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…

Wasps in the bathroom

When you live in the tropics, you live with the wildlife. Especially if – as is the case here in Malaysia – there are no screens on the houses. I also have a family of civets living in the roof, and a myriad of hyperactive, anxiety-ridden treeshrews (which don’t live in trees and aren’t shrews) in the garden.

Sometimes the animal life is not as welcome. Cockroaches are part of life, and the war I declared on them when I first arrived will never be won. At least not by me.

For the last couple of days, a wasp has been building a mud sarcophagus, rather like an inch long turd, on the back of the bathroom door. Six turds in fact, built into a packet shape and doubtless containing not only an egg but also a paralysed victim whose fate is to be eaten alive. I tried removing the first effort, but she just came back and built another, so I shall wait until she is finished.

Wasps and I have a chequered history. After a number of painful encounters, I developed an allergy to the sting of at least one variety, and a single sting results in an inflamed lump six inches long. In fact, when people speak of the dangers of the rainforest, it’s the humble wasp that sends shivers of fear though me, not tigers and leopards.

The worst encounter I had was when we were walking though a mangrove swamp in search of the nesting colony of some Adjutant Storks. The guide, a local boy of about twelve, brushed against a wasp colony in a rotten tree stump. By the time I realised what had happened, I was being stung. I fled, yelling. No more picking my way through finding solid ground -I just plunged towards the bund, leaving my shoes sucked off my feet by the gluey grey mangrove mud. As I fled, I was taking my anti-histamines out of belt pouch and swallowing the strongest dose…but in truth, I thought I was going to die.

By the time we had left the wasps behind, I had thirty-five stings, more than my three companions put together. I was also caked in mud and barefoot – even my socks were gone, and there was no way I was going back there to have a look for my shoes! Luckily, I didn’t appear to be allergic to this particular wasp.

All of us washed up in the brackish drainage channel and began the long walk back to the car feeling very sorry for ourselves. There was a single house on stilts there next to the bund, and the owner took one look at our sorry band and invited us in for a drink. We sat on the bare boards of the floor (there were no chairs) and drank incredibly sweet tea. My friend produced a packet of imported biscuits from his pack – they probably cost as much as the owner of that hut earned in a day – and we shared them with the family.

Why is it that the poor always seem to be the most hospitable? When I remember that day, it’s that moment – sitting on the floor, wet and dirty and sore, drinking black tea-flavoured sugar – that resonates.

Havenstar sells…!

There has been one copy of Havenstar on sale at Amazon.com for ages now, not surprising seeing as the price was a colossal $US 107 for a paperback. (See my remarks on Feb 19th ). The sales ranking was well over one million.

Well, the darn thing has sold. The sales ranking is now 300,000 plus, and there are no more on sale – and my bottom jaw is down near my knees somewhere. Someone paid $107 for a book of mine? I am beginning to eye my two copies and wonder…

Orange in April – Heart of the Mirage


Had a lovely surprise this morning when I saw that HarperCollins Australia has released a pix of the cover of my up and coming book: Heart of the Mirage, book 1 of The Mirage Makers, due out in April. I’ll say more about the book later, but for the time being, here’s the cover. My thanks go to Shane Parker (artist) and the HC design team.

And believe me, this might be my fifth published book, but you never stop getting that wonderful rush of excitement as publication approaches. Especially when the book is the start of a new series.

As yet, it hasn’t been sold on to any overseas markets. However, for anyone who doesn’t live in Australia/NZ, once it is out downunder, I shall be running a competition here and on my website for overseas readers so that they can win a copy, so watch this blog…

Writing at a Lighthouse – or is it raptor watching at the keyboard?

I have a busy couple of weeks ahead. I have just received editorial feedback for my latest submission – the second book of The Mirage Makers trilogy. A prologue to be written and a few tweaks to be made (I am utterly delighted that there was so few) and two weeks before the manuscript should be back at HarperCollins.

The book is called Exaltarch and has proved to be one of the hardest books I’ve ever had to write. I ended up doing a number of very major rewrites – I reckon I must have turfed at least 50,000 words along the way, possibly more! Somehow the structure would not come right at first – while the deadline passed further and further into the past, but it seems I finally nailed it as I now have a happy editor.

Now, as I do the sprucing up suggested, I am at that wondrous stage when I finally begin to think, “Hey! This is not too bad after all!”

And then there’s the raptor watch coming up. I shall be spending a number of days sitting at a lighthouse on a Cape, watching over the Straits of Malacca for the arrival of the honey-buzzards, bee-eaters, swifts, bazas, sparrowhawks and such. We are doing a count. If we get bored because nothing is coming in, then we can look straight down onto a coral reef and watch the turtles. Or I can write, laptop on my knee… I can think of worse ways to spend a few days! I’ll even get some exercise: to get to the lighthouse there is a very steep walk through the rainforest.

When the birds do arrive, of course the two of us counters will be busy – counting and identifying.

I find the whole event amazingly moving. These birds choose this spot to cross the straits because it is the narrowest point between Indonesia and Peninsular Malaysia. This is particularly important to the larger raptors – they need thermals to travel long distances because their weight to wingspan ratio is such that they tire easily if they have to flap over long distances. And you don’t get thermals over water.

As they approach the lighthouse, they are exhausted. If the wind conditions aren’t good, you can actually see them panting as they struggle the last few metres – and then they hit the rising warm air over the land, they stop their flapping and gradually rise as they circle… maybe I just imagine the look of relief on their faces. And they still have thousands of miles to go.

Malaysia Boleh!

I was blocked from adding a comment to the Live Journal of a pal the other day. The reason? My ISP was known to be the origin of too much spam. And my ISP is…TMnet, who else. Which is – I assume – Malaysia’s biggest ISP. Once again, Malaysia boleh. Or maybe I should say, Malaysians boleh.

Maybe I’d better explain for the benefit of my overseas readers what that means, because I’m bound to use this a lot. Literally: “Malaysia can”. It is supposed to be an optimistic assessment of the country’s ability to tackle anything, whether it be to win a Nobel Prize, perhaps, or host a future Olympics.

Unfortunately it has come to be used much more cynically by Malaysians themselves, to mean “Yeah, we can do anything – silly stuff like ski across Antarctica, or drop cars on the North Pole, or sail around the world single-handedly,” all of which have successfully achieved to great fanfare, believe it or not.

And it seems that we can also rank among the world’s best spammers.

Writing in the tradition of….

Yesterday I was preparing material for a total revamp of my website, and as I ran through a slew of past reviews, I was amazed to see how many compared aspects of my writing to other writers, all much better known. An embarrassment of riches, in fact.

I remember the very first time this happened. Not a reviewer, but the editor of a sff imprint in the UK who read a couple of my books and turned them down, told my agent my writing reminded her of Sherri Tepper. Being a lover of much of Ms Tepper’s work (although as far as I know, not a copycat!), I thought that was an enormous compliment. But note -– I was rejected.

So I learned a lesson: one should take such compliments as pretty meaningless.

My second lesson down that road was when the editor of my first book compared me, in a press release I think, to Ursula LeGuin. A reviewer then shot back -– quite rightly too – with something along the lines of, Hey this is an enjoyable book, but LeGuin? You’’ve got to be kidding!‘’ Which was nicely deflating to any pretensions my ego might have considered developing.

Oddly enough, two other reviewers have mentioned my work in the same breath as LeGuin, but I think that was simply because my first trilogy was set in an archipelago. So there you are, if you want to be compared to the master of fantasy writing, use a string of islands as a setting!

Another author I seem to bring to mind (3 reviews) is Lois McMaster Bujold. That is apparently because of my strong female characters. Stephen Donaldson has cropped up twice, once from that that same first editor (a really over-optimistic fellow, I think), and the second comparing the emotional torture I subjected my hero to as being something Donaldson would be proud of. I liked that comparison, I must admit.

Other writers who have been mentioned are Mercedes Lackey (strong heroines again), and (one I just love) my books being ‘written with self-assurance, insight and guts – much tradition of Robin Hobb, Carol Berg and even Elizabeth Moon.’ (If ever I meet the gentleman who wrote that, I shall buy him dinner at the very least.)

Now if only all that was true. I suspect, though, that I just write like me.

What I am looking forward to is the day that someone says, ‘New author Aloysius Muddlesworthy has written a book in the tradition of Glenda Larke…’”

Then I will know that I have really made it!!