Monthly Archives: July 2014

My baby turns seventeen today.

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My youngest child turns seventeen today. She is one of the great motivators of my life. She is the reason I am writing the “Vampire Etiquette” book, because she read some ‘fun’ writing and loved it.  She will tell me honestly when something works, and when it doesn’t. She is well started on life’s great adventure…

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Excerpt from “Vampire Etiquette”

Roddy studied the face of the young man in question, though the glass, as he served a customer. He was – at the very least – ten years older than her Alex, but there was a definite resemblance there. The jawline was longer, thinner, stronger; and stubbled in a way that no teenaged-boy can manage. The cheekbones were more defined, which made the forehead seem broader, and that – when considered with the jawline – made the chin seem smaller. The eyes were buried under a thicket of lashes, which made it hard to see what colour they were. But he held himself in the same way as Lexi had, and body language is hard to fake or hide. She just wasn’t sure.

She glanced at his hands as he busied himself with making change, and felt her first real shock of recognition. Those were the hands of a musician, and they were hands she knew better than her own. Tricksy was right. Drew was Alexandru.

He must have felt her shock or the weight of her gaze. He looked up to see her peering in at him. He smiled as his recognised her in his turn, and then his smile faltered. Then he had to turn back to his customer, and make pleasantries as he packaged up their purchases. Roddy waited until the woman had left before entering the shop.

It took all her courage to walk through the door.

Closer to, there were more similarities as well as differences between her Alex and this Drew. Alex had been almost too slender, while this man was of a heavier build, with powerful shoulders. He had a warm tan marred only by a handful of freckles, and fine lines around his eyes. She could finally see the colour of his irises, which were Alex’s shade of blue, but seeming to glow in comparison to his brown skin.

He was very handsome, but not the Gothic, aesthetic manner that she was used to with Alex. Instead, this man had the rugged grace of an athlete. He had the eyes of artist and the hands of a musician, but the rest of him spoke of time spent out in the fresh air and sunshine. He was certainly not a vampire.

“Hello, Roddy” said the young man; and it was Alex’s voice falling from a stranger’s lips. The young man’s expression was guarded. What emotions was he hiding?

Roddy took a moment to consider her own feelings. She felt relief that she had finally found Alex, of course, and a great deal of anger, but they were just icebergs in the foaming tumult that were her emotions. She couldn’t untangle them enough to think of a single reply. Instead, she looked down at the book in her hands. Her hands were shaking.

“Do you remember the first time I gave you that book?” asked Alexandru.

Roddy managed a weak “Yes,” in reply.

“It was to teach you about being a vampire, so you could make a rational and informed choice,” said Alexandru. “This time, I gave it to you to help you remember how to be a mortal human being.”

“I don’t understand what is going on,” said Roddy.

Alex nodded in understanding, and said, “Wait a second while I close up. I think you deserve an uninterrupted explanation.”

Roddy nodded. Her eyes followed him as he went through the rituals of bringing in his sandwich board, locking his doors, turning the sign to ‘closed, and pulling down his window blinds. The blinds shut out glow of the afternoon sun, turning his shop into dim cave of muted colours. He turned on the overhead lights, creating an odd sort of twilight, as the daylight was still too bright for the artificial lights to really make much difference. She could see that he went through all these actions with the ease of long familiarity.

He sat down in the stool behind his counter, and gestured to the second stool beside him.  Roddy took the seat, feeling stiff and awkward. Everything was too strange. This man that was Alex and yet not Alex; the brittle twilight; the sounds of normal life drifting in from the street while her world view spun like a disco ball; she suddenly wished to be back in her own home, among things she knew and could depend upon to remain stolid and unchanging.

“Well, then,” said Alexandru. “Would you prefer I tell you what has been going on since I saw you last? Or would you rather ask me questions?”

She was still clutching the book, almost holding it as a shield between her and her bewilderment. She put it down in front of her, and steadied her hands against her thighs. She thought for a moment, and asked, “Why now?  And why wait so long to contact me? Why did you turn this all into a silly game?”

“Whoops. Too many questions at once!” exclaimed Alexandru, holding his hands up with his palms facing her in the universal signal of ‘slow down’. “Let me answer the last question first. This wasn’t meant to be a silly game. I was testing the water, so to speak. I needed to see if you were ready to see me again.”

“Ready? I’ve missed you so much! I was more than ready.”

“You missed Alexandru. Your Alex. I wasn’t sure how much you might be missing Drew.”

“Who is somehow, miraculously, human and aging, when my Alex was not,” observed Roddy, somewhat sourly. “I assume you are mortal again?”

“Yes,” said Alexandru. His face was still unreadable.

“And is this why you were hiding from me? You didn’t want to share this miracle?”

“Because I am uncertain whether or not this so-called miracle would kill you or not,” said Alexandru. His expression turned rueful, as he continued, “It nearly killed me. It took me a good six months to recover from the procedure. And even now, the serum is still only experimental and has only been tested on the one subject.”

“Oh.”

“Indeed. Oh.”

“Why did you risk yourself?” asked Roddy. “And why did you take the risk alone?”

“The short answer is: for your sake. I imagine you would prefer the long answer.”

“Yes, please. Before I strangle you,” said Roddy. “You’re not actually answering any of my questions in a satisfactory manner.”

The young man grinned. “Now that’s more like the woman I know and love. You were frightening me with your stiff manners.”

“You can talk! You’re not giving anything away,” complained Roddy. “You’ve changed so much. How am I supposed trust you, now that you are a different person?”

“I’m not a different person inside.”

Roddy arched an eyebrow at him. “Really?” she said, and her voice was as hard and brittle – and certainly as pointed – as an icicle. “The Alex I knew and loved wouldn’t have abandoned me for ten years.”

“I never abandoned you,” said Alexandru. “Never. In these ten years I’ve never looked at another woman. My heart belongs to you.” His words sounded sincere to Roddy’s ears. He continued to speak with such conviction that she was inclined to believe him. “But I did come up with a possible cure for our vampirism, and I wasn’t going to test it on you. I actually didn’t mean to infect myself. It was sort of an accident.”

“Wait a moment,” interrupted Roddy. “You are too careful a scientist to ‘accidently’ infect yourself with anything.”

The man laughed, and put his hands to his face to hide his reddening cheeks. It appeared that his reserve had been well and truly breeched. Still blushing, he finally said, “You think? I am afraid even I get careless with impatience. As it turns out, even a vampire is only human.”

It was Roddy’s turn to laugh. “All right. How you managed to become human can be a story for later. At least explain to me why you’ve been hiding from me for these ten long years.”

“I’ve been trying to perfect my cure. I was concerned you – or I – might be tempted to try it if you knew a cure was available.”

“And now the cure is ready?” Roddy asked, eager and excited.

“There is still a risk. But I missed you. I couldn’t bear to be apart from you any longer.”

“So why all the fiddle-faddle with the book? I would have welcomed you back with open arms.”

“I wasn’t joking when I said I testing you. It was a message, though not as one as complex as Tricksy or Sean thinks,” explained Alexandru. “As I said, I wanted you to remember what it was like to be a human, and the best way I could think of was to remind you of how different a vampire is to a human. Because I want you to make an informed decision. Again. Like when you decided to become a vampire to be with me.”

“I want no parting from you, ever again. If you are human, I must become a mortal human too.”Gothic winklepicker from www.thevikingstore.co.uk  website

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Getting your ducks in a row.

Steampunk devil duck

At the moment, I have several different writing projects on the hop. The two main WiPs are a Steampunk novel and a YA Paranormal romance/thriller parody (mainly parody) provisionally called “Vampire Etiquette”. The vampire book started like as a Twilight parody.

I’ve been so busy with the Steampunk Charity Ball that I didn’t get much writing work done over the past few weeks. Now I am struggling to get back into a normal routine. And it really is a struggle. I can’t seem to get my ducks lined up. Every time I settle down to write, I find other things to do, like laundry or watering the plants.

Today, I planned to add a couple of pages to a scene I am working on for ‘Vampire Etiquette’. I know that this is the first draft and it doesn’t have to ‘sing’. But my get-up-and-go has got up and left without me. Except for when I am drifting off to sleep, when good ideas pop up just as I am on the point of dozing off. Today, my goal is just to get some words down that I might have to edit out tomorrow…

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The Story Tree – how a story can twist while you are writing it.

The Story Tree

Peach Tree

The tree seems to be at the centre of many stories: The tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden; Druids; The Green Man; Yggdrasil, the World Tree of the Norse Gods; even modern stories like the Evolutionary Tree of Life. What is it about trees that capture our imagination so strongly? Like the sky, the ocean and the mountains, trees seem to have a deeply symbolic life of their own.

There was a tree that lived at the side of my grandfather’s house, in a garden. I think it might have been a peach tree, because it blossomed with pink flowers in the spring and then set little green fruit, but the bats always ate the fruit before they turned into anything recognisable. The bats were very noisy as they stripped the tree of its bounty. I’m basing my guess on the blossoms, and the fact it smelt like a peach tree, green and sweet and innocent, and that granddad thought it might be a peach tree. It was an old, old tree by Australian standards, planted by my great grandmother, but it always looked like a young tree to me, with its fresh green leaves.

I guess living in the garden wasn’t ideal. It was like the peach tree was the largest bonsai in the world, kept small in the shadow of the house. I don’t think it still around, after spending all those years hanging onto life.

When my grandfather died, the family sold that house, and it was taken over by developers. The back yard was turned into townhouses (goodbye garage, goodbye chook run, goodbye crepe myrtle trees, goodbye bird cage, goodbye). The back steps were sliced off so that the town houses jutted up against the dining room and kitchen (how dark and dingy they must be now). A new garage was built on the side of the house with the peach tree … and I doubt it could have survived being shaded from both sides, even if it wasn’t chopped down to make room for the garage.
I often have fantasies of buying that house back, if I was rich, and putting it back to rights. But it is only a fantasy. Even if I did knock down the townhouses, I would never get back the silvery old fence, the garage with the wrought iron used to strengthen the cement base, the macadamia nut tree in the chook run. And it wouldn’t bring back Granddad, or the peach tree.

I loved that tree all year round. It lived right next to the bathroom, so that its branches rattled and scraped the wall. In the winter, it sounded like someone shaking a bag of dry bones when the wind blew. In the spring, an open window filled the bathroom with a natural perfume to battle with the artificial scents of soaps and deodorants. In the summer, the leaves slithered and whispered secrets; right up until the week the bats would squabble and shriek as they fought for a share of the hard green fruit. Then the tree would sigh with relief until the autumn, when the leaves dried and died with hardly a papery rustle.

If I wanted to hear the tree’s voice in autumn, I had to go walk under it, to make the dry leaves crunch under my shoes.

Granddad’s house was painted a pastel minty green; a paint called “Snow Green” or something like that. It was a fairy inoffensive colour that suited my Granddad’s shy nature. You couldn’t imagine him having a showy house in sunflower yellow, or terracotta red, or Brunswick green. It was a great colour for showing off the peach tree in all its seasons. It wasn’t green enough to compete with the foliage of the peach tree, but it was green enough to create a lovely backdrop to the lolly pink blossoms and the dark grey bark.

Around the base of the tree grew the irises for which the house was named. There wasn’t any sign to let you know the house had a name … except it was on the rates notice: Glen Iris. They were the white irises with the purple and yellow dashes, those flowers that only live for a day or so. I often wondered if the tree would do better if I had dug the irises from around its roots, but I was never game to try. I had some feeling that the tree would die from shock if I dug up its companions of a century. Instead, I would fertilize the tree and try to give it extra water in the dry months
Not that I remember it being terribly dry while I lived with Granddad. It always seemed to rain whenever I had clothes on the line.

Now, you are probably wondering why I called this the story tree. When I sat down to write, I was planning to write a fairy story based around my memories of the peach tree. Instead, it became a remembrance of the house I loved in with my beloved grandfather. I still miss him terribly, even though he has been dead for nearly 18 years. He has been on my mind lately. I want to see Granddad, and hug him and tell him how much I still love him and miss him. I want him to feel my love. I don’t want him to be gone forever, as he was such a good and gentle and kind man and the world needs that goodness. I want to see him again. I want death to be a door, not an eternal sleep.

I want to be back in a time when the peach tree still existed, because then Granddad would still be alive. He cherished that tree, even though he complained about it whenever he had to repaint the house. His mother had planted it! It was a connection to his mother.

I wonder, if I had saved the wood from that tree and turned it into a wardrobe, if I would be able to step through its doors and into the past, to where Granddad is still alive and I am still at university and I am yet to have a disastrous marriage. I always tried to hug Granddad a lot (I had read somewhere that people need eight hugs a day for good health) and I think we were a good match. We hardly ever fought. He taught me a lot, and not just about cooking.

He taught me about family, and treasuring where you came from. He taught me about patience and kindness, and how to use humour to give yourself strength in a bad situation. He was my third parent, and I often told him that.

I think I need a peach tree, even if it is a little one in a pot. Rosemary might be for remembrance … but peach trees mean more to me. I need peach blossom in my life, to whisper stories about Granddad.

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The Steampunk Charity Ball

Steampunk Ghosterbusters

 

Last weekend was the Steampunk Charity Ball, run by the Steampunk Ghostbusters of Australia, based here in Brisbane. This was the first time I was so involved in running a major event. The photo above is of the committee members, including me. As you can see, we threw ourselves into getting the details right.

Matt the Tinkerer (the gentlemen on the far left of the photo) planned and constructed most of our props ad Ghostbuster backpacks. I actually helped with construction and decorating of the backdrop, with Rick (the gentleman wearing the black bowler under the ‘ghost’); helping put it together and covering it with the brick-mimicking wallpaper. What you can’t see in this photo are Matt’s clever touches… the washing machine door converted into a ‘ghost containment unit’, the mock industrial fan, the pipe dripping green ectoplasm, the mock-up of a Victorian era camera on a tripod. Our Ghostbuster equipment is sheer genius.

Matt did the majority of the prop’s work, and deserves a medal. In a way, he got one. He proposed to his partner, the beautiful Colleen (the woman with the long, luscious red hair, beside Matt), and was accepted. This was the high point of the night to me, turning the ball from a party into a real celebration.

I spent time with my friends, and we raised over AUS$4800 for the Cancer Council of Queensland. It was a great night. Every one of the committee members is a real treasure.

 

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Whom are you going to telegraph?

Photograph by Merryn of Inventoria Designs

Photograph by Merryn of Inventoria Designs

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Writing Experiment – an update.

I am surprised at how confronting it is to share a first draft with the world, even when you have planned all along to share that draft. It feels like I am cutting myself open and showing off my cringing, cowardly insides. I didn’t think I would feel this way as I consider myself fairly egoless for a writer. I was wrong. I have plenty of ego.

I am afraid people will see how terrible and talentless my first drafts can be.

And yet, I hope this is encouraging other writers to be brave and take risks. You can only learn through taking risks.

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Writing Experiment: a new scene for the first draft

Etty looked down at the young man on the stretcher, and felt the shock of recognition. It was Nick! Even though she hadn’t seen him face to face in a couple of years, she knew the lines of his face as well as her own. He looked awful, his skin was grey-tinged and he was covered in bleeding scrapes and scratches.

She took his hand, and he opened his eyes. Etty hid her concern and gave him an encouraging smile. He tried to grin, and winced.

Etty said, “Well, what sort of excitement have you been getting into?”

“My bicycle didn’t take a corner. I was trying to avoid one of those big Hummers and was lucky it didn’t clip me,” he grumbled.

“Sounds as if you’re lucky not to end up under its wheels!”

“Not likely. The edge of the road dropped off dramatically. I tried to steer down the slope, but it was too steep.”

As he spoke, Etty and the nurses were checking Nick’s injuries. He groaned as they gently investigated his left arm, which was sitting at an awkward angle.

“Well, it looks like you won’t be back on your bike for a while. You have most certainly broken your arm, and we will have to get an x-ray,” said Etty, writing down notes on his chart. “Lucky I know your head was too hard to hurt – though I see hear you were wearing a helmet as well. I want to check you for internal injuries as well, so we will be keeping you in overnight.”

Nick saluted her with his good arm. “Yes ma’am. Is that the royal ‘we’? Should I call you Doctor Princess or Princess Doctor?”

“You can call me Etty, like always.”

Nick grinned, and retook her hand and gave it a squeeze. He said, “I feel much better knowing you’re here.”

Etty grinned back, though her heart fluttered at his warm expression. “You might not be so pleased with me in a moment. Can you remember the last time you had a tetanus vaccination?”

“Um. No.”

“In that case, guess what my next procedure is going to be?” She held up a needle.

Nick groaned again. “Well, don’t look so pleased. Do your worst.”

As it turned out, the broken arm was Nick’s worst injury. It was a clean break that didn’t need pinning. However, this didn’t stop his mother from having mild hysterics when his parents made it to the hospital.

“My poor boy,” she shrieked when she caught sight of him in his hospital bed. She burst into tears.

“There, there, my dear,” said Nick’s father, patting his queen. “Every looks to still be attached.” He turned to Nick and winked at his son over her head.

Nick said, “Hello, Dad. Oh Mum, please don’t cry. I’m being released this afternoon.”

His mother suppressed her crying, and subsided into some hiccupy sobs. She wiped her eyes. She said, “Oh darling, I’m sorry. It was just the shock of the phone call and the trip, and then seeing in that horrible cast.” She tried hard to give him a damp smile.

“I understand, Mum. It was a bit of a shock to me, too,” joked Nick. “And you’ll never guess who my attending doctor is. It’s Princess Odette.”

“Doctor Odette,” insisted Etty, coming in at that moment, as if summoned by the mention of her name. “I just have to take Nick’s blood pressure and pulse. Then you can take him home.”

She took hold of Nick, and pushed his sleeve up to take the blood pressure cuff.

Nick’s parents stared.

“Etty! You’ll get hives,” said the queen. “You’re not wearing any gloves.”

Etty and Nick froze. Etty had been looking after Nick for hours, and it was obvious she wasn’t having any sort of allergic reaction. She had been too caught up in doing her job to remember the old deception, and poor Nick too shaken up. It was too late in the game to make excuses.

“How extraordinary,” said the King. “I’ve heard of children growing out of allergies, though generally they were food allergies.”

Etty left a wave of relief. She looked at Nick, and he gave her the ghost of a nod. Neither of them wanted to admit that her ‘allergy’ had been a long-standing ruse.

“How wonderful,” said the queen. “After all these years of loving each other, you can finally get married.” Her expression had changed from worry to joy in seconds.

Panic overwhelmed Etty for a moment. Then Nick took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. He turned to his parents. “You’ve got to give me the chance to ask her, this time,” said Nick.

His father coughed. “Of course, of course.” His eyes were twinkling. He took his wife by the elbow and steered her out of the room. “I believe the children might need a moment alone,” he said, and closed the door behind him. The queen went without a single protest, but her step was buoyant.

“Phew!” exclaimed Nick. “I didn’t think they would go so easily.” He turned to Etty. “You know, you’ve been my best friend for years. What would you say if I told you that I love you, and not like a sister, but really and truly love you? Will it ruin our friendship?”

Etty burst out laughing, a rich, golden laugh of relief. “Thank goodness,” she gasped, at last. She took a few breaths to calm herself, and said, “I’ve loved you for ever so long. I don’t regret not marrying you five years ago, but if our parents had pulled the same trip yesterday…well, I wouldn’t have connived with you to ruin the wedding.”

“Really,” said Nick.

“Really. And if you weren’t all battered and bruised, I’d kiss you and show you how much I love you.”

Nick pulled her close. “I’m not dead. I’m pretty sure I can survive true love’s kiss.”

“Oh good,” said Etty.  

 

 

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Book review for Kaleidoscope, an anthology by Twelfth Planet Press

When you’re a young adult, feeling safe and accepted is often a rare sensation. Australia claims to valorise and celebrate diversity, but the reality is very different during puberty and for the decade afterwards. Being different makes you are target, often creating friction when you long to be accepted.

What is worse, you have few role models. Our books and televisions and movies seem to be awash with pretty, straight, non-ethnic people. Kaleidoscope fights this trend, and mostly succeeds. Speculative fiction is the perfect genre for exploring the concept of the tension between difference and conformity. None of the stories in the collection introduced completely new concepts, but most gave an old idea a new twist.

I was touched by tragedy of ‘End of Service’ by Gabriela Lee. Garth Nix’s ‘Happy Go Lucky’ was a little gem of science fiction horror. To be honest, I was excited to be introduced to the word ‘maritorious’ in Ken Liu story, ‘The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon’; writers should introduce new words, new ideas and new concepts when exploring diversity.

I would recommend this book to any young person walking the lonely road of ‘being unique’. If you know a young person who feels isolated, this is the book for them. There is a story in this anthology to cover every type of diversity. Kudos to Twelfth Planet Press, and the anthology’s editors Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, for supplying a much needed fun factor to the arsenal of the outcast.

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Second Half of the First Draft

The allergy specialists were flummoxed.

It was obvious to both courts that Princess Odette couldn’t marry Prince Yannick, even if the couple were willing. The two countries were going to have to find alternate ways to strengthen their diplomatic ties, rather than making an alliance through marriage. It was a disastrous result after so much planning.

It was Odette who made the suggestion that they turn the wedding celebrations into a festival. After all, she argued, people had travelled from all over the world to see a royal wedding, and it would be unfair to disappointment them completely. It was Nick who suggested that they turn the event into a yearly festival, to draw the tourist trade. They offered to help organise the festival.

When they met, they were always very careful not to touch. Most of their communication was by email and phone. Over the years, they became firm friends, even each other’s best friend. After all, they shared many of the same experiences, as the scions of royal houses.

***There needs to be an incident that brings them back together.***

By ‘declaring their love for each other’, their respective families can’t try to marry them off to other people!! A win/win situation for them both. They seem to be adhering to the plans their families made for them, and so no further attempts can be made to marry off the ‘tragic couple’.

Just after Odette had obtained her medical degree, they suddenly realised they were in love. In fact, they had been in love for years.

The last scene should be of them eating wedding cake.

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