Monday, November 21, 2016

Life in Lincoln.

It’s almost 5 months since Lindsey and I made the move from Australia to the UK. Recently a few people have asked after us, so I thought I’d write a bit about what we’re up to and how we’re doing. I suspect this might be a bit longer than many of my posts.

(The TL;DR version will be in the last paragraph.)

Lindsey and I have settled in the old part of a village just a few miles out of Lincoln. Our cottage is around 230 years old, and is warm, cosy and feels welcoming. We’re friendly with our neighbours, and even socialise with them. The pub is 100 yards down the road, and although we only drop in every few weeks, the Landlord knows me by name and chats to me. A fantastic fish and chip shop is only a short walk away.

My commute to work is a comfortable 12 minutes. I have to drive through Lincoln itself and past the Cathedral, and on mornings when traffic is heavy, I need to add an extra two minutes to my journey. On the way I listen to BBC Lincolnshire – Scott Dalton in the morning, who is friendly and personable. It’s a gentle rural station and mostly plays ‘safe’ music, as listeners tend to be older. But the morning show and its discussions is how I learn about local issues, politics and events.

I love the school at which I’m employed. Although the buildings are just over 100 years old, the school has a 900 year history. It’s said to be haunted, and on the internet there are first-hand reports of encounters going back decades. I have spoken to staff who have had experiences and even sightings. As for me, there is one incident which I find difficult to explain, although I’m sure many would simply scoff at it.

My colleagues are fantastic, and I enjoy being with them. The school demographic is quite similar to the school I left in Australia. The issues, the behaviours and discussions are strangely familiar. There are a lot of similarities in the curricula, however the focus has just been different enough to make me work at getting my head around it all.

Lincoln is a wonderful small city. Population is around 100,000, including outlying villages, and as such it’s small enough for me to easily find my way around. Dominated by the 1000 year old Cathedral and Castle, there’s more than enough history to keep any of my History teaching colleagues entertained for ages. Plenty of Roman ruins too. And the fossil of a plesiosaur that was found under a local primary school. Art galleries, museums and gardens. Lots to do here.

Plenty of entertainment venues too, with theatre, cinema, music venues and more. And all close and reasonably priced. Some fine restaurants as well. And I can buy Vegemite in the local supermarket.

I feel at home here. Always have. Lindsey’s family makes me very welcome, as do my neighbours, colleagues and students. As I was born in the UK, I actually feel a connection with the land. The weather doesn’t worry me (Remember, I lived in Japan for 6 years where winters snowed and could get very cold) and I prefer the cooler climes to those hot Australian summers. As my friend Peter would say, I get burnt if I walk past the toaster in the morning. I really do have a pale Scottish complexion.

We moved here with a two-year plan, for a number of reasons. Employment, pace of life, a sense of community, access to Europe, time with Lindsey’s family, some connection with my ancestral past, art, music, culture, history, and so on. On Facebook, you've possibly seen Lindsey and I taking every opportunity to attend events. Everything from rock music to classical, folk to swing. We’ve been to galleries, castles, manor homes, gardens, a 1940s weekend, and a steampunk festival. My employment seems to be working out, we spend time with Lindsey’s family, we’ve connected with our neighbours, started becoming involved in aspects of the village community, and visited Amsterdam during the summer. We have a trip to Venice planned after Christmas.

Many people have asked me which I prefer, Australia or the UK. The truth is neither. They're both wonderfully different. We never left Australia because we didn’t enjoy our lives there. Of course there were aspects that we felt disappointed with, but none were deal-breakers. 

Is life perfect here?

No. No country is perfect. For a start they play this weird sport they call football where they only have 11 players on a team (not 18), the ball is round, and no one takes a speccy. And they all have funny accents.

Has it all been plain sailing?

Yes, for the most part. Any issues we’ve had have been rather minor. I guess the biggest were the self-doubts I experienced a month or so into my new job when I felt overwhelmed by everything new I was learning. But that passed with a week or so.

Of course I miss my family and my friends. So far I’ve yet to make friends here. There are plenty of people with whom I’m friendly, neighbours and colleagues, but there’s no-one yet who will ring me and ask me to come and hang while listening to music and sipping a beer, or shooting pool, or whatever. But I’ve only been here since July. And I’ve only been at my school since September. These things take time.

And remembering that I’ve only been here four months is important. It’s still, what many would call, the honeymoon period. Sure, I no longer hesitate while counting out change. I don’t think the electrical sockets look weird anymore. I automatically say ‘trainers’ instead of ‘runners’ and ‘crisps’ instead of ‘potato chips’. Heck, when I talk about soccer to the kids, I even say ‘football.’ But it’s still early days, no matter how well I’m fitting in and feeling at home. And things might change. I’m well aware of that.

(Here’s the TL;DR part)

But so far so good. Being here feels right. We've found pretty much everything we were looking for. And Lindsey and I are enjoying ourselves here. I feel less stressed.

Even the dogs are loving it here. They seem relaxed, and certainly enjoy all the walks this village has to offer.

Life is good.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Continuum XII.

Continuum XII is fast approaching, and I'm really looking forward to it. Last year, due to circumstances, I was only able to spend one day there. This year I'll be present for the whole thing. As this will be my last Australian convention for some time, it'll be great to catch up with a whole bunch of people just before I go,

For those who don't know, Continuum is an annual fan run speculative fiction and pop culture convention. From science-fiction to epic fantasy and everything in between, Continuum 12 will celebrate the theme “Stranger Than Fiction”. Continuum runs every year on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. In 2016 the convention will be held between June 10-13 at the Hotel Jasper in Melbourne’s CBD.

I've been selected for five panels. Mostly writing themed, but with one on Star Wars. I know some of the panellists already, and they're a great bunch. I look forward to meeting those I don't yet know.
In addition George Ivanoff has asked me to be involved in one of his notorious activities. And although I immediately said yes, I'm now starting to wonder if it was a good idea to take part. I guess time will tell.

For those attending, come up and say 'Hi'. Offer me a drink. Tell me things I don't know. Oh, and don't forget that drink!

Hope to see you there!

My panels:

Worldbuilding  (Saturday  10-11am) 
  • How to create an immersive world, how much detail is too much, how much should you tell the audience or keep in the background, how does trade fit in and how do you draw the damned map?

Writers and Doubt (Saturday 4-5pm)
  • Dealing with Imposter Syndrome. A very real and quite sobering issue, join us for a discussion on how to deal with Imposter syndrome and what we can do to alleviate it.

Plotspirations (Sunday 4-5pm)
  • From mashups to bets to eureka moments to messages in the sky, how do you get your ideas? Where do your plot ideas come from?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Monday 10-11am)
  • Revolutionary film or redone cliche cashing in on nostalgia? Badass female heroine or boring Mary Sue? Potential interracial gay couple or just a big tease? We analyse the new movie for any trace of Midichlorians.

The Author is a Jerk! (Monday 1-2pm)
  • How do the personal opinions and actions of an author affect the reception of their work and do we really care? Should an author’s personal and professional lives remain separate or should we boycott problematic authors?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Stars Align.

 I love it when a good plan comes together, and my current plan to move to the UK in July is certainly doing that.

Everything, it seems, is simply falling into place. Selling our house here, finding a rental in England, flights for us, relocating our beloved dogs and shipping our possessions. And then last night one of the largest puzzle pieces eased into position.

After a telephone interview I was offered a teaching post at a school quite close to where we will be living. Not only is it fantastic to know I will have some income and job security upon arrival, but this is a school that was on my shortlist of places I would love to work. And this was a very short list of only two.

I submitted three job applications last week. Two were to schools near my future home that weren't on my shortlist, although I have no doubt I'd have been very happy working at either of them. But I am excited I was successful so early. Having employment already organised will certainly make our transition easier and less worrying.

There are other events occurring. Wheels are turning, cogs are moving, planets are aligning and signs are written in the stars. Strange things are indeed afoot at the Circle K. I won't go into details, except that even sceptical friends are shaking their head and saying this move is meant to be.

I feel energised, not only about teaching, but about my writing. A couple of rejections in the past week - personal rejections that were encouraging yet caused me to sigh with an "oooh, so close." I've been so busy with the move for the past few months that my writing (and this page) have been neglected. This, of course, will improve shortly. Before the big move even, as I start to wind down my life here.

But not this week. I still have too much to do before I can afford to relax too  much.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mediocrity rules. OK.

Waleed Aly won the Gold Logie last night for best Australian TV personality. And he deserves it. Indeed, if I voted in such things, I'd have voted for him. Congratulations, Waleed.

But Aly is a lighthouse in the current ocean of televised mediocrity. Even the awards ceremony was awful. I lasted about five minutes before I shut the door. And I wasn't even watching them - only listening. My wife switched them off two minutes later.

So much of the so-called "talent" on TV these days have had their fifteen minutes. And many of them shouldn't have had that much. Where are the quality actors, writers, directors and producers? And not every person on television is a "star". Even fewer are "superstars".

But this acceptance - nay, encouragement and reward of mediocrity extends well beyond the world of television. I've picked up books by people who can't write, edited by people who can't edit. Not everyone is a writer. Not every person who writes deserves to be published. And not everything we write should be shared with the world.

Which is why I've chosen not to self-publish. It certainly has its place, but I believe new writers need to achieve a level of recognition and validation (through editors and established publishers) before heading down that track. And there's a wonderful need for a trunk - for all those stories that have been rejected everywhere.

In a discussion like this someone usually mentions Andy Weir at this point, or Hugh Howey. Of course there are exceptions. There always are. But naming a few successful self-published writers out of the millions and millions means little. The e-world is drowning in self-published mediocrity (or plain awfulness) and we simply don't need any more.

I admit it. I don't read self-published work. I tried with a couple of pieces that were recommended to me, and they simply weren't very good. I might pick one up again if someone I trust were to rave about something they'd found. That raving endorsement has never happened to me yet.

Let's be clear. This isn't an attack on self-publishing. I know some writers who swear by it, and I know some who have had great success through it. It's not for me, though, and I suspect it's not for the majority of writers who out every word they write up online.

There's too much whitenoise. Too much crap. It's difficult to sort the chaff from the wheat without a recognised imprint. But its our fault. We reward mediocrity. We tell our friends, our kids, our colleagues that they are outstanding, no matter what they do. We accept and watch film and television that is average, we read books that are average, and we give them four stars on IMDB or Goodreads.

It's time to start being honest. Not hurtful, not attacking, but to stop rewarding work that is just not very good. Don't give five stars because you know the author. Don't give five stars because it has a character/theme/storyline that doesn't get enough "airtime". Don't give four stars because it's comedy SF from Australia, or because really we don't get enough of either and want to encourage it. Give it the two stars it deserves and explain your reasoning in the comments.

Save the five stars for work that moves you, makes you think, work that pops into your mind a month later.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Countdown Continues.

I only have a few short months left before I make the big move over to the UK.

When my wife and I first decided to go, it all seemed so far away. As usual, however, time passes very quickly when there are deadlines and much to do. But we are progressing well, right on schedule in fact, and we'll be ready when the time comes.

There was a lot of culling - furniture, clothes and even books. There will be more items that need to go, but not until the last minute.

Our flights are booked, as are the flights for our dogs. They're getting used to sleeping in their crates and seem to quite enjoy them.

A lot of people have asked whether I have found employment in the UK. Not yet. It's still a bit early for that as their school year doesn't commence until September. But we have found a place to live, and I have made initial contact with a few schools in the area.

I will be at Continuum in June, for those who want to catch up and buy me a drink. I guess my next convention will be somewhere in the UK.

I'm excited by the prospect of the move. New life, new experiences, new people to annoy. And, I must add, a little nervous by venturing into the unknown. But I figure that if I can live in Japan for six years, I can manage a few years in my homeland.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

He's Doing Alright, Isn't He?

Much congratulations to my writing buddy, David McDonald.

Although this news is a few weeks old, it's never too late to recognise the achievements of a friend. Especially when those achievements are so very fine.

David was very excited to announce the forthcoming release of his original Guardians of the Galaxy novel, Castaways.  I'm sure you'll agree the cover art is fabulous. And if you loved the film and the characters, you need to read this.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are back in a new adventure, Castaways. Marooned on a mysterious planet that is trapped centuries behind the rest of the galaxy, Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot go their separate ways. But when an alien technology threatens their new home, Castaways becomes a race to see if the Guardians can reunite in time to save it.
But wait, there's more.

David's novelisation of Backcountry, a recent movie, has been shortlisted for a Scribe Award (Adapted Novel – General and Speculative category). For those who aren't aware, these awards are run by The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

And he has more exciting news on the way. Keep an eye out for that announcement.

Congratulations, David.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Submissions And Other Debris.

I spent last weekend at a writing retreat with three fellow writers.

We booked a place down on the peninsula, spent lots of time in front of screens putting words down, had a great crit session of our stories, and wonderful discussions on a range of topics. A fantastic time was had by all, and I suspect that if I weren't moving to the UK in a few months, this might have become a regular event for me. As it is there will be another, only I won't be there.

So I managed to get new words down, plus I rewrote three stories that have been on the backburner for quite a long time. I was pleased with how these pieces turned out. They're good stories. Now they just need to find homes.

In the past week I've sent out four stories. And already had four rejections.  Which is painful. I had hoped for at least a personal rejection on two of them, but only received form rejections. Those stories went straight back out again.

I'm kicking myself because I missed three deadlines. Two are my fault. I was travelling, and forgot about them. The other was brought forward due to the high number of submissions. Sigh.

I started a four-week fantasy writing course with the fabulous Michael Pryor. Not only is he a well respected author and editor, but a fantastic teacher. I'm loving the time in class, and learning lots.

So my writing is on the move again, which is good. But it's been a while since I've had a sale. I need one soon.

Real soon.