Heathens 2 – Christians 0

Today I went in search of a Thor stone, an ancient monument thought to be one of Thor’s thunderbolts, just kind of leaning on somebody’s fence in the tiny village of Taston (which was known as Thorstan, or Thor stone until about the 13th century). You can see from the photograph, that it’s pretty tall (I’m 171cm, for reference). Thor didn’t seem to mind me leaning on it.



Directly across the road is what’s left of an old stone cross. Local legend has it that the cross was built strictly for the purpose of offsetting the evil heathen energy of the Thor stone. But the cross has fallen off and the Thor stone, which is much much older, is still there.

So. Heathens 1, Christians 0.

Then, later this afternoon, I went for a walk through the village I’m staying in and ended up at the little Norman church at the top of the hill. I was delighted to see some Saxon carvings in the porch. It’s likely that a church of some kind has stood on this spot since late 11th century, because the 1085 Domesday survey of the area records 48 inhabitants, including a priest.

But the real star of this church is the ancient yew tree in the graveyard. The Conservation Foundation has confirmed that it’s around 1300 years old. As you can see from the pictures, it’s an impressive, living monument. Yew trees are often in graveyards because they are symbols of eternal life, and they were very important to heathens. You do the maths. The tree is 1300 years old, the church not quite 1000 years old. That means the tree was already a very old tree when the church was built: it was probably the reason the church was built on the site in the first place. Much easier to convert heathens if you put their prospective new place of worship where the old one is. So, Heathens 2 – Christians 0.*

The old yew tree, wide view

And close up, taken from down near the roots

And then I had an AMAZING idea for the last novella in my collection, “The Lark and the River”. I’m going to go sit under that yew tree with my notebook some time before I leave and write all my ideas down. It’s going to rock.

*Yes, I know that Christians actually won in the long term. Well played, Christianity. Not bad for a woman-hating death cult.

Wheel of Fortune

I have been sitting on some pretty big news for the last few months, and I’m only just now at liberty to talk about it. It seems that my alter ego, Kimberley Freeman, has attracted some serious attention internationally. Wildflower Hill, my twenty-first novel, has done some very big things. Back in May, I was offered a very very VERY significant deal by a German publisher. There was bidding, offers, counter-offers. It felt as though I was living somebody else’s life for a little while. When the final offer came in via email I just sat there looking at it, speechless, for a full twenty minutes. Then I went out and bought a new car.

I thought that might be it for me, all the staggering news my modest career could support. But then I had word that Wildflower Hill had been selected in the United States as the Target Book Club Pick, and in Canada for the Walmart Book Club. The number of books ordered to meet the projected demand probably amounts to more than I’ve ever sold of all my books in all territories combined (and did I mention there’d been 20 of the mofos?).

But this post isn’t just a shameless brag (thought it is, absolutely, a brag). These wonderful successes have really got me thinking about the wheel of fortune. Not the game show (which, I might add, I was very very good at), but the tarot card that symbolises a radical shift in fortune. You’ll see from the picture that when somebody’s at the top, somebody else is at the bottom. The message is that those positions aren’t firm, can shift any time, in your favour, or against you. I have had times when I’ve felt as though the bottom is the only aspect of the wheel I’ll see. I tend to keep my career disappointments to myself–after all, I am published and established so mustn’t complain–but I assure you there have been many. The wonderful thing is that now, while I’m sitting smugly at the top, I am very much aware that it can’t last, not forever. I’ll enjoy the view while I’m up here, for sure. But my real successes are measurable in the relationships I have built, the love that I have given and received, the good will that I have enjoyed in every facet of my life. And, as the song goes, they can’t take that away from me.

A most satisfying weekend

First of all, WTF has happened to my blog roll? It’s disappeared. Seems to be some kind of WordPress issue… please don’t be offended if your link is missing. I am working to restore normal transmission.

My husband pushed me out the door with my laptop on Saturday, and sent me to a hotel in the city to write. There is something amazingly motivating about paying that much money for a night’s accommodation: to make it worth my while, I racked up nearly 9000 words, taking me to the 90 000 all together or roughly 3/4 of the book. I wanted to keep going today, but the book has changed gears just here, so I need to rest and regroup a day or two. I had hoped to join the QWC writers race Tuesday night this week, but don’t think I’ll be ready to go. (For those who are members of the QWC and have an AWM online subscription [worth it!], they run writing races every Tuesday night between 8 and 9: fabulously motivating). But the story is nearly d0ne; I can feel the pull of the end.

Then, this morning, I heard the wonderful news that I’d won the William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review at the Ditmar Award ceremony last night. Woohoo.

So all in all, a most satisfying weekend. Now, where’s my champagne?

Half a book

I’ve been too busy writing (my book) to write (my blog). Some days there are just no words left, especially seeing as how I’m working on an academic paper at the same time. Still, that’s no excuse. I guess I’ve been waiting for something interesting to blog about. Sometimes interesting stuff happens but it’s not interesting enough for a whole blog topic.

Today, something interesting happened. Hurrah! I crossed the 60K threshold. Given I am planning for the book to run to 120K, that means I’m officially halfway. Some of the writing is horrendous, I must confess, but just yesterday as I was telling my mum about the story, I got a real sense of what the book is all about. I can’t wait to get to the end, so I can go back in and tweak all the things that need tweaking, make it all sit straight and work. Put simply, it’s a story about a girl who thought her grandmother was a nice old lady, and discovers–when she inherits her grandmother’s old house in Tasmania–that Gran was a lot more complex than originally thought. It has a bit of mystery, a bit of romance, and a lot of sheep. Lol!

The only downside to my recent output has been that I need to get to bed by 9.30 every night in order to get up early and write. And I’m still tired and cranky the whole time. In any case, it has seriously cramped my gaming time.

I’ve also been working hard on an application for arts funding for a fantasy project, and gloating hard over the shortlisting of my paper about Australian fantasy fiction to the Ditmar list. It’s up for the William Atheling Jr award for SF criticism. If you’d like to read it, it will be at this address for a brief time. All praise be to Sean Williams for hosting this for his technically-unsavvy friend.

Cambridge calls…

I’ve been asked by the editors of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing to contribute a chapter about creative writing in the genres. This is a very great honour, of course, but also a real pleasure for me to note that genre fiction is at last being recognised as worthy of academic consideration (and Cambridge University Press is obviously a very big deal in terms of shaping opinion in the academy). Do academics really have issues with genre fiction? Well, yes and no. Some genres fare better than others (crime is usually well regarded) but it is still seen as some kind of poor cousin to literary fiction (and when somebody can define that term for me adequately, give me a yell). For example, in a 2003 paper Judy Wilson wrote that genre fiction is “production line work” and “words poured into a mold” and says it has no place in a university creative writing course (this article has rather a tortured metaphor about weeds and how, even if they’re pretty, they need to be pulled out lest they ruin the more esteemed plants they surround). And in 2002, philosopher Nancy J. Holland created this list of adjectives to describe genre fiction: “low-brow”, “transparent”, “not artful”, “flat, without depth”, “the exact same thing.” Apparently, too, its* “cardinal rule” is a happy ending. Hey, Nancy! Go read a couple of my books. You might get a nasty shock.

So, the tide is slowly turning, thanks to the very clever editors of this new collection. Will keep you posted on developments, but I can’t see it being published before end of 2010.

*the easy way to remember which form of “its” to use is this: use its (no apostrophe) where you’d use his (which you’d never apostrophise)

Year’s Best Fantasy

vglgIn other news…

My story “The Forest”, which was published in Dreaming Again last year, has been selected for Tor Books’ Year’s Best Fantasy collection in the US. This is beautiful surprise: essentially, the short stories that go in YBF are the ones that the editor has selected as the best from all around the world in the calendar year. So it’s a big international honour.

On top of that, I am delighted to tell you that the American Library Association has named The Veil of Gold (as it’s known in the States) as best fantasy novel on its 2009 reading list! I’m particularly pleased about this one, as I bled into that book. Bleeding into a book should always bring rewards (as long as it’s your own; not just some random one you pick up at a store).

Colour me smug!