For those who have enjoyed my books in the past, there is a new one in the world. It’s a collection of five novellas called The Year of Ancient Ghosts and all the stories are fantastical or scary or both. I think it is the best stuff I have ever ever written, and you can buy it here in hardcover, paperback, or limited edition hardcover. It also has an introduction by Australian fantasy writer Kate Forsyth, and illustrations by newcomer James Blake.
I launched the book on Thursday night at Avid Reader in West End, and was so humbled that 100 people came along to support me. To all who were there, your ongoing interest in me and my work is so appreciated. I had such a lovely, lovely night. I’ve added some photos below.
Relaxing with a glass of Veuve before the launch.
Doing 5 readings in 5 minutes.
These are my awesome launch boots.
Signing books (with wine)
One of the fabulous illustrations
I grew up in Redcliffe in the 70s and 80s, when it was pretty rough and socially disadvantaged. In fact, I was pretty rough and socially disadvantaged too. We were welfare class. My dad had an accident at work and was on sickness benefits, which he spent almost wholly on beer. My mum worked hard to support us all. I was bullied at school, never really fit in, and went to work in rubbish jobs in fast food. Then I finally got my shit together, went back to high school, then got out of town.
For a long time, during my university studies and with my new inner-city friends, I was faintly (if not entirely sometimes) embarrassed about having been a Redcliffe chick, one who used to hang out with boys in cars or wag school to sit on the jetty and smoke. I didn’t speak of it. I made myself anew; I tried to stop saying “Me and my friends” went somewhere or did something, or “brought” when I meant “bought”. I got a PhD. I published books and spoke elegantly and eloquently in public places.
Then one day I was coming home in a plane from Sydney, and we flew over Moreton Bay, that body of grey-blue water that I grew up looking at. And it struck me how magnificent the bay is, how it gives me the feeling of being home, of being somewhere that everything is all right. I looked down at the islands, and a story idea came to me. The story became Ember Island, the book I worked on over the summer (a Kimberley Freeman book). Imagine my surprise and delight when they sent me the cover and the jetty on the front is actually Redcliffe jetty. “We managed to get an actual picture of Moreton Bay,” the publisher told me excitedly. But she couldn’t know just how familiar that part of Moreton Bay is to me. Redcliffe jetty, on my book cover. Fifteen years ago I would have been appalled. But now, this just fills me with strange pride.
I am a Redcliffe girl. I am rough as guts. I did work at every fast food chain you can think of. And then I did something different; and I am not a better or worse person for growing up bogan. I am so proud of this book and the fact that it is set somewhere unexotic, maybe even parochial. I am what I am, and I am fucking proud to own it.
Just out of shot: three kids and a harrassed mother.
The title of this post arose from a Facebook discussion I had about balancing writing and parenting. Fellow writer Fiona McMillan said that “balancing” was possibly a bad choice of verb, as it indicated there was some kind of control in place. She’s right. That’s when “careening” came to mind.
The thing about parenting is it’s so unrelenting. Writing is also unrelenting, especially if you have deadlines, which I always do, and especially if your deadlines are very tight, which mine always are. I’ve been single-parenting these school holidays, while trying to write 30 000 words a month. I’ll be frank with you: if I don’t deliver on time, I don’t get paid on time, and so I need to write to feed the children whom I also need to parent.
So I careen, from one task to the other, doing a little here and a little there, arms wheeling wildly, trying to gain purchase with my feet. I am always certain that I am short-changing both tasks. I skim across sentences and dinner-times, I write in bed in the mornings while my children lie on either side of me asking me questions I don’t remember later; I play Lego distractedly while planning out scenes in my imagination. From time to time, when I offer up pre-packaged ravioli, my son (who is very interested in cooking) will say, “You know, we should make our own pasta from scratch”, and I want to laugh hysterically and perhaps even set my own kitchen on fire so that I never ever have to make pasta from scratch. Or ice cream. Or organic wholemeal omega-3 anti-oxidant treats that will make my children into a übermenschen. (Please note: any comment about how “easy” it is to make pasta or ice cream from scratch will be instantly deleted and possibly also set on fire). It got so nuts, that I went on a writing retreat with my kids. That’s right: I took my kids and was writing with one hand and making cheesy toast for morning tea with the other.
Fiona is right. This isn’t balancing anything. This is simply a constant struggle not to fall over. I am two-thirds finished this book. Don’t wish me luck, just wish me the ability to function on fewer hours of sleep.
So I saw The Hobbit. The LOTR movies are my favouritest movies ever, so of course I was so happy to be back in Middle Earth and this isn’t a review of the movie. This is about the chicks.
Or lack thereof.
There were so many ways that Jackson could have worked some more women into the film, and that’s what I’m going to write about. Now, before you say, “but it was an adaptation of Tolkien and he was being faithful as all good adapters should be” let me just offer you a pre-emptive BULLSHIT, MATE. Adaptations do not have to be faithful to be good. They have to be good to be good. Case in point, what Jackson did with the structure of The Two Towers. The book is boring; the movie had pace, plenty of narrative interest, a clever interweaving of multiple threads.
This is what I reckon he could have done:
* Kili and Fili could have been female dwarves. Think about how RAD that would have been. Female dwarves are awesome! They’d not be all slender and holy-looking like Arwen and Galadriel; they’d be dirty and nuggety and rough as a bear’s arse. Massive missed opportunity.
* Radagast could have been a woman. Birdshit hair-product and all. Imagine, a cool old forest witch character, a crone with a cackle and gnarled hands.
* Smaug could have been a female dragon. Like Onyxia in World of Warcraft (who my cat is named after). Female dragons are cool.
* The Goblin King could have been a Goblin Queen. Let’s face it, we were all thinking of David Bowie as the definitive screen goblin king anyway (“you remind me of the babe”); why not get Judi Dench to voice her and have her be a wormy piece of womanly nastiness instead?
Maybe I’m biased because these are my ideas (worked out in conversation with my terribly clever boyfriend), but I think if Jackson had done all of the above, The Hobbit would have kicked arse. It would have been a movie that truly thrilled me, and a great many other fantasy movie fans, on many levels.
I am winding up one of the busiest, fullest, bizarrest, diversest (I will stop making up words now) months of my fucking life. Where do I even start?
Genrecon: a mad weekend in Sydney with a bunch of awesome Australian genre writers being awesome. Made new friends, had lots of ideas, wrote every day, ate a lot of room service food. Then home for a few days and then off to Sharjah International Book Fair. Sharjah is the next-door emirate to the much better known Dubai. I talked on panels about women’s writing with Arabic women writers and made a guest appearance at a local Australian-curriculum school. Went out to the pool deck every afternoon to listen to the call to prayer from the mosque next door. Magic. They flew me out there and back business class on Emirates; now I am ruined for long haul travel FOR LIFE.
Then home for a few days, still writing and writing and crossing off those numbers on my writing productivity bingo card (see previous post). Sunday the 18th attended the Harvest Festival in Brisbane to see my favourite band ever, Sigur Ros. Sobbed with happiness through the first three songs, then pulled myself together. Touched the face of God. Best concert ever. That it followed one of the most violent and spectacular hailstorms I have ever seen in Brisbane only made the stars coming out all the sweeter.
Then got on another plane to Dublin, where I am writing this from. Kept writing my story, hit 30K 5 days ahead of schedule. Finished a novella. Wrote and delivered a talk about resilient writing to the postgraduate creative writing students at the Oscar Wilde Centre at Trinity College. Felt like a very big girl indeed. Saw the Book of Kells and went to the magnificent Long Room. See the picture below. Old books up to the ceilings and ladders. Dusty smell heaven.
I’ll finish November by meeting my UK publishers for lunch, then heading up to Cambridge to do a punt tour with my friend Lisa. Then back on a plane, back home to warm, sunny Brisbane, to all my beloved mammals, and to my very own bed.
I am exhausted, but this has been one of the most amazing times of my life. Oh, and I bought a super cute dress in Dublin and some awesome knee-high socks. Thanks for listening. I’ll resume normal, sane transmission in December.
Yesterday, I started my new Kimberley Freeman novel “Ember Island”. I have 30 000 words a month to write for the next four months, and in my planning for how I’m going to accomplish this, I had to assess my weaknesses and the threats to my writing time (Hello, Interwebz). The big threat to this project is that I am travelling a lot through November, including two long-haul trips; there’s Christmas in December; and school holidays with my kids home for 4 weeks in Janaury. It would be all too easy to throw my hands in the air and say “I don’t have time to write!”
So I need strategies, and over the summer, for the benefit of all mankind (at least those who write), I’m going to be trying out a range of strategies to make “keep going” a reality. See, for example, the photo of my notebook here (excuse my knees and toes in the shot; it is customary for me to work in bed or on the couch). There are twenty-five numbers in the table, and combined they add up to 30 000 (my goal for November). On 25 of the 30 days of November, I have to pick a number and write that much. There are small amounts, for days when I am tightly scheduled, and big amounts for when I have the luxury of time.
Watch this space for more helpful tips.
Shit just got real around here, with me needing to start a new Kimberley Freeman, finish my novella collection, and write an academic paper. It’s a big scary bottleneck of WRITE SOMETHING, BITCH so I’ve had to have a long hard look at my writing habits, which have been a bit slippery of late.
We all understand that to write we have to sit at our keyboards (for example, I’m sitting at mine right now, in bed with the electric blanket on… this is my favourite way to work). But I don’t think sitting at the keyboard is specific enough advice anymore. Do you know why? Because of the siren call of the FUCKING internet, which clearly doesn’t want me to get my work done.
Because in every writing project—creative or otherwise—there comes a moment where you hit a slow spot and you’re not quite sure what to write next. Now at this stage, many of us will pop open an internet browser. Guess what, you just walked away from the work. You just got up and walked away. Worse: you just put your writing out of your head too. At least if you take a little walk around your garden, you can still be mulling it over. Let me make this really clear to you:
• When you google a bit of research, you have walked away from your work and are now in a library. That’s kind of okay, but it’s a library where there are a lot of celebrity gossip mags lying around that have enticing headlines.
• When you open Facebook, you have walked away from your work and are now in a room full of your friends and they are all bored and talking derp and exchanging hilarious animal pictures.
• When you start instant messaging on Skype or Google Talk or whatever, you have walked away from your work to chat with a friend.
• When you slide over to your favourite blogs, you have walked away from work and are reading a magazine instead.
• When you check your email, you have walked away from your work and up to your letterbox, collected your mail and opened it and started composing responses.
You wouldn’t do this in any other job and expect to get things completed. In all these examples, not only have you stopped writing, but you’ve stopped thinking about your writing. You’ve killed your flow. ERMERGERD!
Simply reframing your internet procrastination as wandering away from your work can really help. When your mouse is hovering over that Firefox logo, you must say to yourself sharply, “Don’t get up. Don’t walk away. Be here in the story.” The internet will wait for you. And the animals are never that funny anyway. Except that sneezing baby panda. He’s awesome.