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.