Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Karma Sutra among other things

We had our tutor dinner tonight and as you can see from the title conversation was wide ranging. The process is that each floor hosts a course and the tutor makes his or her way up or down through the floors. We have in our flat a wonderful lady who came laden with things from her garden, not least two large pumpkins, which transformed into delicious soup for the twice we hosted the first course.
I feel satisfied with my crits today. The story weaknesses focused on were very much what I expected and I'm looking forward to rewriting it. Some comments surprised me. The fact that some readers didn't realise this was about a teenage girl when I mentioned on the first page that she went to visit her grandmother every day by bus after school was one. But all in all the comments were very helpful and picked out what I need to deal with and importantly what I thought I had put in the story and had left out.

I was supposed to have my one on one with Gardner Dozois today but I woke up with a bad migraine and he very kindly postponed it so it will be either tomorrow or Friday.

Since the girls prepared the meal tonight, two of the guys having collapsed into exhausted sleep so deep they didn't even hear me knocking on their doors, the guys are washing up so I'm going to take the time to finish my crits and have an early night. My migraine has subsided somewhat but by no means gone so I'm trying to be sensible, however boring that may be.

The students are starting to move back in so we are no longer the only ones here. This means noisy groups and games. It's really only a problem at night but who are we to talk. Mafia sometimes doesn't finish until 1:00 am.

Two more crits to go then I'm off to bed.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Week Four blues.

I've handed in my next story. I'm not at all happy with it because I simply ran out of time before I could wrestle it into reasonable shape. I think it's a good idea that will eventually become a good story but that's a very long way off yet. To depress myself even more, I intend to crit it myself before the session tomorrow and compare that to what comes out in the crit room .

It was 1:00 am last night before I finally burned it to disc and after that I still had to crit four stories which I hadn't even read at that stage. I gave up and went to bed, setting my alarm for 5:45 am, so I could do the crits in the morning. I'd just got to sleep and crash - thunder and lightning started and continued until around 3:00 am. I think it was gods overhead at war with lightning spears and thunderbolts. I'd doze off and then it would begin again.

As a result I'm utterly exhausted and off for a nap.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Aurealis Awards Night

I'm just home from the awards. Very glamourous it was too. There was much excitement among the West Australian contingent with Juliet Marillier, Stephen Dedman and Shaun Tan all getting awards and a number of others on the shortlist. Then we went to the cocktail party where we met up with our next tutor, Gardner Dozois, among many others. And the food was the best - almost too pretty to eat.

Besides the awards, today was the day Lyn Battersby, Jessica Vivien and I were on a discussion panel at the Summer of Speculative Fiction Festival . It came on immediately after Lee Battersby's workshop and we were pleased that most of his audience stayed on to listen to us and ask questions.

Tomorrow there is an Industry Showcase with Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant who have been tutoring this week, Gardner Dozois ( the incoming tutor) and Stephanie Smith from Harper Collins which I hope to get to.

But if I don't get more of my story written it will remain a hope.

Friday, January 26, 2007


We had a monumental storm yesterday afternoon. Water everywhere - in the stairwell , on our desks since the windows tend to be left open all the time, the bathroom, forming a lake in the laundry. Not that the storm was responsible for it all. At some stage during the morning someone cleaned the stairwell. This we know courtesy of the carpet cleaners who hadn't been able to get in to do the carpets because the stairwell was blocked. We're not sure what process was used but it involved a lot of water and when I came back to the flat mid afternoon water was appearing on the chairs, table, floor, pretty much anywhere. When we tracked it down we realised it was coming from the ceiling. Water must have seeped into all sorts of places where it doesn't belong because there was an alarm going off for an hour or so and water is still dripping in the stairwell this morning. Interesting.

The world is new washed now. I went outside for a few minutes just to luxuriate in the coolness. The dead leaves showered down yesterday with the rain and the trees are clean and green again. Just outside the building there is a mix of tall thin trunked eucalypts with an understory of grass trees. These sit like ladies in a congregation in their green sweeping grass skirts, new growth sticking up from the top in a spiky punk hair cut.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

That was fun

Not really. Our generous tutors provided an extra session last night where they filled us in on the professional stuff - writing query letters, getting unblocked, how to approach a publishing house or an agent, trends in SF etc - which was very interesting. We brought food and talked as we ate. Then, about halfway through, I started to feel ill and it developed from a blocked nose into asthma, headache and itches. No idea what caused it. I brought vegetarian sushi to eat but there was nothing different there because I've eaten the same kind from the same shop before. I'm still not feeling well. My asthma has eased but I'm having to use Ventolin and I'll need another anti-histamine soon. As well I have a pounding headache. All I want to do is stay in bed but the carpets are being cleaned which means...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Brisbane keeps its promises

Well they promised us hot and humid and now they've delivered. On Monday night it was still 28 degrees with the humidity at 80% at midnight. No wonder I felt as if I was lying in a puddle. Last night was no better but the good thing about exhaustion is that you actually end up sleeping anyway.

From my window at night I can see the lights of Brisbane and very pretty they are too. It amazes me because during the day there is always a haze. I'm not sure of its source but sometimes, like today, it has actually hidden the city all day. I keep hoping for rain but there's no sign.

I had my one on one session today and came away wishing that there wasn't someone in the queue behind me. The tutors have a very heavy workload too because they have to read all our stories for the week, conduct one on one sessions for the seventeen of us, provide instruction, do public readings, fit in a bit of social interaction not to mention all the normal stuff like cooking, eating and sleeping and they have all been incredibly generous with their time and advice. They do have one advantage over us though because they leave after a week and can revert to normal sleep patterns. We have three and a half more weeks to go and I suspect most of us will crash and burn at some time.

This weekend will be full on for us as well because it's the Aurealis Awards. Several of us are on discussion panels during the day then it's off to the Awards in the evening, followed by the Aurealis cocktail party. Since I know some of those on the short list I'm looking forward to it.

What I'm not looking forward to is tomorrow. Griffith University have booked carpet cleaners for our block. This means for starters we have to pack up everything from off the floor or where it might be knocked over. Then there's the problem of what chemicals they might use in the process. Being chemically sensitive is difficult enough in the normal flow of life but when you bring in variables with no information about them it gets even harder. One of my room mates has volunteered to come in and open windows and doors and put on the fans and the air conditioner while we sensitive souls find some other place for a few hours while the apartment airs and dries.

On a happier note my story was critted today and generally received positive comments. I won't go into the others just now since I can't apply any of what I was told yet much as I would like to be sitting here at this moment working on it. When I get home.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Done but not dusted

This week's story is ready to be handed in - well as ready as it's going to get. I know there are problem areas but I don't have any more time. It can go flap its wings on the edge of the nest for a while and after the other birds have made it realise it's not really feathered enough to leave home it can hunker back down again. I'll bring it tasty snacks while it grows and next time it will be able to hold its own and fly.

I realised the other day when someone brought in a newspaper that we are leading a very insulated life here. We have a television set in the living room which has not been turned once since we arrived. For all we know the rest of humanity could have been overrun by aliens or have opted get along with each in the interests of world peace. I guess the convenors or our families who contact us occasionally would let us know but it's an interesting thought.

Now I'm off to check my washing and have some breakfast.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Next week's story

Hmm. That's said in optimism, I'm afraid. I have a plan, characters, a beginning, a middle and an end - which sounds good when you put it like that. The problem is translating it to the page and, of course, there are the eternal crits still to be done.

I skipped the Mafia game last night, spent a bit of time on my story and went to bed early. I woke up around 1:00 am in need of a drink of water. I wandered out half asleep to find our living room occupied by laptops and writers from all floors and then someone else came in saying, "Is this where the writer's party is?" I was half expecting a white rabbit to appear next saying, "Oh my ears and whiskers."

Friday, January 19, 2007

Weekend, blessed weekend

We are nearly all planning on writing this weekend but critting is going to take up a lot of time too with three stories, one over eight thousand words, to work through. Given how exhausted we are I wonder just how successful we will be at carrying out these plans. I suspect sleeping may win out.

On critting, I find it takes a minimum of half an hour, often more, to crit a story and do it justice, and that's after the initial reading. They are all so different and have such potential. I'll be surprised if they are all not published in the near future.

We are following the tradition of having a group meal with the convenors on Sunday evening. Gives us a chance to socialise outside our own apartments though, since our swipe card lets us into all three apartments, there is much dropping in anyway. There's usually a dinner with the tutor midweek too, with each floor hosting a course. It gives everyone a chance to have a informal chat with the tutor away from the formal sessions. We were spoiled this week because the tutor entertained us instead. Nice switch.

In another vein I've finally found the right music to crit by - the Long Way to the Top album from the Australian tour a couple of years ago. Forget classical, soothing, pop or traditional. Rock'n'roll so goes with writing critiques.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Day Ten

I had my one on one with this week's tutor yesterday. I'm finding these sessions very informative. These people are professional writers and they are very willing to share their knowledge - and there is so much I want to know.

I was satisfied with my crits yesterday. I had reread my story and worked out the problems I thought there were with it and they all popped up in the session along with a few I didn't expect. I am finding submitting first draft material incredibly difficult. Usually, except if I get stuck on a plot point or know it's bogging down for some reason but can't work out why, only my closest writing friends see a piece before it's several drafts along. Here I'm pushing to have time to correct grammar and spelling before it has to be handed in. To make matters worse with this story I made some last minute corrections and burned it to disc only to find the changes had disappeared when it was printed out and vanished from the file as well. Not enough to worry about in terms of having to replace it or in expecting that much would have been different in the crits but irritating.

The weather has been remarkably cool for a Brisbane summer. May it last, that's what I say, both for our comfort and for the sake of Brisbanites because cool weather means temporarily less impact from the drought affecting the whole of the east coast. Griffiths University is in a bushland setting and I was fascinated when we had a little rain a few days ago to see how plants which had been looking dessicated suddenly turned almost straw coloured leaves green again.

It's not just drought, of course. One of my room mates is from Melbourne and had a call from home to say the temperatures were over forty and fires are blazing through the state. This did not cheer me given that bush surrounds the residences here. They give shade and certainly soften the appearance of the rather stark buildings but I look out my window to tall trees that would certainly fall on the building in the case of a fire. I notice a number of them have fluorescent green crosses on them so perhaps they are marked for removal. Just as well since I'm really aware of bushfire danger.

There are good things about the bushland setting. From my window I can see clusters of creamy eucalyptus blossom. Enormous butterflies drop in for a snack there, fluttering as they sip. They look like humming birds. A possum visits the garbage cans in the evening and fearlessly stares down anyone who might want to open one, all huge eyes and twitching ears. Scrub turkeys range everywhere. I met one racing down the external stairs of the crit building a couple of days ago. Rainbow lorikeets chatter in their roost tree as they settle for bed and I know there are ravens because I picked up a flight feather. I think it may figure in my next story.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Day Eight

I'm so tired. I had to have my story ready to be handed in this morning for critting tomorrow . That's in addition to critting four more stories for this morning's session. For some reason this was a hard story to write. I had a fairly clear picture of the story arc in my head but it was difficult to bring it to a satisfactory resolution. I still have no idea if I have. It answers my questions but whether it will work for seventeen other sleep-deprived critiquers I have no idea. Too late to change anything now though.

I'm even more sleep deprived than usual because last night I slept very badly after going to bed around midnight. From 4:30 am I kept waking up at about ten minute intervals. I finally gave up trying to sleep around 5:15 am. So now I've joined the zombies and I'm finishing a load of washing before I go and have a rest since my back is playing up badly again.

After that it's on with tomorrow's crits and get started on another story to be ready for next week.

On the other han... z z z zzzzzzzzzzz

Friday, January 12, 2007

Day Five

People are flitting off for the weekend in all directions. I think 'twill be a quiet few days but maybe we'll all get some writing done and there's always the crits. We really need this break (this is a very intensive process) so we're trying to organise some more relaxing activities including a group meal on Sunday - Indian. Feeding such a diverse group has been a challenge for some of us but we seem to have found a few things we can all eat.

This afternoon was the first time I actually had a chance to look around the campus and locate a few essentials like the Post Office and Medical Centre and, even more importantly, find ways to traverse the campus without having to climb hundreds of stairs. I was sure there would be access but it isn't marked on any of the maps. Since the campus is situated on a a hillside and functions on multiple levels it is very hard to show as well so I gratefully accepted a guided tour by a helpful young man from Campus Life. It will make a great difference because up to now I've felt very much confined to the apartment and crit room except when I can cadge a lift into Garden City.

I have to say I'm in awe of the quality of the writing being produced here and I'm finding the crit sessions a real learning curve (it's a very long time since my University days) but I am learning so much. Now all I have to do is apply it.

I can smell delicious odours coming from the kitchen. Someone is cooking something good and suddenly I'm hungry so I'm off to make dinner.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Of fire alarms

Today we had our second fire alarm. We're beginning to wonder if they come in threes.
The first was on Monday when burnt toast in one of the units set off the alarm. We took a little while to actually realise what was happening because there are so many beeping security alarms we initially thought it was just another. A disembodied voice ordering us to evacuate the building followed by the arrival of a fire engine sent us all racing to grab valuables - like lap-tops - then we hung around outside having no idea of assembly points etc. We do now.
Then today we were settling into the crit room when a very loud alarm sounded and we had to evacuate the building. This involved heading down six flights of stairs and consequently I'm in a lot of pain and reduced to hobbling. So I'm off to bed although most people have gathered in our common room to play games and I'm really missing something judging by the hilarity. I've just been hanging in until I could take some more painkillers. The story will have to wait until tomorrow although I'm now nearly up to the 1500 word mark.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Day Three

Had my story critted yesterday and got lots of useful feedback. The only trouble is with three or four crits to do a day and a story to have ready for next Wednesday applying it will have to wait until I get home. Talking of that, getting it and all the other paperwork home looks to be a challenge in itself. I have, just for this story, 18 copies each of about 20 pages when the crits are added. That's a lot of trees. I think to keep temptation away (because what I want to do, of course, is sit down and act on what has been suggested) I'm going to have to post it back.

This apartment is great fun. Lots of talk and even more laughs and we need the relaxation because the workload is heavy and the crit sessions demanding.

The day goes like this. Up in time to fit in a shower and have breakfast before we go to the Crit room by 9.00 am. Group critting and discussion until 1.00 pm. Then lunch and writing or critting for tomorrow's session unless it's your turn for the one on one session with the tutor. In between times there's the normal household chores - washing, shopping, cooking. I still haven't quite overcome my jet-lag so I'm apt to fold up around 9.30 - 10.00 pm.

Crit sessions are strictly policed with an absolute rule of what happens in the crit room stays in the crit room. We each get 2 minutes to deliver our crit, which is enough in most cases, then the tutor gives his crit followed by a short group discussion.

A tradition has developed of the students providing a meal for the tutor one night and we're doing that this evening with each floor providing a course. One of my room mates produced a yummy pumpkin soup which we served up by lamplight to help hide the most glaring deficiencies of the furniture and crockery.

I'm off now to try and get over the 1,000 word mark of my new story. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 08, 2007


What a lot has happened since my last post. I've said goodbye to family and friends - human and furry - and flown across the country. Great flight marred only by the lack of a window seat (which helps provide a distraction when you are claustrophobic) and followed to my great amusement by a comedy of errors at Brisbane Airport which one day will make a great story. A night at the Hotel Ibis in Brisbane where I met briefly with some of my classmates. They kicked on but I was simply too tired. Then a pick up by one of the organisers and we were here.
It's basic but that's what I expected. A besser block building in a bushland setting and that sounds worse than it is. The rooms are typical student accommodation with a desk, chair and bed and plenty of storage room. It's a bit stark so I've done some customising. A crimson cushion added to the chair, a sea green throw over the drab blue bed cover, my books on the shelf and a pretty candle in a squat square glass holder which I'm not allowed to light but that doesn't matter. I still need a lamp of some sort. A central light that has to be turned off at the door will quickly lose its attraction. The organisers have kindly supplied me with a student chair since the Griffith issue one was playing havoc with my back. And I need a pot plant. Bush is all very well but I want something green in my room.
I've some critting to do and I have to work out exactly what I want from my tutorial session tomorrow so I'll tell you more then.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Build up

I knew things were going too smoothly. Added to my illness there have been a slew of family problems to deal with. Still I'm further advanced than I was - if not much. I've caught up with family and my closest friends. I have bags and piles of stuff all over my bedroom, the playroom and the dining room. Now I just have to get it into the appropriate suitcases.

The animals know something is up. Jaz keeps putting herself to bed and doesn't want to be enticed out even for her favourite treats. I think she remembers the last time this happened on such a scale Virgo vanished for months and suspects the same is about to happen. Little does she know that this time it will be me vanishing. On the other hand Puss, who is not known for expressing affection, has suddenly turned into a cuddling, purring smooch.

One good thing - I finally managed to track down some of the writing by the tutors so I have quite a pile of reading for the plane.

So now it's back to sorting and making out the list of household tasks Pisces wants.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Not summer anymore

Since I last posted the rain has fallen and with it the temperature. It's 9.52 AM and currently 19 degrees Celsius according to my kitchen thermometer. It must be much colder inland - we live about fifteen minutes walk from the beach. So where has summer gone I wonder? This is Perth in January. It should be around 30+ degrees right now. Instead I'm hauling out winter gear. Weird.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Slowly getting better

Wouldn't you just know it. I had to come down with a bug. I've been struggling on trying to ignore it for a couple of days. Didn't work. So now I'm way behind due to having to lie down frequently and involuntarily over the last three days. Never mind. I was way ahead of schedule. Now I'm a little behind but nothing that can't be coped with except Perth has kindly supplied us with unpleasantly warm and humid weather to acclimatise us in preparation for Brisbane. We even had rain if you could call it that - enough to soak the dog who thought it was great fun - but with a cyclone brewing off the Pilbara coast what else could we expect but we all know how I loathe humidity.
On a brighter note, we got our first stories for critting yesterday. I haven't had time yet to do anything except download them but it made me rush out and buy the stuff I still need and with that I think I'm done.
Now I'm giving in to my miseries and off to bed.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Not an original title but...

I've been visiting friends' blogs and live journals. Lots of folk seem to have found 2006 traumatic. It certainly hasn't been an easy year for us with serious family problems, deaths and ill health not to mention the on-going world troubles, but a lot of good things have happened too. Pisces, who always sees the cup half empty, may not agree but on a personal level I think we've weathered it well. Hey I even managed to pretty much carry out my last year's New Year's resolutions and, given this is the first time I've ever actually made any, that's got to be good. Besides I got into Clarion South, didn't I. Not much could top that in the writing area.

As for Clarion with only five days before I leave I'm pretty much focused on that. I have lists everywhere and everything is going so well that I'm starting to feel nervous.

Apart from the luxury (followed by exhaustion I gather from the blogs of previous attendees) of being in a writing world for a few weeks I'm hoping to catch up with cousins who live in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast, not easy when you live on opposite sides of a continent.

OK: got my ticket, laptop and a couple of suitcases ready to be filled. Yep I'm ready. All I have to do now is find and pack some ideas.

While I'm thinking about that a happy New Year to you all.