The Tooth Fairy Bird

Are you worried about bird flu?
You ought to be, not least because of the misinformation occurring –
prompted by fear or greed in the farming sector,
or perhaps even by the ignorance of researchers who don’t understand bird migration.

At the moment, evidence points to the real vectors NOT being wild birds.
In fact, wild birds seem to be the victims, rather than the cause.

So read on about the real culprit:
The Tooth Fairy Bird.

Surely one of the most startling of the flurry of new findings made during the spread of H5N1 avian influenza has been the discovery of the Tooth Fairy Bird – which we believe is the first bird species to have been initially described by virologists, and is remarkable for being able to survive and sustain and spread H5N1. Here, we present a review of information on this intriguing taxon.

Perhaps a single existing bird species, perhaps a closely or remotely related grouping of bird species, the Tooth Fairy Bird has never been certainly recorded, but like esoteric sub-atomic particles its existence has been inferred through a variety of indirect means. By drawing on reports from virologists, agriculture and health officials and journalists – though as yet, alas, not ornithologists and birders – it is possible to describe the behaviour of this unusual bird, whose Latin name is yet to be settled upon, though suggestions include Robwebsters petnotionas, Vectorius (mythicus) invisiblus, and Anas stealthbomberensis.

In brief, the Tooth Fairy Bird is capable of both surviving infection by a strain of H5N1 that is otherwise highly lethal to all species it infects, and of flying long distances, efficiently spreading the virus at only few places it visits. Curiously, rather than follow major migration timings and flyways, it often flies long distances when many birds are not migrating, and has a strong tendency to follow railway lines and roads. Further, once the Tooth Fairy Bird has introduced the virus to a new area, it then plays little or no role in spreading the virus there; indeed, it may quickly vanish altogether

— from Dr Martin Williams and Nial Moores

For the full text, click here.
And my apologies to Dr Williams. In the initial post, I gave him a new first name…

The mystery of the missing middle book …

I just got my royalty statements from HarperCollins Oz this week, and while chatting with another HC Voyager author on the same day, we both remarked that the third book of our trilogies had sold a whole lot better than the middle one. Huh?

So what we both want to know is:
Why on earth do so many of you skip the middle volume?
Is it that the middle book so often sucks, you decide to skip it on principle?
Is it that publishers have got it wrong – you don’t want trilogies, you want duologies instead?
Everyone gets the middle one from the library?
You buy one between you and pass it around?
Two is an unlucky number?

I really am intrigued. Especially as I thought that the middle book of mine, Gilfeather, was actually the best of the three. And I would have thought that it would be very difficult to understand book 3 without having read it.

So, can anyone tell me: what is it about middle books?

The Downside of Being a Writer

There are two things I dislike about being a writer.

The first is that I enjoy reading less. The second is that I don’t have much time to read anyway. And that’s tough for someone who started reading so young she can’t remember how she learned.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of reading. The joy of snuggling up in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night in one of those soft and lumpy armchairs with a book I hadn’t read. Waking up on a hot Christmas morning, the sun already heating up the unlined zinc roof overhead, knowing that there would be a new book in my stocking, (bestowed by wise parents who didn’t want kids waking them up too early).

Reading everything a zillion times because there were never enough books. Loving it when I was nine and new neighbours moved in on a farm half a mile or so away with a library of books that they didn’t mind lending. Loving it when I was ten and my sister started university and began bringing home all those lovely, lovely books by people I’d never heard of with wonderfully exotic Russian and French and Jewish and German names…

There was no T.V., of course, and we lived in a household that “went to the flicks” much less often than we visited the dentist. The only library was at school, and books were rationed like wartime coffee. We were allowed to change a single book once a week. (Perhaps it was reverse psychology on the teachers’ part – to inculcate a love of reading by making it an almost forbidden treat? If so, it worked. Reading was a wonder, a joy, and a new book was indeed something delicious to be savoured. Of course, being kids, we bookworms got around the rationing. We each took out one book, read it and passed it on.)

Now, however, whenever I read for pleasure, there is almost always part of me that is observing the tools used by the author. The plot devices. The dialogue tricks. The way they have built characters or shifted a scene, or foreshadowed an event. I note the clumsy phrase and think to myself, “Well I would have done that another way…”

It’s a pain. I want to get lost in a good book the way I did as a child. I want that sense of immersion, of being somewhere else, of being someone else. And very, very occasionally it does happen. There comes along a writer who whisks me away from this world with such a deft touch, not just for a page or two, but for a whole book. And I’ll read anything they write, any time. And I think, Ah, if only I could write like that…

The second downside to being a published writer are those things called deadlines. Terry Pratchett might get a kick out of the sound of them whooshing past, but all they stir up in me is a sense of guilt whenever I sit down to read. I feel like that same little girl who used to read under the bedcovers with a torch, long past her bedtime, devouring the Myths of Greece and Rome, or one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, or The Complete Plays of George Bernard Shaw – probably all in the same week. I didn’t discriminate back in those days. I just read.

Gull Ability


I hate sea gulls. They are born with one plumage and tend to look like every other species of gull when they are young, and then they spend anything up to five years getting to be an adult, looking different each year. It’s quite possible for them to have a first winter tail and second year wing patterns. And then, when they are adults, some of them cross breed just to confuse idiots who want to go look at them. I swear, they set out to deceive and the word gullible can’t be a coincidence. Only that’s a word to describe the birdwatchers trying to identify the gulls, not the gulls themselves.

I don’t have a photo taken this trip, but here’s one of me in the same area, heading towards a mud spit. Photo taken by Wetlands International (M).

So what the hell was I doing on Saturday out in the middle of the mud and mangroves, looking at a blasted seagull?

Because those guys from Wetlands International here reported a new species for Malaysia: Heuglin’s Gull, which breeds in northern central Siberia. I believe there will be some photos in The Star newspaper tomorrow.

Anyway, on Saturday six of us headed by train to Port Klang, then to Pulau Ketam (Crab Island)
by vaporetto ferry (decorated inside with plastic greenery strung down the ceiling, yet with splashes of red paint all over the windows no one had ever bothered to clean off – like the remains of a collision at speed with a flock of Heuglin Gulls…?)

After that, it was a locally-made speedboat for a ten-minute ride to the southern mudflats. Where the boat got stuck on the mud on the falling tide. Not that we minded: we had great views of Chinese Egrets in a selection of breeding and non-breeding plumages, plus waders fussily scampering up and down the edge of a mud spit, and terns flying past, elegant as always.

Then, after a couple of hours two things happened at once: the tide came in, and the damn gull came and sat on the mudflat. Our boat floated off, swinging around in all directions while six birdwatchers with telescopes tried to focus on the same bird and keep out of each other’s way. Chaos and curses. A couple of us abandoned ship, thinking to get a more stable view from standing on the mud, and ended up thigh deep in quickly rising water. Ok, so that wasn’t a brilliant idea after all. And of course, then the bloody bird flew off.

We consoled ourselves with a fish lunch on Pulau Ketam. If there had been sea gulls on the menu, I would have been tempted to order…

So, if you happened to be in K.L. Sentral on Saturday, and saw a disreputable group of muddy, wet people lugging tripods and optics as we dispersed to catch trains, that was us.

Back home it was time to look at the field guides and internet pix, and try to ID the gull. Ha. Whaddya know, it didn’t look like any of the pictures. Gulls never do.

Title Troubles

I hate choosing titles. And I don’t think I am particularly good at it either.
So I need some help…

My new trilogy is called The Mirage Makers.
The first book – out in a couple of weeks – is called “Heart of the Mirage”.
The third book is called “Song of the Shiver Barrens”.
The second book is called…um…
The damn thing is finished and I still don’t know! Half a dozen words and I spend more time on them than two or three chapters of writing.

So, what do you think of Born of the Riven World for book 2? Does it resonate with you? Make you want to buy it?
For the trilogy, Trudi Canavan suggested:

Heart of the Mirage
Sword of the Mirage
Song of the Mirage

but I think they are too similar to one another to be individually memorable, even though each is a good title.

There are covers…and there are, um, covers


The whole business of what attracts is a total mystery to me, especially when it is compounded by cultural differences between countries. Here are the covers to The Isles of Glory trilogy. One set is Australian and one set is American.

As an Australian when I look at the American covers – and this is a personal observation, not a criticism – I think they don’t represent my books very well. However, I know nothing about marketing, and have to believe that my publishers do. They know what sells and why. The American covers are done by a very talented fantasy artist, Scott Grimando, and I certainly have no complaints about his skills, yet I can’t help but feel they suggest a raunchy book, which it is not. Does it suggest that to American readers too? I’d love to know.

And I like to think my fantasy books are more than swords & scorcery action novels – although there is plenty of that too. To me, the Australian covers suggest that world beyond the action, the other story I have tried to tell about power and people and belief and love and mystery. By use of the ‘porthole’ effect, they cleverly give a hint of an important aspect of the books – the fact that outsiders come to observe the people of the islands.

They were done by one of Australia’s top fantasy artists, Greg Bridges. The third cover can be seen on my website. (I’ll try and get a copy that I can post here later.)

They came in their thousands

Raptor Watch is over for another year, although the count continues at the lighthouse for another couple of days. (There was a surfeit of counters, so I came back a couple of days early – I need to work on Book 2 of the trilogy as my editor wants some minor changes before the MS gets passed to the copy editor.)

The birds could not have been better behaved. They streamed in, to a total of several thousands each day, flew low over the viewing area, circled upwards in full view – I saw people in tears! There is something moving about watching birds at the beginning of such an arduous journey. Something about seeing a few individuals, so exhausted by their sea crossing without the help of thermals, that they have to fly straight into the trees and rest before proceeding. Something about watching others flapping tiredly, beaks agape, legs drooping – then to watch as they catch the first thermals over the land, and start to bank and circle and glide – until the sky is studded with birds, patterning the blue or the cloud like cut-outs of a gigantic mobile.

I’ll be back next year. And the next. Can’t help myself.

Back on Monday March 13th


Yep, I’ll be offline for 10 days. Yes, folk, there are still places where you can’t get connected, and a lighthouse by the sea in the middle of some rainforest is one of them. Hope I live through the withdrawal symptoms.

I have left a whole pile of goodies for you to rummage though while I am gone. Leave your comments, and I promise I will read them all when I return.

And for those of you in this part of Malaysia, how about dropping by to see one of the most spectacular of wildlife sights – eagles on the move! (See below for details)

The map shows the route of one satellite-tracked bird – a round journey of over 20,000 kms. Now if that is not awe-inspiring, I don’t know what is.

“The Mirage Makers” trilogy map

Here’s a look at part of the map that’s in Heart of the Mirage, just to tantalize. It has been done by Perth artist, Perdy Phillips. Her website is http://www.perditaphillips.com/

Booksellers tell me that the book will be available in Australian bookshops at the end of March. Hey, that’s only three or four weeks! I can officially start getting excited.

If you want to buy it online, then may I recommend Galaxy Books store in Sydney at www.galaxybooks.com.au or Slow Glass Books in Melbourne at www.slowglass.com.au .

Advice to writers: your first novel

Chuck it.

That’s right – throw it away. The odds are ten to one (or worse) that it will ever be published. And yes, I do know that advice is going to hurt…

I admire anyone who actually finishes a book. It’s not a simple undertaking – it requires perseverance and sacrifice. It’s time you could have spent with your family, or watching TV, or reading, or something else just as attractive. You had the required strength of character, and you finished. And now you want the world to know the result and love it the way you do.

Sometimes it even happens. I personally do know people who did have their very first book published and it has turned out to be very successful too, the start of a prosperous career. However, it is a rare occurrence, believe me. When you press most successful authors for the truth, you will find that most of them threw the first effort away, or never showed it to anyone, or never finished it.

The truth is that no tennis player gets to Wimbleton centre court first time out; no golfer wins the Masters first time around. What you don’t see is the years and years of practice that gets them to that point. Remember those hours and hours of piano practice you did as a kid? Or the band practice in the garage, or the guitar practice in your bedroom with the door shut? Your first book is that practice. And possibly so is your second, third and fourth.

Some of you are now muttering, “No one is that stupid. Write four or five books and never get any published? They should have given up! And if they did do that and weren’t published, they are obviously crap writers and idiots to boot…”

Hey, wait a moment. That’s me you’re talking about. I may be an idiot, but I’m not a crap writer. And I have been published – in five countries and three languages. I now have seven books published or on their way to publication. I’ve been shortlisted for awards. Yet my path to success is littered with unpublished manuscripts – and I’ve lost count of how many.

I finished my first novel when I was twelve, my second and third when I was in my twenties, and so on. Some I never showed anyone at all. Others were read by friends. Most I sent off just the once or twice and then gave up when they were rejected – not knowing how precious the words of encouragement I received were. (I truly was an innocent abroad…)

My advice is: don’t put all your hopes in your first effort. In fact, think very carefully about marketing it at all. Writing is a lifetime career, and you have to learn your craft first. When you have finished your first book, start immediately on the second. You can always come back to that first one again later, and either mine it for ideas, or rewrite it with a new outlook in a few years time.

Daunting? Yes. The question is this: just how much do you want to be a published writer? Are you in it for the long haul? If you know you will write no matter what, then an unpublished MS, or two, or three, is nothing. They were fun to write, after all, weren’t they?

Remember Ursula LeGuin? Asked what she would have been if she hadn’t been a writer, she replied: “Dead.” Well, that’s me, too. And most other writers worth their salt. This is not just a job we do for money, it’s a drive we have to create. It’s the journey that counts. Remember van Gogh? The only paintings he ever sold in his lifetime were to his brother. It didn’t stop him from painting.

So my advice is : Write. Keep on writing. Learn your craft, and one day you’ll probably get there. But don’t, don’t, get too hung up on the fate of your first book. After all, you were just practising…