Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Good Ship, Fandom.

Continuum 13, an annual sci-fi convention, was held in Melbourne over the weekend. Obviously, having moved to the UK last year, I wasn't able to attend. It felt a little weird missing it as I have attended every year since Continuum 5.

From all accounts it was a great convention. Well organised and attended, with interesting panels and workshops. I'm really pleased by this, as I must confess that over the past few years I haven't gotten as much out of the convention as I would have liked. There has been a gradual shift in the focus from the science fiction I like towards pop culture, most of which I have little time for.

Now this is where I am in danger of being misread. I really need to emphasise I'm writing here about my tastes, my preferences, the things I enjoy. Give me old school sci-fi and fantasy any day. I'm not big into superheroes, anime or most other pop culture. I found fewer panels and sessions I was interested in attending each year. Fewer spaceships and robots, and more people with capes. Fewer discussions on classic books and more on TV shows and superhero films. And I'm just not interested in them. Honestly, I couldn't tell you your Magneto from your Brian Mannix.

Over the past few years there have been panels where I struggled to see any connection to SF, fantasy or horror at all. But that's fine. It doesn't matter. The convention isn't solely about me. It's about fandom, and what they want.

You see, if I had my way rock bands with guitars would rule the Top 40, science fiction films would be more like Arrival than X-Men, and reading would be compulsory for everyone. Conventions would have more panels on classic books alongside the newer ones.

But, as I said, it's not about me. There are lots of things that generally don't excite me at the moment. I've already mentioned superhero films. Let's add to that the current trend in retelling fairy tales, urban fantasy, and more vampires. Maybe I am getting older, but like the music I like, I know what types of fiction I like.

If we stick with the music comparison, you'll soon realise I don't have to like it. There are plenty of alternatives for me. And if I dig around I can find plenty of new bands I do like. I don't want to buy a Beyonce album. She doesn't speak to me, and the music leaves me cold. But there are plenty out there who love her music. Me, I'd rather buy the new Roger Waters album.

Yes, I do read new SF books. I have to be a little more discerning in my hunt for them as they're usually not the same books that appeal to my friends. I've tried many of those, and I often find them underwhelming. Taste, again, I suppose.

We all don't have to like everything. Or even the same things. There's room for us all in the good ship 'fandom.' But remember, I don't deserve name-calling or abuse because my interests and tastes lie elsewhere.

Having said that, I've been quite excited about the impending release of Wonder Woman. And I wasn't disappointed. I thought it was fantastic.

You never know. Maybe someday someone will play me a Beyonce track that I actually like.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How Will I Know?

I've been writing again. Re-writing, actually. But this isn't just a skim and edit, I'm completely rewriting the entire story, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and trying to be ruthless with it. In fact I spent about three hours today completely restructuring a 350 word opening.

I hope it's improved.

This is a story I love, and it received great personal rejections from three pro-level markets. So there's hope for the story, and I'm hoping the changes I'm making at the moment give it the push it needs. I'm using those comments, as well as a solid critique from another writer, as my guide. These people know what they're doing, so I'd be a fool not to pay attention. The question is can I get it right.

But wait, as they say in the infomercials, there's more.

A couple of years ago a well-known and admired writer very kindly sent me three pages of notes and advice on things she'd learned along the way. At the time I read these notes, tried to apply them and thought I'd done a decent job. This week, as I prepared to delve back into this story, I re-read the notes. And that little light metaphorical bulb in my brain went on. Now I'm approaching the story with so much more rigour and determination than I've ever applied before.

Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees, and I just now as I re-read what I'd written, I had doubts as to whether it was better or not. And that's why distance and time, and a decent beta-reader, makes all the difference. So I'll get this piece done, have another set of eyes go over it, then send it out into the wild world.

Who knows? This time it might even survive.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Don't Bring Me Down.

Some people really can't help themselves. They simply cannot allow another person to be pleased or happy.

Four times in the past two days I've seen Facebook friends be brought down by naysayers. Something that's occurred, a great social commentary, encouragement meant for another - all considered to be great news by the poster. And then you read the comments.

Recently, on my last day of employment at my old school, a friend and I left together. As we were walking out for the very last time someone asked what we were going to do next. My friend announced she was thrilled she'd already found employment - and then came the comments. Why would you want to work there? I've heard it's awful. I wouldn't go there in a pink fit. And so on.

Really? Is that all you can offer? Remember, this isn't someone asking your advice prior to making a decision. This is someone who has already achieved their goal of new employment.

Even if you think those things, or have some inside knowledge, why can't you just congratulate someone on their achievement? You really have to bring them down?

For the record, my friend is happy with her new role, and none of the warnings of dread turned out to be remotely true.

But it's happened to me. Decisions I've made in many areas of my life - personal, career and hobby - and there often seems to be someone prepared to bring me down. Am I an eternal optimist? No. I am, in fact, quite the realist. But when I share some good news or an achievement, be respectful. How about a simple 'congratulations,' or 'well done?'

Build people up, don't bring them down.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Diving Back In.

I subbed a story to a pro-market this week. It's been a long time since I've subbed anything anywhere, and I must say it felt great.

Partly because of the move and trying to settle in at a new job while focusing on a new curriculum, but also for a number of other reasons, it's been while since I've written very much at all. I haven't written any new words yet, but I've done a major rewrite on one story, started rewriting another, and read through a few more that need work. Time and space between writing and self-critiquing is a wonderful thing. Fresh eyes pick up flaws.

I've also finished and submitted the edits on my Sherlock Holmes story. Even at this late(ish) stage I found a typo, clarified a few sentences, and cringed at the repeated use of the same word in a couple of sentences. But the proofs look fantastic, and I love the illustration for my story. Thanks to Christopher Sequeira and the publishing/editing team for their work. This is an anthology I'm really looking forward to. Very proud to be a part of it.

In the meantime I have continued making notes in my writer notebooks, the ones I carry almost everywhere I go. I never let up on those so there is a collection of ideas, thoughts, sketches and thumbnails waiting to be harvested.

For the first time in ages I actually feel optimistic about my writing again. It's a great feeling.

Look for more words from me soon.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Home Is Where The Heart Is?

Some of you may not know I am actually Scottish by birth, not Australian.

True, I sound like an Australian when I speak (although my accent is not as strong as many I know), and I prefer AFL and Vegemite to Soccer and Marmite, but I was born in the highlands and emigrated to Australia as a small child. I've been naturalised, so I have Australian as well as my British citizenship.

As a child I wondered what Scotland was like. We didn't have the internet then, so my knowledge was limited to encyclopedia entries, pictures on postcards, and wild imaginings based on stories by relatives. This, of course, led me to believe such things as all Scots children walk 16 miles to school each day in snow 6 feet deep. I think I had my dad to thank for that one.

As I grew older, Scotland continued to call to me. I was proud of my homeland and its history. It was an almost mythical place, and I yearned for any connection. From books and movies to music and food, I lapped it all up. And then, in 1985, I returned for the first time since leaving as a 'wee bairn'.

I was not disappointed.

Scotland was truly beautiful. It was a gentle, peaceful country with generous, funny people. I felt at home, and I remember telling my parents that one day I would return to live in the UK.

I am pleased to report, that after spending the past two weeks on a road trip, Scotland is just as beautiful and the people are still the same.

We drove from Aberdeen, my father's hometown, through my grandparents (both sides) hometowns (Buckie and Cruden Bay), saw the house where my mother was born, caught up with second cousins, visited a fantastic museum which has photos and information on the trawlermen on my mother's side (including my grandfather and his brothers) and stayed for a couple of nights in Inverness, the city where I was born. We toured through the highlands, lonely, desolate, magnificent mountains dominating our landscape.

We drove past Culloden, where the Camerons fought exhausted after marching 50 miles in two days, and Cawdor, which is only a few miles from my birthplace. I guess I could have been a thane.

Macbeth too (in the play, anyway) was based in Inverness. I could have been a king.

And, of course, Loch Ness. Don't even mention I could have been a monster. You don't think I spent half my childhood hearing that one?

This has been an important time. A time of reflection and appreciation for my relatives and ancestors. A time to consider what was and what could have been. A time when I felt a connection with the land around me.

Mostly, though, it has been a time of gratitude.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Sherlock Holmes Down Under.

I've had to keep this one under my (deerstalker) hat for a while, but I'm thrilled to announce my inclusion in this fantastic anthology.

'Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook' is due for release later this year. Edited by Christopher Sequeira, this collection includes stories by some fantastic authors. I am privileged to be alongside so many great names, including Lucy Sussex, Kaaron Warren, Kerry Greenwood, Lindy Cameron, L.J. M. Owen and Narrelle Harris.

The development of this project took quite some time, and I'm indebted to Chris for his determination to see this book published.  The cover is fantastic, and I can't wait to see the internal illustrations.

Keep watching this space for further details closer to its release in November through Bonnier/Echo.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

So Is This How It Ends?

Finished work at LCHS yesterday. And, for the most part, it's an odd kind of feeling.

Disappointment in not being able to follow students through their entire academic year, but a relief that the end date has been reached. It's certainly been busy over the past few weeks, both at work and at home. Lots of marking and assessment to ensure no extra work is left for my colleagues who remain at the school. And we had a visit from Ofsted.

For those who don't know Ofsted (and until late last year I didn't know much about it), they are the inspectors who visit schools and classrooms to determine their teaching and administration standards. And, certainly within the teaching world, they have achieved a myth like status for being brutal. Teachers rip their own heads off rather than face them, administrators wail at the merest mention of them, and principals become blubbering, thumb-sucking wrecks from their visits.

Yes, it was terrifying, and for someone like me who is rather new to the system, stressful beyond belief. But somehow we survived their visit. All we have to do now is await their report, and they weren't giving any clues away. Anyway, I won't be around when it's delivered. For my colleagues' sake, I truly hope it is favourable.

Last night I had a few drinks with my colleagues. My friends, actually. The English department has been wonderfully supportive, and I know I'll miss you all. And to the others who are moving on from LCHS, I wish you nothing but the greatest successes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Kind Of SF Movies.


It's been a while since I've seen so many SF films that I've enjoyed. For a few years now I've been disappointed with the long breaks between quality SF film.  Sure, there's been a ton of superhero movies, and while many love them they are not my cup of tea.

In fact I was recently speaking to someone in the film industry, and they were lamenting the current domination of these films - Marvel in particular. So much Marvel product is being made that it's affecting investment and production in other, non superhero movies.

But I digress.

Don't get me wrong. There have been SF movies that I enjoyed, or even loved. Ender's Game, The Force Awakens, The Lobster and Ex Machina are films I adored. I might even be one of the few who will openly admit to quite liking Jupiter Ascending as well. But for every one of these there is a Prometheus.

Bleah!  (And please, remember this is only my opinion on these films. Like most art, taste plays a large part of what is considered quality.)

Interstellar needed work. It dragged on and then turned metaphysical with a 'happy ever after' ending. From all accounts Christopher Nolan ignored the original, darker ending and rewrote it. I think Nolan is over-rated as a writer and director. Most of his work needs clarity and focus, and a much gentler touch. Inception, for example, could have been so much better. I've also yet to love a movie by Neill Blomkamp. I've previously written of my disdain for District 9, a movie which most people seemed to rate highly. Elysium was even worse. It made little sense at all, and was full of plot holes Nolan could drive a starship through. Latest word is he may not be attached to the Alien sequel after all, which I consider good news. In addition to these, there were a lot of other so-so SF films during these years.

But in the past 15 months or so I've enjoyed the two Star Wars films, The Martian, and Arrival. Guardians of the Galaxy was a lot of fun, and even Passengers, which seemed to upset a lot of people, was nothing more than it pretended to be. And I quite enjoyed it. And there was a lot more. Ghost in the Shell, while not the deepest of films, was visually beautiful and better than I expected it to be. I must point out the setting reminded me of a cleaner, more prosperous Blade Runner world.

Speaking of which we have the new Blade Runner movie to look forward to - and if it's anywhere near the quality of director Denis Villeneuve's previous work, (Incendies, Sicaro, The Arrival) we should be in for a real treat.

Plus the new Star Wars movie in December.

Life is good.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Start Making Sense.

When I was young, my grandmother used to read a magazine called The People's Friend. First published in 1869, it's still in existence. It contained recipes and knitting patterns and anecdotes from readers about their grandchildren, but is mostly famous for its short stories.  But the one thing I always remember from reading this magazine when I visited my grandmother is the cover art.

At the time, and through the eyes of a child, I thought the artwork was basic and not particularly skillful. I also thought the colours were wrong, that they were too primary. And since the artist, J. Campbell Kerr, produced a new cover each week, that perhaps they were churned out to meet the need.

I recently recalled Campbell-Kerr's name, and was surprised to learn she or he didn't exist. It was merely a pseudonym for a team of four watercolour artists who took turns to produce the covers. But during this moment of research, the main thing I finally understood after all these years is why I knew the colours were wrong. They weren't Australian colours.

The Australian landscape is quite different to the British landscape. The colours are different, the trees are a different range of greens, and on a beautiful spring day the grass, flowers and sky are more primary than the drier, harsher hues of the Australian experience. This is something I knew intellectually, of course, and have been aware of for many years, but when I finally connected this with Campbell Kerr's artwork it really hit home.  This art works in Britain.

But that's not all. As I explore the British countryside I am constantly amazed at how much of my reading experience now makes more sense. Even going back to The Famous Five novels, some of my favourite books when I was a kid, smugglers, secret panels, small islands, copses and coves feel at home in this landscape. Even the work of Tolkien and other British writers now gives me different images and interpretations to the ones I had growing up.

I expect this is completely true in reverse. When I read a story set in the Australian bush I can easily picture the sight, the sounds and the smells, whereas an overseas reader would overlay the text with their own understanding of a woodland.

Context and experience. Live and read widely.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Crossroads Of Canopy.

Thoraiya Dyer is a writer I truly admire.

I've only ever met her twice in real life, and our digital correspondence is far from frequent, yet she's a wonderful writer and a great person to boot. I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with her last June at Continuum in Melbourne, but even then we didn't end up with enough time to chat. And I'm not really sure why. It just didn't seem to work out timewise.

I always enjoy her writing, and she has given me some solid advice and encouragement.

So I was especially pleased last year when she signed a deal with TOR to publish her trilogy. The first book is out now, and although I've yet to buy a copy, I'm hearing good things about it. Online reviews have been highly favourable as well.

Set in a giant mythical rainforest controlled by living gods, Crossroads of Canopy is the first installment of the Titan’s Forest trilogy. Be sure to look out for launch dates and events near you.

Oh, and buy a copy of this book.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

It's Time To Re-open Those Files.

I haven't been overly-active on my website since I left Australia. There are a number of reasons for that. Settling in to a new life and job, learning new curriculum, trying to make friends, setting up a house, and so on. Mostly, though, because I haven't written very much fiction since before I left Australia.

It's been far too long, and I've been far too busy to find writing time. Or should that be 'make' writing time. Planning and organising the big move, and preparing our house for sale were our major priorities for so very long. Writing was, unfortunately, some way down the list.

But I'm about to get back into it. I've been looking over a few stories that needed rewrites, and I've even made notes on them. Tonight, for the first time in ages, I even wrote some new words. They'll probably never get used, but it felt great to be back behind the screen and typing again.

And, very soon, I promise some exciting publication news. I can't wait to announce this one.

Onward and upward.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Last In, First Out.

A few days ago I was informed that due to budget concerns, approximately 18 teachers will be finishing up at Easter this year. All teachers made redundant are on short term contracts - basically 'last in, first out', and unfortunately I am one of the 'last in'. This means I have approximately 13 weeks of teaching left.

This decision seems to have taken all staff by surprise. My colleagues, managers and even some of the leadership were genuinely shocked by this. None of the students have been informed yet, and I won't be the first to tell them. I know some of them will be quite upset by this.

You know what they say, "One door closes, another opens."  Yeah, that's not something to which I ascribe. Doors are made to be opened, or sometimes kicked in. I've never been one for automatic doors. I'll certainly be making time to take stock, consider my options, and choose which door I plan to open.

I look forward to the opportunities I may discover along the way.