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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