Tag Archives: ghosts

Five Parts Dead dismembered

This set of images was prepared for Simmone Howell’s Anatomy of a Novel series, which I’m thoroughly enjoying. Copyright was an issue with some of the images I wanted to include but this is still a pretty fair snapshot of the influences wafting through my mind while writing Five Parts Dead.

For the lowdown on each image and how it connects to Five Parts Dead, please pop on over to postteen trauma.

All hale for Halloween

I was a Halloween sceptic. Thought it was just another US-led commercially-driven faux tradition foisted upon the Aussie calendar in order to sell more stuff in the lead-up to Christmas. I was the Ebeneezer Scrooge saying, ‘bah, humbug’ to Halloween.

So what changed?

My sister-in-law is an American Australian and, together with other expat friends, started trick-or-treating with her kids. The Little Monkey and particularly the Little Dragon, with his long-held interest in all things monstrous and spooky, adored it.

I’ve heard the arguments about kids having too much sugar in their diets already and Stranger Danger messages being diluted or contradicted by letting the littlies ask unknown faces for lollies. I’ve also seen how much fun the kids have and the upsides of familiarising themselves with their local neighbourhood (with adult supervision).

But that’s not what got me to change teams.

It was researching the stories behind Halloween that sold me. I like that this is an ancient Celtic festival, celebrated in Ireland, the UK, North America and elsewhere. I really like the idea of the border between this world and the next thinning temporarily and allowing spirits to pass over. Apparently the horror masks and door decorations began as a way of persuading harmful spirits to pass by your home.

At the very least, it’s a fun way to acknowledge the shifting of the seasons, the transition (in our case) from cold to warm. In a time of global warming and extreme climatic events, I reckon reconnecting ourselves with Mother Nature’s moods and cycles is a good thing.

I read a lot of ghost stories before and during the writing of Five Parts Dead. I also consciously switched off my journalistic cynicism when friends and relatives told me of otherworldly encounters. Many ghost stories centre on the need to make peace with the past to smooth the pathway into the future. That’s an idea I’d like to sit with this weekend, too.

Imagine if every Halloween we consciously let go of / scared off any bad energy hovering around us, made peace with the past and reset ourselves for what comes next. That would truly be cause for celebration.

Anyway, I’m on board. I’ve even purchased a pumpkin to carve.

Here’s the indomitable John Birmingham explaining why he’s a fan. For other fast facts, check out Wikipedia’s Halloween page.

Book Week questions

Here’s a belated sample of the questions I answered during Book Week – and my answers, as best as I can recall.

Q: Who are my heroes?
A: Corny as it will sound, my heroes are the folks out there helping people, not for fame or money, but because they can and want to.

There are many authors I admire (generally influenced by what I’m reading) but a stand-out in recent years is Markus Zusak who uses words and tells stories in such unexpected ways (and sells oodles of books doing so).

I also admire His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who embraced the role assigned to him as an infant and became a true world leader, emphasising the importance of tolerance, empathy, compassion and arguing for the independence of the Tibetan people.

My Dad deserves a shout-out here, too. He’s a selfless man of peace who has followed his beliefs for a lifetime.

Q: Which superhero do you think would be funniest to write a spoof story about?
A: Now that’s my kind of question. I’d have to say the Hulk because he’s green and only has superpowers when he’s chucking a tantrum.

Q: How can I improve my vocabulary?
A: Wow. Read widely, then read some more. Use a dictionary when you find a word you don’t recognise or understand. And listen to people, too. Listening to how people speak is a great way of learning A) new words* and B) how to write dialogue. (*You probably won’t need everything you hear.)

Q: How do I make a short story longer?
A: For starters, short isn’t necessarily bad. I don’t believe in ‘padding’ – writing extra words just to meet a word count. Your story should determine the number of words you require. If you’ve written something that isn’t important to the story, define and delete it. If in doubt, cut it out.

However, if you want to enhance your story, rather than pad it, think about the characters? What do they want? What’s stopping them getting what they want? This should open up new ideas to explore.

Q: Do I ever feel embarrassed writing about myself/putting my own life into stories?
A: (Smiling) I’ve never deliberately set out to write about myself although bits of me and my life do creep into stories. In Game as Ned the story settings were based on places I had lived, worked or visited on holiday.

In Five Parts Dead the lighthouse setting was inspired by a family holiday and the five near-death experiences were built from things that actually happened to me. I think authors are like bowerbirds. We shamelessly take/borrow/pilfer bright and shiny ideas from all around us and use them in stories. Some of those things might just be from our own lives.

Q: Do I believe in ghosts?
A: I’m not entirely sure. I do believe in places where a sense of history lingers close to the present, so we can almost feel the people that lived before us. I’ve also had people tell me ghostly tales of things they have seen, things I can’t explain. I used a couple of these spooky stories in Five Parts Dead.

Pretty good questions, all of them. Thanks to the students who were brave enough to pick my brain or approach me for a chat.