Sunday, December 30, 2012

Where Did That One Go?

Another year draws to a close. It's been a busy one, and an eventful one. The highlights for me (from a writing point of view) were the publication of Ghost of Ping-Ling in Feb, Mapmaker's Apprentice in May, chairing a CBCA panel in May, and signing at Castle Plaza Bookshop twice in the year. All good fun, and all completely surreal.

Other than that, the year has mainly been plugging away at book 3 and trying to meet the deadline. It's been a hard slog, but the book is now at the (delightful) stage where I'm just fine-tuning, although I'm sure I'll be nervous when I send it off to the publisher. Fingers crossed all will be well.

I don't think I ever wrote about the update to Bologna Book Fair, where the books were taken earlier in the year to see if any overseas publishers were interested in the rights. From what I gleaned, none were. But the good news is that Scholastic are trying again, and all 3 books will be be taken there next year. I really hope someone takes them up, but I know there are a lot of factors influencing the decision, not least of which the current economic climate. Fingers crossed again.

And I also have some initial planning underway for my next book. It's completely different to Tales of the Blue Jade, and I'm hoping to get started on it the moment Book 3 is sent off and hopefully finish it by the end of next year. It's one of those ideas that started small and has grown the more I ponder it, so I'm pretty excited about the possibilities. I'll certainly be posting updates about it here.

And as for here, I know I haven't posted much on the blog, and I know all the good advice about regular posting and so on. It would be nice to think I'll have more time to do exactly that next year. Am I allowed a third 'fingers crossed'? I think so. Fingers crossed again.

In the meantime, happy and safe New Year to all, wherever you are and whatever you're doing. See you in 2013.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New Things

Wow I can't believe it's been two months since I last posted here. I guess that says something about how busy I've been, and also how time is mysteriously speeding up with every year that goes past.

I just came back from Judo and I'm still buzzing so it's probably a good time to post something. I started doing it way back in March after an old friend posted a video on Facebook about his club. I've done martial arts before, Karate as a teenager and Taekwondo as an adult (I didn't advance far in either) but this looked completely different so I thought I'd give it a go.

To be honest, it scared the living daylights out of me, and it still does. There's something deeply unnatural about allowing other people to flip you, throw you, choke you and hold you down in excruciating positions. They tell me you lose the fear eventually but it hasn't happened yet. It probably hasn't helped that I tore a hamstring in my second lesson and had to have physio for a month.

I think that's one of the reasons I keep going back, because it terrifies me. In the style of Taekwondo I did, people got belts based on the time they'd been attending and their skill at doing patterns, which when you boil it down are little more than dance routines without music. Six weeks after I got there I graded for yellow, did my dance and a little bit of non-contact sparring, and got it. Twelve weeks later they gave me green. It didn't scare me one bit, but neither did it particularly challenge me, beyond making me stretch into positions that my ageing body would rather not be in.

Judo, on the other hand, is a huge challenge. Tonight I got my yellow belt, after six months, and to get it I had to throw an obliging blue belt in about three different ways, hold him down twice, and choke him. It's not just the skill involved that's difficult, it's the need for a modicum of aggression. I think in some ways I'm probably too nice to be a good judoka, which is evidenced by my wanting to apologise every time my opponent hits the mat. Sure, it's a sport, and I know that, but it's the most aggressive sport I've ever played. That's why, deep down, I really like it, because it takes me well out of my comfort zone and pushes me to do things I don't normally do in daily life.

From a writing point of view it's also beneficial. It's always great to have new and different, even scary, experiences to draw on. They add to that library in your head -- the one you can peruse and select from when you're piecing together scenes or building worlds. That's especially true when you're writing a book set in an Asian themed world with a martial-arts element.

So, hopefully, I'll press on with it, and eventually get used to the bits that scare me. Maybe I'll even post some videos if I get daring!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Nose Off the Grindstone

My wife and children come back tomorrow from a week's holiday interstate (thank goodness, I've missed them horribly). While they've been gone, as per my previous post, I've been beavering away trying to get 20,000 words written of the latest draft of Book 3. I'm happy to report that I ended up writing 19236 words, just over 4200 of which I did today which brought me to the end of the draft with a day to spare. Loud cries of 'woot' all around, I say! And this afternoon I went to the local copy store and got them to print it out and put a nice little comb bounder around it, so it almost looks like a real book. It's very satisfying to hold it in my hand and feel like I have something tangible after so much hard graft.

Next I get to read through it and make lots of lines in green, and that's when I get some sort of idea of the quality of the many words I wrote. It's something that's hard to guess at the time. Sometimes I can write a thousand or so words and think it's flowing really well, only to look at it later and realise I'll have to completely bin the lot. Other times it's the other way around. Hopefully things will balance themselves out enough that I won't have to completely rewrite too much, because that November deadline is starting to look awfully close.

And now, let the editing begin, although tonight I'm taking time off to just chill, though I'm sure I won't be able to resist thumbing through the shiny new manuscript at some points in the evening. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Nose to the Grindstone

This weekend my wife and sons are heading off for a week's holiday with the in-laws, sans me as we decided it was better for me to save some leave for the end of the year. This means that, in between eating pizza and throwing my dirty underwear all over the floor, I'll be aiming to get some serious word-count happening on the latest draft of Tales of the Blue Jade book 3.

I've set myself a target of 20,000 words, a quarter of the book. It seems a heck of a lot, but I've broken it down to around 3000 words on each of the weekend days I have and 2000 words on the weeknights. That should be pretty achievable, particularly as I'll be able to get straight into it as soon as I've dumped the empty pizza boxes in the recycling. I'll miss the family dreadfully, but at least I can set myself a positive goal for the time. I'll even air my progress here on the blog as an extra encouragement to get it done.  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Short Stories (Again)

I have a continuing love-hate relationship with short stories. Whenever I read a great short story, or an anthology of great short stories (such as Magic Dirt, by Sean Williams, which I recently finished) I get all fired up and motivated and I sit down and try and write my own. And even though I've been lucky enough to have a few published, writing them is still hard, even harder than writing novels (and that's truly saying something).

The main battle I have with short stories it not coming up with an idea, or characters, or a catchy opening line (although these are difficult too). What I struggle with most is how to actually end them. There's been a few times now when I've let other people review something I've written and they've commented on how much they've enjoyed it right up to the last paragraph when the whole thing has gone to hell in a hand basket. The usual comment is that it has wrapped up too quickly, without tying up loose ends, and in a way that has left the reader completely unsatisfied, even a bit cheated. And the worst bit is these comments never come as a surprise to me, because most times when I wrote the stories I was painfully aware that the ending was sub-par, but I just couldn't think of anything better.

Having said that, I think with practice I'm getting a little better. One of the main things I've learned as I've gone along is that when you strip it down to its bare bones a short story, like any story, is a journey. A character starts at A and ends up at B, and this isn't necessarily a geographical thing, more a change of state from beginning to end. It isn't even always a positive thing: the character or characters can end up in a much worse place by the end of a story than they were at the beginning. The important thing is meaningful movement, and it's this meaningful movement that gives the reader satisfaction in reading the story.

But putting this journey on the page is not always easy. Sometimes it's straight forward -- a character starts the story as a poor beggar and ends as a king, for example. But most times the journey is more subtle, more internal. What happens to a character inwardly is just as important as what changes might occur in their circumstances, even more so in some cases. A character might learn to face some deeply hidden fear, or see some long hidden truth, or understand something much better than they've ever done before. And that's just as satisfying to a reader, because as readers we're joining the protagonist on the journey.

And if the author has made us care about the character enough, in some sense their journey is our journey, and we end up in the same place they do. For me, when I read the best short-stories out there, the ones that have won awards and been reprinted many times, that's exactly what they do for me. And that's what I'm aiming for in my own stories -- not just the short ones, mind you. The long ones too.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

CBCA Conference 2012

I had a great time last week chairing the "Other Worlds Other Values" panel at the Children's Book Council of Australia conference. I was pretty nervous beforehand, being decidedly out of practice with the whole public speaking thing, but once I sat down at the table my butterflies fluttered off and I was good to go. And it was a great time all round. To be honest, I had difficulty coming up with questions that would tease out the topic, and I was banking on the panellists being able to find enough to talk about to keep the discussion rolling. They did, although it took a little bit of time before they found the groove. At one point, maybe close to the half-way mark, I was watching Sean Williams speak and thinking to myself "when he finishes, I have absolutely no more questions to ask. Keep talking Sean, keep talking." And thankfully he did, and then someone else spoke, and that sparked another question in my mind, and so on, and before I knew it we had run out of time and I had to end what had turned into a lively and fascinating discussion. Wonderful stuff.

Deep in discussion
And what great panellists. There's enough awards between them to fill a barn but they were all completely approachable and down to earth, not to mention supportive of their newbie panel chair. My only regret was I didn't really get a chance to speak to them in the post-panel hustle and bustle, although I did get Eoin and Sean to sign copies of their books for me. Hopefully our paths will cross again some time soon.

Happy panellists

All in all the conference was wonderful, and I'm sorry I didn't get to see more of it. With luck, I'll manage to get to some other writing conferences in the next little while.

Eoin Colfer. Why are Irish people always so hilarious?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Interviews Galore

Well, two actually.

Firstly, my fellow writer in the trenches Pete Aldin has interviewed me for his new (and very schmick) website Definitely worth checking out, not just for the interview but for his practical and very down to earth writing tips. Drop in and say hi.

Also, my publisher has an interview on the Omnibus Blog which you can find here.

And now I'm hoping I haven't wildly contradicted myself between these two interviews.

I'm also hoping to post an account of the recent Children's Book Council of Australia conference and my panel-chairing experience in the next few days. It was a hoot! There'll be photos too.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Quite Frankly, I'm Stressed.

I could probably say "stretched" instead of "stressed" but I think both words express the same thing accurately enough. At work I've been given a new task and it's not something I've done before (programming code to talk to a PLC through a serial port, if you want the gory details), and no matter how much time I spend banging my head on the desk I'm not making very good progress. Then on the writing front I have just over six months to complete book 3 of Tales of the Blue Jade and I'm getting a bit scared looking at how many words I have to complete in a week vs. how many words I'm actually achieving. Then I have preparation for chairing a panel next week, something I've never done before and something which involves trying to string coherent words together in front of many hundreds of people. Preferably without fainting.

I'm not complaining, I should say. If you'd told me a few years back I'd have these problems I would have been overjoyed. It's just I want to make sure I do the best I possibly can, and that means trying to fit intense activity into every waking moment, in between all the usual family and lifestyle things. Thankfully things should start to ease off next week when the conference is finished and my current task at work is done, then it's just writing book 3 that I have to stress over.

I should also say, not all the work I've had to do over the last few weeks has been stressful. One good thing that's come out of it is I've had the chance to read Artemis Fowl for the first time. It's a gem. If you want a book that's hilarious and original and fast-paced, do yourself a favour and grab a copy. And if you want to meet the author, I have it on good authority he'll be on a panel this next Saturday here in sunny Adelaide.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A History of the World's Most Unsuccessful Competitions

So, perhaps we'll say no more about that then...

However, should anyone anywhere still fancy a free copy of Mapmaker's Apprentice, I'll send it to the first person to put a comment under this post. Any kind of comment will do: what you ate for dinner; some poetry you wrote as a child; your opinion of the effectiveness of garlic for the treatment of gout; even a blank space or a blob of text generated by randomly thumping the keys. Whatever you want to post, please do it, and if you're the first I will send you your very own free copy of Mapmaker's Apprentice. Yours. For Free.

*UPDATE* Competition closed! Well done Jonathan D, winner of a brand new signed copy of The Mapmaker's Apprentice.

Monday, April 23, 2012

First Ever Cackling Scribe Giveaway Extraveganza

Today I had another delivery of a big box of books (BBB) and it was just as magical as it was last time. This time I don't have as many beta-readers to give copies to so I thought I'd be kind to my bookshelf by giving one away instead. For free! (Woohoo).

So, if you'd like to get your hands on a free copy of Mapmaker's Apprentice all you have to do is leave a comment under this post telling me what temperature it is in your part of the world right now (in Centigrade, if you can, otherwise I get all confused). Currently where I am it's 14 and pouring, so I'm hoping for reports of at least a few warm temperatures to make me feel cosy. This coming Sunday afternoon, Central Australian time, I'll pick a winner at random (assuming there's more than one comment) and send a copy off in your direction.

So go on, get commenting!

I'll try and send one of the few unsmudged copies.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Showing Up in Public

The Children's Book Council of Australia is having its biennial National Conference in Adelaide next month, and I've been asked to chair a panel on the topic of 'Other worlds, other values?', with Eoin Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame), Isobelle Carmody (a hugely popular Australian author whose work I haven't yet read), Sean Williams (one of my favourite authors) and D.M. Cornish (who I mention here).

It's a huge honour, though I'm alternating between moments of giddy excitement and unbridled terror. It also means I have a fair bit of reading to do between now and then in order to get familiar with Eoin's and Isobelle's (see? we're on first-name basis already) work, which will squeeze even more time out of the little thin toothpaste tube that represents the next four weeks. I'm sure I'll manage somehow. With an opportunity as incredible as this I could hardly do anything else.

So, if you're in Adelaide, or feel like coming to Adelaide, the conference details can be found here. I'm hoping to take a day off work and come for the Friday too, partly to hear the great speakers, partly to find out more about what a "chair" actually does. If you're there, please come and say hi. It would be wonderful to see you!

Friday, April 20, 2012

On Rejection

Every so often I get reminded of how subjective the whole publishing business can be. Most recently it happened when I had a short-story knocked back for a magazine and the comments from the two readers were, respectively, "the end was too predictable" and "I didn't understand the end".

But far from being depressed by the radically different ways two people can view the same work, I see it as an encouragement. Even if your story gets knocked back, ridiculed, torn apart, shredded, mocked and spat upon by one person, it may well make someone else's day. Never let a story sit on a hard-drive because it's been rejected a dozen times. Send it out again, and again, and again. Rejection doesn't always mean your story isn't good enough to publish, or that you can't write. Maybe it just hasn't come before the right pair of eyes yet, at the right time.

Maybe next time it will.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Five Minus Two Makes Three

If you've been reading the blog for a while, or if you read back far enough, you'll see that Tales of the Blue Jade was originally supposed to be 5 books. That was my intention right from the time I wrote the first sentence of Ghost of Ping-Ling, and it stayed with me ever since. My initial reasoning was simple - every fantasy author writes a trilogy, so why not try and do something different? So when book 1 was accepted for publication I dutifully sat down and wrote out a 1 page synopsis for 4 more books. And, even if I say so myself, I thought the overall story looked pretty good.

Now it seems the plans must change. In my eagerness to be different I never for a moment considered things from the publisher's point of view - that agreeing to publish 5 books by a completely unknown and untried author was not exactly sound business sense. This would appear to be even more true given the current sad state of the world economy and the book business in general.

So, this last week the crunch came. I was asked by my publisher if I could see any way of cutting the series from 5 to 3. My initial thought was "no way." I was half way through book 3 and had never considered it as the final book, how could I change it without a complete rewrite? How could I suddenly turn around and end a series when the whole story hadn't even reached the main conflict?

What followed was a fairly stressful and dare I say depressing couple of days. Then I had one of those rare and wonderful "ah-ha" moments. I realised that by altering a plot point in one of the last chapters, or rather changing which character has something nasty happen to them (as well as who causes it), I could close off several sub-plots in a reasonably satisfying way. That didn't immediately turn book 3 into the conclusion, but it gave me confidence that the idea might be feasible, with a little more thought. And, I'm happy to say, idea followed idea, as small plot tweaks led to other plot tweaks, all of which gradually transformed the book from cliffhanger-ending-installment to (hopefully) satisfying-series-conclusion.

I think it's going to work out.

So, the long and the short is, Tales of the Blue Jade will now be a trilogy, with the final instalment due for publication in May 2013. I hope, though, to be able to dive back in to the world of Pangaea fairly soon after that, and maybe even find a way to incorporate the original ending into a new adventure. Pangaea is a very big world, and so far we've only scratched the surface.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Short Story

My short story "Dead on the Doorstep" has just been published in the Spring issue of Kaleidotrope. You can find it here

I'll be interested to hear how it goes down. It's slightly different.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mapmaker's Apprentice

For some reason I had in my head June 1 as the release date for Mapmaker's Apprentice, but I'm reliably informed the release date is actually the 1st of May, which (I'm slightly shocked to say) is just over 4 weeks away.

When I look back over the journey of the past 2 and a half years, from having Ghost of Ping-Ling accepted through the editing and cover-design process all the way to publication, it feels very much like a long wait followed by activity so frenetic it's easy to get dates confused.

Definitely a change of pace, but I have to say I much prefer this to the waiting!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rolling with the Punches

I read a review of Ghost of Ping-Ling yesterday in a magazine called "Magpies", which is a kind of round-up of children's books and writing for children in general.

All I can say is I'm glad the magazine doesn't use a star rating system, because judging by the reviewer's comments I wouldn't have scored any. Sufficient to say Ghost of Ping-Ling was not one of his favourite books.

Ah well, that's the way it goes, though I have to confess I was a little bummed at getting such a thoroughly negative review, particularly in a magazine of that quality. Here's hoping the next reviewer will find at least a few positive things to say.

Speaking of positive, and on a completely different note, next week is the Bologna Children's Book Fair, and even as we speak (well, perhaps not "as we speak" seeing as it's the early hours in Europe and they're probably asleep) the rights people from Scholastic are overseas presenting the rights catalogue (including Ghost of Ping-Ling) to potential buyers. I don't really know how long it will take before I find out anything, but should any overseas sales eventuate I'll be shouting it from the rooftops, and probably writing it here in the blog too.

Here's hoping for good news (and good reviews!).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Wisdom of the Garth

On Thursday I snuck out in my (very late) lunch break to hear Garth Nix speak at the Adelaide Writer's Week. He's one of my favourite authors so I was very keen to hear what he had to say. I wasn't disappointed.

Sean Williams (left) extracts the good oil on Garth.

Here's a summary of the things I got from his interview.

1. He thinks he could have written all his books better than he did.

Wow, what a relief to hear him say that. Even now I find myself thumbing through Ghost of Ping-Ling and thinking about all the bits I wish I'd done differently. Like Garth said, there comes a time when you just have to "let it go".

2. His first book didn't sell very well, and his second wasn't even accepted for publication.

I have been a tad stressed about how well Ghost of Ping-Ling will sell. It's easy to start thinking about it in terms of a "make or break" situation. Hearing Garth talk about low sales for his first book took a huge amount of pressure off (not that GPL is having low sales, or high sales. It's too early to have any idea yet). I should say, for those who don't know, Garth's third book "Sabriel" was a huge success (and one of my favourites).

3. He wrote many of his books while holding down a busy job.

Yep, when he said this I felt like the only person in the audience. Finding time to write would have to be one of my biggest struggles at the moment. Lately it gets squeezed in to an hour or so at around 8.30 pm, but many days of the week I don't even get that. It's easy to start thinking that successful books are only ever written by full-time authors. Clearly that's not the case.

4. He writes what is "on his heart", not what he thinks/is told will be be most commercially viable.

Always good to be reminded of this. I have another series that's bursting to get out of me once I've finished Tales of the Blue Jade, and it's completely different in audience and style (though it is in the same world). Perhaps it would be "safer" to keep writing in familiar territory, but that's not what I'll be doing.

5. Every time he starts writing a new book, he worries that he might have lost his ability to write. (I'm cheating a bit here, because Garth didn't actually say this on Thursday, but I heard him say it in another interview so I thought I would include it here.)

Yep, that could have come directly from my mouth too. It's definitely an exciting venture when you start on a new book, but there's always that fear lurking in the background as to whether you can pull it off again. If Garth feels that way after all his successes, I guess a newbie like me has all the more reason to feel exactly the same (if not worse).

So there you go. All in all, an extremely rewarding lunch-hour!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Word Spreads

The people at my work are now gradually discovering that I write in my spare time and that I have a book published. I can't imagine how they've found out -- perhaps it's the copies of the book I've left lying all around the office, or my Ghost of Ping-Ling flashing screensaver, or my "Oh my god I'm now a published author!" t-shirts I had made up and wear most days. Anyway, however it's happened, the word is out there.

A few people have come up and asked me about it and we've had great conversations about the book and writing in general. I think people still find it unusual that an engineer can write a coherent sentence, but I also think people are genuinely fascinated by the whole 'publishing' thing. Quite a few assume that I'm now (or will soon be) very wealthy, which always puts a smile on my face. I reassure them that they're not likely to lose me as a colleague any time soon.

My manager has told me a few times now that he used to write but hasn't done so for years. I can relate to that, seeing as I went nearly a decade without writing more than a few scattered bits and pieces. It would be nice to think hearing about my book encourages him to get back into it again.

One unexpected benefit of talking about the book (and specifically the map artwork) is that one of the graphic artists has introduced me to Photoshop and given me some tutorials on how to produce old maps. While I don't think I could ever completely go away from paper and pen I would definitely love to add some textures and play around with different text styles and so on. Alas I won't be able to do that for Tales of the Blue Jade because the maps all need to look consistent, but it's definitely something to put in my arsenal for future reference.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Complete Ghost of Ping-Ling Pronunciation Guide

Someone at the signing (who had read the book) asked me how the names are pronounced. I must have looked quite a sight mouthing them out slowly and carefully, so to avoid putting anyone else through such a disturbing experience I have written a pronunciation guide for your reading pleasure.

Dillen - too easy. Just say it like it sounds.
Koto - the o's are long (as in "hose", not "otter", where it is short).
Tajni - a long "a" (like "pasta") and the 'j' is soft, so it sounds a bit like an "sh" sound. The "ni" on the end sounds like "knee".
Heito - the "Hei" sounds like "tie", not "hay".
Hallegat - Hall-er-gatt.
Magoda - short "a" and long "o" (rhymes with "pagoda").
Qing - if this were a genuine Chinese name I believe it would be pronounced "Ching", but it's not, so it's just pronounced like the word "ring" with a 'q' instead of an 'r'.
Shu - sounds the same as what you put on your foot.
Zhangfu - last bit rhymes with "flu". The "Zh" is pronounced like a "j" sound.
Mazu - short 'a' and long 'u', so the "ma" sounds like it would in "man" and the "zu" sounds like "zoo".
Ghan - the 'h' is silent, rhymes with "ran"

Er ... I'm pretty sure I haven't forgotten anyone. If I have, let me know.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

First Signing

Well, yesterday was the day of the great "first ever signing" event at Collins Booksellers Edwardstown. And what a stupendous day it turned out to be. I got there a bit later than I'd expected, close to the starting time rather than early so I could have time to find my feet. Tarran and Sonia had already set up the table and put books and signs on it, and people were even beginning to mill about it with looks of interest, so I was able to leap straight into the fray.

All set up.

I think I mentioned earlier that the event had become a bit of an unofficial launch, seeing as I decided not to organise any official version. Because of that, a few good friends turned up pretty early and there was a rush on buying the books. Some of my friends bought 2 or even 3 copies. I have wonderful friends. (On that note, I should mention that one of my old friends, Heather, came all the way from Woomera, a 5 hour drive north of Adelaide. I'm hoping she didn't come down just for the signing, but even if she didn't it was a huge deal to have her come along).

As the day went by my supply of friends dried up, and I switched to "spruiking" mode. This is something I learned about from Duncan Lay, who hand-sold 1000 copies of his first book in a month (actually it was a little over that, I can't remember the exact figure). I stood near the table, which was at the very front of the store in the path of walking shoppers, and said hello to people and asked them if they were interested in reading fantasy. I should say, doing that kind of thing is not something that comes easily to me (if it does anyone), so I wasn't anticipating all that much success. I was pleasantly surprised by the result.

A sign in the ladies toilet (photo taken by someone else, I hasten to add). Now that's advertising!

The first thing I noticed is that, despite the bad press occasionally given to the human race, people are often extremely polite. Even people who weren't interested in what I had to say (sell?) gave me a smile and a wave, and a few even came and shook my hand and congratulated me on having the book published. It actually taught me that I need to be a bit more considerate to people who spruik in shopping malls. In the past I've tended to breeze past and ignore them, but no more of that (not that I'll necessarily be buying a lot of tv subscriptions and soap products, mind you).

The second, even nicer, surprise was that a lot of people wanted to buy the book. I'm not sure whether it was my (not very well rehearsed) spiel, the great back-cover blurb that my editor, Celia, came up with, or my puppy-dog expression as I explained this was my first ever book and my first ever signing, but quite a few people snatched it up. Many of them wanted it for younger family members who were either vociferous readers or who needed some extra encouragement to get reading. Others wanted it for themselves. All in all, by the time 3.30pm rolled around there was only a single book left on the table, and I had to ask a friend to loan me the copies he bought so I could set them up on display (that was another thing I learned, a table full of books draws the eye so much more than a table with a single book on it). By 4pm the last one had walked out the door, and so did I.

An amazing day! In many ways it was an experiment on my part, seeing if a children's book could be hand-sold in that way. I think the results speak for themselves. Now I need to try and organise some repeat performances in other book shops around Adelaide, maybe even further afield. I'm now of the opinion this is an absolute necessity, rather than a "nice" thing for an author to do. This realisation came about because on two occasions (one just this morning) I've gone into bookshops and found the book on a low shelf spine outwards. I don't think those copies will be flying out the door, somehow. Far better for me to spend some time in the store putting the book in people's hands and getting it into the eyesight of the people who work in the shop. I don't think it's conceited for me to say I feel I've written a good book, but nobody will be able to enjoy it if it sits gathering dust in obscurity.

So there we go, a highly successful and informative day. A huge thanks to Tarran at Collins Books for making it all happen and giving it such a huge plug. Also to the friends who were able to come. When you're feeling a bit nervous about something there's no better cure than familiar faces.

Now I just hope people enjoy the book!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

First Signing

I have my first signing next Saturday at Collins Booksellers Edwardstown (from 1pm if you're free/able/inclined to come along). I'm really excited about it, not to mention a tad nervous. I've already decided that I'm not going to just sit at a desk with a bunch of books in front of me, looking like a gumby. Instead I'm going to try and talk to as many people as I can, and see how many I can convince of the pure genius and originality and spectacular enjoyment experience my book can provide (or something like that). I'm sure it will be a fun afternoon.

It's kind of developed into an unofficial launch of the book. I know a few friends are planning on heading down there and have been holding off buying the book until then. And the wonderful people at the bookshop (hats off to Tarran)have been promoting the event really hard, which has been a tremendous encouragement.

Depending on how this one goes, I have a bunch of other bookshops on my radar for future events. I might even find myself venturing further afield later in the year, perhaps even to somewhere strange and exotic -- like Melbourne. We shall have to see.

I'll post an update on how the day goes. Maybe even some photos!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Turning the Pages.

It would appear that I'm a tad busy at the moment, which is why I'm hurrying to fire off a quick blog post at 10.51 on a Friday night, prior to sinking happily into bed. Today I received the "pages" for the Mapmaker's Apprentice. In case you don't know what that is, it's basically the typeset version of the book, intended to look pretty well like the final thing minus the cover. The problem is, inevitably when the book transitions from a Word document to a typeset document I find all sorts of problems that were previously invisible to me. I think having that radical change of format is the closest thing possible to looking at the book with fresh eyes, and fresh eyes tend to find all sorts of new problems.

But "pages" are supposed to be a nearly final stage of the process. It's difficult (and, I gather, expensive) to make substantial changes once the book is in this form. So I need to mark every change and think long and hard about it. Is this really a serious problem? If so, why wasn't it a serious problem before? Would anyone else notice this other than me? At the same time, I need to keep in mind that once the book is out there, it's out there. This is the very last opportunity to make changes, so I need to zero in on anything important and fight for it while I still can.

So that's the process I started this evening, as well as continuing my slow and steady way through the creation of the map for book 2. All of this needs to be finished by the end of next week, so I probably won't be surfacing to the blogosphere any time before then.

Busy? Absolutely. But this is the kind of busyness I adore.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Around 2004, back in my church-going days, I turned up at a morning service and noticed a guy of about my own age sitting in a pew by himself. Thinking that he looked a tad lonely, I sat down next to him and introduced myself. He told me that his name was David, and that he had just returned to Adelaide after a spell in Sydney. He said that he was an illustrator of children's books and was currently doing some work for a local publisher. At this my ears pricked up. At the time I was struggling away with early versions of what would eventually become the Ghost of Ping-Ling, and meeting someone with a foot in the publishing world was unusual and interesting. We talked for a little while, but I didn't mention my own writing. I hated talking to anyone about my writing in those days. For some (strange) reason, I felt that in doing so I might damage the fragile seed before it had any chance to bear fruit. It sounds crazy as I write it, but that's the mindset I was in.

Time went by, and I didn't get much of a chance to speak to David again as our paths didn't cross. But a buzz began to spread throughout the church community. It seemed David had written a book -- a fantasy -- which was going to be published sometime in the following year. As much as I wanted to grab him by the scruff of the neck and talk to him about it, I still couldn't bring myself to do it. Again, it was because of this sense that I was too early in my writing process, although now I think it was good old-fashioned fear -- fear that I would reveal my early writing attempts to someone and have them laugh at how woeful they were. So I kept silent, though I eagerly listened to any news of David's progress.

The book was published, and an email came inviting my wife and I to the launch. I replied that we would most definitely be there. When the date finally came, Pip and I headed to the SA Writer's Centre where a large crowd had already gathered for the night's celebration. I can vividly remember my sense of excitement as I climbed the stairs. The first thing that greeted me was an enormous poster showing a character from David's book, one of many that he drew himself. It was breathtakingly good, and so was the evening that followed. Sean Williams, a prolific and multi-award winning author based here in Adelaide, gave a speech, during which he asked what was in Adelaide's water to have so many fantasy authors come from here. Then David's publisher took the microphone and spoke about how the world he had created was so unique, and read a section from the book to prove it. Finally David spoke, and told of the long and often painful journey he had gone through in writing the book, and how amazing it was to be standing there on the cusp of becoming a published author.

I can't describe how I felt that night. I already knew I wanted to write. I had already written hundreds of thousands of words, dabbling in science fiction and fantasy, satire, children's writing, adult fantasy and YA. But I couldn't find my voice. I couldn't find the world of my stories, a world that seemed to hover on the edge of perception without ever showing itself clearly. The whole thing felt tantalisingly close, but still so far away, despite all my efforts.

Attending David's launch gave me a much needed boost. I can remember having coffee with Pip afterwards and saying that I needed to keep drilling away at my writing, and that one day I too would have a book launch like David's. I was even more determined, even more focused. If it meant wearing out fifty lap-tops and working my fingers down to stubs, no matter. I was going to chase it with all I had in me.

And that's what I did.

Who was that author? His name is D.M.Cornish, author of Monster Blood Tattoo, which has now won numerous awards and been published all over the world. And who was the publisher? Her name is Dyan Blacklock, of Omnibus Books, an imprint of Scholastic.

And, I'm very happy to report, she's now my publisher too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I Think I Just Took the Blue Pill.

I've developed a ritual over the last couple of weeks. At lunch time I head down to the Mall (only two minute's walk from my work) and wander casually into Dymocks to check if my book is on the shelves. When I started doing this I was grasping at straws -- there was almost no chance the orders had been sent out. But as the days went by and the likelihood of the book actually being there increased, so did my heart-rate as I walked through the door. Today my chest felt like it had a belt around it as I headed into the shop and quickly scanned the new release shelves. Nothing. I trod the familiar path to the back of the store and the children's section. Nothing. I scratched my head. Surely the shipment of books should have arrived by now? Alas, it seemed not. Feeling the now familiar sense of disappointment I turned and started out of the shop.

As I was passing the door to the back-room, the place where they keep all the boxes of incoming books, I heard someone inside make a kind of gasping noise. Someone else said 'Oh, you've been waiting for that one?' and the reply was 'Yes, this one's local'. My heart did a somersault. Surely she wasn't talking about my book? Immediately I went into ace detective mode, and rather cleverly tip-toed past the open door of the book-room, ever so nonchalantly glancing inside. One of the staff was reading a book, and I could just see part of a page, though not enough to tell if it was mine or not. I tip-toed back. She moved the page so I could see the cover. I caught a glimpse of an orange background and the word "Ping-Ling".

By this time I'd stopped breathing completely. There was no question of heading out of the shop. Instead I went upstairs and wandered around the rest of the shelves. After maybe two minutes I came back down.

And there it was, facing outwards, with a little tag underneath that said "local author". My book!

Had I dreamed about that moment? Yes! Had I imagined what it would be like? Yes! Was it anything like I dreamed or imagined? Yes! Surprisingly close to how I pictured it. Surreal meets thrilling meets gob-smacking meets breath-taking meets nerve-wracking.

But then things got even more surreal. I picked up one of the books and had a look, and the sales person said "oh, that's just been released". Feeling a little abashed, I told her I was the author. The next thing I knew she was taking me to meet the other staff and the owner and the children's buyer. They asked me lots of excited questions about the book, and could I sign them, and would I mind if they put a display at the front of the store. They brought out a pen and I scribbled (and I do mean scribbled, I have a terrible signature, something to remedy) my name in however many books there were. They put "signed by author" stickers on and put them back on the shelves, some at the back of the store in the Children's section, some at the front right inside the door. Marion, the children's buyer, took a photo of me with the rest of the staff for their Twitter feed. Then they all wished me well and said how exciting it was and told me they'll make sure the book flies off the shelves.

I went out of the store with an impossibly huge grin on my face, and back to my desk at work. There I spent the afternoon debugging java-script files. At least I think that's what I did.

What an amazing lunch-time. To have my book on the shelves was already a head-trip, to have such an encouraging and enthusiastic reception from the people who will be working hard to sell it puts it on a whole new plane.

A huge hats-off to the team at Dymocks Rundle Mall. Thank you for making this newbie author feel so welcome!

Monday, January 23, 2012

I've Got a Big Box of Books.

Nearly 2 and a half years ago I sent this off to Scholastic. (You can read more choice details about the event here).

Today they sent this back.

In anyone's language that's a heck of a good deal.

And if you live in Australia or New Zealand, I'm reliably informed the book should be in stores in the next few days. If you don't live in Australia or New Zealand, and you have an insatiable burning overwhelming desire to own the book (bless you), it's available to order online from many places (Google should guide your path).

It's very hard to describe how this moment feels. Perhaps I'll contemplate it further over a celebratory glass of wine.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Light To Guide Me

At same stage in the distant past I worked out a very important truth about writing, something that has helped me on numerous occasions and just this evening came to my assistance yet again. The truth is this:

If you're bored writing something, people will be bored reading it.

I wrote a lot of stories when I was a teenager, but I hardly finished any. The reason was that I always got bogged down in the opening pages trying to set up the world. I would give the back-story on both the setting and the characters, the preamble about how such and such a person ended up where they were at the beginning of the book, and so on. By the time I'd scribbled my way through five pages, I was so fed-up with the whole thing I never wanted to see it again. I was bored, and had I been cruel enough to subject a reader to my efforts, they would have been bored too. 100 percent guaranteed.

Now I'm older and grayer I know you should never worry about back-story, but instead start with action and weave in the background later. Grab your reader's interest early and never let it go. Still, tonight, while I was banging out the first draft of Jeweller of Rassylon, I found myself sinking into that familiar sensation of tedium, as if my fingers were made of lead on the keys. And the reason? I'd moved from a section of action to a section where the next bit of action is set up. Dillen moves from A to B. He sits down. He thinks about this and that. He looks to see what's around him. He thinks some more. So boring I can hardly repeat it here for fear of nodding off.

Thankfully, I had my rule to guide me. I ditched 500 words of Dillen thinking and sitting and looking, and replaced it with about four sentences of essential set-up, linking action scene A with action scene B. And you know what? It was fun to write, and I'm pretty sure it will be a lot more fun for the reader to read too.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Four Weeks to Go ...

... until publication date, and I have to say I'm starting to get excited. One of my daily rituals now is googling the book and the series, and seeing if anything else has come up (I have google alerts set, but they don't seem to work for me for some reason). So far it's mostly book shops advertising it as a pre-release title, and most of these seem to be in New Zealand for some reason. It still sends my heart into a flutter when I see it there. A real book with my name on the front -- who would have thought it?

A few people have asked me if I'll be having a launch. Originally I had been planning on it, but this last month or so my enthusiasm for the idea has waned. I think it was because my publisher wasn't all that keen on the idea -- something about the current climate of doom and gloom in the book-world -- and I'm not sure I can face the task of organising the whole thing myself. Perhaps I'll change my mind and hold something in late Feb, early March when I know for sure the books will be in stores. Watch this space.

I've also been giving a bit of thought to the whole publicity thing, ie. what, if anything, I can do to give the book a bit of a lift in the book-stores. I've considered following Duncan Lay's lead and doing spruiking sessions in various places, but I'm not entirely sure it will work as well for a YA/children's book. School visits might be more appropriate, so I think in the next while I'll start prodding the publisher to think about organising a few of those. Yes -- the idea of standing up in front of more than a hundred fidgety 8 year olds and trying to say something that will grab their attention terrifies me senseless, but it's probably something I should get used to.

Perhaps I could borrow a friend's (blunted) Samurai sword and give a demonstration of my prowess with the ancient art of the blade? At least it will give them a laugh.