Tag Archives: Five Parts Dead

Winding up, winding down

How do you capture the flavour of 366 days in a few words? Issued the challenge, I’d have to go with: Work intense. Writing irregular. Friendships strong. Cycling legs good. A curveball (or wake-up call) to end the year…

But that doesn’t really cut the mustard, does it? If it means anything, it’s probably only to yours truly. The rest of you deserve better.

So, at the risk of boring any regular readers, let’s recap a tad. The tiny company I’ve worked with for over a decade, the same mob that’s given me the flexibility to be an author when the Muse sings and a public speaker when schools, libraries and festivals come calling, was taken over twice in 18 months. From my POV that involved adapting to approximately three successive sets of managers and a morass of policies, procedures and paperwork easily the equivalent of this. Or this.

There are definite upsides to working for a juggernaut entity but survival in a large organisation means striving harder to be seen. In the past two years I’ve taken on two massive and rewarding projects – but have had to wind back on being an author and speaker. I’m hoping to adjust the balance soon.

Work aside, this year has served up some considerable challenges. There was the phone call that let me know my parents had been hit head-on by a recidivist careless(!) driver, health scares for friends, the text message in the middle of the night that suggested other friends may be splitting up and the test result that delivered a personal wake-up call.

Daunting in far more positive ways have been the commitment to raise over $2500 and ride 200km plus for cancer research (mission accomplished – thank you all), finding the right secondary school for the Little Dragon (fingers crossed) and working on proposals for two new novels (in progress). I loved touring regional Victoria for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. Working with students studying Five Parts Dead was good fun, too. On the bike I’ve clocked up 4825 km in 2012 so far, which has to be a PB.

A particular 2012 highlight was the night I spent acting as a prompt for Impro Melbourne creativity. Over the course of the night I read three passages from my work and left the impro experts to run with whatever ideas occurred to them, based on my readings. The third passage I chose was from a speculative fiction manuscript I’m working on and, not only did the actors enjoy it, I had audience members approach me and ask where they could buy the book. That’s what you want to hear about an unfinished work. Confidence can be a fleeting thing and any boost is a bonus.

And so to my traditional end of year lists. Because work has dominated the year, I haven’t read, watched or listened as much as usual. I’ve probably forgotten favourites but here are those that sprang to mind as I prepared this post:

TV: It’s been a big year for Glee at my place, courtesy of the Little Dragon singing lead in his school rockband. Once the kids slide into sleep, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed ABC productions such as Rake and back seasons of Deadwood and Friday Night Lights.

Movies: Apart from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which was great fun if a tad long, I haven’t had many magical cinema moments this year. The Dark Knight Rises was solid but didn’t quite deliver to the expectations of this Frank Miller fan. Take This Waltz lodged in my head for quite a while but my favourite films for 2012 were Paul Kelly: Stories of Me and the utterly wonderful Hugo (based on the prize-winning book).

Reading: I’m immersed in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) to the detriment of all other titles. Other reading highlights include: David Almond’s Skellig; the marvellously consistent Bob Graham’s A Bus Called Heaven; Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones; The Rider by Tim Krabbe; and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. There’s a few tears in that list.

Music: Apart from the aforementioned Glee, there’s been limited time for music this year, sadly. Albums that did strike a chord include: Metals by Feist; All the Little Lights by Passenger; Spring & Fall by Paul Kelly; and Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen. (Late arrivals I’m currently enjoying are Of Monsters & Men’s My Head is an Animal (very Arcade Fire) and Chet Faker’s Thinking in Textures).

Thank you to everyone who has visited this blog, read my books and supported me in 2012. Your faith and friendship is appreciated.

New Year’s Eve update: Having managed some downtime in the past few weeks and in the wake of a visit by the jolly bearded gent I am belatedly entering the universe of Chris Ware. This is storytelling on a whole new level, best tackled by emotionally resilient and visually adventurous readers. It’s jaw-droppingly good.

Finally, thank you to everyone who supported the National Year of Reading. From where I’m sitting it’s been such a success we should do it all again. Starting tomorrow.

No rest for the weekend

Cue nefarious laugh. Weekend… wicked, geddit? Sigh. OK, I apologise for the bad pun to launch this post. It seems that one of the unspoken rules of ageing is that your humour takes a hook turn toward Dodgyville.

Then again, perhaps it’s a sign of stress. Busy I am. This week, extraordinarily so. Here’s a sample of the current and prospective action along the Thunder Road.

  • Sun: Cycle 110 km as part of a training ride for the Ride to Conquer Cancer
  • Mon-Tues: Work on a massive project for the federal government, deadline mid-November
  • Wed: Research/writing time on TWO book proposals. Exciting stuff! Then off to the State Library to discuss the future of the Dromkeen Dragons.
  • Thu-Fri: Back to the aforementioned mega-project. Pressure on, big time. Lots of stressed people. Also, judge the short story competition for the Whittlesea Agricultural Society annual show.
  • Sat-Sun: Riding to Conquer Cancer, approx 100 per day, raising money for the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Camping overnight in the chilly Yarra Valley.
  • Mon: Back to project land, briefing a crucial agency on the action so far.
  • Tue: As above but throw in a panel discussion with two brilliant bookish people at an eastern suburbs school.
  • Wed: A return to research & writing.
  • And on it goes.

Better to be busy than bored, yes? Man, I should not be posting, Yoda-style, on a Friday night. It’s three parts tripping, one part blogging.

OK. Deep breath. There were, cough, three valid, rational reasons for attempting this post.

1. My annual short story competition them round-up.

I’ve been judging the WAS competition for umpteen years. I see the topics year 7 to 12 students tackle in their stories as a geiger counter for the issues occupying teen minds. For all those people who say my books are too dark, check out what the kids are writing about this year:

Dementia; disobedience; detention; death; parenting (good & bad); death; birth; bullying; ageing; Rhonda & Katut; drought; fire; manslaughter; domestic violence; murder; alien invasion; asylum seekers; poverty; death; racism; divorce; disability; murder; murder; murder; dystopia; fast food containing rats tails; fire; domestic violence; refugees; dementia; dystopia; alien invasion; fairytales; road trauma; racism; bullying; corrupt religion; broken hearts; dishonesty.

It’s a good thing that stories are a safe place for young writers to explore the dark and the light in their lives.

2. Big news. Five Parts Dead is now available on iBooks, Amazon Kindle, Google Books, ebooks.com. Kobo and ReadCloud. That makes me very happy. Tree-books are good too, though.

3. I wanted to tell you about my recent experiences crash-testing new work with real live, Impro Melbourne actors. Blimey those people can think fast. Way faster than me, late on the eve of a big bike ride. So, I’ll end with another apology. My time on stage with the actual actors will have to wait for a future post, sorry. Good night.

On prescience and posting

Sometimes the world seems to send personal messages. Events that are most likely coincidental are imbued with portent according to the current goings on in your mind.

Last weekend, my family doctor was suggesting a topic for me to write a novel about and, for a change, I was able to answer, “well, actually, that’s what I’m working on.” He put that down to prescience.

I don’t know about foreknowledge of events but I have written things in the past that proved eerily prophetic. There was an article written for a university under-graduate magazine which was laughed out of the editorial meeting and never published. Not so many years later, during my stint as a crime reporter, I covered a story that echoed my hypothesis in the uni article – and this time it didn’t happen in my imagination.

Those of you who have read Five Parts Dead will know it focuses on a terrible car accident. During the final drafts of the novel there was an horrific accident in Melbourne’s northern suburbs that felt uncomfortably close to what I’d dreamed up.

Most recently, I woke up with an opening line for a short story in my mind. I had dreamed of a particular character and context but, because I couldn’t brain-dump immediately, much of the power of the dream had evaporated before I had a chance to sit and write.

When I did finish a draft of that story the Little Dragon, now 11, asked to read it. He then opined that the opening line gave away the ending. When your Dad is an author and you regularly serve as a crash test dummy for ideas, you get to speak your mind as a literary critic.

I sat with that feedback for a few days then found myself at a cinema watching Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz. There were some brief scenes at the beginning of the movie that definitely pointed to the ending – at least that’s how I saw it. (The professors I attended with had a completely different spin on the film.)

The movie sent me scurrying back here to my short story. I’d been debating whether to post it on this site, mainly because I don’t think I’ve nailed it. It’s flash fiction so it lacks polish but hopefully it still captures a moment, albeit imaginary. It’s called Missing and will be my next post, with the original opening line still in place.

I should note that when I got home from work last night the Little Dragon told me my short story had come true. Sure enough the evening news featured a very similar yarn. Spooky.

If you read Missing and agree with the Little Dragon, feel free to say so!

Practising vs preaching

Not many authors are lucky enough to work full time at their writing. Most of us need part time jobs or take every opportunity that arises to visit schools, lead workshops, judge writing competitions and so on. That’s the reality for any artist who hasn’t hit the big time.

In my case, I work four days a week editing a website, speak at schools and libraries thanks to the fantastic team at Booked Out and fit in writing in my ‘spare’ time.

Understandably, peak time for public speaking and writing workshops tends to be around the release of a new book. It helps marketing (and, hopefully, sales) and you’re more likely to have something fresh to talk about when there’s a sparkling new title in bookstores.

Five Parts Dead is nearly two years old now. Between this and my coming to grips with new management at the ‘real job’, I have been doing less public speaking than usual. Perhaps that’s why I had somewhat of an epiphany during a recent set of workshops with Year 8 students.

I keep things simple in my writing workshops. (Perhaps I let the students off too easy.) I tell stories, explain how my brain works when seeking inspiration and explore how to get inside characters’ heads. Lately I’ve also been focusing on writing with all your senses, not just being visual. Now that I think about it, the current workshop could be called Jump Start Your Imagination.

Time for a secret. In past workshops I’ve been the classic example of, ‘do what I say, not what I do’. While I preach, ‘plan, plan, plan’, my writing is often substantially organic and seat-of-the-pants-ish. When the muse is singing, I’ll sit down and write/rewrite until I have a first draft. The poor prose and plot potholes can be sorted out during subsequent drafts.

On my current project, I’m practising what I preach. I’m sketching characters, writing scenes and building the story piece by piece. It’s slow going. It will be fascinating to see if the end result is different in any noticeable way.

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