Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Plot Thickens

I'm in the middle of plotting a new story at the moment, using a whiteboard and notebook. I bought the whiteboard about two years ago exactly for this purpose, but so far the only people who've used it are my three sons, mostly to surreptitiously write rude words on when nobody's looking. I can't believe how useful it is to be able to set out ideas and sit back and look at them on a board, as well as to be able to easily rub them out and write new thoughts in. It gives a sort of bird's eye view in a way that staring at a page doesn't (for some reason).

So now I have the first germs of an outline. My next step is do something potentially a bit odd. At some point in the past I read some advice that went along the lines of this: if your story isn't worth telling in a pub, it's not worth telling. And no, the next stage in my plotting process isn't me going to the local pub and boring people senseless with my outline (although the idea is tempting). Instead, what I'll do is tell myself the story, out loud, as I would if I were in a pub, or around a camp fire, or wherever. I haven't done it yet, but I suspect it will be a useful exercise in testing the flow of events and the level of tension as the story progresses. If it's not, I've learned a lesson and nothing's been lost.

So if you live in Adelaide and you see someone driving down the road in the next few days talking to himself in an animated manner, with no blue-tooth headset in existence, it could be me. Please feel free to wave, and to offer any plot advice you may happen to have up your sleeve.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Not Dead Yet

Well my golly gosh it's been a while. So much for the New Year's resolution to be more consistent here and so forth. Anyway, here I am again as another year grinds rapidly to its conclusion.

And it's certainly been a busy one. By my count I've written two first draft's of two separate novels, plus 20,000 words of another, as well as 2 junior novels at 7,000 words each. None of them are finished, and I won't be submitting any of them anytime soon. Instead I'm busily plotting yet another story, which I'm hoping to be substantially into by Christmas.

Why so many different stories? It probably has something to do with the fact I have difficulty making my mind up. Or do I? No, maybe I don't. No, scratch that, I think I probably do. It also has something to do with the fact that the second book or series an author publishes is fairly important in the scheme of things for cementing a readership and a "brand", and to be honest I'm still trying to work out exactly what that brand is.

That's not to say all those other stories are wasted. At least one of them will be revisited in coming years, and elements from the others might turn up in one form or another. And even if I never use any of it, there's nothing like writing thousands of words for polishing up your craft.

And speaking of craft, I stumbled across (Ha! Not really, I found it by obsessively searching on Google) this excellent review of Jeweller of Rassylon this morning. There's nothing quite as gratifying for an author as when a reviewer 'gets' your story, as this lovely person certainly has.

Enjoy, and I hope it won't be months before I post another update.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Time is Ticking Away .... Tick Tick Ticking Away....

There's only about 7 hours left in the Jeweller of Rassylon giveaway (see widget on the right hand side of this blog). If you live in Australia and you haven't entered, you best get in fast (as the sales people say: "Hurry! Time is running out!").

I thought I should briefly explain why the giveaway is only for people in Australia. My aim in doing a giveaway is to raise a little bit of awareness of the book, but seeing as at this stage the book is only available in Australia in New Zealand, it seemed sensible to focus on that market only. And yes, I forgot New Zealand. I went to add it afterwards but Goodreads said I would have to restart the giveaway and I didn't want to do that. Apologies to anyone over the Tasman who missed out. I promise next time to include you! 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Video Interview

I did an interview on camera recently at Pegi Williams Bookshop. You can see it here if you're interested. I push waffling to new limits, but it's a neat summary of my process of getting Blue Jade into print. Thanks to Rebecca and James for inviting me to come.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Giveaways Galore

Well, only one really, but still worthy of your attention, I hope.

I'm doing a Goodreads giveaway of 3 copies of Jeweller of Rassylon, although practicalities mean it's only for people who abide here in Oz (AKA Australia). You have until August 6th to indicate your interest, and if Goodreads' mysterious algorithm picks you out as one of the lucky recipients you'll be getting a signed copy sent to your very own mailbox, post-haste. It's easy! It's free! It's book three! So why not toddle on over to Goodreads and put yourself in the running, or just zap there magically using the link on the right hand side of the blog, over thataway ---->

(In case you don't know, Goodreads is an online community for book nuts, where you can share reviews, recommendations, hang out, chill, etc. It's free to sign up. Just check out and follow the prompts).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book 3

Book 3 should be out by now, though I haven't had a chance to slip into the local bookshop and check. So if you've been desperate to get your hands on it your long and agonizing wait should now be over ... or will be in a day or so. I hope you find it worth the wait.

It's always a good feeling when that big box of books comes in the post and you can stack them all on the shelf and admire them. It's a goal achieved and a dream come true. I'll be proud of it for the rest of my life. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I'm currently writing two books at once. I'm sure that somewhere in the writing advice annals this is classed as a Bad Idea but I'm doing it anyway. My problem is I have two stories rattling around in my brain and I can't choose between them. So, ever the pragmatist, I'm writing both. In my lunch-breaks I take a notebook and pen, find a nice spot to sit (away from smokers, quite difficult in the Adelaide CBD) and write a thousand words of a science fiction story I've been planning since about 1982. Then in the evening, when the boys have gone to bed, I fire up the laptop and do another thousand words, this time on a kind of paranormal comedy inspired by a short story I had published a few years back.

And they're both working out quite well, if I say so myself.

My aim, as I think I've repeatedly said on this blog, is to have something ready to deliver to my long suffering publisher no later than the end of this year. Seeing as it's impossible to both write and edit two 80,000 word manuscripts in that time, my plan is to finish both rough drafts then decide which one I'll invest the editing time in for the remainder of the year. I think it might be tough decision, and I can see it coming down to a coin toss, or maybe something a little more scientific like the examination of a few tea leaves or the pattern made by pigeon dropping on the pavement. Whatever happens, and whichever of the two I choose, I'll still have the other manuscript tucked away to work on at a later date.

And did I mention short stories? I'm writing a few of those too. In all my spare time.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Feel the Weight!

An advance (very advanced) copy of Book 3 arrived in the post today. So now I can finally put them together and look at nearly a decade of work all packed neatly into one place.

And here is a side view, just to show the combined thickness...

How good is that? What an amazing moment it is to see them all together. It's not without its sadness though, and a teensy weensy mite of anxiety. Will I be able to get something else published? I've spoken to lots of people who assume that once you get in print you've made it, but that isn't the case. You have your foot in the door, yes, and you have an advantage over others who don't have anything published. But you still have to write something good enough for a publisher to accept. It isn't a guaranteed thing.

Which is why I'm once again spending the late hours banging out a new manuscript. And if I say so myself, I'm starting to really like it, which is always a good thing.

On a completely different note, I did a wonderful signing at Dymocks Rundle Mall this morning. Hats off to a great team there, particularly Marion for putting it all together and Linda for setting me up such a great display (I hope I can pick up some photos soon to post) not to mention carrying my book around Rundle Mall spruiking it to all and sundry, and even talking some people into wandering into the store and buying both 1 and 2! Absolutely amazing.

I've done a few signings now, but I'm still getting used to them. The thing that always amazes me is that complete strangers are willing to come up to you and listen to you talk about your book, then actually hand over cold hard cash to buy it, when the only thing they know about it is what you've told them. Even when they don't buy it, people are almost always willing to chat and offer encouragement. It really restores my faith in human nature. And it also makes me desperate to do more signings, which I'm hoping to start organising over the next little while. As things get finalised I'll post details here (which I realised I neglected to do for today). 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Spending Time

At Christmas I was given a $50 Dymocks gift voucher, so last week in my lunch break I trundled down to the Rundle Mall store with a mission to spend it. I'd been holding off for a little while, mainly because I already have a huge pile of unread books on my shelf, but in the end the book-buying itch got the better of me and off I went.

There were a couple of books I definitely wanted to buy. The first was Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody, which I haven't been able to find before, mainly because I was always looking in the adult section when it turns out it's a children's book (who would have thought?). The second was the first in John Flanagan's Brotherband series. I found both, but I still had enough cash on the voucher to buy a third. And there wasn't really anything else I had on my wish-list, so I found myself in the unusual situation of being able to browse the fantasy shelves to see if anything caught my eye. As I did so I thought about what I was doing, and I found the whole experience quite enlightening. Here's what I observed.

1) Covers made a difference.

Never mind the old adage. If I didn't like the cover of a book, or more importantly, if the cover of the book didn't suggest the contents would be something I would be interested in, or if the cover looked samish (ie it featured a man in a black cloak and hood), I didn't bother picking it up. Irrational, perhaps, but that's what happened.

2) Back cover blurbs don't make a lot of difference.

If the cover attracted me I read the back. But I have to say it wasn't as much a deal-breaker as the front cover. To me, book blurbs tend to be a bit like trailers for movies or adverts on the radio. They use a lot of emotive and ethereal terms in an attempt to draw the reader in, but they're usually not that indicative of the 'feel' of the book itself. I don't think I read a single back-cover blurb that either put me off the book in my hand or made me more desperate to read it.

3) Author endorsements make absolutely no difference.

In fairness though, it was probably because I'd never heard of the authors blurbing the books I was picking up. Had Terry Pratchett or Eoin Colfer or Ursulua Le Guin said "oh my god this book was so cool I couldn't stop reading it, it was awesome!" I would have taken note, but unless I was familiar with the blurber's own books they didn't mean very much at all.

4) First words make the most difference of all.

Once I read the back cover blurb, the next place I went was the first paragraph. And I reckon this was the most important part of the whole process. Those first words tell you so much -- they tell you if the voice of the author appeals to you or not, they give you a feel for the overall tone of the story, and if they're written well, they immediately pique your insterest so before you know it you've ended up reading the first chapter instead of just the first few lines.

5) Random lines are the clincher.

Having read the first few lines, and if they appealed to me, my next step was to open a page at random and read another few lines, then maybe do the same thing a couple more times. This was really an extension of what I did in step 4 -- just another way of checking out the voice and tone of the book. If I liked what I saw, and if all the other important steps had borne fruit, then I was ready to make the tough decision: was I going to spend cold hard cash on a book I knew nothing about by an author I had never heard of?

I did. I bought a book called Jack Cloudie by Stephen Hunt. I've never heard of the author or the book, but I went through all the steps above and it passed with flying colours.

And it made me really think about my own books, sitting on book shelves all over Australia and New Zealand. How many of the above tests would they pass, if someone with a voucher to spend wandered into a store and had a look around? How many people would randomly pick up Ghost of Ping-Ling or Mapmaker's Apprentice and end up buying it, having never before heard of the books or of me? I wonder.

Having said that, during my shopping trip I did of course have a look to see how many copies of my books were still on the shelf. The last time I did that, which was probably about six months ago, there were a few copies of both book 1 and book 2. This time there was only a single copy of book 1. Were they sold, or were they returned? I'll probably never know, but I really hope it was the first. And if it was the first, I really hope the people who bought them enjoyed them, and they felt they were rewarded for taking a risk on a new and undiscovered (and still slightly bewildered) author such as myself. It's safe and easy to stick with the authors we know, but sometimes taking a risk can really pay off. You never know.

I'll let you know if it happened for me when I read Jack Cloudie!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Perils of Osmosis

I'm reading the Lord of the Rings again at the moment. I used to read it almost every year for a while there, but it's been close to ten years now so I thought it was well time for another foray into Middle Earth. Last night I was reading the Two Towers and I came to the bit where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli meet Eomer on the plains of Rohan, and I noticed that Eomer refers to himself as "Third Marshal". And it really struck me, because in my own books (and I hesitate to mention them in the same breath as LoR) Heito has the rank of "Third Marshal". I couldn't remember where that title came from, and I had assumed it was just something that I put together that I thought sounded good. But it looks more likely I read it in LoR and my brain filed it away, only to come out years later in my own writing. At least I assume that's what happened; it could just be coincidence.

I'm always a bit nervous about that kind of thing happening, particularly with fantasy names. Usually if I come up with a hum-dinger of a name I google it, to make sure it isn't from something else that I've read or seen.  I didn't google "Third Marshal", but I just did it then and it comes up with lots of references to Rohan.

Not that it matters. It's just a reminder to me that while reading widely is vital to anyone who wants to write, it does come with its own particular little gotchas.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Hobbit Rundown

I saw the Hobbit for the second time a few days back. With cinema fees being so exorbitant I think it speaks for itself that I loved it. I'll probably go again in the next few weeks, though I might have to skip a few meals to pay for it.

Having now seen the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies multiple times I've identified what I see as an important principal for enjoying the movies.

Leave your knowledge of the books at the door. 

It's really difficult to do, I appreciate that. The first time I saw the  Fellowship of the Ring I had to stop myself many times from comparing what was on the screen to what happens in the book. Once you start doing that you're setting yourself up for disappointment, not because the movies are inferior to the book (which I don't believe they are) but because the movies are different to the book. They have to be. One is a movie, one is a book, and the way you tell a story is vastly different between the two.

Having seen the Hobbit movie twice now, I was able to spend some time afterwards pondering how Peter Jackson (hereafter known as "PJ") structured the story and the main plot points. I thought I'd make an attempt to list them, as well as saying something about how they relate to the plot/story as set out in the book, at least as I see it.

Here are the main plot points of the movie:

1. The dwarves want to take back Erabor from the dragon.

No problems there. This is taken directly from the book.

2. Sauron is rising again.

The necromancer, Dol Guldur, and the White Council are all mentioned in the book, but it's almost an afterthought, a narrative tool to explain why Gandalf has been absent from the party for most of the story. There really isn't any sense of something sinister about to happen. In fact it's the opposite. The fall of the necromancer is presented as the beginning of a new, happier age, when Mirkwood is once again called Greenwood and the goblins of the mountains disappear back into their caves and the land has a time of peace.

The reason the book ends in such a light-hearted manner is simple. When Tolkien was writing the Hobbit he hadn't yet come up with the idea of Sauron and the Rings of Power. Had he been writing them in reverse order -- with the Hobbit coming after the Lord of the Rings -- it seems pretty likely he would have cast the events of the tale in a much darker light, and made them serve as more ominous portents of the struggle about to engulf Middle Earth.

Which is what PJ did. In the movie, the light-hearted antics of the dwarves and their arduous quest to recover their home is set against a much darker backdrop. They and their quest are like small pebbles rolling at the base of a rock slide, as they set in motion events of which they have very little understanding.

Setting the story against this back-drop of rising danger gives it a depth that would be sorely lacking otherwise. Anyone who has read the book will know that the story as it stands is light-hearted children's reading. Good for a book, not so good for a movie, particularly when it stands as a prequel to the frequently dark LoR trilogy.

3. The blood-feud between Azog, the white orc, and the Line of Durin, specifically Thorin.

The book tells us that Thorin slew Azog's father in the mines of Moria, and that Azog and Thorin fight during the Battle of Five armies (spoiler alert -- in which Thorin is slain). But that's about it. Adding Azog early in the movie and giving him the goal of killing Thorin ups the level of danger the party is encountering at this early stage in the story. They are being hunted the moment they leave the shire. In the book, on the other hand, the only danger the party encounters before the Misty Mountains is their brush with the trolls. Bringing in Azog early ups the ante considerably. And how cools is he? Azog rocks.

4. The fall of Saruman.

The White Council, of which Saruman is head, is mentioned in the book, but Saruman is not. In the movie he is presented as a slightly petty and highly obstructionist character, more an annoyance to Gandalf than any kind of threat. The beauty is that anyone familiar with the later books/movies will recognise this as the first signs of his eventual seduction by Sauron.

5. Bilbo's struggle to win acceptance with the dwarves.

In some ways, this is the most important plot point of the movie. It is the only one that gets resolved by the end, which means it serves the all important purpose of giving the viewer a sense of satisfaction at the conclusion. We feel like at least part of the episode has closed.

In the book, Bilbo's abilities are initially greeted with scepticism by the dwarves, which gradually turns to respect as he gets them out of one scrape after another. In the movie, Bilbo's initial attempts to contribute actually work against him. His tactic of stalling the trolls by offering them suggestions on how to cook dwarf is met with outrage by the dwarves themselves, and even though Thorin quickly cottons on to what he is doing, he tells Gandalf afterwards that Bilbo was no help at all in the situation. Gandalf is the only one who fully understands Bilbo's intent, but the wizard's attempt to explain this to the dwarves appears to fall on deaf ears. Then Bilbo nearly tumbles over a cliff in the mountains and has to be rescued, at which point Thorin really lets loose -- telling him he has no part in the quest and it would have been better for everyone if he'd stayed at home.

This forms the all important "reversal" of the story. It is Bilbo's dark moment, during which he attempts to leave the party, despite Bofur's valiant attempts to stop him. Immediatly after that the story moves into the climax -- a fast paced series of events culminating in the riddle game with Gollum and a high action escape back into the wilderness. Once there, Bilbo overhears the dwarves ridiculing him yet again. He has still not moved forward in his attempts to win acceptance. Before he can explain himself they are in action again, chased by Azog and his orcs until they end up trapped on the edge of a cliff, high up trees, as they are in the books.

It is at this point that Bilbo finally wins acceptance with the dwarves. He leaps down and rescues Thorin.  Afterwards, Thorin appears to chastise him for his foolishness, but then embraces him and confesses he has been wrong in his assessment of the hobbit. There is a bit of light banter (including my favourite line, in which Bilbo says "I think the worst is behind us"), a glance toward the mountain and the next stage of the quest, and we are done.

So that's my take on the book vs the movie. The way I see it, all these changes make the movie actually work. Had PJ been a slave to the text, on this movie or LoR, I think the result would have been a disaster.

Was there anything I didn't like? Personally, I can never quite understand PJ and co's insistence on inserting anachronistic (or at least what I would consider anachronistic - this isn't history) expressions at key moments in the story. "Nobody tosses a dwarf" is the one that sticks out at me from LoR. In the Hobbit, PJ seems to have gone heavily for 'drug' humour. Saruman carries on to the point of embarassment about Radagast eating too many mushrooms, and Gandalf gets Radagast to smoke some "Old Toby", at which point the latter skips straight into "far out man this is heavy stuff" hippy mode. Aside from the drug humour, there's Dwalin's comment about making a "long term deposit" when they're in the trolls' cave. Certainly, the script would be fairly dull if it stuck to the dialogue from the book, but introducing such drastically modern (or at least 70's modern) elements had a habit of badly shaking my suspension of disbelief.

But maybe that's just me.

Overall, I think I would say that I enjoyed the Hobbit even more than I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings, and that's probably a reflection of the fact I prefer the books in that order too. I can't wait for the second installment!


Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Walking Woman

There's an old woman in our area who walks almost every day. I see her when I'm driving to work and when I'm driving home, always walking the same path. Each time she's carrying a small bag in one hand, just a simple little cloth bag that looks as if it's seen better days. One of the strangest things about her is that her right arm -- the one that carries the bag -- is much longer than the left, as if she's been carrying something heavy in that little bag for sixty years and it's gradually stretched the limb. Is that even medically possible? I don't know. It's an interesting idea.

My wife has lived in this suburb all her life. She tells me the old woman has been walking since she was a little girl, always along the same paths, always with the little bag in her hand. She's never spoken to her and knows nothing about her. Only that she's been around a long time.

What is she carrying, and where is she taking it? It's not shopping, unless she buys only a few small things each time. And in all my years living here I've never bumped into her in the shops. I've only ever seen her walking along the road, travelling from one mysterious place to another. Her and her bag.

Perhaps it contains nothing more than a purse and the usual assortment of mysterious odds-and-ends found in women's hand-bags, for which the cloth bag is a cheap and convenient substitute. Or it could be some kind of medication. She might be asthmatic and unable to go anywhere without a puffer, or she might have to carry an Epipen in case of a bee-sting or a reaction to something she's accidentally eaten.

Or maybe the bag contains something more. Perhaps it's the ashes of a departed husband, a man she spent only a few short years with before they were cruelly separated. Maybe she chats to him as she walks, confiding in him, dreaming that he's strolling alongside discussing all those little inconsequential things married couples talk about. Or maybe the relationship was not a good one. Perhaps he was abusive, and yet his hold over her continues in death so that she is driven to walk with him, hearing his taunts echo in her mind as clearly as they did in life, driven to bear him from nowhere to nowhere in a vain attempt to find a peace that will never be hers.

But maybe it's nothing like that. Maybe, after all, it's just a cloth bag with a few odds and ends. It may be that one day I'll meet her and the mystery will be solved, although I can't help but think that once that happens, a little slither of magic and wonder will somehow disappear from my world forever.

Friday, January 18, 2013




Testing something in feed reader. Normal service will resume shortly.


Sorry for empty post.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Man of Leisure

Sort of.

On Monday I emailed off (yes, emailed off! That old print and post-office thing is so last year) the manuscript for book 3 of Tales of the Blue Jade. Now I have the nervous wait to hear what the publisher and editor think of it.

As for me, I'd have to say I'm pretty happy with the result. As with everything I write it didn't turn out the same as the original outline but I like the way new plot twists and situations showed up while I was writing. Creating a story can often be as much of a discovery as reading one. I just hope the powers-that-be like it too.

So last night I watched the tennis. I actually sat on the couch and watched the tennis, and drank wine, and I didn't feel the slightest shred of guilt. Having said that, I did get the laptop out and look through my list of unfinished short-stories to see if there's anything I'd like to work on over the next few weeks. There's a couple of possibilities. It's always bitter sweet when you're enjoying something you wrote so long ago you hardly remember it but it ends half way through. Why didn't I just finish it at the time! I can be so frustrating sometimes.

And I've started a new book. Nothing at all like Blue Jade. I wanted to finish The Weight of Souls seeing as I have a first draft already but I've had another idea rattling around my head for the past few months and I've decided to take a punt and do that first. At least there are no deadlines, so I can hammer a way at is I'm able. My aim is to have it ready for submission by the end of the year.