Sunday, 30 August 2009


This week I have decided to put together a team to complete the Oxfam Trailwalker: 100km, teams of four, 48 hours.

Yes, it's true, 100km of non-stop walking.

Obviously it's a fabulous cause, but I confess the main reason I have decided to do it is because I desperately want to know what it's like to walk 100km. It's partly the challenge for itself, and partly the fantasy writer in me wanting to do some experiential research.

I want to experience the leaden muscles, the sore shoulders, the aching feet. I want to know what it's like to trek through bushland in the dead of night -- the sounds, the smells, the blackness. I want to know how the mind cycles through a challenge such as this -- will I feel the buzz of excitement or the heavy drag of despair?

When I first decided upon this course of action earlier in the week, I was probably a bit blase about it. Sure, it's a long way, but I walk to work a lot, so how hard could it be? Yeah, it would be tiring, but we'll have a support crew to provide us with coffee and chocolate along the way. Thousands of people have done it, so it must be achievable.

The more I look into it, however, I realise how big a deal it actually is. Yes, there's training involved -- I knew that. But the amount of recommended training is a little intimidating. Not only do they recommend short walks (3 times a week) and long walks, but they recommend long walks along the actual trail itself. They recommend you get your support crew involved so they effectively are in training as well. You're supposed to practice what snacks you eat, how often you eat them, walking the trail at night, what clothes to wear, navigation techniques etc. AND, you're advised to take out insurance to cover injury or death!

None of this has deterred me, but it has made me realise this is going to be a time-consuming (perhaps all consuming!) undertaking. It will be fabulous for my fitness and a wonderful experience, but it is also going to impinge on my life in a big way -- no doubt consuming vast chunks of valuable writing time. I could wring hands in frustration, but I'm not going to. I'm going to embrace it for what it is, and pledge to get more organised. Can't wait. Totally excited.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

MWF: Visions of the city

The second panel I attended at the Melbourne Writers Festival last Saturday was called Visions of the City. The premise was to explore how the city is imagined in fiction -- with a distinctively speculative fiction flavour. The panel also launched Overland magazine's 'Melbourne Futures' issue.

The drawcard for the panel was undoubtedly China M, 'new weird' SF author, but also featured two other recognised Australia-based SF writers. It seemed that the SF theme was largely due to the fact that fantastic fiction explores cities in peril rather more thoroughly than most other genres.

The discussion meandered a lot, and became quite intellectual in parts -- far too intellectual for me to summarise, in fact. (I'm not sure I followed half of it!) However, there was some discussion of the creative process, which is always interesting.

China's creative process is to begin with setting. Evidently his settings are always urban and hugely important -- hence his presence on this panel. Anyway, he composes set pieces (or dramatic events/scenes), devises characters, then sets all these down on a page and draws twisty lines through them. These are then pulled straight and become the timeline he writes to. Sounds fascinating.

Margot L, another writer on the panel comes at it from the opposite direction. She starts with character and waits until they start muttering, then she follows them to see where they go. In her words: "The more I plan, the more boring the story is." A message I heard from two different authors on Saturday!

She went on to describe her approach to novel development, which is an interesting evolution from short story writing (for which she is perhaps better known). She says she uses an overall plot line -- borrowed from a fairy tale, for instance -- as a scaffolding, and writes several stories that touch that scaffolding. From here she works on them until they form the complete novel.

As always, it's totally fascinating to hear various authors approach to the creative process.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Galileo and the first telescope

Alerted by Google's wonderful tradition of changing its home page logo on days of significant interest, I learnt that today is the 400th anniversary of Galileo's invention of the telescope.

For anyone with the smallest interest in astronomy or just plain stargazing, this is truly momentous. What an amazing man.

Here's an article from the Guardian (the source of this image, which is sadly an imitation).

Sunday, 23 August 2009

MWF: Kate Grenville and Anne Michaels

I attended two interesting panels at the Melbourne Writers' Festival on Saturday. The first at 11:30 was called 'Oranges are the only fruit', and featured a conversation with authors Kate Grenville and Anne Michaels. Both have recently launched historical novels, and the session was billed as the authors 'peeling back the layers' on these.

What followed was a fascinating discussion about all sorts of things, from the challenge of writing about history and appropriate ways of using historical facts and documentation, to the writing process, to 'perilousness' in terms of both character and author experiences.

Kate Grenville in particular said several interesting things that serve to illustrate just how individual the art of being a writer and author truly is -- and also how fabulous it is to listen to other writers talk about their craft.

One of the first things she said was that in historical research she considers there is no such thing as a 'fact'. What you have are objects/documentation/incidents that have their own energy that resonates with and asks questions of the present.

Her latest novel is The Lieutenant, which was inspired by journal entries from a first fleet officer who became friends with a young aboriginal girl, despite language barriers. I understand (not having read it yet) that Grenville has used these journal entries to seed the story, which seeks to fill in the gaps. It is purely fiction, threaded with pearls of 'fact'.

Her writing process is also fascinating. She made it clear up front that she doesn't plan her novels in terms of plot. She said it was better to plunge in and keep the story at the edge of curiosity. ("When you finish a book, you forget that at the beginning you had no idea what is going to be about.") Then, when asked a little later about reader considerations during writing, she revealed that she never writes for anyone but herself for the first X (~20!) drafts, that she follows tributaries of story, tight-rope walking into nowhere, trusting that something will open up in a satisfying way. It's a private journey of discovery and self-indulgence until she is ready to start thinking about the reader for several more drafts. The Lieutenant took her about 30 drafts.

I do of course wonder what constitutes a 'draft'. Does she mean an editing pass, or a full blank screen/new words type draft? And how long does each of these drafts take? Are they the same length? Although she admitted it is inefficient, this is her process. I love the sound of it, the freedom.

Anne Michaels' second novel, The Winter Vault, is centered around the team who dismantled and relocated the great Egyptian temple of Abu Simbel to prevent it from being flooded. I haven't read this yet either, but from the reading she gave it is a very lyrical and poetic novel (her being a poet).

She seemed a rather 'emotional' writer, and talked of her characters giving her the courage to explore the core questions of the novel, which sound as though they might be somewhat devastating. She said she was never sure whether she was going to come out the other side. It makes me keen to read a novel that could induce such a state in its author!

I bought both novels, as I am wont to do when I hear an author discuss it in even a little detail. So they now get added to my collection of books I'm intending to read.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Movie - Cheri

Last night I saw Cheri, a film about the world of high-class French courtesans in the early 19th century. The title character was not, as I had supposed, Michelle Pfieffer's character Lea, an aging but still beautiful courtesan, but the nickname of her young lover, the son of one of her contemporaries.

This movie is visually stunning. The whole way through I marvelled at the gowns Michelle P got to wear, many of them with elbow length sleeves and relatively demure necklines. But the fabrics! The colours! The use of broad waistbands and layers of silk! And the hats!

It's a movie about love and age and that old adage: "If you love someone, set them free . . ."

We had an interesting start to our movie, because the sound didn't work properly, but we didn't immediately realise it. Here we were watching the credits to the tune of sweeping music, when the characters started talking silently without the music abating. I took it for stylised opening credits, and assumed that the music would fade out and voices fade in at some point. Only it didn't seem to be happening. And then I leaned over and asked whether there was ANY talking in this film, to be met with a bemused shrug.

And then the people behind us harrumphed and called the technicians!

It turned out that there was in fact supposed to be a theatrical narrative overplaying the ENTIRE credits, as well as parts of the movie! Setting the scene and explaining who the main characters were, and filling in various details. Never would have guessed. I was thinking it was going to be some modern take on a silent movie! Very funny.

Anyway, turns out all they needed to do was reboot a computer, so all was fine after a slightly delayed start.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Continuum 5 - Harness the energy

I spent this weekend at the annual Continuum convention, essentially a weekend of socialising with other speculative fiction writers (published novelists, successful short story writers, and those still aspiring).

It began with our monthly brunch, relocated to Mr Tulk, the elegant cafe/bar annexed to the State Library. According to one web site, this rates in the top 10 brunch cafes in the Melbourne CBD, but although I must say I LOVED the decor and ambiance, I was underwhelmed by the breakfast menu. Having said that, my scrambled eggs were very tasty.

It was the fastest brunch ever, and we were all back at the con for some panels on 'The art of expansion from short story to novel', 'Untapped fears' (a panel on the horror genre), and 'The sparkly modern-day vampire (and his less sparkly cousins)'. Lots of interesting discussion.

I was particularly taken with some of AG's comments on the 'expansion' panel - she outlined her concept of a 'character portal', which is essentially a significant past experience that colours the way in which a character reacts to/perceives events in a story. Any one character might have several portals that shape their character, and any one of these might become dominant at any point in time. It's an interesting way of looking at how a character's past can really affect their emotions and decisions in the present.

She also referred to 'energy' in a story, and how a writer should 'go where the energy is' - particularly in the context of expanding a story, or embarking on a sequel. In fact, this was identified as a good premise for conceptualising sequels: rather than a single story covering multiple books, a sequel can launch from a complete story. Essentially, one should look at where the 'energy' is (ie the interesting stuff that has a life of its own) and springboard from there.

We also went to a book launch on Saturday night - a short story collection from someone I don't personally know, but who is evidently a great young writer. The launch took place at this quaint little bar called Cabinet on Rainbow Alley, which is just off Little Lonsdale; the bar has a balcony overlooking Swanston Street. We drank a lovely red wine -- Sanguine Shiraz -- very smoky and smooth. Mmmm.

After a chili infested Chinese meal we ended up in the con bar and drank the evening away in conversation and congenial company. It was great to catch up with some of my writing group not officially at the con, but who had dropped by for the evening.

Today's events were more subdued, with a couple of panels on 'The past is a different country' (comparing he challenges of writing historical fiction and SF), and 'Do you have to be a scientist to write GOOD science fiction'. We ate a nice lunch at the Groove Train in Melbourne Central, then went back after the con to another cafe in the complex for coffee and cake. (I confess I ate very badly today -- fries with lunch and an enormous slice of cake in the afternoon. Will have to work that off this week!)

A great weekend. All I need to do is harness the energy and get some discipline.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

15 movies that stay with you

Another facebook challenge. Does it mean your 15 favourite movies? But no, I think there's a difference between truly AMAZING movies, and those favourite ones you watch over and over. (Sometimes of course they're one and the same.) So here are mine (no particular order):

Children of Men
LOTR trilogy
The Princess Bride
Mulholland Drive
Persuasion (Amanda Root version)
Brokeback Mountain
Singin' in the Rain
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
The Court Jester
Withnail and I
Pirates of the Caribbean - Curse of the black pearl
Last of the Mohicans
Rachel getting married

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Easing back into it

Oops! A two week hiatus. I can't think what I've been doing, because I've had a two week break from writing as well. My how time flies when you let your defences down!

Anyway, this week I am easing back into the rewrite. I've done some light editing tonight and written a few new words. Now I just need to remember what is supposed to happen next . . .

The goal is still to complete the rewrite this year, so I need to get a wriggle on.

Coming up this month, however, are some writing events: the Continuum spec fic convention is happening in a couple of weeks, followed by the Melbourne Writers Festival. Lots to keep us busy and hopefully inspired. I guess I'll be writing weekdays this month.