Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It Comes Back To Bite Ya.

I’ve been a bit confused recently. I had thought my life and its surrounds were back in balance, and that all was well with the world.

You see, I’m a great believer in karma. I don’t necessarily mean some kind of mystical energy thing, but certainly I think that people reap what they sow. Do unto others and all that. Treat someone badly, and at some point it will come back to haunt you. Or, as a friend puts it, “Be careful how you deal with others. It’ll always come back to bite ya on the bum.”

Recently, someone was particularly nasty and vengeful to me, and it impacted on me. They were rather manipulative, underhanded, dishonest and it hurt me. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t going to lower myself to their standard, so I let it go.

And then I heard that someone else had done the same thing to this person. I won’t say I was happy about it, as I don’t like to see anyone being like that, but there was a certain amount of satisfaction that karma was still operating.

But then only a few days later I learned that this person came out on top. And it really annoyed me. What happened to karma? Justice? Where’s the lesson for those that were looking on?

When students complain to me about other students getting away with something, I always remind them that they were lucky this once, but if it’s regular behaviour they’ll get caught out at some point.

With this person I’m starting to hear it’s regular behaviour. And so I must say I have my hopes up. At some point I feel it will all come a cropper for this person. If you act like that, it’ll catch up with you. We never expect it, but we always should.

Which means somewhere along the line something will happen to this person. Or maybe they’ll reincarnate as something lowly – maybe a gnat, or a member of a boyband.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Take A Chance And Support Those That Support Us.

Christmas with the family was wonderful, four days of food and laughter. A lot of fun but now I'd arrived back in my wife's home town and I ready to buy some music.

Sure, I can get most stuff back home and what I can't find I can always order online, but some of the more obscure stuff is not readily available in Australia and the postage from the UK can be as much (or even more) than the disc. So I decided to grab some of this stuff while I was here and save on the postage.

Last week in Glasgow I was in a fantastic independent music store, and they had some of the stuff I was looking for - but it was more than I expected to pay and the queues at the registers were very very long. So I decided to try again after Christmas, when I was down in England.

But here in my wife's town there isn't anything independent, and the chain store was the same as the other chain stores all over the world.  They had very little I was interested in. And then it occurred to me that this one store, this one chain pretty much controls the music the people in this town listen to.

Then I realised it wasn't that different to where I am in Australia. I am a little better off though, because I'm in the suburbs rather than a town, so I can get a little more by traveling a little further afield. And there is one reasonably local chain that has a fairly good indies and alternative section.

That's only one of the reasons why crap rules the airwaves and I don't listen to the radio.

Go into an independent store and buy some music you wouldn't normally listen to.  Take a chance, or play before you buy.  Help the independents, both stores and artists, and get some music with some bite.

Have fun, and enjoy the holidays. Topshop, Topshop.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twenty-nine Years Fly By.

The only thing I knew before I went into the pub last night was the name of the band, Rubber Soul. Yet just before they started playing I told my companion that they would open with ‘I Saw Her Standing There.’ OK, with a name like that there was a fair chance they would play Beatles stuff, but to be absolutely sure of which song they would open with is pretty impressive. How did I know it? I have no idea, just another mystery in this universe.

Of course it got me thinking about the fabs, and particularly John’s death. The anniversary was just a few weeks ago.

I could have sworn it was a Friday, but I’ve just checked online and it can’t have been. It was an evening, and I was working my part time job at a local supermarket. I think school had finished for the year, but I was working and still had several hours to spend in the deep freeze and dairy case. Another schoolboy came in, someone we worked with, someone who was always a bit of a smart-alec, and told us that John Lennon was dead.

He said it with a grin, in that schoolboy kind of way, and I didn’t believe him. I figured he knew about my Beatles infatuation and that he was having a laugh. A bit later, when someone else mentioned it, I presumed it was a publicity stunt. After all, John had just released his first album in over five years and he probably needed all the advertising and publicity he could get. I thought I’d get home and find out it was all OK, a mistake or a hoax, and that John would be on TV making some quip about how he was very much alive.

Of course, as we all know, he wasn’t.

Others went of to early morning vigils in the city centre, my friend and I talked about wearing black armbands to school – but didn’t get around to finding any black material. So the two of us sat around and played Beatle and Lennon albums till late. And we talked.

Something similar happened a few years later when George passed away. In some ways that one was more upsetting. George always seemed like the nicest, the most down to earth, the most honest of the four lads.

And then there were two.

I’ve previously written about how Paul’s music no longer interests me, and Ringo hasn’t had a decent album since the early 70s. Drag out the remastered Beatles, throw on some early 70s solo stuff (be choosy) and crank them up. If you’re looking for new music, go and pick up a Wilco album instead.

And have a wonderful Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Home Is Where...

I don't know the chap upstairs - I've never met him at all, but he has excellent taste in books.

I'm currently in Scotland, staying with a friend in Glasgow, and when I was going out today I noticed a few bags of recyclables and a bag of books - and lying on the top was a biography of Bill Hicks. Now this is a book I've seen before and wanted to read, so my friend knocked on the neighbour's door and asked whether the books were being thrown out. He very kindly told me to take whatever I wanted, so then I was free to dive down into the stack and have a real look.

If these books had been in Australia, and I didn't have to fly them home, I would probably have grabbed most of them.  Even though I have to watch the weight of my luggage, there were three or four books there that I've been looking for and decided to take.  And so now I have reading material for my trip.

I arrived in Scotland late last night - in quite heavy snow and bad weather. Much of Europe is under snow with many airports closed so we were lucky to still have a flight from Munich. Even driving from Edinburgh to Glasgow last night was very slow going.  There was a lot of ice on the road, lots of tailbacks, slow moving traffic and many people we felt sorry for stuck in jams behind jack-knifed semis. And there were several of these. Almost midnight on a cold and wet night you just want to get home, not sitting in a car behind other cars for hours at a time.

I don't know whether it's psychological, or some kind of weird collective unconsciousness, but I always feel at home here. I was born in Scotland and I emigrated to Australia as a young child, so coming to Scotland is a homecoming of sorts. I feel something heartwarming as soon as I land.

Today I wandered around town in the snow, just breathing in the atmosphere and soaking up the country. And the haggis, neeps and tatties and beer at lunch was amazing.

If you've never tried haggis, then you don't know what you're missing out on. Yum.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

When I Was Up In Italy.

I'm currently in Garmisch PartenKirchen, Germany, somewhere near the Austrian border with limited internet access and limited ability to upload pictures. It's been snowing gently since before I arrived and the place looks and feels absolutely amazing. In some ways it's quite difficult to get my head around the fact that I'm here in Europe. So far everyone we've met has been incredibly friendly and helpful and everywhere we've visited has been incredibly picturesque.

Yesterday we went to Oberammergauer, and every single photo I took looks like a postcard - and I took lots, believe me.

But Italy is where we flew into. We arrived in Rome and headed straight up to Lucca. Even the train trip was amazing. And then Lucca surpassed all expectations.  What a beautiful city.

And don't even mention the food.  We found two fantastic restaurants where the food was incredible - perhaps the best meal I have ever eaten.  Stunning in simplicity, but flavours like you wouldn't believe. Our hotel was down a small laneway, and directly opposite to the birthplace of Puccini. The place has so much history and culture to offer.  Unfortunately I only was able to spend two days there.

Anyway, I'm running out of time on this beast of a machine and need to get moving. But I have been getting some ideas for stories.

More from Scotland, after I leave Germany.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Eight Miles High.

While there are some of us who don’t even like the thought of getting on a plane for long hauls, I’m someone who really enjoys those flights. Maybe I just don’t get on planes often enough, but I take great delight in checking-in, boarding and then being seated. I know the thought of reaching my destination excites me, but so does the flight. And then I really start to relax once the announcements start. I have a relative who flies a lot on business, and I’m sure he would disagree with me.

Simply going to an airport is exciting enough. I’m always happy to go even just to drop someone off or pick someone up.  They are exciting places – the hustle and bustle, the international-ness (it’s a word now, OK?) of it all, people excited about going, excited about meeting those who have been away – just the whole atmosphere.

But to be the one who is actually getting on the flight is just awesome.

I love reading the in-flight magazine (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine should sign a deal to get that publication on flights), the choice of channels and films, the computer games, the drinks and even the food. Then there’s the rumble of the engines, the increase in force as the machine hurtles down the runway, and the wonder that something so heavy can actually fly. I spend quite a lot of time just looking at clouds and geographical features from the windows. Maybe I’m still a kid at heart but it all amazes me.

My most memorable flying experiences, in no particular order:

1.  Bumping into Ray Charles at Tokyo Airport, and chatting to him for a few minutes. (and even, stupidly, asking him for an autograph.  I did get a picture.)

2.  Having the nosecone ripped off the plane and go through an engine on ascent out of Detroit, then spending two hours in a shuddering machine as we circled dumping fuel before an emergency landing.

3.  Not the steward who spilled coffee on me as he was about to pour me a cup as the plane bumped, but the steward directly behind him who immediately positioned his jug over my shirt and asked, “Would you like milk on that, sir?”  He made me laugh.

4.  The first time I flew to the UK in 1985 (after not being back since leaving at 8 months old) and just looking out the window and being wowed with a sense of homecoming.

5.  Boarding a flight where there were six burly detectives around a handcuffed guy they were extraditing.  He obviously didn’t want to go and started yelling and headbutting the seats in front of him until they took him off for everybody’s safety.

6.  Playing with those little polarising windows as I took a lear jet across the state on my way to work security for Charles and Diana. (and yes, she spoke to me)

7.  Arriving home in Australia after living in Japan for six years.  Sure, I’d been back a couple of times for a week here and there, but this was coming home and the flight was fantastic.

And so this afternoon I’ll be boarding a flight and heading off into the wild grey yonder.  You’ll tell me that I’ll be spending 24 hours in a small armchair, with little legroom, average meals films I normally wouldn't want to watch, And I’d respond just as Maxwell Smart would.  

“…and loving it”

See you from the other side of the world.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It Was A Splendid Summer Morning...

So summertime is here, and school is seriously winding down.  For those in the northern hemisphere, this is the end of the academic year down under, and we're about to head into our long break.

We've just started our summer program - eight days of non-academic activities for the kids.  They go and see a film, some rock climbing, rollerblading and so on.  And for those that don't wish to spend money we have in school activities like quizzes and crafts.

When I was a kid we loved the summer program.  Even just watching a film was great. The school would rent a movie projector and we'd watch real film - even if it was some piece of crap like No Blade Of Grass, we loved it because it was real film. Video didn't exist in those days, and movies were a treat.  So attendance at summer program in those days was extremely high.

These days it's extremely low. Many of the kids have stopped coming anyway because the reports are written and 'it doesn't matter anymore', (the words of the kids and their parents, not ours) and the program just doesn't excite them.  It's hard to compete with their WIIs, DVDs, PCs and whatever else they choose to do at home.

So yesterday, when we went rollerblading, there were very few kids there.  But the ones that went had a wonderful time, and then afterwards, myself and another teacher cooked a barbecue lunch for them. We were then meant to go to a park and kick back for a while, but since it was raining heavily (check out the pic and yes, this is the beginning of our summer!) we had to quickly find an alternate activity.

Only a couple more days and I'll be off to Europe.  My bags are packed, my housesitters are briefed, my in-laws are excited, the plans are made and I'm more than ready for a break. Hopefully I'll be able to get near a PC next week to keep these posts going.

See you in Italy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

This Is It Folks . . . Over The Top.

Imagine you're standing about a metre directly in front of Doc Neeson and listening to the reunited Angels. Does life get any better?

I first saw them about a year ago, despite having been a huge fan since the late 70s, but this time they sounded even better.  The set list was fantastic and Doc looked a heck of a lot healthier and more animated than then.  Doc was in a bad car accident a few years ago, and obviously has health issues, but on Thursday night he gave it all and rocked us all.

There were two support acts - the first was a bunch of local lads that had lots of energy but weren't particularly original.  I can see that they might go somewhere in the future with a couple of changes to their line-up.  The other support band, from Sydney, was Stone Parade - which sounds like it should have been a Doors song. They had some great moments, and I think elsewhere I might have enjoyed them. Unfortunately one of the guitarists had his amp turned up way too loud, and being in the front row that was all I could hear. Whenever he played any chords all I could hear was a chainsaw sound that just distorted dreadfully. My ears rang the next day or two - not from The Angels, but from these guys.

A shame, really. I wanted to like them a lot more, but they were just unlistenable due to Captain Volume's extreme loudness.

Overall, an amazing evening.  The Angels ruled, the beer was good and the friends I was with were great.  Shame about the support acts, and the drunken idiots who decided that pushing people and spilling drinks on them is acceptable behaviour at a gig.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

You May Leave School, But It Never Leaves You...

Report writing is the one aspect of teaching I don't really enjoy. And, of course, they seem to roll around just as the last ones were done. Ours were due today. I completed them on time and dropped in at work last night to upload them.  In fact, I was on the way home from the doctor's when I did.

Yeah, I got hit by some dreaded lurgy that's making me feel like crap at the moment. But like any other show, the reports must go on. And there are enough problems with the print run without incomplete reports adding to it. I don't wish to be the one that throws the whole printing process out because I was late.

It's kind of weird, writing reports for kids. Especially since I have such 'fond' memories of receiving my own - ironically, from the same school I currently teach at. I always try to throw in a couple of positives and some recommendations. And I try to be totally fair and accurate in my reporting. The first time I wrote reports was nerve-wracking. I must have checked and re-checked them about thirty times. Then I uploaded them and worried myself for days as to whether I was being fair to the kids I taught.  And then once they were mailed out I was worried sick waiting for the phone calls.

They never came.

These days I still check them a couple of times, mostly for spelling and grammar. There's nothing worse than someone picking up a typo from an English teacher. But that stuff still slips through sometimes. Fortunately they usually get noticed by other teachers during the proof reading process.

And if I were to write a report for myself and my writing efforts?

Hmmm. Must write more often, needs to make the time. Write daily, even if it's only a few paragraphs. Be more adventurous, take risks with your writing and keep reading.  Reading a wide range of books will assist in a fluid and sophisticated writing style.

Or at least it can't hurt.

Anyway, I'm off back to bed to try and recover in time for school tomorrow.  Good night.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Year Of The...

Ok, apart from all the excitement of the whole European trip and catching up with my in-laws, I have a number of great events coming up that I'm very excited about.

Next week, for example, I'm off to see The Angels. I'm a long time fan - 30 years plus - but it was only last year that I first saw Doc Neeson live, and only a year before that I saw The Angels (minus Doc) for the first time.  I'm thrilled they've worked through their differences and combined their powers for goodness and niceness instead of evil.  And they still rock!

Then in February it's AC/DC.  Very cool. Early next year I also have tickets for Wilco (an amazing band that I've seen several times now and can't wait to see again), The Pixies (who I also saw last year and loved), Ross Noble (a funny, funny guy that I've seen several times) - and I'm sure there's someone else - but I can't remember right now.

I was looking forward to going away for some astronomy with friends, but circumstances have prevented that recently.  But early next year I'll drag out my much under-utilised telescope and head off for a weekend of observing. Of course it's the company that makes the night so enjoyable, so the SEDNA gang will also have to be there.

And then there's Continuum 6 and Aussicon 4 - both next year. As much fandom and SF as one could hope for.

Yes, next year is shaping up as a fabulous one.  And although there have been a few occurrences this year I'd rather forget, it's been a great year in so many ways too.

2010 - Arthur C. Clarke decided it's "the year we make contact", the Chinese call it "the year of the tiger". I should declare it to be "the year of the writer" and change up a gear. In fact, I'm deciding here and now it's "the year things start to happen".

I'll have to get onto one of my weird friends and find out what she thinks the year has in store for me. She's always guided me right, you know.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Flash Forward Gets Lost. Read The Book Instead.

On the recommendation of a couple of people, I started watching Flash Forward.

I should like it. But I don't. Even though on paper it seems to have everything I like in a show, it just doesn't work for me. I watched a couple of episodes and found I didn't really care. The actors were pretty average, the overlying romantic arcs, the cardboard characterisation (including the 'cutesy' little kid that speaks exactly like every Hollywood writer thinks normal children speak) and the poor dialogue and unrealistic response to the whole situation became quickly annoying.

It seems to me that it became overly polished, too Hollywood.  It should have been left closer to the original story, or perhaps made into a movie.  As it is I think it's heading towards another Lost. And although I really liked the idea of that program, it just quickly fell apart and became ridiculous.

Much like 2012.  Although I enjoyed the film, most of the characters were stock-standard. I must say Oliver Platt and Jimi Mistry stood out in an otherwise unmemorable cast. Amanda Peet played herself, John Cusack had trouble working up the energy, Woody Harrelson simply channeled Dennis Hopper through the caravan-conspiracy guy from X-Files.  Even though, it was a fun ride - until the last 30 minutes when it all became saccharine, soppy and ram-down-your-throat-preachy. Love one another, group hug. Did you know that spoilt evil kids can change simply because they hold a puppy?  Awwwwwww.

But I have a lot of respect for Robert J. Sawyer, and so I went and purchased the book, Flash Forward.  And boy, what a difference to the show. I can't put it down.

But if I were to flash forward, I wonder what I would see. I know what I'd like to see, but as many of the characters in the book soon discover, I think we're better off not knowing.

Unless I become a famous, rich, well respected author who has a successful show to my name.  Much like Flash Forward.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pasta, Wine, Schnitzel, Beer, Haggis, Whisky, Christmas Pudding And More Beer.

Congratulations to the Q3 winners of Writers of the Future. In particular, Brad R. Torgersen and Adam Colston, as they are both regulars over at the WOTF forums.

Brad has some excellent advice over on his website about writing, and what it takes to become a finalist at WOTF.  He should know, this was his second time in the finalist circle. Perseverance is one thing Brad has in abundance.

I have no hopes for my Q4 story. That was just an old one I posted off in order to ensure I submit every quarter. And it's certainly not the type of story the judges are looking for. The story I'd planned to send wasn't ready in time, so I decided to hold it over until I could spend more time on it.  But now I have to get myself into gear and finish it off.  I only have three weeks to get it polished and mailed.

Three weeks, I hear you ask. Surely the quarter finishes on the 31st December?

Well, yes.  But I won't be around.  My wife and I head off in three weeks time to Italy, Germany, Scotland and England for a bit of a holiday. Italy, just because my wife loves it and I've always wanted to go, Germany because she used to live there and wants to show me her old stomping ground, Scotland to spend time with her best friend and some of my family (I'm actually Scottish born!) and then England for Christmas with my in-laws.

We've organised sitters to look after the house and the dogs, and I'm currently mentally preparing myself for the gruelling task of eating and drinking my way across Europe.  It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. As for exact details of where we go and what we do?  I hope to keep this blog updated with all our travels as we go.

And Brad, since you won't be needing your Q4 story anymore, you can throw it my way and I'll re-badge it and submit it as mine.

p.s. Woah, Judge-type people.  I'm only kidding.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

All Along The Warburton Trail.

Yesterday, I woke up and just felt numb.  My wife felt the same way. A day after saying farewell to my sister-in-law, I just couldn't think.

I'm still astounded at the manner in which my brother handled himself at her funeral.  He was extremely courageous, as were their young children. I can only try to imagine how they are feeling at the moment.  I know how I feel.

So my wife and I both took the day off work.  I wouldn't have been able to function anyway. And with our faithful hounds we went for a walk along the Warburton Trail, holding hands, talking and sharing how we felt.  We stopped for a small picnic and enjoyed the serenity.  (Ah, the serenity.  How's the serenity?)

And then we came home, still feeling the pain, but also feeling more at peace.

I don't know exactly where my sister-in-law has gone.  We certainly have different theologies - and according to her beliefs, she's in heaven.

And if you are right and I'm wrong, put in a good word for me, please.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

And To My Wife, Without Whom...

Why is it everybody wants to be listed in the credits of a film? I was watching a film from the 60s a few nights ago, and suddenly realised how short the credits were back then. These days film credits are long, and possibly have more names than the greater Melbourne phone books.

Someone told me that it's a union thing, that the various jobs and people who work them must get listed on the credits.  Everybody from the lady who makes the cheese sandwiches, to the drivers who ferry actors back and forth, right up to the accountants who work out the payroll.  And they must do this?

Really?  Or is it just that we all have some weird perception of what constitutes 'fame'? I have news for you.  The credits now are so long that people only stay to look at them if they want to know the name of a song they heard during the show. Nobody remembers the insurance salesman from The Phantom Menace.


Why doesn't this happen in other businesses?  I mean, when I buy a light bulb, why doesn't it come with a list of all the people involved in the production process?

Payroll - John Michaels
Quality Control - Frank Peters
Sweeping Up - Geoff McKenzie

... and so on.

Films and music both seem to artistically be similar, yet albums generally don't come with every name involved, all the guys at the pressing plant and so on. And literature is similar too. So, maybe, when I finally get a book published, I'll start a new trend.  Five extra pages dedicated to the people who made me lunch, refilled the ink at the printers, designed the font used, washed my car and even cut my hair.

Or maybe I'll just wait until I sell the film rights.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And We'll Leave The Wild Wood Maze...

My sister-in-law passed away early this morning. It was expected.  The brain tumours just kept getting bigger, were cut out, grew back, were radiated, were cut out again, grew back again and became more aggressive. We all knew it was going to happen at some point. Fortunately I was able to visit her two nights ago and spend time with her.  I held her hand, and spoke to her.  Only a few words, but I was able to say what I wished to tell her.

Did she hear me?  I'll never know.  She opened her eyes for a few minutes while I was there, but there was no recognition of this world.  When I spoke to her, she'd closed her eyes.  I hope my message reached her.

She was amazingly brave and faced her death with a fortitude I can only hope to have. A young woman passed on with dignity and courage and a sense of humour.  And I saw incredible strength and resilience from my brother, her husband. He's been her rock for the past 6 years, and cared for her right until the end. I only have awe for the courage of her two children, both under 11.

Sleep well. Maybe we'll meet again.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Playing to win.

I don't really understand betting.

Ok, on a human level I can understand the desire to win - and I know that the lottery ticket I occasionally purchase technically constitutes betting, but the whole horses, dogs, cards, roulette wheel, dice thing - I just don't get it.

Only once have I attended horse races, and I thought it was an incredibly dull day. But last week, as with the first Tuesday in November every year, people seemed to get extremely excited over the Melbourne Cup. In fact I can't imagine anywhere else in the world having a public holiday in honour of a horse race. And although I changed channels at 3 o'clock to watch the race, I didn't really care who won.

It's the same with cards. I've played poker once or twice, even recently saw some on TV, and I don't understand the fascination with the game. At the moment it seems to be enjoying some kind of 'rock star' status, but to me it seems like all luck of the draw with the only skill being the ability to pretend your hand is better than it actually is.

The one card game I love playing (virtually every lunchtime) is 500s. From what I've seen, this is a game with similarities to Bridge and Euchre. It involves tactics and strategies, working with a partner, and just a little bluffing from time to time. It's also one of the few games I know where you can choose to play to lose if your hand is good enough (or bad enough) to do so.

I used to play 500s quite a bit, and then didn't really have to opportunity to play for almost 20 years.  But now I'm playing it again over lunch with the guys at work.  It make for a break from the classroom with lots of good humoured joking and banter. (usually at my expense) And on Friday night a few of my mates played 500s for around 5 or 6 hours with a few drinks and snacks.  It made for a great Friday evening.

I suppose different horses for different courses (pun definitely intended) and each to their own and that kind of thing, but for me poker, horse racing and games of chance hold little attraction. As for life, love and career?  Well, I don't believe in much gambling there either.  I'll grab opportunities, and even take a few calculated risks, but no out and out gambles. I've seen that go wrong for too many people.

It doesn't mean I haven't made mistakes, though. But those were definitely my own fault.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Learning From History.

I had a strange experience today - a sudden memory of being about 13 years old again and stuck in a boring class in school.  It was more than just deja-vu, it was like some twisted Vietnam flashback on acid.

OK, that's a major exaggeration, but it was kind of weird - and vivid.

I've previously mentioned that I teach in the school where I was a student.  This morning I took an extra class for an absent teacher, a Year 8 history class where they were studying the black plague. They were a great bunch of kids and worked really well all class.

 As I entered the room, I looked out the classroom windows at the vista pictured above. Today is cloudy and wet and the beautiful mountain range which sprawls across the eastern horizon was mostly hidden by cloud. And so I suddenly remembered walking into the same room for a geography lesson in 1976, on a day with similar weather conditions. I remember the class was about Mongolia - the rainfall, the topography, the produce and whatever. But apart from the name of the Mongolian capital I remember none of the other facts or figures from that class. And the only reason I recall Ulan Bator, is because my friends and I thought it sounded very funny and said it about 20 times a day over the next few weeks. Well, it seemed funnier at the time than it does now. I guess you had to be there, and be a 13 year old boy. (Ironically a Mongolian fact has risen again. A group of friends and I currently have a similar joke regarding the Togrog, the currency of Mongolia. Maybe you don't have to be 13.)

What I do remember from that class, though, is being amazed at how different the landscape looked with Mt. Dandenong having disappeared behind clouds forcing a closer horizon, and watching a dog that spent most of the 40 minutes running around the playing fields while I was supposed to be working.

Memories like this are important to me. They remind me what it is like to be bored in class, and serve as motivation for keeping my teaching varied and interesting. And the same with my writing.  I'll read almost anything to the conclusion, even stories I don't think are written particularly well and try to learn from them to improve my own writing. (It goes without saying that I also learn from the stories I love.)

And so I write the type of story I love to read.  I know they're good and worth reading - if only I could convince editors my writing is worth purchasing

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Be Very Afraid.

While most parents think their kids are going to become handfuls when they become teenagers, and for some reason this seems especially true of girls, my niece (let's call her Anne)  really is going to be a handful. She thinks incredibly differently to everyone else I know, has an amazingly strange Gilliam-like imagination and non-sequiturs in the most wonderfully bizarre ways.

Yesterday I was at McDonalds for breakfast - a place I really try not to frequent - but it was another niece's birthday and she was there with her parents and I had to drop off the present and . . . .  well, you get the picture.  And Anne was there too.

While we were eating, Anne was busy writing on a napkin.

"What's that you're writing?" we asked.
"Just something to scare the next people to use this table," she replied. "I'm going to leave it here, and when they see it they'll be scared."
"What are the Dooms at the top about," I wondered - especially since I wasn't sure how a 7 year old would even know the usage of said word. She then sang the opening notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, using the Dooms.... I loved the genius irony of not only the music, but the message of doom. (Even though I know she didn't intend it.)

This is the same girl who then read out a speech she'd just written - the one she'd prepared for her "sugar self help group." (Yes, I know. Where on earth did that come from?) It started with:

"Hello, my name is Anne." Then she'd written, in brackets "Hello Anne" - the supposed response from the other members of this group.  At that point I recalled when she was about 4 and someone asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She simply said, "An alcoholic."

And there are a million more stories like these ones. This is a girl who thinks outside every box, and yesterday over breakfast was deliberately trying to work out how to scare whichever strangers were to next sit at our table. And that's a little weird - especially since she wanted to do it by telling them not to be afraid - she said to me that would make them more scared.

I sure hope she starts writing fiction when she's older.  I'll point her straight at the Australian Horror Writer's Association. Perhaps she'll even get published in Midnight Echo before I do.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Angry One.

As you may recall, I was lucky enough to find myself inside Abbey Road studios a couple of years ago. When I first entered the holy place and was waiting at the reception counter, I stood next to some guy who was opening a stack of envelopes and checking the mail. What made this ultra cool, though, was the letters were all addressed to Sir George Martin. To me it was a moment of surrealism, a moment when I felt connected personally to the Fabs. I mean, here I was standing next to the guy who opened mail for the guy who produced The Beatles.

With my wife and our host, I toured all three studios guided by the studio manager. She was able to share lots about the studios, both technically and historically, but I more than held my own when it came to geekdom and useless trivia.  At one point she pointed to some pictures on the wall, and identified the artists. The Goons, Cilla Black, Sir Malcolm Sargent. (All of which I knew.) There was, however, one group that she didn't know.  I was able to identify them, though.  At another point she told me she wasn't sure whether The Beatles had ever used Studio 3. I was able to state which songs were recorded there, and then had a similar conversation in Studio 1.

Yeah, I know I'm sad.  But I'm a Beatles nerd.

There is very little in the way of storage available at the studios, so the hallways are lined with instruments. As we passed a couple of pianos and an organ, the manager just tapped them and said "Lady Madonna, Billy Preston, A Day in the Life.  Would you like to play any of these?"

I don't think I drooled though I may have gasped audibly.  I did, however, have enough presence of mind to grab the opportunity to play a couple of chords on the Lady Madonna piano.  And it had that sound. You could instantly recognise the tones.

As we were leaving, I asked my wife what the date was. She replied it was the 4th of January. "Wow", I said. "Thirty-seven years ago today the Beatles had their last ever session here. George played the guitar overdubs to Let It Be." At this point our host said, "You need to get a life!  Ride a bike, or something." And grinned. I guess he was kind of impressed, in the same way people are 'kind of' impressed by road accidents.

Let It Be was released in two versions. The single with the softer guitar solo, and the album track with the overdubbed 'angry' solo.  I believe there were plans at one stage to release the song with the two solos on different channels, but it never eventuated.

But last week, as I started teaching myself the 'angry' solo, I recalled the afternoon I spent in the studio. A bunch of kids at school, the keyboard ensemble,  have chosen to play Let It Be at a concert. And their music teacher has asked me to accompany them on stage. It didn't take long to figure out - but I want to nail the thing so I get it right on the night.

OK, it's not Woodstock, but it's a gig.  And I know I'll have fun.  I only hope I do credit to George Harrison.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Whale Of Doubt.

I must not be reading the right magazines or web pages or whatever.  I had absolutely no idea that another Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy book was on its way.

Mind you, I was equally clueless about the publication of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, until I saw a copy on a friend's shelf. And it was only by accident I discovered the existence of the new Red Dwarf a few days after it aired in the UK. (And don't we wish they'd held out for a bigger budget, a better story and more rewrites!)

So this afternoon, when my wife and I wandered down to the NOVA in Lygon Street to see Moon, and An Education, I was rather surprised to see a new HHGG book on the shelf in the bookstore next door. Written by Eoin Colfer, it's authorised by Adams's widow. Adams apparently said he planned to write a sixth book in the series, as he felt the last one ended on too much of a downer - but I was under the impression that his unpublished intentions for book six had already been released as Salmon of Doubt. While part of me is thrilled at the prospect of more Hitchhiker's to read, another part of me is quite distrustful of stories carried on by other writers. I did, however, enjoy Starship Titanic, written by Monty Python's Terry Jones (apparently in the nude), but Douglas Adams was around for that one and had some input into the book. There's a very fine line between fan fiction and posthumous authorisations. I'm rather glad they don't do this with music. Can you imagine a new Beatles' album - for example, Sgt. Pepper. 2: More help from my friends - written and recorded by four other guys and authorised by Yoko Ono?

I met Douglas Adams once.  He was in town to promote his enviro-book, Last Chance to See, and was sitting at a table in the middle of a bookstore. Having been totally under-promoted, it was reminiscent of the album signing scene in Spinal Tap. When I arrived, the only other people present were two teenage boys. Neither would have been out of place as extras on Big Bang Theory. They just stood to one side and grinned a lot, basking in his presence, not even brave enough to speak to him. Douglas sat and smoked, happily chatting to me for quite a while - about Melbourne, about writing, about music, about stuff, and very kindly signed some books for me. Sadly, not one other person approached the table or even seemed to wonder who he was or why he was sitting there. A few months later I met Patrick Tilley in the same place, under similar circumstances. Again the only promotion was an A4 piece of paper taped to the interior wall of the store.

Predictably, that bookstore didn't last long.  I guess no one knew it was there.

But HHGG is still alive, and I reserve judgement on whether that's a good thing or not. I will, of course, purchase a copy once it's in paperback. And then I'll decide whether I would like to see a seventh one or not.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

They Grow Up So Quickly, Don't They?

And so my senior students have their last day of school today - 'muck-up' day, as they call it.  School administrators prefer the connotation of 'Celebration' day, but that's never really caught on with anyone.  Especially the media.

They don't have any classes today, and so our kids are currently roaming the school in costume, based on their initials.  John came as James Bond and so on.  They're having a good time, wandering around, signing each other's school shirts and taking a million photographs - most of which will end up on Facebook tonight.

A few nights ago another school hit the headlines when their senior students held a party. Three men in balaclavas arrived uninvited and proceeded to rampage and beat up a bunch of kids with baseball bats.  Now while I don't condone this violence at all, I must admit I was rather surprised when the principal defended the kids having the party. They were drinking (kegs of beer) in a public park at 11.30 p.m. on a Monday night. Probably loud music too. I don't know these kids at all, but I wonder how many were under 18.

Surely this is not the appropriate way to celebrate.  And what are they celebrating anyway?  The exams don't start till next week and it ain't over until the last pen is put down.  Heck, you can't even leave the exam room until the time is up.

And I know our kids will have their own parties - hopefully in private and responsibly.  I recall my muck-up day. We came in costume as well, ironically at the same school I currently teach in. (The irony is I thought at the time that I was free of the place and would never return!) We wandered around for a bit, then left. I think most of us were home by 3 p.m., and that was that.

But I do want to wish the current crop all the best for their futures - whatever they choose to do.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

So Many Books, So Little Time.

Although I read continuously, even by my standards I seem to have raced through quite a few books over the past few weeks. And, I must say I'm very happy to report, some of the books I've enjoyed most have been Australian.

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild has quietly produced a number of quality anthologies over the past few years. I picked up a couple at Continuum 5 earlier this year, and have generally enjoyed the stories. Nor of Human had some moments, although the quality of story and writing varied greatly. Machinations, edited by Chris Andrews, however, was much stronger as a collection. I'm looking forward to reading the others.

I was fortunate enough to meet Narrelle M. Harris earlier this year. She was on a couple of panels at Continuum 5, where she was articulate and very funny. And now I'm able to report her writing suitably reflects this witty personality. The Opposite of Life is an entertaining vampire story set in Melbourne, my hometown.  Despite guessing the ending twist about a third of the way through, I thoroughly enjoyed the tale.  Very, very funny at times (Vampires who have never learned to drive twiddling their thumbs while seated on a tram as they chase someone across the city ) and an entertaining story to boot. Do I get bonus marks for recognising Stalactites? Also recommended.

And by the way, Narrelle - for later editions, the nightclubs are in the west end of Melbourne, not the east. I guess the editor missed that one.

I finished reading Writers of the Future Vol. 25, which means I've now read every winning story except for one. (The Two Tzaddicks by Ira Herman was not included in Vol. 1 as it had previously been published elsewhere) Vol. 25 had some excellent stories, although I didn't feel the standard was quite as high as it has been recently. Make sure you check out Garden of Tiang Zi by Emery Huang, After The Final Sunset, Again by Jordan Lapp and Risqueman by Mike Wood.

At the same time I'm still drifting in and out of Pulp Fiction: The Dames, an omnibus of 1930s detective and gangster stories.  An interesting read of a popular genre from another era. Between other books I'll pick this up for a few stories. Lots of fun to read, and some great dialogue that has since become cliched.

The cream of the crop, however, is Worldshaker by Richard Harland. An alternate history with elements of steampunk woven throughout. What a stunning and clever book! I was at a book launch for this novel a few months ago, and was thoroughly impressed by Richard's energetic reading, as well as his exuberance at having the book released. Last week I finally got around to reading it, and couldn't put it down. I laughed out loud in parts - especially the chapter when Col attends school for the first time. But the richness of the world and the depths of ideas ensnared me.  I've heard there are plans for another book in the 'series'.  I sure hope so. And the great news is that Worldshaker has sold to the US and the UK.  Congratulations, Richard. VERY highly recommended.

Oh, and just another quick one.  I've only read the first story from this dark collection (and that one seemed even darker because it's set around the train line and suburbs I live in), but it needs to be publicised.  Australian author Paul Haines' collection, A Slice Of Life.  The entire cover price goes towards Paul's fight against cancer.  Worthy cause indeed.

So if you haven't read any of these books, what's stopping you?  Read!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We Don't All Wear Funny Costumes, You Know.

About 6 months ago I discovered the Melbourne Science Fiction Club. One Saturday I headed down to an MSFC mini-convention that I'd read about online. I had an absolutely marvelous time and joined up on the spot.  Since then I've attended a few meetings, gotten to know a few people and learned a bit about 'our' history.

Last Friday was special, an evening I won't forget in a hurry. Murray, our extremely capable President, did a fantastic job of installing Helena and Jocko as Life Members. Not only was it fascinating to hear their stories of how they became involved in the club, it was great to hear the tale of how the club started. The second longest running SF club in the world, MSFC has been running since 1952. (The longest running is in L.A. - started in the 1930s) On hand for Friday's presentation were most of the serving Life Members, including some of the founders.  And besides learning about some of the crazy things that have occurred over the years (a teddy bear shaped hole in a window, indeed!) I was able to meet some very cool people, including Ditmar. I've already cleared the spot above my desk where the award that's named after him will one day sit.

In the past few months I've had a few moments of disillusionment with certain aspects of SF publishing, about my writing and with parts of fandom. But along with Continuum 5, the MSFC has restored my faith in the future of SF. Thanks guys, and thanks especially to those who decided in 1952 that their regular social gathering needed some formalisation.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saturday Night In St. Kilda.

What a fantastic evening! Dinner with my friend was enjoyable, I bumped into another old friend I haven't seen for five years but have been meaning to catch up with, Gibb Todd impressed and then Steeleye Span was superb. We partied like it's 1399.

This is their 40th anniversary tour, and yet Maddy Prior's voice sounds as pure as ever, Ken Nicol has slotted into the band very well (Last time I saw them, I admit I wasn't convinced) Liam Genockey had a nicely underplayed feel on drums, Peter Knight was as amazing as ever, and Pete Zorn, who is filling in for the unwell Rick Kemp, had a beautifully gentle touch on bass.

They played a lot of songs that I wasn't too familiar with, mostly from the past 15 years - an era from which I haven't listened to all their CDs.  They did, however, play Thomas the Rhymer and The Blacksmith from the earlier days, and then finished with an encore of All Around My Hat (introduced as "our anthem"), and Hard Times of Old England.  

There were two standout tracks for me. I Live Not Where I Love, and Betsy Bell and Mary Gray.  Both were virtually acoustic, one with guitar and the other with violin. And both were completely amazing.

Maddy did her little Maddy dances, those little slightly Scottish steps she usually does, Pete, wearing what appeared to be a cardigan, looked as though he was ready to put on his slippers and have a cocoa, and Ken took every opportunity to remind us who won the recent cricket series. My friend was a little disappointed they didn't sing Gaudete as an encore, and I wanted them to do anything from Commoner's Crown.

But it was still a fantastic show, and I can't wait until their 45th Anniversary shows.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Still Waiting For The Phone Call.

I never did get the rewrite of my current story completed in time. I had a couple of days to go before the end of the quarter for Writers of the Future and decided the story was too good to rush.

There are some unusual ideas in there, and I had another idea that I wanted to work through the story.  I felt that if I waited and spent my time writing and polishing the story, I'd end up with a better piece.  And so I dug up an older story and sent that off instead. A few reprints ended up in the waste paper bin as I made a couple of minor changes, but after some re-reading I deleted those alterations. In the end I simply added one sentence.

I don't anticipate a win from the story I submitted, but then again you never know.  I recall Jordan Lapp thought that of his last entry and it went on to win the quarter. Writers are often the worst judges of their own work. This is a story I quite like, although I've had mixed comments from others. Who knows though, this could be the unexpected one that finally connects with the judge.

Third quarter results have started appearing on the WOTF site, and I know for a fact a couple of finalists have had emails and phone calls. Either Joni has lost my number or has been too busy to call me. Surely my last entry was worthy of at least a semi-finalist?

Seriously, I don't like my chances for this quarter. I figure if I haven't heard by this stage, I haven't won. Now I'm simply hoping for another Honourable Mention. The last group of these should be posted by the end of this week. I know there's nothing shameful about a HM (in fact, it's a positive), but it's not what I'm aiming for either.

So that'll be another story to send out to the mags. And then it's back to my desk to finish off my Q1 story in time for the end of December. Now that one will win.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Parcel Of Rogues At The National Theatre.

I've bought my tickets to see Steeleye Span next week. They're touring to celebrate their 40th anniversary. While my wife cringes every time I plays their albums, and I think I'm now only allowed to listen to them when she's not home, I'm fortunate that my best friend also loves their music. So we'll have dinner, a drink and then down to the National Theatre for the show. This will now be about the fifth time I've seen them live. I was fortunate enough to see them a couple of times with their classic Mark IV lineup, the band that recorded the wonderful Commoner's Crown album.

I wasn't going to write about Steeleye, but I've spent the past few days listening to some of their CDs. And you have to love their storytelling.  Little Sir Hugh, Long Lankin, even Demon Lover - wonderful stories, some dating back as far as the 13th century, that are as dark as anything else I've seen.  Tales of murder, infidelity and meeting the devil abound.  Lots and lots of themes and ideas lie within their discs, just waiting to be harvested for reuse in some of my current stories.

I recently listened to Present, a collection of re-recorded Steeleye songs.  The playing is accomplished enough, but it doesn't groove, it doesn't swing.  It's not something you can describe, but it's something you can feel when you listen to it.  At first I wondered whether it was simply because I was more familiar with the old favourites, but it's more than that. There's something missing - a bit like comparing Gimme Shelter from a recent live recording to the original dark, threatening Let It Bleed version. The Rolling Stones are more accomplished now, but there's a  feel that's absent.

But that's not to say that Steeleye Span still aren't fabulous,  The current line-up (similar to the one I saw a couple of years ago) is still fantastic, and Maddy Prior's voice is still one of the purest I've ever heard.

And while my wife stays home and watches some chick flick, I'll be dancing (at least in spirit) to All Around My Hat.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Aim For The Stars.

Last week, while down in Rye, I was able to find a couple of Op Shops (or Charity Shops as they are called in the UK) with semi-decent books for sale.  Yes, I picked up a few, but that’s nothing new.  I always do. But as I perused the pictured shelves, I realised just how many books existed by authors I’ve never heard of.

I know of quite a few authors.  I teach English at a College. I have a degree in Literature, and another in English Education. I’ve spent three years working part-time in a bookshop, funding my way through University. I’ve also spent half my life browsing these shops. And yet there are literally thousands of authors with published books that I don’t recognise and that no-one really knows.

Writers like J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown are the exceptions, yet people presume that if your name is on a book, you’ve made money. Very few published authors get to make their entire living by writing novels alone.

I remember one day when I was working in the Uni Bookshop, a customer came in looking for a book on how to write a screenplay. I asked him if he had a great idea that he needed to get down.  He told me he didn’t actually have any idea yet, but surely writing a screenplay would make him very rich and he could quit work.  I told him that perhaps he needed to look into the publishing and film world a little more closely.

I sold him a book anyway.

Looking at some of those names on the bookshelves, I wondered how many of them made a living from their books. I guess at some point they were all thrilled to be published, and, thought they were ‘on the way’.

Did people buy those books?  Were they remaindered within the first six months? As writers we can’t afford to rest on our laurels, seeing your name in print, seeing your writing on a shelf somewhere, even being recognised or commented on by someone.

I guess we need to have a series of goals, each one higher than the previous one, and just keep working towards them. I know what I want. I'll keep shooting off stories to Writers of the Future. And as an old friend of mine once told me, ‘Aim for the stars, even if you only hit the chimney.’

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Few Days Away.

I've spent the past four days staying in a friend's holiday house down by the beach at Rye. Although we had a wonderful relaxing time, my wife was still a little disappointed. Here it is spring, but the weather has been very wintery.  Not only was it cold and mostly wet, we've also had a few days of extremely strong winds.

My wife and I took the dogs out most days for long walks along the beach.  They loved it, but we had to keep an eye out to make sure they didn't decide to roll in something dead, as dogs are wont to do. And be aware that due to the ceaseless vigilance of one of my dogs, our shoreline on the peninsula is safe from invasion by birds.  She ran after every bird she saw.  Don't worry, she never got close enough to even worry them.

I was even able to spend an hour or so luxuriating in hot springs. It was wonderful to sit in the hot spring water with a light rain falling, overlooking some beautiful landscapes.  We visited Box Stallion, a winery with some very beautiful wines, and we were able to restock our cellar.  I would also recommend Bamboo, a restaurant in Rye. We met up with some friends, and each one of us thoroughly enjoyed every course of our meal.  The service was very good too.

I ended up not getting any writing done. I wanted to spend as much time with my wife as I could so I grabbed the opportunity to do that.  I promise, procrastination had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Does it matter that my Q3 entry for Writers of the Future still needs some work?  I have three more days to get it in the mail, don't I? At least I came away with a stack of notes and ideas for future stories.

Speaking of WOTF, they have started posting Q3 results.  Congratulations to Felicity Dowker and to several of my Forum mates for their HMs.  Special congratulations to Jason Fischer for winning first place for his Q2 story. Good to see Aussies doing well. 

But enough from me.  Back to the keyboard to finish my story.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Future Writer Of The Future?

I'd hoped to have completed another draft of my current story by now but I didn't get as much writing done as I'd planned over the past two days. The end of the month is marching towards us now, which means the deadline for the fourth quarter of the Writers of the Future competition is looming. I have some serious work ahead of me over the next ten days to lash this beast into a better story.

With a week to go before the Q2 deadline I had serious misgivngs about that story, so I spent a couple of days working on it and mailed it with only a day or so to go.  That story received an Honourable Mention and a certificate.  At the moment, the third quarter stories are still at the judging level. WOTF recently had huge celebrations for their 25th Anniversary, and so things have been delayed slightly.  Hopefully we'll start to hear some results soon. And if you haven't been over to the WOTF site and checked out the video footage of the award ceremonies, have a look.  I really enjoyed it.

I should also once again congratulate Emery Huang and Jordan Lapp, two winners from the 25th volume.  I know there were other winners but I almost feel as if I know these two guys a little as they've both been regulars over at the WOTF forums.  I've encountered ("met" and "know" seem like strange words to use for forum-world) both over there and they seem like good guys. I really look forward to reading their stories. Emery also walked off with the grand prize, and from all accounts deservedly so.

I've ordered Volume 25 and it should be on its way to me by now.  The timing is just about perfect.  I'm halfway through Volume 24 and will finish it in the next day or so. In the past year I've read all the volumes, in order, and it's been interesting to see the growth of the competition. The quality of entries and winners has improved and from time to time I found stories that showed now established writers at their beginnings. Perhaps in a few years Emery and Jordan will have work in bookstores, and I'll be able to say "I encountered them way back when." So far, there's only one winning story that I haven't yet read.  I believe back in Volume 1 the rules weren't as clear as they are now, and one winner's story had previously been published elsewhere.  I'll have to dig that one up.

In the meantime I'll just keep plugging away, honing my skills, improving my writing, submitting to magazines and entering the competition.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's Been A Long, Long, Long Time.

Once before I've written about how much I'd love to see Andy Partridge get together with Terry Scott Taylor to produce the perfect album.

Terry is currently on tour, and if I had the money I'd bring him down under to perform. He's one of my greatest idols, but I've never had the chance to see him perform in any of his incarnations. (Daniel Amos, The Swirling Eddies, The Lost Dogs or solo)  He doesn't tour that often (although vastly more often than Andy Partridge who hasn't really played live since 1982) but rarely plays outside the U.S.

This afternoon I decided TST was precisely the music I needed and so I found myself completely lost in A Briefing for the Ascent.  Although I know exactly how wonderful this disc is, the truth is I haven't played it for a long time. A Long, long, long time.  In fact he covers Long, Long Long, the vastly underated George Harrison song from the White Album.

Long, Long, Long is an amazing love song.  It is, in fact, the song I chose to have played at my wedding. And although TST's version is a completely faithful clone (right down to the drum fills) it works amazingly well and sits perfectly in the concept album that is A Briefing for the Ascent

It's the start of the school holidays for me.  Two glorious weeks off without worrying about the kids, and a much-needed chance to recharge before the final term for the year. I've promised myself the next two days to spend entirely on writing, but this afternoon was relax time. A glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in hand, my wife doing some gardening, a Nepalese Keema Curry on the stovetop and Terry's wonderful album playing (loudly)  in the background, I had the most delightful time.

Life doesn't get any better than this on a mild Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dust To Dust.

My mum had a birthday today and my best friend's mother passed away last week.

I took my mum out to dinner last night to celebrate her birthday a day early.  I couldn't visit her tonight, as I had parent teacher interviews and was tied up explaining to parents that little Johnny needs to put his head down and do some work.  My dad still laughs at this every year, as he recalls me sitting on the other side of the interview table when I was a teenager. (Ironically at the same school I now teach at!) Anyway, with my mum, my wife and my dad, I drove up to Healesville and had a lovely dinner.  We told stories, laughed, talked about the future and had a great time.

All this, only six hours after standing at a graveside.

Is it only me that silently mouths "Funk to funky" whenever a preacher says "Ashes to ashes"?  I stood at the grave and watched the casket glide down into the earth.  The beautiful hills sprawled across the horizon and I felt the warmth of the spring sun on my back.  For a moment I felt guilty as I basked and enjoyed.  My best friend stood a few metres away, obviously overwhelmed.  I tried sending good and supportive vibes in her direction.  I hope she caught them.

The funeral was lovely - as lovely as funerals can be.  I think I'm getting to the age where I tend to catch up with some old friends only at the passing of another. Between my mum and my friend's mum, Jean, I spent a lot of yesterday in the past.  I've known Jean for 40 years. She was always lovely to me, always asked after me, was always concerned about me.  Even as recently as a few weeks ago, as she lay in hospital, she asked about my wife and I.  And although I didn't get to go and visit her, I asked after her too.

So the day ended up with me thinking about life, mortality and grabbing opportunities.

I owe my best friend more than I could ever repay.  She's taught me a great deal about life, living, taking risks and chasing dreams.  She's responsible for a great deal of what I've done over the past ten years, and has (until my wife took on the role a couple of years ago) been my greatest supporter and most active encourager.

She's the reason I teach, act and write.  And a great deal of her encouragement can be directly traced back to her Mum.

Jean, I raise a glass to you tonight. Time to rest now.  And Mum, Happy Birthday.  I truly hope you're around for many, many more.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Making Minimal Contact.

A few years ago, I bought The Bitterbynde Trilogy by Cecilia Dart Thornton.  With every intention of reading them soon thereafter, they were placed in the metaphorical stack of books next to my not-so-metaphorical bed.  For a number of reasons, none of which seem particularly clear at the moment, I've never gotten around to reading these three books, The Ill-Made Mute, The Lady of the Sorrows and The Battle of Evernight. (OK, so the last one sounds like it should be a Led Zeppelin song....)

On Friday night, I wandered down to the Melbourne Science Fiction Club where Cecilia was the guest speaker for the evening. After catching up with a few familiar faces, I settled down to listen to the amazing tale of how she became a full-time writer. None of this is secret or new as it's easily found online, but it's incredible hearing the tale direct from the source. Basically she wrote the three novels for herself, stuck them in a drawer for a couple of years before finally putting a sample chapter online with a crit group.  Within a short time an editor had contacted her, she had an agent and a U.S. publisher paid her a six-figure advance for her books. It's always good to see a local do well, and while I realise her story and success is the exception rather than the rule, it is encouraging and inspiring.

Cecilia was completely lovely and charming. She answered our questions patiently (I'm sure she's heard all of them before), laughed at our lame jokes and smiled and nodded politely as the conversation diverted wildly off-topic. I learned a great deal from her professionalism and her attitude. I truly believe it's important for a writer to present well and to always behave professionally. Earlier this year I attended a publishing seminar where I was left completely unimpressed by several of the presented authors.  They weren't particularly articulate, didn't seem to have much to say and were generally repetitive and used extremely well worn cliches. Two of them arrived dressed as though they'd just spent the day working on the car. And this was for a large gathering of teachers at the offices of a major publisher that was trying to convince us to buy these books for our schools.


An author as successful as Cecilia doesn't have to guest at a small SF group like ours, but in the SF and F world this is what authors do.  They all seem to be fanboys and fangirls deep down, and they can recall when they would read this stuff and wonder. They used to be like us (and still are at heart!). Cecilia even talked about the fan letter she once sent to Tanith Lee

I've never sent anyone a fan letter, but I've often wondered exactly what some of my 'heroes' would be like in real life.  Over the years I've been fortunate enough to have met a few names, but there are some I can only wish I could have met. It's too late now to meet people like Asimov, or PKD (I still marvel at hearing a PKD story firsthand from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro) or George Harrison, although there are still a few people in the literature and music world I would seriously love to meet.  Robert Silverberg is high on my list, as are Andy Partridge and Terry Scott Taylor. And from what I hear Tim Powers has a few PKD anecdotes up his sleeve. I need to win WOTF so I can attend one of his workshops, so I'll just keep writing and submitting. And I'll keep reading in wonder. 

Oh, and I've just dug out the Bitterbynde trilogy and pushed it to the top of that metaphorical stack. I'll get into The Ill-Made Mute as soon as I finish my current WOTF volume.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Number 9, Number 9, Number 9...

Beatles day is here at last, and while I sit at work and wait for the box sets to be delivered, I must confess to having already sourced and heard many of the remasters already.

Stunning.

The clarity of the bass, the crispness of the handclaps, the sheen of the cymbals. And those harmonies. Wow. You can almost see the boys standing face to face in Studio 2, headphones on, singing their hearts out. Grab a disc and cue up some of the tracks where George, John and Paul's voices blend. And prepare to be impressed

These are the albums as they were meant to be heard. The good Doctor himself told me that he thought it was "like wiping the grime off a Mercedes." That's a simile I like, and it's true. I loved that moment of discovering the car I thought I knew so well was shiny all along.

After hearing the discs on a friend's system, I've realised the limitations of my own dvd/cd player. But even though, I'm hearing parts and instruments I've never heard before - and remember, I'm a Beatles freak. I have 8 different versions of Abbey Road, for goodness sakes! Everything from the Brazilian mono release (which runs slow) to the Japanese Black Triangle CD release (the pre-emphasis sounds a little shinier).

So this week will be Beatle listening week in my house. Mono, stereo, old, new. The lot. And as your attorney I would advise you to do the same. Grab a Beatles album and listen like you've never listened before.

Of course there's always more I want to hear. And I'm not just talking about Etcetera, Woman or Carnival of Light. I would also love to listen to Doubleback Alley, Let's Be Natural, Hold My Hand and Cheese & Onions in all their sonic splendour.

So when can we expect The Rutles remasters?

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Budding Career?

I had plans to write quite a bit on the weekend, instead I took the opportunity to get out into the garden and do some much needed work.

My wife and I weeded, cut the grass, repaired a bit of edging around garden beds and generally tidied up. The garden looks fantastic. Spring has suddenly arrived. Leaves are starting to bud on the Japanese maples and the flowers are starting to open.

My backyard is an oasis in the middle of suburbia. There is a very natural, peaceful and positive vibe, and it's just a great place to be. Very calming. Over the next few months I might have to retreat outdoors and do some writing there.

And so the next few months promise much. Warmer nights and clearer skies mean I can spend more time out at night with my telescope and fellow astronomers. Less rain means I can venture out onto the Warburton Trail more frequently. It's a beautiful walk and my dogs love it. It'll certainly be more green than this picture I took a few months ago.

And hopefully I'll make more time to write. My recent rejects are already out elsewhere They are in fine shape after minor pruning and weeding (just to keep the gardening theme going) and I have a couple more about to be finished. Plus some new ideas I need to get started. Hopefully some of my current submissions will actually sell and my writing career will take off.

Hopefully.

Look for me at the newsagency. Soon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Long, Dark Twilight Of The Submission.

I've had two rejection slips in the past three days. And I'm feeling good about them. Both were quite positive about my writing. One of them even included fairly long and detailed notes from the slush reader. Of the comments made, I was able to agree with some of them and I've already started re-editing my story before I send it off again. The story will definitely be better for it.

There were, however, a few points made that I strongly disagreed with. Every person has a different opinion and different tastes, but I felt that perhaps a couple of these criticisms of plot showed a lack of life experience on behalf of the reader.

But that's valid too. If those aspects of the story didn't resonate with this reader, then they need to be looked at again.

The shorter rejection was also quite encouraging.

What I found most frustrating was the waiting. One of the submissions was gone for seven months. If every publication took that long before rejection, I could only submit a story three times in two years. And in future, why would any writer wish to submit a second time to a publication with a wait like that?

My other rejection came after only 35 days or so. That was much cooler.

From what I've seen so far, an acknowledgement of receipt from magazines seems to be the exception rather than the rule. It would be nice to know rather than just presume that your story was received.

But that's the way it is, and we writers have to live and work with it. Yes, I know these magazines get mountains of submissions. And I know most of the editors do it in their spare time for little reward. And I know the market is shrinking. And I know...

I do think, however, that an automated acknowledgement is easily possible, and I definitely think that if responses take a lot longer than submission guidelines state, then those guidelines need to be changed.

It's all positive, though. At least I'm getting rejections. Both those stories will be back out in the marketplace by this evening.

And thanks to the editors for their encouraging words and efforts. I truly appreciate it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Horror, The Horror...

My wife and I had dinner with a close friend last night. He was, as always, a wonderful host. Not only did he prepare a delicious lamb dinner and kept our wine topped up (very important), but he planned an evening of DVD entertainment as well.

We held our regular discussion on football and the current state of the AFL. This basically consisted of us both agreeing that Hardwick was a good choice of coach for Richmond and that the umpiring in the Essendon - Hawthorn game was extremely poor. We then returned to our oft repeated attempts to understand the wacky and zany plans Andrew Demetriou dreams up for our beloved game while hiding under his desk. Like adding new teams to an already crowded league (and thereby diluting our talent more), increasing the finals to include the top 10 teams (thereby rewarding mediocrity), ignoring the tanking that occurs (thereby being the only person in the country that can't see it happening), and pushing for a fixture that is only set until round 17, with games after that to be based on ladder positions. Yeah, that guy is really in touch with what the fans want.

Then we went through to the living room to watch an old Hammer vampire film.

My friend is a film buff. He especially loves his old horror films. At one point in the evening our topic of conversation turned to horror. Recently, I wrote a ghost story which my friend has read. I told him I was considering submitting it to a horror market. He seemed surprised by this as he hadn't considered it to be a 'horror' story. And I suppose by certain definitions of horror, it probably isn't.

I tried to ask someone in the writing world if it was a horror story, and they told me that if it contained ghosts then it's dark fantasy. Is that right? It's not particularly scary, but it does have death, it has a ghost and it has a haunting. It's a gentle ghost story.

Is it horror? Would a horror market accept it? I'll send it off and we'll see what happens. If it sells, then I guess it is. I'll keep you informed.

In the meantime keep an eye on what Demetriou attempts to do to football. That's a real horror story.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

And Now, Here They Are, The Beatles!

Only two weeks until the remastered Beatles CDs become available.

As a Beatle freak, (Yep, that's me sitting at the console in Studio 2 at Abbey Road) this is something I've waited a very long time for. The 1987 releases were awful - muddy, compressed and quite unlistenable. And, for some reason that's still unclear, the first four albums were only released in mono. At the time EMI made some excuse about how that's how they were released originally, but it didn't take much research to discover those discs were also released on stereo vinyl.

About 15 years ago in Tokyo, the good Doctor and I obtained CDs containing mono transfers of the White Album. I still recall the first time I heard those. Wow! Not only was the mix amazing, but the clarity and presence blew my mind. Sgt. Pepper was much the same. Of course George Martin and crew spent almost three weeks mixing the mono Pepper, and about two and a half days with the stereo mix.

Over the past few years, my official Beatles CDs have been relegated to the back cupboard while I've listened to Dr. Ebbett's vinyl transfers. Superior in every way.

While the Rolling Stones have continually updated and repackaged their discs (although I still prefer the Mickboy transfers), the Beatles have waited a long time to do this. And from all I've read, it looks like it has been done properly.

The Doctor is the coolest Beatles fan I know. He knows what's what, and we have incredibly similar tastes and interests. I only wish he lived closer so we could have a listening party together on the release date.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Stupid Alien Movie Alert!

I went to see District 9 on the weekend. I love a great science fiction film, and it's been a very very long time between drinks. Unfortunately this was one of the worst I've ever seen.

Not only was the plot full of holes, but there were storylines that didn't make sense, unbelievably stereotypical characters and an extreme overuse of hand-held cameras. Even the non-action scenes bobbed from side to sea-sick side. By the end of the film I actually felt a little nauseous.

It was presented as though it was a documentary, but that pretense fell apart when they included scenes of aliens conspiring in private. There was a protagonist I longed for the aliens to kill (slowly and painfully), supposedly intelligent aliens who could travel interstellar distances but couldn't organise their own homes or do much more than scamper through dumps (I felt no sympathy for their plight at all), and, unbelievably, alien 'petrol' that supposedly turned humans into fully biological aliens. Yeah, right. Move out of the 40s, guys.

And then, to top it all off, two thirds of the way through the film suddenly turned into Transformers.

So many unanswered questions - none of which made you think, just made you believe the production team was working from an early draft of an unfinished script.

I loved the idea, I hated the execution. Setting it in South Africa was extremely obvious but I could have coped with that if the supposed themes and messages (racism and apartheid) hadn't been shoved down our throats so forcibly by the director.

Give it a miss. As the sign says, Do Not Enter!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

To Sleep, Perchance To Sleep.

The Little Shop of Horrors has finished its week-long run. We did the final show, made the speeches and presentations, got rid of the cast and bumped out. The kids were all buzzing like they'd had nothing but caffeine drinks for a week - hmmm, now I think of it that's all I saw them drinking around the backstage area.

We waved goodbye to the last of the sets as they were loaded into a trailer and slowly disappeared into the darkness over the car park speed bumps - in stark contrast to the driver we saw the night before who bounced over the speed bumps while still accelerating. After thanking the staff at the community centre, the crew (or at least whoever was left standing) headed off to the director's house for a 'debrief'.

Although we were all worn out, we managed a few drinks, a bit of music, a lot of laughs and some verbal abuse - 'Shut Up' and 'Clown' seemed really funny at the time, believe me. I crawled into bed at 4.am.

Last night, though, I slept for almost 12 hours - and I feel much better for it.

Thanks guys - we put on a great show and had a great time. Now, which musical are we going to present next time?