Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sydney in Summer

It can be hot.
Madly unpredictable.

But then you come home in the late afternoon to a garden filled with these beauties about to open and release their scent, and the humidity suddenly makes sense, carrying the scent in through open doors and windows.


And for me, after a hot 30+ day, there's nothing better than heading down at night to the beautiful North Sydney Olympic Pool. With Christmas only days away the usual lane-choking-crowds are off at parties, or shopping, or already on the road bound for somewhere else.

Then, you have the pool almost to yourself.

A lane of one's own.

And as you swim into the darkening night, electricity rips over the harbour as a storm decides whether to just tease, or stand and deliver.

I've set quite a bit of the next book, Beams Falling, around North Sydney Olympic Pool. And now, I find myself looking for Ned and some of the other characters down there as I swim.

I'll know I've succeeded in creating a world and creating the people who live in it if - after reading the book - other people feel the same.

It's been a busy few weeks. Page proofing with the sharp-eyed and indefatigable Rachel Scully in the Penguin mothership in Melbourne. But the week ended with a proofed book, an approved cover copy and a date with the printer next week.

Look. It's a book.

Beams Falling

It's a book.

I loves it.

More coming at Penguin so keep an eye on the page there.

And if you're wondering about the title - here's a clue. In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade tells the story of a man named Flitcraft, and if you haven't read any Dashiell Hammett - you really should.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Waiting for copy edit is not like waiting for Godot.

How best to fill in the anxious days awaiting the arrival of “the copy edit”?

(And we all know how much fun copy edits and track changes are!)

It’s been a while since I saw the book but the arrival of a cover concept a couple of days ago has whetted the appetite. (No, sadly cannot share but suffice to say I was VERY EXCITED.) 
Clever PsyOps publisher, well played, sir, well played.
So, what to do …. well, I’ve decided to pull out this and have a re-read

It’s the original notebook stuffed with ideas about plot and characters, interviews with experts, bits of dialogue, scenes, scraps of news of the era, my original scribble-it-down space.
Just what were my original thoughts, plans, goals, ambitions, obsessions?
It’s always interesting to see what sparked the idea of the book. And at this stage, years and drafts down the track, to see what is still there, what was deliberately abandoned and, more interestingly, what might have got lost along the way as you battled to shape those ideas into something approaching a story and got side-tracked. 
It’s like clearing up the desk, unearthing that long lost note you wrote to yourself from the past about where you planned to go, and then checking to see how close you are to that originally imagined destination.
I'm a fan of the notebook, so I’ve also pulled out the one I've been using for the next book, already groaning with the same flotsam and jetsam and bits of story, and already knowing what ideas are not going to work, and what ideas will replace them, and what I discover as I work again on this book.
In between the structural edit and the approaching copy edit I have been occupying myself with writing some shorter pieces in various places and in different forms.
Thanks to Chip Rolley at The Drum I’ve been writing occasional pieces there on a variety of subjects, from what it means to carry a weapon with the potential to kill 

to an analysis of the whole JK Rowling unmasked as a crime writer thing 

to a review of the last episode of Broadchurch and why it hurt so much.  

I’ve also been exploring the genre of crime fiction and some issues that have been disturbing me. 
In Seizure magazine, I looked at Raymond Chandler’s call to arms The Simple Art of Murder and discussed whether the gritty end of contemporary crime fiction really was answering that call. 

The title of my essay The Sadistic Art of Murder is a bit of clue to my position.
At the request of Anne Summers I developed the argument for Anne Summers Reports in an essay Dial M for Misogyny.

The essay examines the seemingly unstoppable rise and rise of misogynistic crime fiction in which the predominate role for women appears to be that of corpse.
I have also worked on conquering my continuing fear of short stories in order to contribute a short story for an upcoming anthology The Great Unknown edited by Angela Meyer for Spineless Wonders

The collection is an Australian iteration of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone.   
I know! How could I resist!
Last week I had the opportunity to read a short piece of fiction as part of Penguin Plays Rough’s extended exhibition - Details Unknown - at the Justice and Police Museum. You can read the short piece here, or listen to me read it.
And after I finish this copy edit the challenging of the short story phobia continues with a couple of projects in the wind that I can’t yet reveal.
So until the copy edit drops, I shall continue my journey of re-discovery in the land of the notebooks, AND prepare for a quick jaunt to Brisbane for GenreCon 2013 

And I’m mega-excited to be on a panel with ChuckWendig.
If you have not read any of Chuck Wendig’s entries on his Terrible Minds blog, well, all I can say is what a lot of goodness awaits you!

Why don't you start by reading this Prometheus: In which the gods of plot punish the characters for their precious agency – perhaps the clearest, funniest, smartest thing I’ve read about plot since ever.

See you on the other side of the copy edit – or in Brisbane.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

It's National Reconciliation Week .....

.... but what with this:

which made me think of this:

and then this:

and the necessity to explain things like this: The ape insult: a short history of a racist idea

and commentary ranging from I am racist and so are you 

to On the "We're all racist" Deepity

I don't know about you, but I started to find that every time I said National Reconciliation Week to myself, somehow this old melody came to me:

So when Anita Heiss invited me to share some reflections on National Reconciliation Week on her blog initially I was struggling to come up with something to say that wouldn't be a roar of anger - which is why I decided to follow Anita's lead and come up with a few things to be grateful for - have a read.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bon voyage and bonne chance to Malla Nunn

This is a big year for women writers. The Australian Women Writers Challenge is building on the strength of last year, the first Stella prize has been awarded and in a pleasing turnaround, this year's Miles Franklin features a long list of women writers.

So what better time to congratulate Malla Nunn, one of Australia's leading crime writers - and my friend, who  is heading off to New York in a couple of days to attend the Edgar Awards.

This is Malla's second Edgar nomination and a glance at the 2013 shortlist indicates that it's going to be a great night in New York.

If you are not familiar with Malla's work, then you have three fabulous books to look forward to with a fourth about to go to editing stage.

Malla's books are set in 1950s South Africa, the period when apartheid was being codified into law, society divided up along racial lines by a philosophy that was intrinsically evil. In this vicious and tragic milieu Detective Emmanuel Cooper and Constable Samuel Shabalala work to achieve justice for victims of crime in a society that is fundamentally unjust.

The series delivers social history seamlessly contained within the crime fiction genre, featuring a memorable protagonist who embodies the heartbreak of a nation.

Crime fiction is a genre that contains multitudes. It is perfectly designed to take on the big themes of justice, morality, ethics and integrity and Malla's series does just this. In a piece for the Huffington Post Malla writes about overcoming her ambivalence at using the form of crime fiction to tackle these big questions:

I can no longer judge my own writing in terms of its ability to save Africa. Instead, I can invite readers into an exquisite, wild part of the world where exciting things happen. I can tell stories where despite the obstacles, people fight for each and for justice.
(Published as The Silent Valley in Australia)

I met Malla because we share an agent, the wonderful Sophie Hamley. Meeting Malla and reading her extraordinary books has been a highlight of my own publishing experience.

So, bon voyage, Malla and bonne chance at the Edgars. We'll be raising a glass to you back here.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Don’t Write a Second Book - Advice from guest blogger Walter Mason

My wonderful mate Walter Mason and I have many things in common. A love of travel, good food, good books, good conversations over good food about good books, and one more thing - we are both currently trapped in Second Book Hell. Forget your Nine Circles of Hell, Second Book Hell is a very particular hell. 
Read on and let Walter explain exactly what it is.

Don’t Write a Second Book
My major piece of advice to any writer would be: Don’t write a second book. Seriously. Why not just leave it at the one little masterpiece, a brief high point in an otherwise mundane life. No-one will think any less of you. You could easily waste the rest of your life, but at your funeral they are still going to say, “The well-known and beloved author...” Plenty of people stopped at the one with little or no repercussions for their literary reputation. Harper Lee seems to be doing ok with just the one. Margaret Mitchell decided to take a break between books and got hit by a car, but last time I checked Gone With the Wind is still the same camp classic it always was.
I’m writing like this because I am almost finished my own second book, a travel memoir about my conflicted relationship with Cambodia (yes, I have relationships with entire countries – I never promised I’d be exclusive) called Destination Cambodia. It’s due to come out this year some time, if I haven’t taken the Margaret Mitchell route or been arrested in a public place giving in to a fit of rage.  
Walter Mason in Cambodia. Research! The fun part of the Second Book.

But you see, it hasn’t been at all easy, this second book. Destination Saigon, my first book, flowed out of me. It was the product of a lifetime’s preoccupation. I had been toying with the idea of writing a “Vietnam book” for the best part of sixteen years. Each chapter came out almost perfectly formed, and I found it a breeze to sit down and write one at set times (many of them during a holiday in Hong Kong, where my partner wouldn’t allow me to eat or sightsee until I had finished another chapter).
But DestinationCambodia has been a very different beast. It has demanded its weight in blood, sweat and tears, and there comes a point every week where I stop and think, in blind despair, “I can’t do this.” When I actually concentrate and get writing, it begins to snake its way out, and stories and characters and amusing and poignant incidents emerge on paper. This is most likely to happen when I am writing properly, i.e. sitting down at 7.30 every morning, turning off Twitter and forcing myself to belt out 4,000 words or so. If I can manage to do this for a number of days, I convince myself once more that I am a literary genius. 
In the field for the Second Book.

But on those other days, those ones where nothing at all comes to mind and before I know it it’s 6pm and all I’ve done is watch Fail compilations on Youtube for nine hours, I begin to think I’ve been fooling myself and everyone else. Those are the days when I wonder if Red Rooster is still hiring.
What’s the big deal? I hear you ask. Plenty of people have more difficult jobs, real jobs where the stress and strain is earned. Brain surgeons, say, or bridge builders. But the writer is the most fragile creature in existence, always conscious of what Jonathan Fields describes as “the impact of fear of judgement on our tolerance for ambiguity, uncertainty, risk taking and creativity.” We can destroy ourselves before we’ve even written a word. It is our unique talent.
But it’s too late for me. I’ve signed the contract and someone told me they saw the book listed in my publisher’s catalogue, as though it were finished and just sitting up on a shelf ready to roll out in cartons across the nation. What’s more, I have written 100,000 words, and still there seems to be no end in sight. It’s not that I’m almost there. It’s that I went past the finish line a long time ago and have almost woven my way around to it a second time.
So stop stressing, fellow scribblers, there’s no need to do anything more. Rest on your laurels, glory in your obscure fame and think of the lifetime of free cheap wine and invitations to speak at service clubs that can be yours purely on the basis of that first, blissfully easy, book you wrote.


Walter Mason is a travel writer and academic whose first book, “Destination Saigon,” was named by the Sydney Morning Herald one of the Ten Best Travel Books of 2010.
In 2013 Walter’s second book, “Destination Cambodia,” is due to be released by Allen & Unwin, when he eventually finishes it.
This year Walter is also hosting a series of Inspirational Conversations with some of Australia’s leading authors at Ultimo Library. Details can be found here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Finding The Secret River at the end of your street.

Over the last couple of months I've had the opportunity to write a few articles on various subjects for the ABC's online opinion pages at The Drum.

Today they've published a piece I wrote after seeing the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Kate Grenville's wonderful novel, The Secret River.

I won't go into detail here about how both the book and the play affected me. You can read it at The Drum.

What I thought might be interesting is to share some photos of the place I talk about in the piece. A headland ten minutes from the heart of Sydney's CBD, still rich with the traces of the people who lived here for thousands of years, the Cameraygal.

The entrance to the Gadyan Track.

The sandy cove beneath the rock shelf and carving.

Sandstone carving. You can still see the 4 round scars left by the park bench.

Stands of red gums.

The red gums' flesh glows in the afternoon light.

The shoreline of sandstone and oysters.

The storyboard asks you to 'Imagine this scene in 1787' and sketches the headlands of Balmain, Mort Bay, White Bay.

The setting for the final scene in my novel.