Dark nights and black swans

The reputation management team at a major public relations team is speaking to 2016:

Public relations minion: “You want honesty? That’s un… Look, you need to turn things around. Immediately. It’s December 28 so you have under four days to generate positive social media so people remember you… somewhat more fondly. Because, let’s be frank, things are dire. You need to donate $omething. $ave a species. Re$cue a kid from a burning building. Anything that can boo$t your brand. Otherwi$e you’re not going to like how the historians document your time in charge.”

2016: “Seriously? Look at all the other years – any year you like. We’re all the same. Some grim stuff, some shocks, the odd giggle and plenty of cats doing cute shit in front of cameras. I’m no different.”

Minion: “Err, people have short memories. This is why it’s particularly important you make the most of the few days you have left. I mean, your reputation index is … deplorable. When people talk about you it’s all terrorism, racism, Rickman, refugees, Trump, Brexit, Bowie, the Barrier Reef, Prince, Omran Dagneesh, Trump, Cohen, Syria, Trump… If you’re going to claw back ratings, it has to be now. For goodness sake, you even took Muhammad Ali, Princess Leia and Carol Brady.”

2016: “Oh breathe. You angst-ridden Gen Xers with your conflicted consciences, you shit me to tears. You’re just having a panic attack because you finally realised you’re mortal and you’re not in charge. The old, the angry and the afraid have the numbers and they are changing things, whether you like it or not. Everyone has to die some time, even celebrities. The Barrier Reef has been under the weather for years and, hell, you find me any 12-month period without war. You mark my words, I’m no worse than my predecessors. I might even be better. Search ‘underdogs 2016’ and see what you find. Then go ask a Footscray fan what kind of year I am…”  

Hello readers. Thanks for allowing me that little indulgence. I started this post wanting to talk about where I’m at with my writing, found it uncomfortable, and then switched to an easier task — compiling my list of memorable things I’ve been viewing, reading and listening to in 2016. That job done, I sat back and looked at the titles and was surprised by the themes. Wow. So much death and darkness. That made me rethink the year that’s almost gone and that led to, well, thank you for persisting.

The seven year itch

As far as my writing is going, it isn’t, really. I’m working full-time on an interesting and challenging project. There has’t been much creative energy left for anything else.

I don’t want this to be a whinge but my failure to balance this part of my life is eating away at me. Five Parts Dead was released in late 2010, about 6.5 years ago. In YA fiction land that’s a lifetime; my original teen readers are mostly adults now.

I do have a draft manuscript but it needs time and toil before I can show it to you. I don’t know when this will be possible.

On the upside, I’ve watched one good friend swim through years of troubled waters to launch an excellent novel. And I’ve been honoured to read a couple of drafts of what is going to be a superb novel, launching early in 2017. So good things are still happening in writing land. I might be AWOL but I’ll find my way back.

A bumpy ride

Any long-term readers of this blog will know I cycle to keep myself fit and sane. This year I had a couple of big crashes in quick succession, thankfully doing no significant damage other than a couple of cracked ribs. I was back riding soon afterwards (somewhat gingerly) and, on one of my night rides, almost got knocked off by an angry black swan.

A big black swan on a black night. A narrow miss. I’m going to take that as an omen. Sometimes dark times are around the corner but that doesn’t mean we should live in fear. We can swerve, adjust our course, refocus and keep moving forward.

Here’s what I’ve been reading/watching/listening to in 2016:

Listening: Songs from the Road; You Want it Darker (Leonard Cohen), Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Miles Davis), Florasongs; The King is Dead (The Decemberists), Reclaim Australia (AB Original), Oh Canada (Missy Higgins)

Reading: The Bone Sparrow (Zana Fraillon), Words in Deep Blue (Cath Crowley), Nona & Me (Clare Atkins), The Sad Book (Michael Rosen), The Walking Dead (Robert Kirkman), The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons (Matthew Meyer)

Rereading: Tales of the Otori (Lian Hearn), Y: The Last Man (Brian K Vaughan), Civil War (Mark Millar et. al.)

Watching: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Deadpool, The Walking Dead, Vikings, My Scientology Movie, Game of Thrones

I’ve got to say I loved watching the Western Bulldogs (my ‘second team’) win the AFL Grand Final but my favourite sporting moment came from an athlete who finished last in his event at the Olympic Games. He had something to say and he did it in a joyous way. I hope joy regularly pierces the clouds in your lives in 2017.

Winning, even when you place last

Winning middle fiction

By popular demand, here’s a list of fiction suitable for keen upper primary and lower secondary school readers.

My caveat is that no list caters to all tastes or abilities. I’m also a firm believer that the right book finds its perfect reader; please explore libraries and bookstores (slowly) and see what catches the eye.

This list is skewed so that it starts with titles suitable for younger readers and progresses to more mature books – YA fiction suitable for younger readers.

I know of numerous other middle fiction novels that come highly recommended – John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series is a good example. That said, I’m confining this catalogue to books/series I’ve read all or part of. Feedback is welcome. I hope the young reader in your life finds hours of escapism here.

Film tie-in Coraline cover
Film tie-in Coraline cover


Star Wars Academy (series) – Jeffrey Brown
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) – Jeff Kinney
Staying Alive in Year 5 – John Marsden
The Samurai Kids (series) – Sandy Fussell
The Greatest Blogger in the World – Andrew McDonald
Nicholas (series) – Rene Goscinny
Chess Nuts – Julia Lawrinson
The Detachable Boy – Scot Gardner
The OK Team (series) – Nick Place
Odd & the Frost Giants – Neil Gaiman
Wildwood – Colin Meloy
Sadako & the Thousand Paper Cranes – Eleanor Coerr
Matilda – Roald Dahl (and James & the Giant Peach, etc.)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick
The Billionaire’s Curse (series) – Richard Newsome
Percy Jackson (series) – Rick Riordan
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
The Lab – Jack Heath
A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) – Lemony Snicket
The Spiderwick Chronicles (series) – Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
Wonder – RJ Palacio
Tomorrow When the War Began (series) – John Marsden
Coraline – Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter (series) – JK Rowling
The Lord of the Rings trilogy – JRR Tolkien
Skulduggery Pleasant (series) – Derek Landy
Two Wolves – Tristan Bancks
Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan
Taronga – Victor Kelleher
Blaze of Glory (series) – Michael Pryor
Zeroes (new series) – Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti
Skellig – David Almond
I am Number Four (series) – Pittacus Lore
Vulture’s Gate – Kirsty Murray
The Princess Bride – William Goldman
The Spook’s Apprentice (series) – Joseph Delaney
Contest – Matthew Reilly
The Rider – Tim Krabbe
Alex Rider (series) – Anthony Horowitz
The Hunger Games (series) – Suzanne Collins
So Much to Tell You – John Marsden
Blood Ninja – Nick Lake
The Underdog (series) – Markus Zusak
Cherub (series) – Robert Muchamore
Every Breathe (series) – Ellie Marney
Illuminae (new series) – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Graphic novels and comics:

Tintin (series) – Herge
Rapunzel’s Revenge – Shannon Hale
Calamity Jack – Shannon Hale
Asterix (series) – Goscinny & Uderzo
Calvin & Hobbes (series) – Bill Watterson
Drama – Raina Telgemeier
Sisters – Raina Telgemeier
Artemis Fowl (series) – Eoin Colfer (also available as novels)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (manga) – Hayao Miyazaki
Joe the Barbarian – Grant Morrison
Yowamushi Pedal (manga series) – Watanabe Wataru
Guardians of the Galaxy (series) – Brian Michael Bendis
Marvel Civil War (series) – Mark Millar


Inertia (noun) ii-ner-sha
Definition: Lack of movement or activity, particularly when movement or activity is desired or required
Reference: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inertia

Keen-eyed observers will quite rightly point out there’s been little movement on Thunder Road. Less progress than along the South Eastern Freeway during peak hour. Fewer words shared than during a silent meditation retreat.

I don’t want this blog too become a moan. Far too many past posts already focus on my frustrations with work-life imbalance or my inability of late to quarantine enough hours for clear-headed creativity.

But it’s something I wrestle with. Often. As a father/husband/allegedly mature adult, can I really allow myself an author life when the financial rewards are generally paltry?

I know other writer friends face the same dilemma. Some are reluctantly choosing to walk away from their vocation. To pay bills rather than pay attention to the stories shimmering in their consciousness. Tales that require countless hours to chart.

Adding to the angst, trade law changes proposed for the book industry by the Federal Government may sound the death knell for many literary careers. (See also: http://bookscreateaustralia.com.au/)

For my part, I am massively relieved mooted changes to the terms of copyright have apparently been abandoned. As a journalist and author I’m not the most practical or handy bloke. I’ve never built a house or factory that I can leave to my children. The novels I’ve had published may be the only things I’ve constructed that I can pass to my family – so the threat I’d lose ownership of my work, possibly after a fleeting 15 years, was devastating.

So where am I at? I’m working full-time, carefully choosing words that may appear in an app inside a mobile device, somewhere beside you, some time soon.

I’ve been learning about Viking culture, via a Danish exchange student staying at our home and now hosting my son.

And I’m following the fortunes of the North Melbourne Football Club, filing occasional match reports for The Footy Almanac.

Meanwhile the manuscript leading the pack of several pieces I have in progress is languishing but, hopefully, mentally marinading until the time is right to heat and serve.

I was lucky enough to visit Japan again recently and my research there will bolster the speculative fiction story I’m so keen to complete. We spent an afternoon at a sumo tournament and, as I type this, my epiphany has taken the shape of a mighty wrestler.

When a rikishi (contestant) enters the ring, there’s much tradition to be honored (and posturing to be enjoyed) before a bout begins. Salt is tossed liberally to purify the arena. The brow is mopped. Sake is slurped. Chests, bellies, buttocks or thighs are slapped, thunderously. The wrestlers may drop into their pre-attack crouch and give their opponent a death-stare, only to rise and lope back to their corner. Then begin the rituals again.

The build-up lasts longer than the battle. The rikishi only wrestle when they’re good and ready or their opponent is utterly psyched out. Perhaps that’s where I’m at. I need to throw salt. Purify my arena. Get my mind clear. Lower myself into writing position. Charge forward like an enraged bull. And wrestle my manuscript into submission.

Sumo wrestlers watched by officials

Tim Pegler's author odyssey