My first book review of the year is of children’s book, Serious Sas and Messy Magda by Marianne De Pierres and Rachel Annie Bridgen.
The story gets off to a great start with the line, “Sas and her mum were as different as could be.”
I’m super excited to be reviewing this book with my brilliant little girl, Jasmine.
Helen: Jasmine, are you and I as different as could be?
Jasmine: Well sometimes we’re matching, and sometimes we’re different.
And I think that’s what is so good about Serious Sas and Messy Magda. It resonates with the (Jasmine is laughing at me here, and going, “Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah”). As I was seriously saying… It resonates with the differences which are often part of the relationship between little girls and their mums.
Helen: What would you rate the book out of ten?
Jasmine: Ten out of ten.
Helen: Do you think it really captures the little girl’s point of view? I think it does.
(Some explanation of what that meant went here.)
Jasmine: Yeah, I think it does, too. I really liked the mum, Magda because she was a little bit silly, like my mum.
Helen: I am so not silly! What about you? Are you like Sas?
Jasmine (whispering from behind her hand, with wide eyes): I’m like Magda too, because my room’s a little messy. The illustrations were kind of funny because the mum is a fancy pants most of the time.
Helen: My take on the illustrations is that they are colourful and have those entertaining little details that add an extra giggle to a children’s book. I totally identified with Magda’s day at school, too.
I asked Jasmine if she would read Serious Sas and Messy Magda to her little brother, and recommend it to her friends. She said, “Sure, but can you do it?”
Serious Sas and Messy Magda is published by Books to Treasure.
Oooh, my Con Report is way overdue! What a slack-ass. No, no, that’s not quite true. I’ve been working on stories and blogs, and editing the Gold Coast Anthology.
So, I drove up to Brisbane on Friday 11th uncertain of what to expect. Speculative fiction conventions have been my thing since 2010 but I knew Genrecon would be a little different. But my aims were the same… hang out with friends, have some laughs and get a sense of what genre fiction might be planning.
In case you are saying, “What is Genrecon?”
It is a conference for writers of genre fiction. It was held at the State Library in Brisbane and run by Queensland Writers Centre. It was a wonderful weekend of workshops and talks by industry professionals, and conversations between friends. Both QWC and the venue shone, providing a wonderful event in beautiful spaces. The food was great, too.
The best part of the convention was talking to people who are passionate about reading and writing, and hanging out with online friends for reals.
I love to hear about writers’ different journeys. I love the way we share our experiences to encourage each other. I love to be a part of our community. The next one will be in 2015 and I highly recommend going.
Here is my pictorial record of the weekend. For much better photos, check out Cat Sparks’s Flickr.
The Opening Reception.
This photo doesn’t do the Terrace justice.
It’s a lovely space, with an open wall out to a veranda.
The crowd adjourned to Rydges.
Then off to…
We took Fat Louies by storm.
About twenty of us sang beautifully in a big private room.
Summer Nights, The Locomotion, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.
A great night out!
I felt unfairly seedy on Saturday morning.
I stopped for a coffee and bumped into Sue Wright of Tiny Owl Workshop and we had a lovely chat about the generous spirit of the conference. Soon we were joined by Tom Dullemond and Chris McMahon. This is one of his new books. Never mind my face. It was malfunctioning.
Congratulations to Chris for having his trilogy out!
Lunch was the setting for…
Clan Destine Press’s triple book launch.
Three books were launched.
“The Blood She Betrayed,” by Cheryse Durant.
“Unnaturals,” by Dean J Andersan.
“Flush,” by Jane Clifton.
Dean, Cheryse and Jane.
The Digital Firsts panel
The advantages of publishing digitally include faster timeframes
and super convenient availability.
Saturday afternoon, members of the…
got together in West End.
Cat Sparks, Jodi Cleghorn, Stacey Larner and I were all wearing red.
Below are Greg Chapman, Cameron Trost, and Tom Dullemond (slurping beer in profile).
Clwedd and Gary Kemble share a beer.
Dave Versace and Jodi Cleghorn.
Then I had to dart home and dress up for…
The Cutlasses and Kimonos Banquet.
My cutlass saw plenty of action.
Here are Jodi Cleghorn, Peter Ball and Kevin Powe talking nicely.
My table buddies were Amanda Bridgeman and Allanah.
Pirate Paul Landymore and I looking particularly scary.
Ben Payne, me and Jodi Cleghorn.
I had a great night’s sleep and rebounded to arrive on time on…
First up was…
The Future of Genre Fiction.
QWC CEO, Megg Vann, is so energetic and positive.
Alex Adsett was wonderful and informative.
I believe she said publishers were buying more books!
Anita Heiss talked about finding our niche as writers.
She was inspired to write stories of Indigenous women, to create social change.
Peter Armstrong, of Leanpub, was very entertaining, talking about early serials, and the power of serials now.
Genrecon Ninja, Aimee, keeping the show running!
Bright and bushy tailed audience, staring, Chris Andrews!
Clwedd and the lovely Lois Spangler who was so friendly, and gave me coffee.
The blurriness is the warm fuzzy energy.
Beyond Rippling Muscles and Uzi 9mm
They used some of our favourite movies to demonstrate transitions.
Here they are starting a clip.
The final panel I attended was…
Working Without Covers.
Narelle Harris, Sue Wright, Kevin Powe and Jodi Cleghorn of eMergent Publishing discussed their creative story delivery methods, including Kitty and Cadaver, and napkin and cushion stories — a fantastic new way to reach a new audience.
It’s hard to really explain how great writers’ conferences are. I hope this provides a taste. A wonderful spirit permeates an event like this; so much love for writing and stories.
Thanks to everyone who was there and all the people who worked so hard to make it such a great weekend. The event left me feeling very happy to be a writer.
PS. If I’ve effed something up, up there — like misnamed you, or you don’t like a photo
– just let me know and I’ll fix it.
Exciting times to be a Queensland genre writer are upon us!
Genrecon is next weekend, in Brisbane. I can’t wait. I’m trying to find time to get my Cultasses and Kimonos costume ready.
Genrecon is a convention that brings the genres together, so we can learn from each other’s areas of special knowledge. I promise to blog about Genrecon.
However, today I’d like to tell you about my experience at the Brisbane Writers Festival in early September.
I have been remiss regarding blogging. As well as being busy, I have to admit, I’m a little bit uncomfortable in the medium.
Everything I saw at Brisbane Writers Festival was fabulous, and there were several highlights for me including the Story Plus workshop.
At Story Plus, industry experts talked about the creative projects they were leading, using story and information technologies creatively.
It was an amazing day of short lectures and panels by about thirteen creative professionals, all of whom had different insights and fantastic projects to talk about. I want to share their projects and insights with you.
They described the following diverse projects:
1. Mapping the journey of an abstract airship based on wind movements – @shipadrift – by James Bridle
2. Zombie Run – a running game – by Naomi Alderman
3. Writing, publishing and analysing data about the novel “Willow Pattern” which a team wrote and published within 24 hours – by Simon Groth
4. Mobile Choose Your Own Adventure stories with QR codes – by Emily Craven
5. Flash fiction on napkins – by Sue Wright – Tiny Owl Workshop
6. Robot University – by Christy Dena
7. ACO Virtual – by Michela Ledwidge
8. Game, game, game and again game – by Jason Nelson.
I recommend checking out these projects and creators.
The main messages I brought home were:
1. Story is strong
2. New platforms create new creative spaces and narrative possibilities to explore
3. Platforms elevate, amplify and influence story (but keep accessibility for audience in mind)
4. People, technology, network and platforms all interact
5. Text remains important and narrative often returns to text
6. Story space expands to accommodate more mediums
7. Technology must be explored for creative possibility
8. Community and collaboration are key
9. People and technology can achieve more collaboratively than separately
10. Imagination and risk taking can create new delivery platforms rather than fine tuning old ones
I was already interested in exploring narratives in different media, but these speakers made me feel that it is possible. In fact, it would be remiss of me not to investigate the exciting possibilities changing technologies represent.
As Garth Nix pointed out, writers will always write. Other speakers also said that reading will maintain an important place in the landscape, as will telling a bedtime story to a child, or a scary story over a candle.
One concern I have, which I’d like to hear discussion of, is extending the network to less privileged people. Technology has become so essential to my family’s learning and creativity that (while there might be drawbacks of dependence) I suspect we gain further advantage over those without access to technological products.
The main issue here is that technology represents access to information and education, two important avenues to achieving successful life outcomes.
I’ve described two extremes of the spectrum; the creative leaders taking technology into new emerging narratives, and those with limited or no access to the computational side of the network.
While we pursue our creative goals I think it’s important to extend help towards those who lack opportunity, and incorporate a vision towards equitable access into our work.
(This will be cross posted at my other blogs)
Hello dear reader,
I’m super excited (yes, even more excited than usual) to have joined the Galactic Chat team and to have made it real by interviewing my first guest, Talitha Kalago.
Talitha is a member of Vision Writers and a regular attendee at the Vision critique group in Brisbane, and she has just released Lifesphere Inc. It’s a fast-paced novel aimed at ten to fourteen year olds. You grown-ups would love it, too. It’s available for free from Smashwords, Amazon and other ebook distributors.
It is a bit scary doing interviews and listening to them afterwards. That whole, “Ah, it’s my voice!” thing. But I figure it’s like writing. You write it, edit the fuck out of it (which you can’t really do with a recorded interview…), and release it into the universe for people to love it or hate it or be entirely indifferent to it.
And there are plenty of writers I’d love to talk to about their books, so why not do it on record and share it with the world. So, yay!
In other news the Gold Coast Anthology webpage is looking hot thanks to Janis Hanley. Please help spread the word that we’re open for submissions until 31st of August, and if you have any connection to the Gold Coast (did you honeymoon here!?) you are welcome to submit a story. Just check out the photos at goldcoastanthology.info and get inspired.
I’ve probably already shouted from the rooftops about how happy I am to be a part of a project that can pay authors a fair fee for their stories.
Finally, I was thinking about Twitter, today. About how easy it is to isolate your feed. I noticed, when Gillard was getting deposed, almost all of those I follow were pro-Gillard. Yet talking to general acquaintances I hear different views.
I guess it’s no surprise that we follow those who think similarly to us. And then maybe we think more similarly to those we follow, because we’re reinforcing each other’s opinions, creating a sort of group think and false belief that we are right, and that most others we know think the same way.
I think it’s really important that we follow those with different views as well. I’ve tried to do that — I have an follow-anyone policy except for purely marketing accounts. I want to give people a go, especially if they are different.
But I prune my feed. There are only so many comments that infer sex workers are inferior that I can take, per tweep.
But, generally, I think it’s better to engage with difference than ignore it. It gives me the chance to test my ideas, and to persuade others to my way of thinking. I don’t want us all to fester in pools of similarity, all being right about everything.
Have a great weekend. Drink beer and be silly. Go dancing if you can.
A cat is someone you find at Toowong pet shop, with bright blue eyes and messy fur and an arched-backed, high-tailed, bite-other-kittens-on-the-butt type attitude.
You pay $25 for him and take him home in a shoebox.
You call him Peleguin, because it’s the first half of pelican and the second half of penguin and that’s cool.
A cat can fall in love, and get depressed when his girlfriend Ludis moves out. And never talk to any other cats ever again.
A cat is like a furry black pillow that walks around rubbing your legs and trying to trip you, with his tail high in the air when he’s happy to see you.
He’s someone to hug when things go bad with your boyfriend, and someone to lend to your friends when you go overseas, and someone to give to your parents when you chase your ex across the country.
A cat can take bush safari holidays, too, and he’ll come back when he’s ready.
A cat will pee on your passport to stop you going overseas again.
A cat tests the mettle of potential new boyfriends with his powerful green stare.
A cat can rip up the carpet and shit beneath it when you go away for the weekend.
He can give your new boyfriend nightmares in which his children are named Leniguin.
He can squirt diarrhoea on the brand new Persian rug your parents-in-law give you as a housewarming gift.
He can hate children but show boundless patience when his own little human sister and brother come along (because he knows he can train them to feed him at a young age).
A cat is always around, like a furry black rug on the tiles…when he’s not begging food off the neighbours or hunting lizards, or lying on the road at busy intersections.
Eventually a cat gets old and deaf, then senile and skinny and rickety.
You brush him because he won’t wash himself anymore.
He seems older and weaker, suddenly, one day. And you brush him and turn on the heater and try to get him to drink some water.
Then a cat seeks out a cool place and lies down and quietly dies.
So you wrap him in a pretty green towel and stroke his fur for the last time. You dig a hole and bury him, and drop pink chrysanthemums and tears into his grave. You say goodbye, and cover him with soil, rocks and flowers; with one big rock that makes a worthy headstone.
You tell him you were lucky to have shared your whole adult life with him, and that you will never forget him.
Goodbye, Peleguin. 1997-2013.
Good Afternoon, dear friends.
Fancy this, writing a blog on a Saturday afternoon. It’s 3.21pm and getting dark outside. I hope it’s not the apocalypse because I’m very excited about embarking on this anthology creating adventure with Prana Writers and Elizabeth Fitzgerald.
I’m fairly sure it’s not the apocalypse.
Thanks to Janis Hanley’s fantastic ideas and hard work, and everyone else who helped along the way, Prana Writers have received an RADF grant to produce an anthology of stories based on a set of photos from the public collection.
We have chosen about 100 photos. Some have been approved, but we’re awaiting approval of the bulk of them.Then we’ll put them up on the website, with the submission guidelines, and open for submissions.
There are many exciting aspects to this project. I love that we are giving writers another opportunity for publication, with a good payment. I’m also keen to select stories and work with writers and my co-editor and publisher, eMergent Publishing, to create a beautiful book.
The part I’m dreading is sending out rejections.
We expect to include twenty stories in the anthology, about half of which will be written by Prana Writers. The other spots are open to writers who have a connection to the Gold Coast. I can’t wait to read your stories!
In other news Next is now available as an e-book on Smashwords. Click here if you’d like to see or buy it. The price was $4.99 when I looked.
Thanks for reading.
Ah, sexism, you rear your ugly head. It ruins my day. It really does. I’ve got enough disability discrimination ruining my days, already.
I’d love to close my eyes and cover my ears and go la-la-la and surround myself in an egalitarian bubble of intelligent nice people, but then the nasty monsters might expand to the size of trucks and grow tentacles while I’m not looking and then we’d have to start killing people. No, we can’t kill people. I don’t like the talk about killing old white(-haired) men who are sexist. I mean, that’s not very nice, is it.
So I did my duty. I read a bit about SFWA bulletins and looked at the controversial issue #200 cover and read the stuff about who looked great in swimsuits. And I thought, isn’t this all very sad. Writing should be about writing. I know it’s not that simple. But I wish it was. I want the good writing to be read, whether its mine or his or hers or what.
We all love science fiction. Let’s write it and read it and play nicely together. (I’m not saying we can ignore sexism. We need to deal with it, form a plan to improve the situation, and implement it. I want to minimise my time on it though, because I could be working on a story, fuck it.)
In my limited experience (four Australian conventions including Aussiecon, Continuum and Conflux) and plenty of online interactions and critique grouping, the boys and girls of speculative fiction play very nicely together. I have never been harshly criticised as a writer. I see many wonderful women writers who are adored by our community and who have done so much good work in both writing and community building.
Admittedly, I’ve only had one horror SF story published and nothing I’d call pure SF. But the majority of editors who’ve published my horror and speculative fiction are male, and that says to me that male gatekeepers in Australia are perfectly happy to publish female writers. And the professional speculative fiction writers seem to be half female. Not sure.
I think it’s important to celebrate the unity of our community in Australia. I so often see men supporting women writers. And vice versa. It’s awesome.
I think we also need to commit to continuing to develop a nurturing environment and strong community bonds for both male and female writers. I’d hate to see the antagonistic mess spread because the community is angry about comments some men made.
Personally, I’ve experienced two instances of inappropriate comments of a sexual nature at conventions. I dealt with both, and only one violently. (I’ve changed that wording from sexual harassment.)
One guy seemed to have no idea that what he’d said was offensive until I told him and then he was sorry. I hope that we can still be friends, because this is what conquering sexism is about; continually negotiating what is acceptable conversation and conduct.
And I hope in writing this I’m not scaring guys off joking around with me. Because you can rest assured that if you annoy me, I’ll let you know.
I’m happy to forgive minor sexisms. When we’re inebriated the limits of what is acceptable get blurry. The line between funny and offensive is subjective. And the better friends that you are, and the less publically humiliating a joke is, the more acceptable it is, to me.
And I’m not perfect. Hell, I was laughing at a photo of tiny penis last night. How awful is that. I feel genuinely bad about it, but sometimes these things happen.
Further, I know a young man who was sexually harassed at Aussiecon by a woman. He didn’t call it that, but she was making insistent approaches that he wasn’t interested in and made him uncomfortable. So sexism isn’t just going one way.
So it’s about fostering a culture where everyone is safe and valued, I guess. Where our writing has a fair chance.
Finally, to back up my view of, “If we have to think about sexism, let’s be outcome focused and make it productive,” here are my thoughts on how to expand SF opportunities for female writers:
- Piggyback female SF first chapters on the end of male-authored books.
- Don’t give up on female SF authors, even if you’ve found some hard to sell. I’m sure there are plenty of male authors who were hard to sell, too.
- Produce anthologies to give new writers a chance.
- Keep writing, keep marketing, explore your own channels of publishing.
- Controversial, I know, and pandering to the system, but: use a gender neutral name like Robin Hobb or Pat Murphy. This is the coup d’etat approach to conquering SF sexism. You like my writing? I’m a woman, take that!
- Male and female authors support each other publicly and model mutual respect.
- Avoid stereotypes in characters and be conscious of how you represent women and men throughout your body of work.
- Allow quieter voices the space to be heard on panels. This isn’t a problem I’ve had, I’ve shouted about expanding vaginas where necessary, but not everyone is happy to make themselves heard. Also, audience members who can’t hear, try to avoid, “I can’t hear ya, love.” “Sorry/excuse me, I can’t hear you,” is much better.
- Buy and read SF by women.
- Write reviews.
- Ask for more of what you like from publishers.
Most of that is already happening, I guess.
I’m happy to say all the men I’ve met through Australian fandom (old, young, middle-aged) have been respectful, welcoming, and happy to impart advice and hang out. And every time I hear a male author commending a woman’s work, I’m chuffed. And I think those men are confident in who they are, as humans and as writers.
Eugh. This blog might be a bit of a mess. I just wanted to get this crap out of my head so I can do some real writing.
I feel grateful to have met so many wonderful friends through writing. To all my speculative fiction tribe: I love you, rock on.
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 Piccinini’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.