My mum was an art teacher, so art has always been a huge part of my life. But no artwork has ever struck me like Patricia Puccinini’s work, and I don’t mean Skywhale.
I haven’t been to Canberra to see it flying. I find I never really know a piece of art until I’ve stood before it, or in this case, beneath it. I’ve seen some photos on @theskywhale_ and other sites. It looks good.
I support it because it’s Piccinini and it’s weird and awesome. Like most of her work, it leaves me feeling awed and peaceful. I fell in love with Piccinini’s work the day I saw it.
Her “Comforter” was the first piece I encountered, in the Art Gallery of NSW. “The Comforter,” is a sweet little girl, an orphan I thought. She reclines against a wall. In her arms a baby lies, but a baby with an unusual body shape. The little girl is covered in a fine down of soft black hair.
I crouched by this piece for a long time, amazed by the finish, the realism, the weirdness, the emotion and the beauty. The girl might be part monkey, and the baby part monster, but love and peace radiates from the scene.
Almost always, I wander through galleries looking and not finding what I want. I want artists to connect with me, to visually please and yet challenge me. I want their unique creations to connect with me and make me feel something.
Her work does it. As do Raqib Shaw’s glittering murals.
Piccinini twists conventions of beauty, tradition and normality into new shapes. Her people and creatures are just beyond the edges of my reality. I hurt with them, I fear them, and I fear for them. I want to help them, but do I dare?
In her work I see a challenge. Can we expand our empathy across conventions of appearance and difference?
I was thrilled when I heard about Skywhale. I would love to see it in the sky. But I feel afraid for it, too, as I fear for all her creations, that they will be shunned or stoned or ridiculed, because they are more different than our culture is prepared to tolerate.
I hope Skywhale travels around Australia and the world, and people are challenged and amazed by it. That they smile and laugh and make boob jokes.
Piccinini creates the best art I’ve ever seen. It comes from her soul, from a unique and magical place. It is new and wonderful and exquisitely executed.
When people question the value of her work, they’re decrying the value of art. Art’s purpose isn’t to please and entertain. It’s to explore. It’s a celebration of our creative spirit. It’s like the point on the pyramid of our civilisation. If we fail to expand our art, we are blunted. Our potential for growth is stunted.
We need art, like fiction, to challenge, stir, inspire and innovate. It’s like a knife disemboweling the skin of perceived reality to discover the shining intestines of what might be.
Skywhale makes me smile. It draws attention. It ends the debate on breastfeeding in public. Breasts are okay. With it floating above you, who could be afraid of a humble human breast in an infant’s mouth?
To me, Skywhale is the coolest thing Australia has ever done. I hope some of us realise that. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, it attracts global attention, and it’s bleeding edge.
The truly shocking thing is that Piccinini was only paid $8800 for her design. That’s very generous of her. She’s my hero.
Supanova 2013 was my first time at a convention as an exhibitor. I attended as part of my group, Gold Coast Speckies. It was a fair amount of work to get organised, but we shared that fairly. And when we were there we had a great time.
Our goals were to increase our web and Twitter followings, and to get the word out about us and Speculative Fiction, and sell some books. Our Twitter following didn’t increase much at all, which is a wake up call. It seems that while many writers love Twitter, much of the world (even the geek world) is not on it. Most people were more interested in buying an e-book instead of a physical copy.
We were delighted with our experience and the conversations we had, though.
The best parts, for me, were the happy faces and the great costumes, and talking to writers who were taking the first steps onto their creative path. I told them to join the Vision Writers and GC Speckies Yahoo groups.
It surprises me, actually, that this is my first piece of advice to new writers. Maybe I should say something like, “Write every day.”
But I feel like getting into the community is the best place to start, because it’s your line to advice, critique and markets. But even more importantly, writerly friendship and understanding. I feel like I wrote in a vacuum through my twenties and it didn’t help me with the quantity or quality of my writing.
On Wednesday I’m heading to Canberra for Conflux, for a long weekend packed with panels and meetings and afternoon teas and dinners. I can’t wait! Actually, I better go and pack.
My panels are: “Birth, Life and Death — Life Transitions in Speculative Fiction,” that’s on Thursday night at 9pm. Jodi Cleghorn can pinch me to keep me awake. My other panel is “Writing Communities” on Saturday morning at 10am. If I am hung over for this panel, my key point of advice will be, “Do not drink too much with one part of your writing community and embarrass yourself in front of another of your writing community the next day.”
Jokes aside — I promise not be (obviously) hung over or sleep deprived — I am very much looking forward to both of these panels. Speaking at Natcon is a little scary because there are so very many very knowledgeable writers about, but I think we all have unique insights and different views to share.
Goodnight and good writing and reading!
Today GC Speckies were delighted to attend The Gold Coast Writers Festival session about Science Fiction and Fantasy. Authors Rowena Cory Daniells, A.A. Bell and Jill Smith talked about their writing and our favourite genre. We also got to chat with them afterwards!
On the panel the writers said that Queensland was producing some great writing. They also discussed their first explorations of Science Fiction as children, from Lost in Space to the Jetsons.
They talked about how Science Fiction foretold the future.
“Who has a mobile phone?” Bell asked, and all but three of the audience members raised their hands. Science Fiction predicted those, but it didn’t predict the internet, Daniells said.
Bell said she would have her eye on the “black sheep,” those trying out different things in their writing than the rest of the flock. Those in the audience without the mobile phones might be in the new wave of big writers, she said.
Bell also discussed the distinction between Sci-Fi, S.F. and Science Fiction, and this was new and interesting to us. She said Sci-Fi was the more popular and fun end of the continuum, whereas Science Fiction was the scientific, political and intellectual extrapolation of science.
Daniells, Smith and Bell saw the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy as positive and dynamic. Publishing developments like small independent publishers, self publishing and e-books have allowed cross genre work to find readers, whereas mainstream publishers traditionally shied away from cross genre work which wasn’t marketable to a defined market.
Daniells said that Fantasy was growing up, from traditional and quest based fantasy to grittier and multifaceted work. She said that Science Fiction raised the ethical issues of science that the real world will one day have to face, such as genetic predisposition to disease and the effect that might have on insurance policies.
When asked about dystopian cyberpunk, the authors said readers prefered positive fiction, and negativity in Science Fiction may have pushed readers toward Fantasy. Smith said readers love strong characters who triumph in a happy ending. Bell said she encouraged readers to enjoy story shapes and the mood and technique of novels, rather than focusing on which part of Speculative Fiction a novel fell into.
The writers also said the internet has enabled Queensland writers to sell their writing in other states and countries, the only inconvenience being the time zone differences.
Daniells said she saw herself as a citizen of the world and her writing reflects the greater human condition.
GC Speckies Helen, Janis and Adriana attended the session and handed out some cards, hoping to recruit more local readers and writers to our meetings on the 3rd Sunday of the month at Ashmore. One fan we met recommended Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell.
It was great to see these award-winning and knowledgeable authors! I hope I’ve relayed their panel accurately and would love them to clarify or expand on their views, if they wish to do so.
Cross posted at www.gcspeckies.com
I’m not good at post-con blogs, but I must blog about Natcon 2012 because otherwise I’d fail to acknowledge the fantastic people that are Australian Speculative Fiction. Yes, you know who you are. Everyone who was there. And you folks who couldn’t make it but wanted to. Etc.
Everyone I met was friendly and nice; my hair and hat received a zeppelin of compliments that should ensure their floatation until next June. The hat is safely away in the cupboard. I’m just a little grumpy with it, but haven’t even waved a bread knife at it yet.
No one was too friendly, except the cab driver who took me back to my hotel after midnight on Sunday morning. He was disturbingly enamoured with how deeferent my hair was to the point of being a beet creepy. But he let me out of the cab with all strands, ribbons and other accoutrements intact.
The niceness of con-goers is a special phenomenon, and I could wonder if everyone is nice because they want other people to like them and their work. But I don’t think that’s true, because not everyone creates work. I think a common love of genre is behind the spirit. I’ve heard someone else say it’s because we’re all fans at heart.
I wish I could bottle the convention spirit and spread it through the atmosphere, because it’s a spirit I’ve never found anywhere else. It seems to epitomise the opposite of hostility and war.
Maybe this is what religious people love about their spirituality, but I’ve been to churches and never felt anything akin to the enjoyment of hanging out at a convention.
I have been to literary nights and witnessed aggressive debates, which fell into name-calling and abuse, and to some extent I’d like to see more debate at conventions, without name-calling. Maybe I should attend more panels and debates…
There was a debate or two, wasn’t there? That might be a place for me to start. Scratch that last para.
I’m glad that I’m still making friends on Twitter with people I saw at Natcon, like Nalini Haynes, who I didn’t bump into at the con though I saw her on a panel. Social media is great for that. By the time I see her at the next con it’s very likely we’ll be friends.
There was a slight dissonance, I found, when talking to faces I’d never seen clearly before. I had to remind myself, for example, that Sean Wright had admired my tomatoes a year ago as a Twitterpic; although I’d never seen his face we’d shared many exchanges and I consider him a friend.
There’s not much else to say. I had a top time and got a great idea (The Fairytale Villains and Short Story panels inspired this) which I’ve launched into.
It might be worth noting that I found the best spot in the WHOLE con on Sunday. It was, what I came to think of as, Jo Anderton’s chair by the fire. That girl is a clever cookie.
Enough rambling. I am sooooo sick. And I keep getting sicker. This con lurgy is bad news. Perhaps they are testing biological weapons on us in an attempt to exterminate nerds. What a stagnant world it would be then.
So thanks heaps to the organisers and all the volunteers, and the dear waitress and maître d who worked their arses off to keep the hoard fed, coffeed and boozed.
I can’t wait until the next Natcon, and will drag more GCSpeckies with me if at all possible.
Until then, I’ll see you in the social media sphere.
Here is the first book created by H.K & J.Z Sparkle. I’m the first nom de plume, there. J.Z is the five-year-old illustrator and creative influence. She invented Diamond Loveheart Star, I think, and also had some direction in the story line.
The slideshow below is not ideal, but might work best in fullscreen and if you pause it so you can move on at your leisure. If it has already moved on, the first slide should be the cover, which is also above.
Thanks for reading.
In other writing news, I got my copy of Midnight Echo 6 in mail today. My story is really in there! You can read part of my story here. If you love it you can buy a copy from the Australian Horror Writers’ Shop.
Hope you enjoy!
Helen and J.Z
Be warned this might be the worst (or best) blog ever, because I’m gunna jump from Christmas to Midnight Echo to Work In Progress to Reading to Talking about Your Writing and then to The End.
I’m dreading Christmas. Firstly, we need to change the name. We should change it to Give the Kids Too Many Presents, Give the Adults Useless Shit They Don’t Want and then Eat Until You Vomit Day. We can abbreviate that to GKTMPGAUSTDWEUYVD. That’s the hashtag, folks. #GKTMPGAUSTDWEUYVD … Hey cool! I got Aust in there without even trying. Here’s to not trying.
My ideal Christmas: I get to sleep in. Someone makes me a coffee and brings it to me in bed. Eventually we all slither out to the Christmas Tree (wow, it survived in my fantasy!) and open a small present or two; exactly what each of us wants, because we can read each other’s minds (this could be problematic at other times). Some friends/family drop in. No one expects to be fed a dripping messy feast. There’s some swimming; idyllic splashing and tittering of children. Semi-clad well-muscled man-servants deliver salad sandwiches on multigrain while I recline by the pool sipping lychee martinis and chatting with friends. And maybe family, so long as no one mentions Julia Gillard. And when night comes the children fall asleep in our arms as we sing old favourites around a camp fire. I don’t know if that’s perfect, but it would be a darn sight better than the usual hoo-haa. Is that a thing? A darn sight?
Midnight Echo Six is here!
Here is the link. You can read an interview with me (I probably sound very silly) and the beginning of my story Surgeon Scalpelfingers. You can buy a copy of Midnight Echo for the bargain price of $10 plus pottage or postage or whatever. I can’t wait until my contributor’s copy arrives in the mail.
WORK IN PROGRESS
In writing I’ve been working on short stories for Dark Faith 2 and Bloodstones. I’ve been trying to come up with a great sci-fi story to submit to Cosmos, as I told Cat Sparks I’d send her one, though I’m fairly confident she’s not checking her inbox going, ‘Where’s the story that lovely young Helen promised me?’ I’ve tried out a few concepts but nothing good enough has materialised. I’ve considered doing a maths degree but that might be an extreme course of action.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ve read the Time Traveller’s Wife, The Courier’s New Bicycle, A Song of Fire and Ice, all of which were great in different ways. I’d love to get stuck into writing a novel, too, but I don’t feel I have enough time to throw at it at the moment. Short stories are more achievable. I’ll see how mothering commitments pan out next year, and if it looks like I have sufficient chunks of time I’ll get stuck into it.
My favourite character in A Song of Fire and Ice was Daenerys. She’s sweet, tough, human and she suffers but just rolls with the blows. What a girl/woman/whatever.
TALKING ABOUT YOUR WRITING
Isn’t it hard? I love to talk about my writing, but I usually have something planned to say. It might be what I have coming out, or the name of the anthology I’m writing for, or the premise I’m working with, if I’m really chuffed with it or I’d like to test the waters to see if the person I’m talking to likes the sound of it or if their eyes glaze over and they nod off. Or I might talk about a writer’s meeting I’ve just attended or a convention I’m going to and the crazy goings on there.
Sometimes my brain stalls … maybe because I go into my writing zone, which is all to do with my fingers and not my mouth.
Writers need to be able to talk about their writing, if they are writing for others and not just themselves. It’s an important way of connecting with people, both seeking an audience and to develop ideas. I feel most comfortable talking to The Splinter Group about what I’m working on, as they really seem interested and make great suggestions in a supportive way. They’re used to my far-fetching imagination.
I think it’s easy to be scared that someone will think your idea is stupid. I really admire authors who can make completely bizarre storylines and creatures seem entirely real. What reads well on the page might not sound good coming out of your mouth when you’re still forming your story. No idea is stupid.
Another concern I have when talking about my writing is giving away too much, and so ruining the story were the person to read it. I never worry about people stealing my ideas, because ideas appeal to different people, and everyone executes ideas in an individual style.
I’ve seen two movies this weekend, Attack the Block and the Ides of March. They were both good but I liked the action and aliens of Attack the Block better. Drama feels too grown up for me. I go to the movies (and read) to escape to more exciting worlds. Attack the Block was more of a feel good movie, too. The character relationships and growth were much more positive. It left me with a warm fuzzy feeling. I got free tickets from the Australian Horror Writers Association, but I don’t think that’s biased me.
THE END is coming
You were warned. This blog was all over the place. I can’t believe you read it all. You deserve a medal. Great work! Excellent. Ten out of Ten. Times like this, I miss school.
This week I’ve been letting two stories settle. You know, that period of a week or so where you don’t look at it so when you do look at it again it surprises you with its brilliance and/or holes, errors…etc. I’ve also asked a friend to look over one, and I’m looking forward to hearing what he thinks. I find other people always come up with things I’ve missed, or great suggestions for enhancements. I want to swap the Bell Club one, too. That’s not due for a while yet.
I’ve also been researching quantum physics, which has been fun. I want to write a story involving those other dimensions. I’m not sure if I can pull it off, because I need to find where the science can end and my imagination start. Bummed that I couldn’t find my New Scientist issue that had an article about dimensions and quantum stuff. Will see what I can find on the NS website.
I’m toying with a few different plot ideas… I like that part of writing; holding that magic putty of possibility in your hand, before it collapses into a known state.
As for reading, I’m still in the middle of The Princess Bride. There’s no rush with that as I’ve seen it a million times. I think I’ve read most or all of Winds of Change (it’s a bit hard to tell, as I’ve read the stories out of order), and I’ve loved it. I don’t think I’m biased because my story is in there. I feel humbled because the other stories are so great. I love the combo of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, and the openness of the theme; the diversity of the work. I’ve leant/sold a few copies to friends. I hope they like it, too.
I’m also reading Tracey O’hara’s ‘Death’s Sweet Embrace’ and Kim Westwood’s ‘The Couriers New Bicycle,’ a couple of my Conflux finds.
Speaking of Conflux, here are my belated highlights. Seeing friends from Vision and Aussiecon, and meeting tweeps I’ve been following for ages. Also, listening to Tracey O’hara, Erica Hayes and Jane Virgo read from their erotic stories–these ladies create razor-wires of tension! Also, hearing Kim Westwood speak with such emotion about her novel; attending Dawn Meredith’s and Gillian Polack’s launches, and of course the Winds of Change launch at which I read with Caroline jumping up from the audience to read the role of the midwife. [Pause for breath]… Being on a panel with writers way out of my league was really cool too, thanks to all of them and especially Cat Sparks the moderator for being gentle with me:) The Graf Zeppelin dinner was fantastic, too. Fruit and sherbet as an entrée, whooda thunk it?
I’d like to bottle the positive energy at sci-fi conventions and sprinkle it over the grumbling world at large.
Over and out.
Am all packed for Conflux! I’ll get into Canberra late tomorrow night and my lovely friend Caroline (who is engaged to be married to Jason) is picking me up so I can stay with her for two nights, before the convention begins.
It’s taking much effort to keep a rash of exclamation marks out of this post.
I’ve signed up for workshops with Nicole Murphy, Jack Dann and Gillian Pollack, though I was tempted by the staff-fighting one. Have done a bit of Shorinji Kempo staff fighting in my time, but thought a broken nose might be a bad look for the BOOK LAUNCH. Did she say ‘book launch’? Oh yes she did. The launch of Winds of Change is on Friday night. See, no exclamation mark. So cool.
Here is the trailer.
Just feel a tiny bit scared of reading. But I like doing readings. And a bit scared of being on a short story writing panel with great writers Kaaren Warren and Jack Dann. And hoping someone (anyone?) comes to my kaffeeklatch on Sunday morning.
In writing, I’ve just finished and submitted a story for Apocalypse Hope. I really enjoyed writing it. It’s about a she-robot named Krintarian who is responsible for arranging the production of new humans, after the death of the human race. I really like Krintarian. The story, Enlightenment, is also about how A.I. grows up, after the takeover. It’s possibly a bit too preachy, but it’s good that I like it as a story. I find that often I don’t like my stories. Mostly I feel that I should have done better … but this one makes me happy.