English. You'll go nuts trying to 'interpret' it.

Which, at the moment, is probably how Toby is experiencing the world, too.

*I said his vocab was expanding, but we're still working on the difference between a cat and a tiger...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Launching my Family

Right, so I promised a write up on the launch that we had for 'Daywards' at the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre while I was in Perth last week.

To be honest, I thought I was a bit over book launches - for my own books, at least. I didn't launch Into White Silence or the last couple of Nathan Nuttboard books, largely because I couldn't really see the point.

I'm actually regretting that decision now - I think it was a mistake.

I'll explain why.

Last tuesday night was a lovely evening. And I know that as the author of the book in question I'm undoubtedly a little biased, but the whole night had a really nice feel about it. Perhaps this was just because people kept saying nice things about me and my book, or because we got the booze out well before the speeches, or just because almost everyone there was related to me in one way or another, but there was a good vibe going on.

Before we got to the formal bit of the launch, there was a lot of catching up: People I haven't seen in years turned up out of the woodwork for this one including; our old neighbours from Greenmount with their little girl who I last saw when she was about 11, and who is now 18 and about 7 feet tall. My cousin (who I used to share a house with) and her husband who I thought were still living in England. My old piano teacher from when I was a kid and her son, who's read A New Kind of Dreaming. My former colleague from the Trinity library, Rosemary. Past teachers. Old friends. All sorts of unexpected surprises.

And, of course, family. My sister and her two girls were there. Toby was there - tearing around the place with his cousins and making all sorts of noise (He kept walking up to the posters and exclaiming 'Dadda!' at the top of his voice, which I thoroughly approved of.)

And Mum. And Dad. We'll get back to them shortly.

First, we were all welcomed by the Director of the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre, Lesley Reece. It's difficult for me to describe Lesley, except to say that she is one of the most incredible women I know. She set up the FCLC, seventeen years ago and has worked tirelessly ever since to turn it into one of the single most important and unique educational and cultural institutions in the country. She was the person responsible for supporting and encouraging my writing career: she put me in touch with Gary Crew, right back in 1997, and persuaded him that I was worth mentoring in my writing. Once I got published, she stood behind my books and ensured that I was able to get as much coverage for them as possible in the west. When I left teaching to become a full time writer, Lesley again worked on my behalf - finding me suitable speaking and teaching gigs to keep the wolf from the door.

And more than just patronage, Lesley (and her teams at the FCLC through the years) have also become close friends - to the point where, when Min and I were looking for a venue for our wedding, we asked if we could hold it on the Lawns of the Lit Centre, and Lesley agreed without hesitation.

The Fremantle Children's Literature Centre has been a special place for me and my family in the ten years that it took me to write this trilogy, and it was a delight to see the final book of the three go out into the world from the main gallery there.


Once everyone was welcomed, the book was launched by Melissa Parke, the federal MP for Fremantle, who I met a couple of years ago at another book launch, and who really impressed me at the time for her commitment to the lit centre, and to reading and children's literature generally. She's also a speculative fiction fan, which wins her huge points in my book.

And she did an incredible job - there she was, in the middle of an Election campaign, and yet she still found the time to not only launch the book, but also to read the entire trilogy beforehand! That's well over 1000 pages, which she got through in just a couple of weeks, while still campaigning for her seat. And not only did she read the books, but she thought about them, too. She picked up on all the little threads and ideas in the book that I'd hoped people would get but which, as a writer, you're never really certain have come through. Writers don't often get to experience someone doing such a close reading of their work, at least, not to our faces, and it was incredibly gratifying. I have a copy of her speech, which I'll tack on to the end of this post for anyone interested to have a look at. I'm sure she won't mind...

After she'd launched the book, I did a short and passably coherent speech; "thank you blah blah blah..." and then sat down again, expecting to get on with some serious book signing and wine drinking.

Except for one minor detail. Lesley had made other plans. She announced that we had another speaker.

I'll admit that I groaned, inwardly. One thing I kinda dislike are book launches with too many speeches, or speeches that go for too long.

Then it got worse. The person Lesley invited to the podium was... mother.

Now, I should explain a little something here. Many years ago, I spoke at my brother and sister's 21st Birthday parties. I thought I spoke really well at both. Sure, I might have sworn perhaps once or twice. Certainly not more than three times. And nothing I said was even remotely outrageous. And so I was rather surprised when the family then voted to place an embargo on me ever speaking in public at family gatherings, ever again.

That didn't necessarily stop me, though. I just moved my venue a little. Those of you who've heard me tell stories about my writing will know that my family tend to, well, feature rather heavily. And not always in the most flattering light. Mum in particular gets a bit of a hard time in a couple of my stories.*

And, for some years now, Lesley has been threatening to find an occasion to give my mother the right of reply.

I really should have seen that coming, shouldn't I?

So mum got up to speak, and I poured myself a big glass of wine.

And she made a lovely speech, although she did dredge up several bits of my early writing which I was certain I'd destroyed some years ago. And she did tend to overstate a few things. But it was nice hearing her talk about what it's like to be the parent of a writer, and how proud she and dad are of the fact.

That was when I worked it out: book launches are for other people, not me.

Kinda obvious, really, but being the egocentric git that I am, it hadn't actually occurred to me that the idea of launching a book is to give people a chance to celebrate it, and each other, and the story, and their relationship to it. It's really got bugger all to do with the author, when all is said and done. Stories, after all, are one of the things that connect people to one another, and book launches are an example of that, writ large.

So, that's my booklaunch story. At the end of the evening, everyone went home happy; it was a lovely night and a celebration not just of my book, but of all books, of family, friends, the past and the future, of children and life.

My kind of a night out, really.

*stories which, I might add, are all COMPLETELY TRUE and not in any way exaggerated. Much.

Melissa Parke's Speech from the Launch for 'Daywards' at the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre, Tuesday 27th August, 2010
I’d like to acknowledge the Noongar people as the traditional owners of the land we’re meeting on and pay respect to their elders past and present – this acknowledgment is particularly significant tonight as we talk about a book that greatly honours Indigenous knowledge and skills and connection to the land.

When I was asked quite recently to launch Tony Eaton’s book Daywards, as the third book of the Darklands trilogy I said (channelling Kevin Rudd) “Fair Suck of the Sauce Bottle Lesley! We’ve got an election coming and I can’t see myself having time to read one book let alone three.”

But what with Lesley’s persuasive powers, and me being a long-time lover of science fantasy books, and having enjoyed meeting Tony at the launch of another book – Marc Greenwood and Frane Lessac’s Simpson and his Donkey - I found myself agreeing to launch this book.

And I’m so glad I did. The target readership is young adults and upwards. I am definitely in the upwards part of that age bracket and I thoroughly enjoyed all three books. They can each be read on their own but I do think it’s worth experiencing each one in turn.

The entire story is set 1000 years into the future and it’s a future that is eerily familiar and frighteningly believable as we confront a harsh and unrelentingly hot and contaminated Australian landscape that is the result of late 21st century large-scale climate change causing the destabilisation of a large number of fission reactors and waste storage facilities throughout the world. In this world, there are two groups of people trying to survive.

In the first book, Nightpeople, part of the earth is closed off from the rest of the world by a huge wall and is sparsely populated by small tribes of elderly people called Darklanders, a few of whom are dreamers in the style of Aboriginal elders, who connect spiritually with the land and the life that lives within it, such as snakes, lizards and wild dogs, and sources of water.

The main character in the first book is Saria, the last of her race to be born and she is spirited away as a baby to be looked after in a secret valley until she is a teenager. She is then called upon to answer her destiny which involves actually leaving her land in a search for her mother who was taken by the Nightpeople to domed cities in the sky.
In the book Skyfall, we meet the other group of people trying to survive in this post-apocalyptic environment. They are the Skypeople or ‘Nightpeople’ so called because they can only travel at night as they have no ability to withstand the sun’s radiation. They live in artificial technological domed cities in the sky and have no direct contact with the environment. The upper classes live in luxury in the highest domes, albeit with protein supplements as their only food source, while there is an underclass serving them that lives in poverty. One of the domed sky cities is called Port city – reminding one of Fremantle - and there is a part of Port City called North Port Central, calling to mind the north port quay proposal to build futuristic dubai-style islands off the coast of Fremantle. Could this be our own doomed future helpfully described for us by Tony?

In the trilogy, the skypeople fear that their artificial society is breaking down both physically and socially and so they study the darklanders in order to understand their genetic makeup and see if they can isolate the genes that make people viable outdoors in the contaminated hot climate.

Saria was brought to the domed city in the sky by the skypeople to be studied. She meets Lari – a young man and – to cut to the chase, they team up to start their own clan which mingles the races of the earth and the sky to produce people who can withstand the harsh effects of the sun and the atmosphere outside of the domes without having to wear a special suit. In the third book Daywards the clan lives in caves in the forest, surviving by hunting and gathering, although there are still skypeople coming to study them. Saria – the heroine from the first book – is by now an elderly woman and she seeks to returns to her home in the Darklands.
The main young female character in Daywards is Dara. In the end, Dara is faced with the choice of returning with Saria to the Darklands or of going with the skypeople in order to see what kind of common future may be forged between the two peoples in this book. I won’t give the story away by saying what she chooses.

Although set 1000 years into the future these stories seem familiar to us in WA. For instance, Dara remembers her father showing her the giant forests down south. Not far from Port city there is the crumbling city of Per. There are animals called hoppers which from the description bear a great similarity to kangaroos. Dara’s favourite expletive is “Shi”, which bears a remarkable resemblance to a word in contemporary usage.

Like all of the best high-level science fantasy, this trilogy takes on the important imaginative task of casting a series of current trends and issues forward into a social and physical scenario that examines the consequence of heading down that path.
With phrases like “the blasted remains of a great human folly” the trilogy is a powerful warning of what could happen if we don’t act on climate change; if we don’t act to save the diversity of earth’s species, a large number of which are here in Australia; and if we don’t properly manage our precious sources of water.

I’m going to recommend that all of my parliamentary colleagues read it.
At a time when we have our first female PM – who as Lesley has noted has visited the Fremantle Children’s Literature centre when she was Minister for Education and acting PM - it is also appropriate to note the strong female characters in this trilogy who are called upon to save this future world that has been seared in the shifting and the burning. Saria and Dara are the most powerful characters because they are interconnected with the Earth and life on it and can harness that energy to devastating effect as we see throughout the trilogy but particularly in the thrilling climax in Daywards.

In an era when modern Australia is still only beginning to fully recognise and value the contribution of Aboriginal people to its history, its present and to its future, this trilogy is an acknowledgement of Aboriginal people’s connection to the land and a signal that we can learn from those who have respected the earth for thousands of years. It is also a celebration of family and of appreciation for both youth and elders in our community.

Finally, at a time when fear of ‘the other’ is such a feature of Australian community opinion on asylum-seekers and refugees, the trilogy has an important message about the need for diverse peoples to work together to try to understand and esteem each other as the only way we will ultimately all survive. We may at some stage all be boat or sky people or darklanders, needing to leave our homes and forge a new life elsewhere with other peoples in order to survive. If we do the right thing by the planet then hopefully our successors will not need to build sky domes made of plascrete and clearcrete to protect them from the atmosphere and will not a thousand years into the future find our detritus washed up on the beach. As described in the book “unidentifiable foam and rubber shapes, tangles of fine polymer mesh, lumps of weathered plascrete, all of it aeons old and all of it still clinging to the otherwise pristine beach like ancient tumours, stubbornly refusing to vanish even with the inexorable passage of time”.

I’d like to thank Tony for this fantastic series - it is beautifully written, tremendously thought-provoking and utterly believable. I note Tony’s comment that it has taken him 10 years to write and how happy he is to finally finish this epic, but I must ask Anthony to reconsider this decision as I really want to know what happens next! You know when you’ve read something fantastic because when you get to the end you are reluctant to put it down and you feel a bit lost. I certainly feel sad to have lost my method of election escapism but I am grateful to Tony and to Lesley for the lovely moments I have had reading these books. I’d also now like to suggest a prequel to tell us what exactly went wrong on earth that resulted in large scale climate change with its catastrophic consequences. Perhaps such a prequel could start with a conference in Copenhagen. Just an idea Tony.

Congratulations again on this beautiful book and thankyou for inviting me to be a part of it.


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