Monday, December 31, 2012

Musings on the End of a *Busy* Year

Okay, okay. I know I said that I probably wouldn't be blogging again until sometime in January but, to be honest, the alternative is getting up on the roof to clean out the gutters of the house and, after having spent a couple of hellish hours up there the other day doing some other work, I'm really not at all enthusiastic at the prospect. (Also, I haven't finished my coffee yet...)

So instead, here we are. Time for that traditional 'Year in Review' type post (though, in my case it's more traditional to do it sometime around Feb 25...)

Looking back at 2012, I can't help but notice that I've only managed to put up a grand total of 14 blog posts here, including this one. This is a significant drop on the previous three years, but not without reason.

That reason being simply this: 2012 was completely bloody insane. I can't remember a time in my life when I've been more constantly busy, or exhausted.

But, that said, it's also been a year of highlights, which is far preferable to the alternative.

Said highlights would include:

  • Signing up 'The Hunter' with my new agent Cheryl in NYC (who has since made me do three rewrites across the intervening months. Feedback on the most recent one still pending, but I'm looking forward to it. As I am to writing the next three books in the series*)
  • Getting the 2012 ACLAR conference organised, and then running it (with lots of assistance from lots of lovely people). In a lot of ways, this was probably the professional highlight of my year, even though I didn't blog too much about it. Seeing two years of solid work come together over three seamless days was a really unexpected thrill. Which was followed by...
  • Spending time in Vietnam and Indonesia with various elements of my family. THis last year has been a big one for family type things. Min and Toby and I spent a couple of weeks in Vietnam with her mother, plus my sister and brother in Law, before travelling down to Indonesia for a week with my sister and brother-in-law and their kids, and my parents. And it strikes me how terribly lucky I am to have such a close extended family in both directions. We even managed to all travel together without killing one another...
  • Developing that theme - Vietnam was amazing. I just completely fell in love with the place. Also..
  • Pho. Best. Breakfast. Ever.
  • Back at work, second semester was similarly crazy, but the good kind. I got a good wrap up in my annual review, a teaching award plus an invitation to apply for a national award next year, had lovely classes, worked with great sessional staff, my honours students all did really, really well, and my PhD students hit a few home runs too at various conferences. Plus at the end of it all I got promoted to convener of writing for next year. In the middle of all that...
  • Attending and speaking at the inaugural 'Celebrate Reading' annual conference run by the Literature Centre in Fremantle. This was another complete highlight, not least because it was effectively three days of hanging out with some of my favourite writer people: Jim Roy, Isobelle Carmody, Gary Crew, Matt Ottley, Shaun Tan, Jackie French, Lucy Christopher and Julia Lawrinson. The final session of this conference, which involved all of us on stage telling our favourite 'War Stories', was one of the most side-splittingly funny hours I've ever spent at a writing event.
  • Helping my clever wife get her PhD finished and submitted. In my last post, I referred to this, but didn't go into detail. Suffice to say that it involved three pretty insane days during which Toby more-or-less stayed with his grandmother while Min and I set up camp in her office at ANU. Her thesis is amazing! And I'm not just saying that because I'm her husband. I'll admit that I went into the proof-reading process expecting to find it a bit of a slog (not being an expert in International Law, and all that...) but was blown away by both the central argument, and the weight of support for it. Really amazing. It was also, in it's own odd way, quite a 'fun' couple of nights. You haven't lived until you've scrounged dinner from a law school vending machine at 2330 on a Sunday night.***
  • Finally, just to round out the year, (and as mentioned last post) we got ourselves a new house. All going well (and it is, at the moment, touch wood...) we'll be moving early february**** Which means that I'm spending my summer holiday valiantly attempting to get about 12 months worth of house repairs and renovation done in roughly 3 weeks. Today the skip bin should arrive so that we can start pulling out carpets. Before then, though, I've got to clean those gutters I mentioned earlier. Plus go to the gym.
  • On top of that, there's the random stuff: learning to play Ukelele (which has, in turn, gotten me back into more regular playing of my other instruments) Judging the ACT Chief Minister's Literary award, which meant that I got to read an awful lot of really good writing, hops up to Sydney and down to Melbourne for various academic and masterclass gigs, having an abstract accepted for a big conference in Maastricht next year, plus lots of other stuff that doesn't occur to me right at the moment.
Finally, of course, one of the very big highlights of 2012 was watching my little boy continue to grow, and turn from being a toddler into a boy. And, importantly, moving from Duplo to proper Lego. I've been waiting for that moment for quite some time... 

So, that's been my year. Pretty crazy, absolutely exhausting for the most part, but reward-filled. And 2013 seems to be heading down a similar path. But hopefully with more than 14 blog posts...

Thanks everyone for your patience during this very sporadic year of posts, and do keep popping by. Have a great and safe New Year's!

* Says the man who swore at the completion of the Darklands books that he'd never, ever, EVER sign up to a multi-book narrative ever again**
**Aplogies to Taylor Swift.
***Though the less said about the 33,000 words of footnotes which I individually checked against the bibliography and thesis references, the better...
**** At exactly the same time as I'm starting teaching for the semester, and stepping fully into my new course convener role. Go me.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Just When You Thought I'd Given Up Completely...

Remember January? That halcyon, golden summer last year, when I committed to blogging here every single week during 2012? No? Good. I don't remember it, either.

So it's been a busy* semester. And next year is looking similarly frantic, but there are a lot of good things happening.

Probably the biggest one is that our little family is on the move! Okay, we're not going too far, just across Canberra, but a week or so back we found a lovely house in one of the suburbs that we've always looked at and sighed wistfully. Just for good measure, it was exactly within our (recently much improved) buying capacity. So we bought it. Looked at it for the first time at 2 O'clock on a monday afternoon, put in an offer at around 2.45, and had it accepted just after 3.15. By 5.30 we'd signed up to sell our existing place with the same agent (she's nice. We like her...) and by 6.00 we were sitting on our couch, rather dazed, saying things like 'Well. That was unexpected.' to one another.

Now we're having fun trying to sort out our finance during what is, effectively, the christmas shutdown for most of the financial industry. But it's all looking very positive, anyway...

Other news: My clever wife also submitted her PhD last week. (Yes, you're correct. We did go and buy a new house just 7 days from her submission date. If you're going to put yourself under pressure, you might as well go the whole hog, we figure...) This meant that the two of us spent most of last weekend editing and proofreading furiously. I personally checked every one of just over 33,000 words of footnotes, including thousands of individual references and case citations. Took roughly 16 hours. We finished up at 3.00am monday morning, nipped home for a refreshing 4 hours sleep, then got back to the finishing touches and printing so that Min could hand it over at 2.30. Then we went and had a drink.

So now it's just a horrible wait for the results.

And, come the start of next year, I'll be writing again, too. My plan is to knock out books 2 and 3 of 'The Hunter', hopefully by mid-year. (book 1, in case you're interested, is still with my Agent in New York. Fingers crossed I'll have some news on that front sometime early in the new year...)

After that it'll be time for some academic writing, preparing for a conference I'm off to in Holland next year in August. I'm also editing (and contributing) to an academic book on questions of truth and honesty in Children's and YA literature.

Plus, of course, next year I'm going to get back into blogging more seriously. Really. Proper blogging, too - not just these newsy posts that nobody except my mother has any real interest in.

In the meantime, though, I've got a bit of last minute shopping to do, so I'm going to sign off here. Chances of me signing back on anytime before mid January are pretty small, to be honest (I've got about 18 months worth of house renovations to do in roughly 3 weeks!) so I'm going to thank all my readers for their interminable patience with me this year, and wish everyone a Happy Festive Season - however and whatever you celebrate - and hope you all stay safe.

Cheers. T

*Busy [v / adjbiz─ô: full time teaching load, revising next draft of next book, supervision of 5 Phd and 3 honours students, presenting keynote addresses at 2 conferences, helping wife prepare and submit her PhD thesis, organising and running a birthday party for 15 sugar-loaded 4-year-olds, buying a house, selling a house, grading and moderating roughly 350,000 words worth of student work, marking 2 PhD thesis, running masterclasses in sydney, occasionally exercising, being father to an increasingly-energetic little boy, re-discovering Lego.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yes, Still Alive...

Two months. A new record, I suspect.

Though in my defense, I've been busy. Very, very busy. And doing some writing, too! In fact, just a few minutes ago, I (finally) shot off draft #5 of 'The Hunter' to my agent Cheryl, and now I've got my fingers (and toes, and...anything else that'll help) very tightly crossed hoping that she likes it.

This last rewrite was a particularly big one, added another 10,000 words in, including two new chapters, plus a *whole lot* of character reworking for the protagonist to try and make him a little more appealing to a broader readership. And I've had to lever that in between the semester-from-hell (only in terms of workload, not students, just to be clear). I'm also frantically reading the entries for the ACT Chief Minister's Literary Award (I'm chairing the judging panel this year), have marked 2 PhD thesis for another uni, and signed a contract to put together an academic-y type book for Cambridge Scholars Press in the UK (which will feature all sorts of cool people and will draw from the ACLAR conference we ran here in Canberra back in June).

Oh, yeah, and we bought a kayak.

I've wanted to get a kayak pretty much since we moved to Canberra. A nice big 2 seater that we could take out on the lakes (of which Canberra has a multitude) or down to the coast for a little sea kayaking. Something we could pack up with a picnic and head out on the water for the day. Something I could just get out in on my own occasionally and paddle, and make bookish plans.

Unfortunately, the fact that our car is a Peugot 307 hatchback, with no roof racks or towbar made the reality of owining a 15 foot boat a little problematic.

Or at least, it did. Until Imogen pointed THESE out to me...

Now, I'll admit, I was a little sceptical at first. I mean, an inflatable kayak couldn't possibly be any good, could it? It'd be just like a big blow up toy that you play with in the swimming pool, surely.

Really not. After a bit of homework (a lot) of homework, we got online and ordered our AE convertible from the US. Then, a week later, three big boxes arrived on the doorstep and, after a couple of practice setups, Toby and I (poor Min, couldn't come. She's got this little PhD due any day now...) went for our first hit out on Lake Gininderra. And it was great! We paddled 7 kilometres, saw all sorts of cool and interesting things, and both decided that we LIKE our boat. It doesn't paddle or feel like a blowup toy at all - once it's inflated, it's rigid and stable, and cuts through the water just like a regular hardshell kayak. It's also received a fair bit of attention and interest from some of the local kayaking fraternity.

Since that first trip, we've been out every weekend. Last Sunday the three of us loaded up and paddled down to the Governor General's place in Yarralumla. She has her own jetty, which I argued was basically an invitation to morning tea, but I was outvoted. Still, it was a lovely couple of hours.

I'm now hatching plans, when I get a bit more paddle-fit, to try to paddle the length of lake Burley-Griffin, and do a kind of 'Canberra from the Water' blog post. Might take a while, though.

So that's what I've been up to. Just the usual, really.

Monday, July 23, 2012

God Canberra is Cold. Anyone else notice that?

This time last week I was on a beach on Bintan Island  in Indonesia. Today (sigh!) I'm back in my office, gradually working my way through a really quite stupid backlog of e-mails* And I can't help noticing that Canberra is a lot, lot colder than both Vietnam and Indonesia.

Still, in many ways, it's nice to be home and back into work**

 In case you're wondering, we had an absolutely lovely time while we were away. And because it is traditional on these occasions I'm pleased to present (Ta Dah!):


To start with, here is my son, somewhere on the streets of Hanoi

Min and I have an idea for the producers of 'The Amazing Race' - next season, all teams should have to run the race with a 3 year old in tow. It would make things a lot more interesting for all concerned. As you can tell from the expression on Toby's face, he's not particularly happy in this shot. There were a number of reasons for this. One of them was that as a born and bred Canberran, he's not overly used to 35 degree days with 89% humidity. Another was that he's at the perfect height for having his face and head patted and touched by pretty much every person we met. The Vietnamese are lovely people, and they really loved Toby. Sadly, after a few hours, he began to get just a little, well, tetchy from all the attention.

Still, in actual fact, travelling with a toddler was fantastic, and meltdowns aside, some of the most memorable moments of the whole trip involved Toby. One good example was on our final day in Hanoi, when we emerged into the hotel foyer to find our son, the doorman, the hotel manager and one of the receptionists all on their hands and knees in the foyer, playing with the set of toy cars that the manager had just given Toby as a goodbye present.

Hanoi itself was just wonderful. It had interesting shopping:

Interesting wiring:

And it's monsoon season there at the moment, so every afternoon the clouds would roll over, and the streets would go from chaotic to this:

There was also some amazing food and eating*** and plenty of walking around.

From Hanoi, it was a quick hop down to the ancient city of Hoi An**** where we stayed at a lovely little homestay establishement, just a little out of town. The family running it were incredibly welcoming, and it quickly became our little refuge from the touristy madness of Hoi An.

Hoi An itself is beautiful - just a stunning place, especially at night when the whole town and river is lit by paper lanterns.
Evening in Hoi An
It is, however, very touristy, with more touts and pressure than anywhere else we visited in Vietnam. The biggest industry by far is Tailoring, and we all had some lovely clothes made up, but I couldn't help the feeling that the tourism was something of a double edged sword for the town; as well as becoming the main driver for its survival, it has also really had an impact upon the overall feel of the place.

Still, it is stunning. There's no denying that:
Hoi An Countryside

From Hoi An, we flew down to Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City, as it's officially titled). We only had three days here, and barely scratched the surface of this amazing, growing, cosmopolitan playground. I especially enjoyed just wandering around the city, soaking in the site of so much history. On our second last day, I booked a car and guide to take me out to the Chu Chi Tunnels, where some of the bloodiest and nastiest fighting in the Vietnam war took place. The tunnels themselves were amazing - they've been expanded to fit large western bodies, but I still only managed to get through 40 of the 100 or so meters that are open to tourists. And I've never suffered from claustrophobia in my life. Just as interesting was chatting to my guide (who asked not to be named in any reviews of the trip) about life in modern Vietnam. We talked about the reality of re-unification, the differences between the north and south that still persist to this day, and the long shadow of the war, which still touches most Vietnamese lives in one way or another. It was an insight into the country that I didn't get anywhere else, and one of the most valuable parts of the trip for me.

Then it was on to Indonesia, to meet with my family for a week at Club Med*****

This was my first experience of Club Med. And Min's. And, I hate to say this, it was - in its own way - kinda fun.****** It was particularly good for Toby who got to play with his cousins from Holland for a whole week:

There was a lot of swimming. Kyacking. Eating. More swimming. Archery. Elephant rides. And swimming.

Oh, and there was also a trapeze school:

While we were at Club Med, my brother and sister-in-law, who live in Perth, managed to complete my parent's collection of grandchildren with their first child, a little boy named Kalvin Nicholas, who turned up a month earlier than expected, but in excellent condition. Even though he didn't know it, his birth was big news in northern Indonesia, and was roundly celebrated.

And then, sadly, it was back to reality. And Canberra. We got home last Thursday night, very tired and jetlagged after about 24 hours on planes and in airports. We picked up our very happy puppy from the kennels, reclaimed our very ambivalent chickens from the neighbours, unpacked, washed up and got ready for the working week ahead*******

Which brings us to now, really. In the weeks ahead I'm going to launch back into my writing, knock over the (hopefully) final draft of The Hunter (I'm thinking of changing the title to 'The Hunter Games' - what do you reckon? Catchy?), plus a very busy semester ahead.

And, of course, some blogging. Occasionally ;)

* which is the price you pay for resolutely ignoring your e-mail for 3 weeks while having fun.
** I'm fairly sure that UC monitors this blog :)
***Actually, eating tended to be something of a theme on this trip
****That is, it would have been a quick hop, if not for the 4 hour delay that Jetstar managed to impose on our departure.
*****Please, don't judge me.
******But also kinda like joining a cult for a week.
*******In my case, this involved spending 4 hours making an enormous pot of Vietnamese Pho for breakfasts this week. Pho has become my latest obsession. And, trust me, it's a good obsession to have. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

A quick one. Very Very Quick....

Hi all...

Conference last week went well. Swimmingly so, in fact. Lot of happy little campers and a very exhausted (but also happy) me. In fact, I can't believe it's a week already since things wrapped up. Highlights included all three keynotes, Shaun Tan's evening event (after which he signed books for something like an hour and a half - consumate professional that he is!), and getting through my own paper with some vague sense of coherence, despite the fact that I'd had three hours sleep the previous night (Thanks, Toby and every cat in the neighbourhood!), no lunch, and was effectively running on pure caffeine and nerves.

This week has been a blur of post conference wind up; finalising the budget, cleaning up office etc... plus catching up on backlogged uni-related emails and student matters, before getting ready for...


Yep. This time tomorrow, Min and Toby and I will be in Singapore. After an ungodly early start tomorrow morning, we're off for THREE WHOLE WEEKS!

I might try and blog a little bit while we're away, but I'm not sure what my internet access will be, or my energy levels. Either way, the bags are packed, the dog at the kennel, the chickens accounted for, and at 6.25 tomorrow morning, we're outa here.

So if you don't hear from me again for a while, have a lovely winter. I'll be thinking of y'all ;)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Okay. Here we go...

Righto. So tomorrow morning, after two years of work, the 2012 ACLAR conference begins here in Canberra at the National Library of Australia. We're opening at midday with a keynote address from a scholar I've long admired- Deakin university's Clare Bradford. On Thursday we have Shaun Tan keynoting, and then on friday Professor Kerry Mallan from QUT - another incredible thinker and scholar, and just a perfect fit for this particular event.

Plus, of course, we've got a whole range of other interesting and exciting papers from scholars, writers, students and interested parties from all points of the children's literature compass.

We've got 75 ish delegates, from all over Australia, New Zealand, the US, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and (I'm pretty sure) a few other places.

We've got a function on Thursday night, with Shaun's academy award winning film The Lost Thing being screened, followed by an in conversation with Genevieve Jacobs, one of our fantastic ABC Canberra presenters, who is generously giving up her evening to help out.

At this point, I've got delegate bags done, running sheets and checklists organised, catering ready to go, a little gang of brave volunteers prepared to run the length and width of the NLA to make sure that all goes according to plan, I've done the first airport run, followed by some of the worst navigating I've done in the five years since we moved to Canberra (Poor Clare got a tour of all of the most 'exciting' parts of the parliamentary triangle while I attempted to track down her hotel*)

Oh, yes, and I've also written my own paper, which I'm delivering tomorrow afternoon in the second concurrent session**. I'm talking about American author John Green's most recent novel The Fault in Our Stars. I'm not sure how it'll go down, actually. Because JG - who I've met, like, and admire tremendously as both a person and a writer - has a spectuacularly devoted fanbase, and while I'm not being gratuitously critical of his book***, I am looking at it through a specifically academic lens, and calling a couple of aspects of it into question. But nicely. So I'm hoping nobody will get upset. It's part of the difficulty of being both a children's and YA writer and a children's and YA literature scholar. Even though the two jobs have, in many ways, a really lovely synergy to them, the latter often requires you to adopt a very different perspective on books and writing, and to look at them through a quite specific theoretical and critical focus. It's not always the most comfortable situation to be in. But it is what we do. And it's important - and I really believe this - that scholarly discourse be fearless and objective, so that it is able to make a really solid contribution to the cultural life of a society.

But enough of me on that particular bandwagon...

In any case. I am (touch wood) organised. And it's only taken 24 months!

And to take my mind off things, before I go home tonight, I'm going to a party! Actually, I'm speaking at the party. I'm launching the debut book by one of my colleagues here at the Uni of Canberra - one of our masters students and tutors, Ben Stubbs. Any regular readers of the Sydney Morning Herald will probably recognise Ben's name, because over the past few years, he's become one of their more prolific travel writers. But he's also been working on 'Ticket To Paradise' - the story of his hunt for the descendants of the Australian colony of Cosme, which was established in Paraguay during the early 20th century, by a group of disaffected Queensland shearers, who set off across the Pacific intending to establish their own socialist utopia.

It's an incredible read - Ben has infused every page with a real sense of place and adventure, and paints such vivid portraits of the people and their lives today. It's just fascinating. It's also a work backed up by formidable research, lending it a wonderful sense of authenticity.

So congratulations Ben! I'm so honoured to have been asked to officially send Ticket to Paradise out into the world.

Speaking of which, I'd better go and iron my Tux in preparation.**** 

*(which I've actually stayed at twice!)
**Doing a paper at my own conference seemed like such a good idea. In February.
*** Which I enjoyed a great deal.
**** Joke. I don't actually own a tux. And if I did, I doubt I'd ever wear it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wool. (And no, this is not a post about my wife...)

... despite the fact that she is well into all things wooly.*

Actually, technically, I guess we do have Min to thank for this post, because she's the one who put me on to Wool. If you haven't clicked the link yet, I'm not talking about the warm stuff we make from sheep, and which we have a room full of at home. I'm talking about the e-book by Hugh Howey.

Now, I'll be completely honest and admit (and I can't escape the feeling that I'm about to paint a big target on my back with some people by saying this) that I'm not a massive admirer of an awful lot of self-published e-books. I've read a few, and some of them have been okay. And some of them have been just goddammed awful**.  Very few grab and engage me as much as commercially published (in digital form or otherwise) writing though. I often find myself, even with the good ones, wishing the writer had just learned to self-edit a little more critically, or paid someone to do it for them. Don't get me wrong - there's an awful lot that's exciting about writers having the capacity to 'do it for themselves', and I'm all for it as a general principle. It's just that - to my mind at least*** - it often feels to me that in some of these books the crafting of the writing isn't quite as developed as the ideas driving the story, or the packaging of it.****

But, by God, Wool makes me take all these preconceptions and throw them out the window.

This is great writing. And great reading. Without a doubt one of the finest pieces of sci-fi I've read in a long time. Min got the omnibus edition (Wool 1-5) on her Kindle and loaned it to me (one excellent decision by Hugh Howey was to allow digital loaning of his work), and I chewed through it in two days, reading until 1.30 in the morning. And this at a time when I, frankly, needed every bit of sleep I could muster.

I'm not going to even touch upon the plot - I don't want to risk spoilering any aspect of it. It's too good for that. All I'll say, though, is that it's beautifully written - Howey's capacity to establish and build tension is second to none, and his flair for characterisation reminded me somewhat of Stephen King - and just as importantly, it's beautifully crafted; not a word out of place. It's not a single stand-alone novel, but a series of novellas, a form which has lately been overlooked in publishing, and which harks back to some of the greats of the sci-fi genre; Asimov, Phillip K Dick. And the world of these books. Oh. My. God.

So. In short, if you have a digital reading device, then do yourself a favour and get this. You won't regret it. I promise.

*We got her a loom for her birthday. It made her very, very happy.
**for any potential or current self published e-book authors reading this, don't take it personally. It's not you, it's me.
*** and this is my blog, so my mind is all you get...
**** but then, I'm a commercial writer who teaches creative writing at a university***** so my perspective is not likely to be everyone's.
***** ie: a wanker

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Premiere Event

Wednesday night this week sees the world premiere of a newly adapted stage version of Nathan Nuttboard Upstaged, presented by the Redfoot theatre company at Hale School in Perth. Sadly, owing to the vagaries of conference organisation and end-of-semester grading, I'm not going to be able to get over to Perth to see the show (at least, not on this occasion...) but I'm very excited, nevertheless.

I was big into theatre when I was at high school. In fact, a good chunk of Upstaged draws upon my experiences as a member of the inaugural La Salle College Theatre Group. (Not the 'stage-kiss' scene, though. That was all my own creation. Seriously...) so it's thrilling to know that the first time one of my books has been converted to the stage, it's being done by a fantastic little youth theatre company in my hometown. And I'm really pleased they chose to do Upstaged, which is - I think - one of the most 'stageable' books I've written.

Anyway, even though I've written a direct email to the cast and crew, I just wanted to post something here to say break a leg to all involved, and thanks for taking my work and making it real. Can't wait to see it on DVD!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On the Life of a Chicken

So among all the fun and games of the last month (don't ask. Just... don't...), on monday this week I had to take Lottie, one of our Silky chickens, to the vet.

And, trust me, you haven't lived until you've sat in the waiting room of your local veterinary hospital, holding a box with a fluffy looking chicken in it on your lap, surrounded by sniggering dog and cat owners.

Lottie was our biggest, fattest, oldest chicken. Though not that old - she was only about 10 weeks when we got her, a couple of months ago. She was the first to start laying, and had been contentiously producing 6 eggs per week for the last three weeks or so. Until last Thursday, when she went off the lay, and started spending all day flopped in her nesting box. Which was decidedly unlike her.*

My first thought was that she was egg-bound, though the symptoms didn't quite fit. Either way, on Saturday I took her to the vet, who had a look, found no egg, and said to keep an eye on her and bring her back on Monday morning if she didn't come good.

And, sadly, she didn't.

So monday morning, bright and early, I popped her back in her box and we toddled back over to the vet, who gave poor Lottie another good going over, and again found no evidence of an egg. What she did find, sadly, was a large tumor growing in Lottie's abdomen. Apparently it's a problem that this particular breed are genetically disposed to. We didn't know that at the time.

So there was, sadly, nothing for it. Lottie didn't come home from the vet.

Which, as you can imagine, was quite upsetting for all of us. Mainly because we're one of those silly families who does things like giving their chickens names and treating them like pets. Still, you have to be pragmatic about these things. That's life, after all.

And, short though it was, Lottie did at least have a good life. She wandered freely around the yard with her sisters, tormenting our dog on her running lead and stripping bare our corn crop. She picked aphids off the roses, fertilised the garden beds (and the path, and the back steps...), and gave me an excuse to buy myself new gumboots.

And, importantly, she reminded Min and I about the value of food. It's been good, owning chickens, and seeing them as real animals. It's made us re-assess our spending habits when it comes to meat, and think a lot more closely about the ethics of what we use and what we waste. It's connected us a little more closely some of the realities of life that modern life can make us forget or overlook.

When I was 19, I was convinced that by the time I turned 40, I'd be living somewhere like London or New York. I'd be wealthy. I'd be setting the world on fire.

As it turned out, I spent the last day of my 30's,  a week or so back, here in Canberra cleaning out the chicken coop, and then driving out with my wife and son to the Collector Pumpkin Festival. And, to be honest, it was the perfect end to my third decade. I wouldn't have had it any other way. It turns out that, for me, the best way to turn 40 was to do it with chickens. And pumpkins. Sure, it's not where I imagined myself when I was in my 20's - it's so much better. And Lottie and her three siblings are part of that.

Later this year, we're going to get a replacement chicken. We're thinking of calling her Lottie 2.

That's for later, though.

Have a good week, everyone.

*Yes. Chickens have personalities. I was surprised to learn it, too.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What I did on My Weekend.

Busy busy... blah blah blah... busy.... no time to post... sorry... blah blah*

So last year for his birthday, Min and I bought her brother, my awesome BIL a half day stunt driving course as his present. I was very jealous. So for Christmas, Min got the same thing for me.

Then we were both very excited. We picked a date. We booked ourselves in. We talked about it. A lot.

Then, three days before we were due to drive up to Sydney for the experience, the NSW Traffic Police shut down the operation, apparently on the basis that the Eastern Creek Raceway qualifies as a public road, and that we were therefore obligated to drive according to the road rules. Which don't allow for driving on two wheels, jumping over ramps, or doing high speed handbrake turns. More's the pity**

Luckily, we'd purchased our experiences through Redballoon, who have a great returns policy, so we decided to cast around for something else.

Then we found this.

Now, I'm something of an aviation junkie. I might have mentioned this before. My dad was a pilot, and worked for the Civil Aviation Authority so I grew up on airports and around planes. I like planes. A lot. When I'm rich and famous***, I'm going to actually get my pilot's license.

In the meantime, I've also spent more than a few hours playing with Microsoft Flight Simulator****

So this was ideal. And a couple of weeks ago, we drove up to Bankstown airport for the afternoon, and spent two hours pretending to be pilots. And despite a few technical issues with the simulator (having to fly it from the co-pilot's seat, for example) it was awesome fun. I won't bore you with the entire 2 hour, 20 minute video (though I can, if you're interested...) but here we are flying the short hop from the new Hong Kong airport across to the old one - which had one of the more difficult and spectacular landings anywhere in the world. I'm off camera in the (co) Pilot's seat, with my BIL right in front of camera. Excuse the dodgy takeoff, too (and the language!) - the simulator's rudder pedals were a little... awkward.

... and who says grown-ups shouldn't play with toys?

*You've heard all this before, so I've decided to condense. 
** Not really. I'm actually a big fan of road rules.
*** Clearly not in the foreseeable future.
**** Though sadly, not for the last couple of years, owing to lack of suitable computer, and lack of suitable time.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Telephones, or why technology is bad for writers.

Don't worry. I'm sitting here bashing this out using my speech recognition software, while searching out links and images on my new iPad. I don't really think technology is bad for writers. Or at least, not bad for writing...

You might remember that late last year, among all the fun and games that is the silly season,  my lovely publishers at University of Queensland Press put out the new edition of my 2001 book A New Kind Of Dreaming. One of the nice things about having a new edition released is that it gives you the kind of reassurance that your writing hasn't dated.

Actually, this is something I often tell writing students to be very aware of, particularly when writing young adult fiction – there's this difficult balancing act  between being relevant and contemporary, and being too ‘trendy’ (for want of a better term), in which case you run a very real risk of your work becoming very quickly dated. The first of my Nathan Nuttboard books, for example, includes a scene where the main character and his sister have a fight because she's stolen the batteries to his Discman CD player. Remember those? When I wrote that book they'd been around for about a twenty years, and were – in my opinion – just the coolest things ever. And they were exactly what a boy of Nathan's age would've used to wile away the hours of a long car journey.

Image and excerpt from Nathan Nuttboard Hits the Beach
The thought of another 6 hours of tractor music and Nadine whispering “crap" every five seconds was almost too much to take. I dug around behind the seat and pulled out my Discman. At least I could do something about the music.
I put in my favourite CD, Machines of Blood and Glory. I don't actually like the music all that much, but Narelle absolutely hates it, so I tend to play quite a bit. The best thing about a Discman is that you can turn the volume up loud enough so that only the sound of the drumbeats escapes through the earphones. It's a little bit like having a mozzie buzzing around your ears in the middle of the night. Totally annoying, and there's nothing you can do about it. It would drive both of the girls crazy. I pressed play.

Nathan Nuttboard Hits the Beach was published in early 2002, hitting the shelves and almost immediately finding a solid readership and getting good reviews. What I hadn't factored in, however, was that a few months earlier – on 23 October, 2001, to be precise – the Apple Computer company had announced a funky new product. An odd little music playing device they called the iPod. And, of course, within 2 years the Discman as a piece of technology was effectively dead in the water. And so was that chapter of my book. I couldn't have timed it worse.

But of course, that's the problem with trying to write for posterity; you can't. It's impossible to predict – especially in this day and age, with technology being what it is – what the digital landscape is going to look like in 6 months, let alone in 10 years.

That's why I was thrilled when UQP agreed to re-release and repackage Dreaming – It's really nice to have a vote of confidence in the fact that I'm not the only one who feels that the book is still relevant and worth keeping on the shelves.

And I'm pleased to see that other people think so too; the talented Steph Bowe earlier this week posted this lovely review of the new edition on her blog. And she makes a very good point about telephones, too. Certainly when I was bashing out the first draft of Dreaming, in the late 1990s, mobile phones were technology on the increase, but certainly not as widespread or as powerful as they are today. In fact, the school where I was teaching at the time had a policy that all students with mobile phones were to turn them in at the office at the start of the day, and pick them up at the end. This was a school with roughly 800 students. There were regularly about 9 phones in the collection box. I don't imagine any school would even try enforcing such a policy today.

And, as Steph points out in her review, the rise of the mobile phone has in many ways made life a lot more difficult for the writer of realist action/adventure. Her observation that "about 90% of problems in novels can be solved with a phone call or text…" is so true.

Luckily, however, even mobiles have their weaknesses. Flat batteries, signal holes, or they might be attached to the Virgin mobile network in Canberra. There is a solution, of course, and that's to simply  set everything in a slightly alternative world or near future. But I suspect that's not entirely sustainable. All you can really do is 'future proof' your writing as much as is possible, try not to rely too much on contemporary trends and jargon, and cross your fingers.

In any case, thanks, Steph, for the lovely review. It's really nice to know that the book is still working after all these years.

And now I'm off to start work on my next novel. It's about a girl who develops a 'One Direction' app for her iPad2  ;)

Friday, April 13, 2012



Remember me?

I'm the guy that used to blog here, on a semi-regular basis.

Not lately though.

To be honest with you, I've been feeling really bad about my complete lack of bloggage in the last month or two, but I just haven't had the energy. Or the time.

Of course, the reasons are all the usual ones: utterly snowed under at work, teaching load, organising conference* having to host every communicable virus visiting Canberra, etc... etc... etc...

Plus that nasty old inertia - which I think I've mentioned here before. It's had me in a headlock the last month or two, and as a result I haven't written anything. Not an academic paper, not a goodreads review, not a book, not a blog post. I've written lectures, and a few tweets, a couple of grant applications, some peer reviews, a bunch of judge's comments for a writing competition, and a shitload of emails. So. Many. Emails. But nothing in the creative department.

And now, I feel a bit like Andrew McDonald.

But there is news. Most of it good. And many things to write about, so in the days ahead I'm going to do my best to ease back into the writing habit again, and get some stuff up. It won't be earth shattering or ground breaking, for the most part, but at least it'll be writing. Which is, after all, what it's all about.

So bear with me. I'll be back soon.


*which is coming along nicely, by the way.

Monday, February 20, 2012


On Saturday morning, while I was attempting to get through a mountain of laundry, Toby was wandering around the house with a toy camera pointing and clicking. Which gave me an idea;

Take my iPhone
Turn off the wireless
Fire up my 'Hipstamatic' photography app, which puts all sorts of funky filters across your pictures, all of which are designed – oddly enough – to make your high-tech digital photographs resemble old-fashioned analogue ones.
Set said application to randomise
Give phone/camera to 3-year-old

So off went my son, happily clicking away for about 45 min, during which time he managed to catch all manner of weird and crazy images. Going back through them, though, I found it fascinating viewing the world through his eyes–both looking at the subjects he chose, and the way he captured them.

And because sharing is caring, here they are:

Barbecue #1.

Barbecue #2

An extreme close-up of our (very tolerant) dog

An extreme close-up of his (very tolerant) mother


to be honest, I'm not hundred percent certain what this is. But it's pretty, nevertheless.

Weeds growing out of our patio. ( What can I say, it's been a rainy summer)

The back steps.

A table, and a toy box.

Toys #1

toys #2

aside from the fact that most of his photos are better than anything I could take, it was great fun just watching him taking these. From the point of view of someone who writes for children (whatever that means) I think this was also a useful reminder of the value of seeing the world through different eyes whenever possible.

The Artist

Friday, February 17, 2012

Something's Gotta Give…

So you might have noticed but I haven't been posting an awful lot here of late. This is not because I don't like you all, nor because I don't have anything to post about, but simply because of outright busyness.

The last few weeks have been what I can only describe as chaotic. In addition to the start of our teaching semester (and this semester I have 300 students, in 2 different units, in 3 different teaching modes), I've also been ramping up the organisation of the ACLAR conference which we are holding here in June, rewriting The Hunter to get it back to my agent, Cheryl (who made some awesome suggestions!) by next month, reworking my literary studies unit pretty much from the ground up, wrestling with the new online learning system that we have installed at the uni, putting together a couple of research grant applications with a colleague of mine, and, of course, trying to be a good dad.

So, of course, something had to give and sadly it's turned out to be ‘Musings…’

But don't abandon me quite yet! With a bit of luck the next few weeks are going to settle down somewhat, and I'll be back to some regular blogging. There's a few things I really want to write about, including the nature of criticism, some observations on the gender of characters, and I will probably mention horse riding (just for something different :-)

And if you are craving some slightly more regular blog updates from our family then I'm pleased to report that my gorgeous wife, Imogen, has rather taken up the blogging reins during the last month or so. One of the other things we've decided to do as a family this year is to try and visit at least one of the very many local fairs that happen around Canberra per month.Min will be blogging these as we do them, (as well as other random bits and pieces). So far we have visited the Lucky Dragon Chinese Cultural day at the National Museum, and the International Festival which takes over the centre of civic every year for a weekend.

So, anyway, that's just a quick update, apology, and explanation for my absence, but I will be back more regularly soon. Promise


Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Year's Resolution... (plus chickens, bikes and...other stuff)

I'm going to blog every week this year. Without exception. Except, obviously, for most of January...

Actually, I've been wanting to blog since the start of January – have had all sorts of things lined up to write about, but for some reason every time I start I get oddly ‘blocked’. Still, it doesn't matter, we're here now, and that's what's important.

So, first things first, Happy (very belated) New Year everyone! I hope you all had a lovely break, and my sincere wish for you all is that unlike me, you haven't had to go back to work yet.

This, by nature, is going to be something of a ‘newsy infodump’ of a post – so feel free to skip over it and come back next week if you wish.

Item 1 on the agenda: because this is a writing blog, after all, and because I know that you're all terribly interested in my desk, here's a link to the fantastic blog of Tristan Bancks (who, unlike other bloggers I could name, actually updates regularly) and the contribution he asked me to do for his ‘the writer's studio’ series of posts. I've always really enjoyed these particular columns on Tristan's blog – it's fascinating the multitude of environments and methods by which writers and artists and other creative people all accomplish similar goals. And, of course, it was lovely to be invited to be part of it.

Item 2: (and moving away from writing now, and into family news) we have chickens! For a few years now Imogen and I have talked about getting some chooks for the yard, but for various reasons (slightly insane dog, lack of chicken coop etc…) we have put off doing anything about it. Late last year, though, while wandering around at the fantastic Murrumbateman field day, we spotted these beautifully designed mobile chicken runs, and that (combined with the fact that our previously-mentioned dog had knee surgery last year and is no longer nearly as mobile as she used to be) inspired us to get our poultry acts together. So last week we picked up our 4 ‘girls’ (I use the quote marks there because, to be honest, there's about a 20% chance that at least one of them will turn out to be a rooster and then, soon after, dinner...) who are now happily scratching around in the yard. Their names (because I'm sure you all want to know) are Charlotte, Spot, Hedwig and Rosie Primrose. 100 points for anyone who can spot the theme…

Charlotte (or, Lottie - as she likes to be known)

L-R: Spot, Hedwig and Rosie Primrose

Item 3: just in case you're interested. Later this year I'll be turning 40 (Shock! Horror! (And, to be honest, parental amazement, I suspect))* by that point I would like to be just a little bit fitter than I am at the moment and so Toby and I, inspired by my sister's bicycle-powered lifestyle in Holland, have set ourselves up and started cycling into work/daycare every morning. There are lots of birds, playgrounds to explore, things to look at, creeks and lakes and, of course, singing. And I'm quite certain that riding along pulling an extra 30 odd kilos of boy, bags, and child seat on my already heavy bike is probably going to do my fitness ambitions no harm at all. One of these mornings, I'll take my camera along and post some pictures of the ride. In the meantime, here we are, arriving home after ride on a 34 degree, windy afternoon...

Item 4: 2012. It's going to be a very big, and busy year for me this year – semester starts again in just a couple of weeks, and then it will be into the usual breakneck world of teaching. In June I'm convening the biennial ACLAR conference here in Canberra (with my friend Shaun Tan and the incredible Professors Clare Bradford and Kerry Mallan as our keynote speakers) the organisation of which should make the first half of this year particularly ‘interesting’. After that, our little family are off for a three-week holiday in Vietnam and Indonesia, at least one week of which will be spent on a beach with my sister, her husband, their 3 girls, my parents, and an assortment of other friends and relatives. I've also got the 2nd of my ‘Hunter’ books to get written, and my fantastic new agent and I will no doubt get to work on finding a home for the 1st one.

Plus, as promised, weekly blog posts here :-)

So, anyway–that's pretty much everything happening in my world, at the moment. From next week I'll try and get back to some more regular and focused blog posts. Welcome back to Musings… for 2012, everyone.

*I'd also like to take this opportunity to apologise for the overuse of parenthesis in this post, and particularly for the awful nested example indicated here. (I know this bugs some people...)


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