Thursday, 20 February 2014

Vertically Challenged Story

This is a crowdfunding project for a short story anthology that I have a story in. The anthology is called Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction.

And this is a shameless plug. See? Completely different.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Ancient Schmegyptians

I was enjoying a book in Townsville Library the other day (we like free) when my youngest son thrust a different book under my gaze. His was a book on Ancient Egypt. I like Ancient Egypt, and it was a small book, so it was no chore to read it. Chapter headings included the usual suspects: Worship, Recreation, Family Life, Law and Punishment… and I'd made it most of the way through when my attention was snagged by a curious note. An ancient egyptian, said the book, had each year to register their occupation. To fail to do so could mean death. The law applied to everyone, including bakers, farmers, artisans--and here comes the snag--and robbers? Yes, that's right. In Ancient Egypt, one could register to be a professional thief.

The book went on to explain that if said thief was caught with the loot, the victim was still only entitled to recover 75%, leaving, presumably, 25% for Grundy & Sons Robbery Co. How bizarre.

Professional thief with union-accredited I'm nicked. I give up headdress.

I'm always on the lookout for societal quirks like that. It's just these sorts of oddities that can grow into interesting fictional cultures with which to populate fictional worlds. At the very least, legitimate thievery could make for some interesting career posters.

But when I later attempted to research Ancient Egypt's professional thieves I ran into a brick wall. The only mention of them I found was on a web page that referenced a book from the 1800s. I was beginning to think someone was having a lend… until I turned up digital copies of two references from the 1880s, which indeed mentioned this curious law, and even gave a name to the official in charge--the Shekh of Thieves. Truly bizarre.

I say two references, but on closer examination one book appeared to have, barring a little commentary, stolen text from the other word for word. Ironic.

The book I was reading before Jos thrust Ancient Egypt under my nose was The Neverending Story, which I think has become one of my favourite books. But more on that later…

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Free SMS

Acronyms aren't all they're cracked up to be.

Anyway, Strawman Made Steel, my hard-boiled detective fiction in a New York that went to hell and returned with crazy eyes, is free until the 8th of August. It's here:

Or you can press the widget thingy to the right and down a bit. Yep, that one.

Friday, 19 July 2013

I am J.K. Rowling

...okay. That might be a lie. Well, it is a lie.

But I did finally publish a detective novel.

Now, back to lunch.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


That's right. Posts have been and will be sporadic because I'm always on lunch--well, at least for the next 6 months. My family will be travelling around Australia and kindly offered to take me too. My wife is recording the schenanigans at ...

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Novel of Damocles

For a bookworm, is there any anticipation more delicious than turning the first page of a book that you know you love, but whose plot has largely faded from your memory?

Last night I began again the novel Magician by Raymond E. Feist, having just finished the Daughter of the Empire trilogy he wrote with Janny Wurtsa trilogy set wholly in one of the two worlds of Magician, and partially overlapping the timeline of that story. A quote from a review of Magician by Dragon Magazine should give you a feel for how the book was received, way back in the early 80s:

"[Magician] is filled with new concepts and reworkings of familiar ones that comes off well enough to be embraced as new… more than a breath of fresh air  it is a sweeping sweet wind which has a chance of putting its author firmly on the throne next to Tolkien  and keeping him there."

The reason I'm reading Magician is because I have at long last decided to dust off a fantasy novel that I began twelve years ago, with the ridiculously long working title Em, and somewhat more substantial new title Armour of a Fallen God. I reached 100K words and reluctantly put it aside. It was my first attempt at a novel-length work, and in the course of writing it, I broke the first three pieces of advice given to the new writer:
  • Start small
  • Write from experience (I knew little about European forests and medieval mores)
  • Don't edit at the same time
I had reached 100K words and plot-wise was just getting going. But I desperately wanted some closure. I wanted to write and finish something. At that time I happened to read a collection of novellas by Stephen King (the collection is Different Seasonswhich, incredibly, even for an established author like King, was viewed as a risk by his publishers), and was reminded of the possibilities of short formats. So I put the fantasy novel aside, and wrote short stories… and thereby broke the fourth piece of advice given to the new writer:
  • Whatever you do, don't start another project at the same time
From that time I stopped reading the fantasy genre, despite the fact that it had first fired my reading urgeThe Hobbit, LOTR, Magician and the other books of the Riftwar Saga, The Belgariad, The Dragonlance Chronicles… I stopped cold turkey, because I knew that if I read the genre, I would want to write it.

I've been trying to crystallise what it is about the fantasy genre that is so morish. What is the essence of fantasy? Well, I don't know about essence, but part of its appeal for me is how the story being told lives and breathes in an atmosphere of many other, untold stories. This struck me last night as I opened the pages of Magician and read of the young protagonist, Pug, who is caught in a ferocious storm but fears seeking shelter in the dark forest glades because of "remembered tales of outlaws and other, less human, malefactors…" The half-heard myths and histories of LOTR are surely a large part of its appeal. 

The fantasy writing of Lewis and Tolkien was scorned as escapist literature, but they regarded fantasy as a different way of talking about real life, in a guise that, because fantastic, sneaks under our defences. G.K. Chesterton sums this up nicely: "Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."

Well, given the lines from the Dragon Magazine review (written in the 80s, note), it seems a difficult prospect to write a fantasy novel that is new enough to avoid being cliched, but familiar enough to provide that delicious sense of recognition. Here goes…

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl

I find I read biographies with the same bad habit that afflicts my daily life--a readiness to judge a person in the whole based on an instance of behaviour or speech. It's an entrenched habit that only grace will erode (but that's another story).

In the case of Donald Sturrock's "Storyteller: The life of Roald Dahl" that bad habit could lead to neurological trauma. Let me explain…

If it's a biography's job to distil the essence of man, his life, almost as an argument made, then this book fails. Because when I turned the final page, what it left me was not a thesis but a coin. Flip it once, it lands with a smiling Dahl--philanthropist, children's advocate, gifted storyteller; flip it again, it lands with a frowning Dahl--bully, provocateur, gifted "storyteller"… page after page, paragraph after paragraph, filled with contradictions.

Clearly my definition of biography is broken, because it's a great biography.

Dahl's life was full. You could remove his writing entirely, and still have a job selecting material. Hijinks at Repton (a school that could have been model for Tom Brown's School Days); fighter pilot--crash landed in North Africa before his first mission, recuperated in time to take part in World War Two's debacle at Greece, and finally invalided home with a twisted spine that would inflict him for life; socialite who mixed with presidents, movie makers, magnates, writers, spies; grieving family man who, in rapid succession, endured the death of his first daughter, and disablement of his son then wife.

In the end, it left me profoundly sad. Biographies often do that to me, with their rapid sweep through a person's life. Toddler photos in particular get me--the eyes that look at you without an inkling of what joys and griefs the next three hundred pages will record. The mixture of brokenness and joy of this complex man, and the sense that beneath an exterior often so sure, there lurked the confused and hurting child. I don't think he was alone in that.

With grim irony Sturrock records that Dahl's second last utterance was to tell his daughter, Tessa, that he loved her very much, thus healing a longtime rift.

His very last, in response to a needle prick, was an expletive.