Music Matters…

My daughter was in hospital four days, so this unashamed plug is to cheer her up – all you peoples downunder have to go an buy her band’s EP CD “If Gold were Silver…” from F.O.Machete (distributed by Shellshock)

And listen to her live interview on Sydney’s FBi Radio 94.5 FM at 8.50 am on Monday. One assumes they will also be playing the music.

Photos by Simon Clark , international award-winning documentary and advertising photographer. Click to enlarge.

(Devious Mum here has another motive, btw; if daughter gets her career going downunder with the same kind of success she now has in Scotland and the rest of the UK, she will return home to Oz which is closer – and cheaper to get to – for me!! Besides, I need another excuse to get to all those sff cons and intereting stuff you have down there…)
So go out there and buy her music everyone!

How to start the day…

Writers tend to sit. A lot. Some of us don’t even have a normal outside- the-house job that gets you moving (as far as the car in the garage anyway). When living in West Malaysia, my husband and I try to walk every morning, just at dawn, by going to a local park on the banks of a river.

In Sabah though, I reckon we have one of the best morning walks ever. It takes less than an hour, and I suspect we will speed it up even more when we get used to climbing the mountain involved (well, it’s gotta be a mountain, doesn’t it? – it has a trig point on top!!)

We start at the pond, and from there on, it’s climbing most of the way. As we go, the view unfolds: tantalising glimpses of the South China Sea through the trees, then a full blown vista, Kota Kinabalu, the islands of the marine park, and the hills in the other direction.

And then, right at the top, the Crocker Range and the sun over the distant many peaks of Mt Kinabalu. And the trig point.

In the pix with the buildings, our starting point, the apartment is that pinkish building behind the long white block. Taken halfway up the hill.

If you look hard at the pix with the sun, you will see the pale blue rocky peaks of Kinabalu in the distance.

Words of Writerly Wisdom or the Discouragement of Dastardly Doomsayers?

There was an interesting discussion recently (10th April) in the Purple Zone (nickname for the Australian Voyageronline Message Board), on whether published authors were mean – or wise – to tell unpublished writers horror tales about how hard it is to get published.

One writer said, and I have compressed his commentary: Sometimes I wonder at the impartiality of writers advising others not to try competing with them. The cumulative effect of all these well-meaning pieces is to discourage writers. Think of the stories we’re losing because we as an industry pride ourselves on the mass of broken bodies outside the front door!

He has no problem with the majority of the advice offered by writers, but is not convinced that the constant flow of discouraging comments to new writers is becoming to us as writers, or to the industry in general. Sick of all the negativity, his advice is: If you’re planning to write a novel, go right ahead! Be aware that the path to publishing is a difficult one, but by all means have a crack!

Another writer said in reply (also compressed): The easily discouraged and defeated may give up, but those who are determined to break through, come hell or high water, are more likely to take on board the info they need with a “forewarned is forearmed” approach.

She thinks the negative approach is really designed to stop people making stupid mistakes and to educate them about the realities of a very tough process. She feels that, for the most part, the writers who do talk publishing turkey are trying to help, not hinder. She says, I guess the nub of the question is: are they discouraging, or are they being honest about a difficult and unpalatable truth? Getting published is like wanting to be an actor, or a dancer, or a singer. The cold reality is that many many many more people want to achieve the goal than will achieve it. Do I think anyone at all should be told give up, don’t bother? No. I do think that those who wish to pursue the goal should do so with their eyes open, fully cognisant of the pitfalls, the drawbacks and the basic tools necessary for the journey. And if other writers don’t make them public, how else are people going to best help themselves?

It was an interesting discussion, quite a bit longer, with other participants, than what I have summarised here.

I must admit that – having had an enormously long and difficult road to publication in spite of having an excellent agent – I am more of the school that thinks unpublished writers need to be told. They need to be realistic.

To be skilled in anything at all usually takes practice. Usually YEARS of practice. It takes experience. Usually YEARS of experience. It usually involves good advice/teachers/role models/mentors/or similar. You rarely win a game of any kind the first time you try. The unpalatable truth is that most who begin, never win. In the Olympic 100m sprint, there is only one gold medal, one silver, one bronze. Think of how many start along that road and never end up on the winning podium.

I would like to think that my kind of “negativity” is designed to make the best writers more determined never to give up – and to be prepared to do the hard work getting published usually entails. I’d like to think that my story is more inspirational than off-putting.

And, as I have said before, if you enjoy the journey, then your time will never be wasted, no matter what happens at the finish line – because how can a feeling of joy or achievement or satisfaction or pleasure in creativity ever be considered a waste?

The Perfect Cup of Coffee

Malaysia grows coffee. So one would think it was possible to get good fresh coffee beans, or ground coffee, right?

Not so easy. Not here in Sabah anyway. Well, maybe you can, but by the time it is being sold to you, the consumer, it is no longer just coffee. I did the rounds of all the supermarkets in our area looking for decent coffee – found shelves and shelves of instant stuff, and local coffee grounds – but alas, a look at the packet of the latter reveals that it includes everything from margarine to salt to as much as 40% sugar! And I don’t take any sugar in my coffee. There’s even a drink that is a mix of tea and coffee, if you can believe that. I’m sure there must be somewhere sells just coffee…it’s a matter of finding it.

The photo was taken in the Sunday Market in downtown KK, with the girl trying to sell me coffee beans. Ah, I thought, at last. And then I took a closer look. They were all wet and shiny looking…margarine and salt and sugar had all been added. Sigh.

I’m a writer. I need my coffee.

The Perfect Chapter

I have just read the perfect chapter, and that made me fall to thinking about what a perfect chapter should have. And here are my ideas:

1. It should advance the plot.
2. As a corollary to point 1, a perfect chapter should also contain something new to the story, something that makes the reader go: Oh, wow. In sff, it should stir that sensawunda.
3. It should advance the development of at least one of the characters. The reader should find out something new about him/her/them.
4. It should contain a mix of dialogue and action and description. (I realise not all chapters can do this – but I am talking about the perfect one, right?)
5. The tension in the dialogue should keep the reader on edge.
6. The action should make the reader read breathlessly, racing to find out what is going to happen.
7. The description should give the reader a picture of the surroundings that they can smell and taste and hear and see – and do all that without boring them.
8. The imagery should make another writer wonder why the hell they didn’t think of that first.
9. No passage in the perfect chapter should tempt the reader to skip a word.
10. The whole package should leave the reader panting for more.

And the perfect chapter I just read? It was in Russell Kirkpatick’s new novel Book 1: “The Path of Revenge” in a new trilogy (not yet published – but what a treat in store). Watch for this book when it hits the shelves. Russell’s name is one you are going to hear a lot of in the future; his first trilogy was just an appetiser – he really gets into his stride with this one.

I’m about to go and commit harikiri because I am not sure I will ever be able to write something as good as this.

Second home.

Am feeling rather extravagant. We now have two places to call home.

The photos show the block of apartments in Sabah where we are renting; the view from one end of the block; and the pond at the other end.

Ramly assures me the pond has kingfishers although I swear he’s imagining things. It does have a metre long water monitor, though, that does high dives into the water from the bank every time we approach.

And the bird life in the huge compound (takes two or three minutes to walk to the front gate!) is magnificent – our balcony looks out over some fruiting ficus, for a start, and the Pink-necked Green Pigeons rummage around inside them like kids at a lucky dip, groaning and muttering and moaning under the mistaken impression they are producing birdsong.

For quite a few days after we arrived, I could have sworn that Mt Kinabalu was imaginary too, but it finally popped its crown out from under the clouds and – if you look closely at the third photo! – you will see its summit.

And finally I am online again. It took days to get a bright orange telephone installed (even though there was already a line) and when they did not give us a choice as to colour I didn’t say a word.

Will I have withdrawal symptoms…?

I am off to Kota Kinabalu tomorrow for a week. As far as I know, the internet connection over in the apartment is not yet fixed. And I am not yet sure when it will be, so if you don’t see me posting here for a few days, you’ll know why.

And downunder, it is Australia’s National SFF Convention, being held in Brisbane over Easter. I haven’t been in Queensland since I was 21, and I would have loved to go back again. Sigh. Can’ t do them all, which is such a pity. I only recently discovered conventions and I find I love ’em – the other writers, the readers, the fans, the panels, the hunting for a place to have dinner, the whole darn thing in fact. Wish I could be there, and best of luck to the organisers.

And knowing how upset I was that I can’t make it, a very special person from the Voyager Purple Zone made me (and others who can’t go) this:

Thanks, Andrew!

Heart of the Mirage extract…

There is still one copy of Heart of the Mirage going begging as I write this – but I don’t expect it to last long.
There is an extract up at the HarperCollins Voyager site (it’s the beginning chapter) which can be read here.
Book 3, Song of the Shiver Barrens, is zipping along beautifully: 85,000 words – and this with all kinds of other stuff going on this week. Just organised the car into being shipped across the South China Sea…

Funny, when I was a kid, I used to love place names that had a romantic ring to them – like Sandakan and Samarkand and Tashkent, the Golden Chersonese and Katmandu. Why those in particular, I have no idea. I swore I would go to all of them one day. In those days, Kota Kinabalu was called – much more prosaically – Jesselton, or I am sure I would have included it in my list.

I had two sources for my idea of romantic places: a stack of aging National Geographics kept in the wash-house across the back lawn on the farm (in the days when the magazine had no colour pix and only the index on the covers), and a radio programme called Armchair Chat, with a guy called Wilfred Thomas (if I remember correctly – this must be fifty years ago or more!).
I’ve been to Sandakan since then. I live in the Golden Chersonese. I passed through Tashkent and watched the shepherds shooing the sheep off the runway as we landed. (I also have unpleasant memories of being penned like sheep in a locked room in the airport, back in communist days). And now I’m off to live in Kota Kinabalu. Katmandu and Samarkand are still on the to-do list.

I thought then – and still do – that the most romantic line of poetry ever written about a place is this:
A rose-red city, half as old as time...
I still haven’t got there, either.

Petra, Jordan.

Final question for free book

Here’s question No 3.

The book is called Heart of the Mirage – but what’s the name of the trilogy?

Competition open to all except residents of Australia & N.Z., who can buy the book in their nearest bookstore… 🙂

All answers are somewhere on my blog in the posts on books/writing-related topics.
First 3 correct entries, answering all 3 questions, sent to my email address, will win a free copy of Heart of the Mirage posted to your address. No need to give the snailmail address until you receive confirmation of the win.

Go fo it!


Imagine the scene:

Two woman, one of them on the wrong side of sixty, going along to a place called Nice ‘n’ Sleazy in Sauchiehall St, Glasgow, on a Saturday night at about 11 p.m. to listen to a band called f-o.machete. Only thing is in Glasgow the f.o. is spelled out in full…

They walk down a steep set of stairs with the walls papered with cheap flyers from – by the look of it – the last twenty years, into a dark cellar. The bouncer should have gently turned them around and said: dearies, I think you’d better toddle back hame.

However, we were there to hear my daughter’s band : Callan, Paul and Nashii. (See here for their website.)

We shoved ear plugs in – didn’t seem to make much difference, frankly – and to my surprise, we actually enjoyed the music. The band has a great sound and interesting lyrics. Although it was probably just as well her dad wasn’t there to hear the first line of the first song…

Ok, so I would have enjoyed it more if it had been half the volume, but the crowd all standing in that cellar that night adored them. (What is it with modern music that it has to be loud enough to rattle your ribs and loosen the fillings in your teeth? No, don’t answer that.)

This month they have a single (cd and 7″) out in Scotland and a cd out in Australia. The single is called what’s the signal and you can buy it the download from their website, and most i-tune stores around the world after the 24th April. The Australian cd is from Jam Recordings and it is out tomorrow. It is called If Gold Was Silver and Silver Was Gold – four songs and a video on the cd. See here for details and online sales. I believe i-tunes have or are going to feature the band…

The photos are from Simon Clark – a NZ photographer now working out of London. He came up to Edinburgh during the festival when I was there, to take photos of the band (see left)…

(Take a look at some of his other work here – the shots of refugees taken in Kosovo are heartbreaking and haunting).