Thursday, December 11, 2008

A meme.

Smurched from Battblush's LJ. I'm not given to doing memes but this one took my fancy.

Take the first sentence from the first blog entry of the month for the past year:

January: The tragic deaths of three West Australian long haul truck drivers has caused an outpouring of grief here.

February: I hate cockroaches.

March: I'm a person, who when building a house thirty years ago, was blocked by government regulations from incorporating a rainwater tank.

April: I have just come in from doing a bit of hand watering.

May: All day the Western ravens have been hunting, swooping and calling from rooftops, lamp posts and trees around the area.

June: Yet another of my fellow Clarionites has a story published.

July: We got our gas and electricity bills this week, the first since Virgo moved out.

August: Jason Fischer, a Clarion South mate, has joined the Daily Cabal, and his flash fiction piece, Sweet Baby Honey, is here.

September: So Vladimir Putin was on hand when a tiger at a rare animal breeding centre "threatened" a group of television journalists.

October: As usual Spring is working its usual magic - make that pain.

November: It's been a while but real life has intervened and as there is nothing to do except keep on keeping on, today we have photos.

December: I've gained an emerging writer in residence place at Tom Collins House Writers Centre in 2009.

Make of that what you will.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Aurealis Awards 2008 Finalists

The shortlist for the Aurealis Awards is here and what a pleasure to see so many fine writers listed and, as a proud West Aussie, it's especially gratifying to see so many fellow Western Australians among them. There are lots of stories and novels I've read included in this list and they certainly deserve their nominations. Congratulations to all.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Indian Terror

It has taken me this long to get together some thoughts on the horrific events in Mumbai. That anyone for whatever reason could cause such carnage so callously still appalls me even after the events of September 11, the London bombings, the Madrid bombings, the Bali bombings and the list goes on. Attacks on the civilian population are not new, of course. We don't have to look far back to see the massacres and genocidal attacks in many parts of the world since WWII. They have been used by fanatical adherents of all sorts of beliefs, social, cultural and religious, for centuries. The difference now is that global communication means we all see it - and its immediate aftermath - as it happens.

I think we are making a serious error in dealing with terrorists because when we keep talking about them and reliving their crimes - except in trying them - we give power to them. By acknowledging them we let them puff themselves up into thinking they are not the vicious killers they truly are and sadly risk make them heroes to others of their kind. By saying that I don't mean to imply that my heart does not go out to those who have suffered in such attacks. It does but I think we can inadvertently give glamour to these murderers by making them news headlines long after the immediate impact of the event.

For a start we describe them as terrorists instead of calling them what they are - mass murderers. No human society approves of killing other human beings indiscriminately. While the justifications for taking a life vary from culture to culture, none allow for indiscriminate killing. Even in war there are rules as to who is fair game - bizarre though that sounds in a time when military officials talk about unintended casualties as collateral damage in an attempt to minimise and dehumanise these deaths.

Before the Bali bombers were executed recently they were constantly on television. The media had easy access to them and they basked in the publicity. Would that have been the case for any other group of mass murderers? I doubt it. Yes, their trial and appeal details should have been reported on but that should have been it. By allowing them this opportunity, three men, who murdered over two hundred innocent people going about their lawful business, gained a status which should never have been given them.

The truth about terrorists is that they do not believe anyone else has any rights. What they want is paramount and for them this is justifies anything they do. Of course, if we all behaved like this humanity would never have achieved what it has. Our greatest advances have been made by groups - often from very different backgrounds - working together. More, we rely on each other for our survival and although we may have different beliefs or ways of doing things, we can live together. All it needs is a degree of tolerance and mutual respect. Most of us can manage this but sadly that is what mass murderers like these - and all fanatics - lack.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Life...

Isn't so bad at the moment. Been working in the garden, ordered the new doors, got lots of quotes for lots of things, made lots of decisions, edited my latest story, and have a dog and a kitten for company. Today I will make the Christmas cake and the house will smell delicious. And that's all pretty good, I think.

Monday, December 01, 2008

And now I've a little news of my own.

I've gained an emerging writer in residence place at Tom Collins House Writers' Centre in 2009. I'm over the moon. To have all that writing time and the opportunity to mix with the fellow writers using the Writers' Centre is awesome.
I find the biggest problem with working from home is to not allow myself to be distracted by all those things that need doing. A pile of washing can be very demanding if you let it. Then there are all the interruptions like phone calls and people who come to the door. When you are at home you are fair game because you have nothing to do, no deadlines to meet or obligation to carry out - as far as outsiders are concerned that is. When I had the use of an empty unit for a month I was constantly amazed at how much I would achieve in a day.
Given we will be doing renovations to the house - relatively small scale but messy - over the next few months the need for quiet writing time and space is even more pressing. Since Tom Collins House is surrounded by parkland in the leafy Perth suburb of Swanbourne peace and quiet should be available in abundance. How lovely.

Friday, November 28, 2008

More Clarion Good News

During Clarion South we were warned that an incoming tutor did not like stories about unicorns or other fantasy creatures so, of course, several Clarionites saw this as a challenge. Peter Ball then proceeded to subvert all the tropes and place his unicorns in a world so far distant from knights and fair maidens that it took your breath away. He's been working on it since and it has now grown into a novella which has been picked up by Twelfth Planet Press to be published as part of their novella series.

This is no surprise to anyone who has read his work. Peter is one of those writers whose stories get under your skin. Since Clarion South he has been published in Dreaming Again and other places and I can't wait to read the expanded version of his unicorn tale.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cadillac

My cat, Cadillac, passed away on Monday. Here are a few photos from happier times.








"In my opinion Christmas is greatly over-rated."

















"Excuse me, can't you see I'm sleeping. My paw is
over my eye."














"Give a cat a break. I've got the stupid hat and scarf on. Now you expect me to pose. Sheeze!"





You are much missed, Puss.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Clarion South Revisit

I've just had word from my Clarion South mate, Jason Fischer, that over on Voyager Online they are about to start a series of blog pieces on Clarionites including a number of my fellow Clarion Southers and me. Go here to get an idea of the Clarion experience and, if you are interested in my personal experience, you can read it in the archives of this blog. In fact, wanting a record of the experience is what started me blogging.

It's hard to realise that it is now more than two years since I got the phone call that started me on the way to Clarion South. It really was a life changing event for me and not only in writing speculative fiction. The skills I learned have benefitted me in all areas of my writing including my literary and non-fiction work and even spilled over into my poetry. Just as importantly I gained good friends whose help in so many parts of my life is incalculable.

Although places have closed for Clarion South 2009 there will be others and there are also Clarion and Clarion West in the USA. If you are serious about your writing and love speculative fiction these are the places to go to further your craft.

For more information go to the Clarion South website.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Addenum

Just adding to my previous post, last weekend a 94 year old man, Joe Hollomby, was murdered in the Western Australian coastal town of Geraldton. In the past twenty years he had raised around $1.3 million dollars for charity by making and selling shortbread. He worked ten hour days producing the shortbread and donated the profits to numerous charities. What a wonderful man - and what a pity his life was cut short. Vale, Joe Hollomby.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Sydney Memorial Service.

For reasons that must have seemed good to them the powers that be originally invited none of the surviving crew members of the Sydney living in Western Australia to the re-interment of the unknown sailor who was washed up on Christmas Island after the Sydney sank during World War Two. Following publicity a last minute change of plans was made to allow the four, who were willing and able, to attend.

What I found most disturbing was the assumption that these gentlemen were too frail to attend.
No-one seemed to have even checked to find out whether this was true. If they had they would have found that the very articulate gentleman in the morning newspaper belied the belief that all eighty and ninety year olds are unable to take care of themselves and live in nursing homes and to judge from the television footage of the ceremony, all four who attended appeared to be quite fit and capable.

Where does this belief come from? I think of those I know - a woman who travelled to England by herself at the age of 89 and another who at 94, with some support from family, was still caring for her very frail husband in their home. I could go on and tell you about the men and women who drive, study, travel and enjoy their lives. I can also tell you of the insults offered to some of these intelligent, self sufficient people. For example the 92 year old who was questioned by immigration authorities because the birth date on his passport was clearly wrong. That would make him over ninety and that couldn't be right, could it, so he must be lying or travelling on a dodgy passport.

Yes, some are unfortunate enough be unable to care for themselves but by no means all or even the majority are in care situations and the assumption that they are is beyond insulting. It is prejudice and should be dealt with as such.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Oh Dear.

The doves I mentioned a little while back have abandoned their nest. The little hen was sitting very diligently so there must have been eggs but about a week ago when I looked out she wasn't there. The empty nest had been pushed off the solid part of the clothesline frame and was balanced precariously on two strands of the line. There were no eggs anywhere either. It was very well constructed for a dove's nest and I doubt its movement was anything to do with her building capabilities. I suspect rats doing some nest robbing.

Since our new neighbours cleared the jungle in their yard and several other neighbours have cut down their mature palm trees the rats are doing it tough. The passion fruit have finished, there's only a handful of Cape gooseberries left on the bush and nothing else is ripe. I've seen them running long the pergolas in the middle of the day which is very unusual.

The ravens are in trouble too. The smorgasbord of eggs and nestlings that the overgrown garden behind supplied has vanished and they are struggling to feed their babies. Much as I disliked to seeing them hunting around the garden I have no wish to see them starving either.

On a happier note the storage crate on top of the verandah cupboard has another resident pair of turtle doves. We can't actually see the babies in this spot until they are preparing to leave the nest but once they start trying out their wings they need more space so I'm looking forward to seeing some young birds perched on its edge staring down at us with interest for a few days before they fly off.

While there may be less birds there are certainly a lot of frogs. They start their chorus around dusk and it builds to a crescendo over a couple of hours. The garden shrills with dozens of cries of "Listen to me. I sing better than anyone else. What a father I would make for your children." Summer is really just around the corner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day - Lest We Forget

Remembrance Day, like Anzac Day, seems to me to be unutterably sad. Heaven knows there have been wars before and since but these days with their memories of the best and brightest of a generation on both sides of the conflict being sent out to die in their hundreds of thousands are especially touching. Somehow they seem to mark the loss of innocence for the world and Australia in particular. Of the young men who marched off to dreams of glory while doing their bit those who came home (physically and mentally whole if they were lucky) bore the marks of their experience for the rest of their lives.

I'll tell you the story of one family, not particularly special but fairly typical of many Australians, during the 1914-1918 War.

At the outbreak of the war Thomas Oglesby King and his wife, Charlotte, had six surviving adult children, four sons and two daughters. They had lost twin daughters in early childhood. Horace Chamberlain King , their third son, aged nineteen, joined up on March 8, 1915 and was followed his brother, Glen Roy, then aged twenty three, who joined up on 25 June 1915.

Horace was posted to the 28 Infantry Battalion as a Corporal and Glen Roy to the 10 Light Horse Regiment as a private. Although I can find no record of it family stories say that their oldest son Bertram also served. Both Horace and Glen Roy served in several theatres of war - a chilling way to describe a place where men are being killed! Horace gained rapid promotion to Captain. He was mentioned in despatches and was also awarded a Military Cross. He was killed in France on 7 April, 1918. He was only twenty two years old.

I said at the beginning that this wasn't a special family and that's true as far as history is concerned but they are special to me because Horrie, Dick (as Glen Roy was known to his family) and Bert were my great uncles. I know the loss of a son and brother remained an ache in the hearts of the family for the rest of their lives.

When I went to France I didn't search for Horrie's grave in the war cemeteries where it breaks the heart to see row after row of white crosses stretching as far as you can imagine. Instead I stood in the fields of Flanders on a bleak day in April where poppies spotted the ground like blood. I remembered them - the men who had lived and died so long ago - and prayed that their sacrifice would be enough and there would never be another war.

I could tell of other families too, of the Martins where a cousin went to the same war and returned physically recovered but never quite the same man as before. Then, in World War 2, there was a family where four brothers and a sister joined the Royal Australian Air Force but not all came home. They were the Ellis family and you can find the details of their lost ones, John and Robert, through the Australian War Memorial. One day I will tell their story too but that's enough for now.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It's Been a While

But real life has intervened and as there is nothing to do except keep on keeping on, today we have photos. Not very good ones but then I have never claimed to be a good photographer.




This is Angus. Not such a baby now, is he - but he still likes paper.















And of course, if someone else is having a photo taken, Jaz is always ready and waiting. I often wonder what she thinks is happening when she lines up for a photo.







To finish up, here are just a few of the spectacular cactus flowers open today on my back pergolas.







This is wonderfully delicate to look at although it is as big across as my hand.










This one is 23 centimetres across. Not my favourite colour but certainly arresting.













One of my favourites of the creamy whites and you can catch a glimpse of one of the darker pinks in the background.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New Neighbours

A piece of prime real estate has been vacant around here for a while now. It's located on top of the framework for the clothesline under the verandah. Over the past few weeks a number of couples have inspected it but so far, in spite of the lack of suitable nesting sites since our human back fence neighbours cleared their yard, none had thought it suitable. Things changed yesterday with a pair of turtle doves checking it out and returning for a second and then a third viewing.

They investigated the amenities, tried out a variety of landing approaches and finally, after much roo-coo-cooing, decided it would do. First thing this morning they arrived to start construction. This involved a lot of discussion and investigation before they worked out the ideal plan. She settled in arranging and rearranging the assortment of twigs her mate brought her. He had some trouble in meeting her exacting standards and a considerable number of unsuitable offerings ended up discarded to litter the floor under the building site.

By the time they stopped work for the day an untidy - and apparently unfinished - structure of twigs and small sticks rested precariously on the flat top of the clothesline frame. I can't remember how long it took the previous residents to complete their nest but at this rate I suspect it will be several more days. Still, anyone who has ever seen a dove's nest close up will have wondered at how they even manage to hold an egg let alone a chick so perhaps my assessment is way out.

I'll try for a photo tomorrow before they arrive.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Don't They Know It's Spring?

We're in the middle of an unusually warm spell. In the space of a week maximum temperatures have ranged from 22 degrees Celsius to today's 34.1 and still rising around midday. Thirty plus is not unusual for Perth in summer but not during Spring. This is early and sudden and we've been left struggling - and sweating.

I began regular summer watering of the garden for the first time just over a week ago when I weeded the sweet potato patch and discovered it was bone dry. We're restricted to watering on only two days a week these days and we get to water on Saturday and Wednesday. My garden had its drink on Saturday morning but it wasn't enough. When I got home yesterday the rose blossoms were all literally burned to a crisp. I went out to dead head them and the blooms shattered between my fingers. The other flowers haven't fared much better. By noon there wasn't a single petal left on the poppies which were so spectacular when I got up this morning, the cactus blossoms had faded and collapsed and even tough flowers like the dianthus were dropping petals like confetti.

The forecast for tomorrow is 28 degrees with a possible thunderstorm. Let's hope it's right.

Wastelands II, Age of Iron - reviewed

I've spent the last two days at Wastelands II convention and what an enjoyable weekend it was. Interesting panels and a chance to catch up with local writers, editors and publishers with a common interests. The theme was Steampunk - not an area I've had much to do with until recently but it's growing on me. The idea of a fantastical world where steam powers everything and glamorous vaguely Victorian dress reigns supreme is appealing. If you watched the Sally Lockhart series on television recently you would have seen a similar version - high heeled buttoned boots and corseted ankle length dresses with low cut bodices for the women and rakish stovepipe hats and waistcoats lifting the original less than exciting Victorian style men's clothing to something eye-catching. Con-goers were encouraged to dress to the theme and there were a number of stunning costumes much to the bewilderment of other guests at the hotel.

It's hard to pick a best panel. They were all good value but the stand outs for me were guest of honour Nick Stathopoulos's presentations. Such a talented artist and an entertaining speaker who had us enthralled whether he was explaining just why and how the Titanic went down or how he went about creating artwork ranging from portraits for a socialite or the Archibald Prize to book cover art.

Another highlight was the Coffee Klatch with Alisa Krasnostein. It's not often you get the chance to sit down and chat informally with an editor - and the coffee and cakes were yummy too.

And now - after all that fun - it's back to work. What a pity.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Wastelands II, Age of Iron

Hey, I'm on a panel (How to run a small Con) at Wastelands II, Age of Iron, along with Sarah Parker, John Parker and Satima Flavell. Come along and hear what we have to say about the actual running of a con.

Wastelands II, Age of Iron is on 18-19 October at the Good Earth Hotel, Adelaide Terrace, Perth. The programme is up here .

Sunday, October 05, 2008

KSP Mini Con 2008

I've been meaning to blog about this ever since it finished but life got in the way - not to mention exhaustion. This co-convening of conventions is hard work. Still better late than never.

It was a great day despite the cruelty of the weather makers who turned on cold, heavy rain and fierce winds. Despite this we had a good turn up to listen to - and participate in - a range of panels on writerly subjects. Well you'd expect that since it was at a writers' centre - Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre to be precise.

This was the home of Katharine Susannah Prichard. It's perched near the top of Greenmount on the Darling Scarp which overlooks the coastal plain surrounding most of Perth. Greenmount is as pretty as its name sounds. We used to go up to Old York Road (where KSP is situated) as children to visit relatives who had a huge block where they grew flowers to sell. I remember a field of daffodils and a shaded patch of violets. This was only a couple of houses along from where Katharine herself lived and wrote.

A small Con like this gives a chance for writers (as opposed to mostly fans) to get together. We had a large number of local writers turn up, as panellists, to read or to simply meet up with people with similar interests and that many were only leaving as we were locking up indicates they were having a good time. I certainly did. I was asked a number of times if we intend to run another convention - also an indication that people enjoyed themselves. The answer? Well the Mini Con certainly seems to fill a niche so ... Sorry, you'll have to wait and see. We'll let you know when we've all recovered.

By the way if anyone came across this before it was finished you can blame my kitten. He jumped on my hand last night just as I was clicking on Save As Draft and I didn't realise that he had pushed the cursor to Publish Post until I opened the blog this morning.

Of Spring and Other Things.

As usual Spring is working its usual magic - make that pain. As anyone who knows me can tell you I suffer badly from hay fever. The trouble is it looks so lovely outside - and it's warm and sunny. Unfortunately about half an hour outside is as much as I can take. So the garden is suffering from the explosion of weed growth that always comes at this time of year while I race out pull, out the the most obvious offenders and race back in again.

Still at least I can look at my garden from inside the house - and it is really pretty. Rampaging nasturtiums everywhere, some glorious clusters of Dutch irises - a mix of white through soft mauves and blues to royal blue and purple, a bed of crimson and scarlet poppies and the first roses. One sad thing is the decline in bird numbers. Usually by now there are flocks of New Holland honeyeaters, singing honeyeaters and others sharing the space with the resident wattle birds but not this year. Our new back fence neighbours have stripped their yard of everything except one tree and while I know they had to take drastic action (the previous owners had let it become over-grown to the point of being impenetrable) it means the birds which have taken advantage of the food sources and nesting sites for years have nowhere to go and the bird bath which is usually in great demand is hardly used.

To more pleasant subjects and they are the ever increasing number of publications my fellow Clarionites are achieving. There are so many now that I can't list every one every time. How's that for a bunch of high achievers? As we discussed at the KSP Mini Con a couple of weeks ago Clarions can have unpredictable effects and some attendees, I'm told, never write again. Obviously not what's happening to this group. I've linked to all those of us who have blogs so please drop in on them sometimes and find out what they are doing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wastelands II, Age of Iron

From the organisers:

Wastelands II, Age of Iron is a two day convention focusing on the
futures of yesterday, and the glories of tomorrows that never were.
There will be two streams over two days, including workshops, panels,
and presentations. Discounts for people dressed in theme.

Wastelands is on the Saturday, October 18,
and Friday the 19th 2008 at the Good Earth Hotel in Perth, WA.

We need YOU to help us make this convention great! Here's the current programme:
http://cheshire.iinet.net.au/WL2/Wasteland2Prog.html

We want YOU to be on those panels! Do you see something you like?
Do you see something you feel confident you can speak on to a few close friends?
Do you see something you want to research and then discuss?
Please click on the links and let us know!
We're looking for people to talk on a wide range of topics.
If you have an idea you think would be of interest, please email Chesh on cheshirenoir at g mail dot com

If you want to help out, but don't know what you can do, then please email Calli on callisto at g mail dot com

Age of Iron is coming fast, and it's going to be great!

KSP Mini Con - final programme

The programme for the KSP Mini Con to be held this Sunday, September 21, at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, 11 Old York Rd, Greenmount, has been released.

10.00 am Panel "How to Handle Rejections":
Adrian Bedford, Russell Farr, Simon Haynes and Bevan McGuiness
followed by
Readings from
Sonia Helbig and Helen Venn
11.00 am Panel "Clarions; gains and losses":
Lee Battersby, Lyn Battersby, Carol Ryles, Helen Venn and Jessica Vivien
followed by
Readings from
Jo Mills and Elaine Kemp
12.00 noon Panel "What's Hot and What's Not - trends in Speculative Fiction":
Elaine Kemp, Alisa Krasnostein, Ian Nichols and Grant Stone
followed by
Readings from
Juliet Marillier and Ian Nichols
1.00 pm Panel "Lies, Damned Lies and Research":
Dave Luckett, Hal Colebatch, Satima Flavell and Juliet Marillier
followed by
Readings from
Hal Colebatch and Dave Luckett
2.00 pm Panel "Hooks and Sinkers - writing a killer first line"
Adrian Bedford, Stephen Dedman, Russell Farr and Bevan McGuiness
followed by
Readings from
Adrian Bedford and Stephen Dedman
3.00 pm Panel "Steampunk"
Toby Coulstock; John Parker; Carol Ryles and Grant Stone
followed by
Readings from
Deb Ratcliffe and Carol Ryles
4.00 pm Panel "How to get out of the Slushpile":
Lyn Battersby, Janet Blagg, Stephen Dedman; Alisa Krasnostein; Tehani Wessely
followed by
Q&A and wind-up.

Gold coin entry, Hot dog and fruit lunch $5 with complimentary entry into
prize draw for book parcels with each lunch voucher. Tea and coffee will be available
all day for a silver coin donation per cup.
As well booksellers, Fantastic Planet, will be there along with local authors.

You don't want to miss this. See you there.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Finally a New Premier for Western Australia

So it's finally been announced. Heading a coalition consisting of the Liberals, Nationals and Independents is Liberal leader, Colin Barnett. Let us hope that he realises that a vote against Labor was certainly not a vote for the Liberal Party either. He's there by the grace of the Nationals and Independents, all of whom have apparently reserved the right to vote against issues they feel they or their party do not support.
We are in for interesting times, I suspect.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What an Amazing Series of Coincidences!

So Vladimir Putin was on hand when a tiger at a rare animal breeding centre "threatened" a group of television journalists. The reports say the animal escaped its harness, which implies a relatively safe tiger used to walking on a leash which also implies a fairly docile beast as tigers go. The valiant Vladimir stepped in and shot it with a tranquiliser gun he just happened to be carrying , because of course a high ranking member of the Russian government surrounded by a coterie of armed security and the centre's staff would absolutely need to have his own tranquiliser gun. And by sheer good fortune this all took place in front of a television camera crew so we can see just how heroic the man is.

Just as well it's not fiction because such a series of coincidences would mean no editor would publish it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Daffodils

Not a lake or tree in sight and definitely not fluttering. (Where did Wordsworth get that line from? Swaying - maybe. Dancing - fair enough. Fluttering - never). Nonetheless they're one of the joys of Spring - even if it is two days off.


From my garden:



And, just to be fair, one of the last of the winter flowers - a potted camellia that stands outside my back door.



And, best of all, it's been raining.

Two More!

... Clarion South mates that is, with stories you too can read - and they're good. In the latest issue of GUD on sale now we have Think Fast, by Michael Greenhut. I read the first draft of this at Clarion. Highly recommended. Apparently you can buy a PDF version and, after reading the teasers, you'll want to.
Then up at the Daily Cabal is a new short short, Little Bird, by Jason Fischer. I'm generally not fond stories with devolved English but I make an exception for this one. It's clever, it works and it's free.

Kittens

Having a kitten lying at your feet, gazing up at you, who suddenly springs lightly on to your lap, then up to snuggle in and rest its head on your shoulder and purr loudly is a sweet experience - especially when followed by a kitten kiss on the cheek. Just saying...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Of Owls and Other Birds

The dog was barking furiously at the door the other night and when I turned on the outside light and looked out an owl sitting on the archway above the steps. It sat hunched and focussed, head turning slowly in an almost complete circle, and totally ignoring the dog now barking almost directly underneath it. I called her back in and watched as it continued to survey the garden for about five minutes before it abandoned its search, lifted silently and vanished into the night.
I saw it again a couple of nights later as it passed over the garden in a low sweep. There's good hunting here apparently.

I couldn't identify what kind of owl this time - it was fluffed and I couldn't see its head and shape clearly - but I've heard mopokes calling recently.

This is one of the joys of where I live. We are in a small quiet enclave almost completely surrounded by three nature reserves with extensive wetlands and two well wooded golf courses plus a number of small parks. This means we have a large and varied bird population, both migratory and resident, and we sometimes get quite unexpected visitors - a white egret fishing in the fishpond, a purple swamphen taking a drink from a garden tap, a pair of wood duck sitting at the bus stop looking for all the world as if they were waiting for a bus, the brilliant blue of a kingfisher diving into my neighbour's pool and the tawny frogmouths that have nested in a garden not far away for years pay an occasional visit.

And people wonder why we don't want to move.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spring Flowers

I don't know if it's the unseasonably long, fine, dry spell we're having but the Spring flowers are starting to come out a bit earlier than usual I think. Come and take a walk with me through my garden.

I had a rush of blood to the head (or something like it) back in April when I bought and, more surprisingly, planted in due time bags and bags of bulbs. So far we've had pots of winter flowering paper white jonquils and tiny dark blue grape hyacinths (both nearly finished) which followed the creamy white richly scented jonquils which valiantly flower every year in the patch of the front garden known as The Desert to me and my neighbours. This is the part of the front verge between our two driveways receiving all the reflected heat from both driveways and the road. Very little grows there despite all our efforts but every year the jonquils put on a lovely display.

In the rest of the garden things are moving on. The snowflakes opened about a week ago, white and green bell heads hanging down, in the corner near the back fence. I'm not sure how they got there or what's happened to those in the bed outside the family room but I'm pleased to see these though. At least I haven't lost them all.

Most unexpected though, this week the daffodils have burst into bloom. Where six days ago, when I weeded the bed, there were only clumps of leaves golden trumpets are strutting their stuff. I half expect a brassy fanfare any minute. It's a pity that they probably won't last for next season. I find that most of the daffodils only flower once these days because they are imported from the Eastern States and either forced in some way or unsuited to our climate. There's a bonus in this bed too because the self-seeded crimson poppies which didn't come up last year have popped up all over the bed. They're still seedlings but they give the promise of a bright display a bit later.

Even more surprising is the first Dutch iris flower. I expect them to come out in the second week of September because when they were in bloom when I had one of my babies and the date is fixed in my mind. A blue so deep it's almost purple, this one is in a group of several dozen I planted next to one of the ponds. I love Dutch iris and grow them every year but last Summer's heatwave seems to have wiped out all those I had in the garden from previous years. This is one of the new lot and if this is anything to go on they're going to be stunning.

All that are left to flower of the bulbs are the miniature daffodils in the planter trough on the edge of the veranda and Spanish bluebells. Some of these are in the garden but there are three big pots as well. They are always generous in their flowering and I'm sure they'll be worth the wait.

And then we'll be ready for the roses and other flowers that are already sprouting. Come back when they are in flower, won't you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Katharine Susannah Prichard Speculative Fiction Awards 2008

What a lovely afternoon on Sunday at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers' Centre which is perched near the top of Greenmount on the Darling Scarp. The scarp edges the Perth hills and, when it's clear, as it mostly is in Perth, you can see all the way across the coastal plain. It's truly spectacular at night.

The Writers' Centre is located in the house where Katharine Susannah Prichard lived and did much of her writing. Writers can rent accommodation for retreats in the house and very soon several new self-contained writer's retreats will be available too.

But back to the Awards. Even the weather was kind on Sunday. Last year there was a continual grey drizzle that dripped away at the spirits. This year it was a warm and sunny winter's day with the Award presentations and readings followed by afternoon tea on the veranda.

The results and the Judge's Report are here. It was especially exciting for me because Laura Goodin and Jason Fischer, who received commended and highly commended respectively, are two of my Clarion South mates and both are excellent writers.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

More Clarion Reads

And today we have a story by Jason Fischer for free at the Daily Cabal and one by Daniel Braum in Full Unit Hookup #9 but to read that you have to buy the magazine.
What a busy lot this batch of Clarionites is.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Angus

I've just realised that Angus has been with us for a month. Caddy is still seriously unimpressed but fascinated at the same time. I've been keeping them in different parts of the house but Angus would really like to come out and play everywhere. He lies at the door of his area calling loudly and wildly waving his paws through the gap underneath. Cadillac, being a serious wuss, keeps his distance. He sits about a metre away staring fixedly as if he can't work out exactly what these little grey things are but the minute I open the door and pick Angus up, he saunters off pretending he didn't really want to know.

As Angus is getting bigger so is the havoc he can cause in a small area. This is what I found when I came into my study yesterday morning.




Cute, isn't he? He's not as silvery as he was but he has unusual stippled markings that make him much more attractive than your run of the mill tabby. And you've guessed it - he is here to stay even if Pisces is still huffing and puffing a bit.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

New Template

You will notice I have a new template for my blog. I'm sorry to part with the old one but this one was always my second preference. The trouble was the old one didn't show the links clearly and you can't miss them now - and this is a very good thing, I think.

Aussiecon4

How exciting. Melbourne is to hold Worldcon 2010. To be known as Aussiecon4, it will take place between 2-6 September 2010. Guests will be Kim Stanley Robinson, Robin Johnson and Shaun Tan.
Now that is something to put in your diary!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Buying US Postage Stamps

A slight hint to all those who direct writers to the US Postal Service website to buy stamps instead of using International Reply Coupons for their stamped, self-addressed reply envelopes. It might work if you live in the US but at present they aren't selling to international customers. Mutter, mutter, mutter.

Olympics Free Zone Declared.

I hereby vow that I will not mention the Games here again after today until the final medal count when I may succumb to national pride.

I have nothing against the Games in general but much against them being forced on me every waking moment by every form of the media. I do not see the Games as an earth stoppingly important event. Yes, it is a good thing to have representatives of many nations and sports come together and if they gain more understanding of other ways of life so much the better but that is only a side aspect to the real business of the Games. The reality is this is a group of driven people who want to succeed whatever the cost to themselves, their families and friends and that's fine if that's their choice. I certainly don't have anything against the pursuit of excellence in any field. That's how we advance in knowledge and skill. What I find hard to understand why this makes makes them "heroes" to use the word that commentators so regularly debase.

I wish all competitors the success they crave - and as the inhabitant of a relatively small nation it is nice to see our fellow countrymen and women bring home a stash of medals way beyond what our population should realistically achieve - but don't expect me to spend the next fortnight glued to the set and don't kid yourselves that you are doing it for your country. I don't doubt that you are truly flattered that you have been chosen to represent your nation but you're doing it for you, not your country. This is the place where you can show you are the best among your peers at a given time. That is a perfectly reasonable objective and I sincerely hope you attain your dreams of sporting and lifetime success.

There is another side to every Games - no, not the big business one where everyone except most of the locals, whose lives are totally disrupted and who can either not afford tickets or are locked out of the process, makes a mint. It's the one where, in a rush akin to air-brushing, all the warts of the host country are no longer visible. I am highly offended by inane remarks by athletes and commentators such as the one who, when asked if she thought the situation in Tibet would have an impact on the way Australians saw the Games, replied along the lines of "They'll forget all about that once the gold medals come rolling in."

That is deeply insulting and, on behalf of myself and the many others across the world who have watched how in the lead up to the Games the Chinese government has continued its heavy handed, authoritarian behaviour in so many areas, Tibet being only one example, with no surprise but much disappointment, I would like to say that we are not all so shallow as to forget these things because of a few Olympic medals.

Rant over for now. Let the Games begin.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Tengu

Recently a mate, Joel Fagin, let on that he and Robert Bracey from the UK have been working on an online web comic called Tengu. Chapter One is up and I've just got around to reading it. Wow! It's beautifully drawn and there are already hints of a tantalising storyline. It updates on Mondays and I recommend you have a look.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

On Dog Versus Sandwich and Dreaming Again

Until I came across Lyn Battersby's story, Lily's Song, I hadn't really had a look at Dog Versus Sandwich which has been my loss. There are some neat stories here by writers who can really write. I discovered, in my wanderings through the site, stories by Jason Fischer and Peter M. Ball, both fellow Clarion South attendees but even more impressively both also have stories in Jack Dann's recent anthology, Dreaming Again, along with writers of the calibre of Margo Lanagan, Lee Battersby, Kim Wilkins and Rowena Corey Daniels to name only a handful.
Christopher Green, Ben Francisco and Chris Lynch are others from Clarion South 2007 in Dreaming Again too and I was delighted to see Cecily Scutt, a fellow West Australian, has a story in there as well.
Dreaming Again combines so many great writers that all I can say is "Go and read it" but while you're waiting to get to the bookshop try out Dog Versus Sandwich.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

And Over on Dog Versus Sandwich

We have Lily's Song by Lyn Battersby. A beautifully written piece of fiction that I know you will enjoy. Have a look here. Lyn was also a Clarion South 2007 grad - in case you've forgotten.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

KSP Mini Con

In case anyone has not heard about it, from the KSP Mini Con blog

The KSP Mini Con is on again!

Those who attended the inaugural KSP Mini Con run, by the KSP Speculative Fiction Writers' Group, have been asking when the next will be on. Well the wait is over and planning for the KSP Mini Con 2008 is underway.

This is a must visit for Western Australian writers and fans of speculative fiction - a chance to meet writers and editors with panels, readings and books for sale for only a gold coin entry. Tea and coffee and cheap lunches available.

Why come? Because the more opportunities for fans and writers of speculative fiction to get together the better. You'll be able to mingle with established authors and editors, meet up with fans and buy books.

When is it? From 10:00 am to 5:00 pm on Sunday 21 September 2008.

Where? At Katharine's Place, the home of the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers' Centre, 11 Old York Road, Greenmount, WA 6056. This heritage listed building, perched near the top of Greenmount, was the home of well known Australian writer Katharine Susannah Prichard.

Who will be there? Established Western Australian writers and editors from all areas of speculative fiction - science fiction, fantasy and horror. They'll be on discussion panels and reading from their work and there'll be books for sale from local speculative fiction bookshops.

And an update.

Update.

There's going to be a great line up at the KSP Mini Con.

Confirmed guests so far include:

Adrian Bedford

Alisa Krasnostein

Bevan McGuiness

Dave Luckett

Elaine Kemp

Grant Stone

Hal Colbatch

Ian Nicholls

Janet Blagg

John Parker

Juliet Marillier

Lee Battersby

Lyn Battersby

Martin Livings

Russell Farr

Simon Haynes

Stephen Dedman

Tehani Wessely
.

That's a lot of knowledge and talent to be gathered in one place and it's only the beginning.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Daily Cabal

Jason Fischer, a Clarion South mate, has joined the Daily Cabal and his flash fiction piece, Sweet Baby Honey, is here
There are also a number of other fine stories including a bundle by another Clarion South grad, Daniel Braum.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Conflux: Virtual Minicon

The Conflux: Virtual minicon is on this weekend August 2 and 3. With everything else happening in my life I almost missed it. I can't attend Conflux this year so this is a chance to at least feel a small part of it. I 'm looking forward to it having had a great time last year.

The Virtual Minicon brings together speculative fiction writers and editors from all over the world online. Go to Events on the Conflux site and follow the directions to choose who you want to talk to. Each person is online for an hour.

In case there are some last minute changes or you want to recheck the timetable go here . Times are Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Saturday 2 August

12pm Glenda Larke

1pm Chris Barnes

2pm Gillian Polack

3pm Bruce Gillespie

4pm Cat Sparks

5pm Stephen Hunt

6pm Peter Strong

7pm Karen Miller

8pm Fiona McLennan

9pm Maxine McArthur

10pm Sharyn Lilley

11pm Karen Herkes

Sunday 3 August

12am Ellen Datlow

1am to 6am break

7am
Sherwood Smith

8am Nicole R. Murphy

9am Jonathan Strahan

10am Kaaron Warren

11am Sean Williams

12pm Kevin J. Anderson

1pm Phill Berrie

2pm Jackie French

3pm Jack Dann

4pm Simon Haynes

5pm Marianne de Pierres

Monday, July 28, 2008

Foggy

We woke on Saturday morning to white. A heavy fog cocooned the city and when I went out to pick up the paper clammy fingers brushed my skin, showered me in water dust. More than a couple of houses up the street even the ghostly shapes of cars and trees melted away. From the family room window the furthest visible things were the power lines in front of my neighbours' house fencing us in - or keeping a lurking something out. I'm not sure which.
The only sounds were those in and right outside the the house - Angus kitten playing with a ball, the radio, the occasional cawing of the raven sitting on the fence near the door. Nothing moved outside. A dove hunched on a rafter, fluffed to twice its normal size. No sign of the flocks of honeyeaters and wattlebirds who are usually out feeding, squabbling or splashing in the bird bath.
The sun burned its way through the clouds and fog - first just a fuzz of lighter cloud, then slowly brighter, wrapped in a watery nimbus that vaporised, until it broke through. Puzzled birds woke breaking into a belated dawn chorus and I could see roofs in the next street, palms, and cars.
The first rays of sunlight bejeweled the camellia where droplets hung from every leaf and set silvery beads winking and glittering in the curve of the nasturtium leaves.
Sound crept back with muffled steps- a car starting in the next street, the distant hum of the highway, ravens arguing. Looking down into the valley fog still hid houses, parks, the school, making us an island in a sea of white that slowly receded - and vanished.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Drowned children

I was very disturbed by a photo in yesterday's newspaper of the bodies of two children left to lie covered by towels on a beach in Italy while all around them the beachgoers went on with their games, sunbathing and swimming. I certainly wouldn't have expected the beach to have been closed but at the least I would have thought someone would have sat with them. These were children. Did nobody think they warranted some respect? Personally I would have found it too distressing to stay there amusing myself in close proximity to their bodies but it didn't seem to bother the locals. It took the authorities over an hour to come and take them away and all that time these pathetic little scraps of humanity lay there in the sun, feet jutting out from thrown over towels. Would it have taken too much effort for them to have been carried to somewhere more protected? It wasn't as if it was a crime scene.

This is by no means meant as a comment on Italian behaviour. I see it more as symptomatic of a world where we see dead bodies - real or fictional - on television every day. Somewhere along the line we have been desentsitised to the point that people act as they did on that beach and that is something we should all be ashamed of.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Storm Weather

We have just had about a month of severe weather. I don't know if it is to do with global warming but the storms have been vicious. Gales, thunder, lightning, hail. We had intended to go away for a week while Pisces was on holiday but that all crashed - literally - when the first of the three major storms hit. The house we were to stay at - one street in from the beach at Palm Beach in Rockingham - is surrounded by enormous peppermint trees, one of the staple plantings in the older settled parts of Western Australian beach areas. Why they are called peppermint trees I've never been able to fathom since they, as far as I can tell, have neither the scent or leaf of peppermint but they thrive in the harsh beachside conditions. The largest, fortunately on the back fence line, split and dropped a huge branch smashing the fence. They were lucky. Many houses lost roofs, cars were wrecked by falling trees and the damage bill was exacerbated by the next storm coming through before repairs could be completed.
At such short notice and with the school holidays starting we couldn't find anywhere else to stay where we could take our dog.
As it happened it was hardly the weather for a holiday anyway because another cold front blasted its way in a few days later compounding everyone's misery. Add in the power shortages and days where the minimum temperatures have been 1 and 2 degrees Celsius and this has not been a pleasant winter so far. We're not used to this in the sunny West.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And Still They come

Now my friend, Laura Goodin, also a Clarion South graduate, has a story, I'm Too Loud, up at AntipodeanSF
What a week for Clarion South 2007.

Another Clarion South Story

Have a look here at Dark Fantasy to read a clever little story, Watermark, by Michael Greenhut, one of my Clarion South mates. There's other good fiction as well.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hmm Caught Again

Virgo, a vet nurse, has been telling me about a stray kitten taken to the vet's surgery where she works for re-homing for some time. He was found among the rocks of the groyne at Hillary's Boat Harbour. There's a large colony of cats living in the crevices, barely surviving on discarded fish and bait and in my son's teenage fishing days I used to watch them eyeing the fishermen from their hidey holes. Most of them are very wild so how Angus came to be caught I don't know. He's about fourteen weeks old now by the look of him but as he was starving when he was rescued he may be older. Virgo has become very attached to him. Since she lives in a unit where pets are forbidden I was little surprised when she arrived here on her way home from work with a kitten in a box and a "Can you do me a favour and look after Angus?"

Given I already share my life with a needy dog and a neurotic cat (another abandoned rescue kitten) this is not something I am too sure about. If she can't get the owner's permission to have a pet when the lease is renewed, and as she intends to travel in the near future, I can see him becoming mine and taking on another cat is not something I had planned.

But what can you do? Angus is a pretty little fellow - a silvery grey tabby - and very cuddly. At present he is confined to one room except when I let him out for a game and explore. Already very cross because he is still having to be force fed antibiotics to deal with an infection, Cadillac is not happy about any of it. He started by hissing and growling but now has resigned himself to just keeping as much distance as he can between them.

The fact that Angus is silvery grey, and has discovered most of the places the evicted rodent was living in are great hiding places, is not helping his acceptance by cat or dog. They see him streak across the floor where they had seen the rat and immediately assume it's back. So playtime has to be closely supervised. Virgo has been coming here each day to help dose the cat - a two person job - and can't resist playing with Angus which invariably ends up with extracting him from some of his more inconvenient hiding places. This reignites the conviction of other two that the rat is back and there is much barking and and excitement as they try to predict which path he will take. They are invariably left milling around in total confusion because he usually heads straight up onto someone's shoulder where he settles down like a purring kitten brooch.

Yes, he is a sweet little creature but what kitten isn't? I haven't agreed to take him on permanently yet. The thought of another cat mentally scarred by its kittenhood is a bit daunting. We shall wait and see.

The Hypocrisy Of Hating Cats

Personally I respect all creatures. I don't care how big or small they are, whether they are ugly or beautiful, dangerous or innocuous. As long as they do not present a threat to me I'm more than happy to live and let live but a recent blog entry I read started me thinking about those for and those against living in harmony with animals. The writer went into graphic detail about how evil domestic cats are. They are a blight on the world, they kill birds etc etc etc. And, of course, they do. They are predators doing what predators do to feed themselves. Interestingly the writer wasn't bothered by their big kin - also predators and very efficient ones too. That was apparently appropriate behaviour. I find the distinction odd.

This is an argument I've heard many times before. Cats are vermin. Kill them. That way we will save the innocent little native birds and animals. It would cut down on the predation. There's no doubt about that but before we get all righteous about this let me give an example of some cat haters I know. As they railed against the destructiveness of cats, they were in the process of stripping a large bush block of all its native vegetation so they could build a house and establish a largely self sufficient garden.

Am I the only one who sees the hypocrisy in this? To me the one doing the most damage to native wild life is the person who has just cleared nearly 3/4 acre of land. They have removed nesting sites, food and water sources and all the hiding places the resident animals and birds relied on for safety. When at some time in the future the trees and bushes they planted have grown large enough to replace some of those lost resources the creatures they - and their neighbours - displaced will be long dead and possibly extinct. Not that it would matter because they will net their trees or drive off any bird that encroaches on their food garden so if they are still alive they'll still won't find a haven there.

I accept that we have to live but I can see no difference in the destruction humans cause - global warming springs to mind - and that caused by cats except that in the scale of things the cat damage is minimal compared to that of humans. If anything cats are more honest. They kill to survive. I don't like to see it anymore than anyone else but the truth is despite all my efforts to make as little impact on the planet as possible in my lifetime I and the rest of humanity have done far more harm than cats - and we have the nerve to denigrate another creature for exercising its right to survival.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Walyunga in Winter

3.00 pm, July 9.

Here we are at Walyunga Pool, one of my favourite places in the world. It's the middle of the first week of the school holidays so there are quite a few people about weather not withstanding. It's grey, cold and wintry but fine after a rainy morning – and the sprinklers have just come on. Now I don't feel so guilty for not having noticed that I was supposed to put the money in an envelope before I put it in the box. Oops.

There's a bus load of school kids out in inflatable rafts shooting the rapids. The water level is pretty good and if we have some more rain before the Avon Descent (which is only three weeks off) we should have a spectacular race. The Avon Descent is a 134 kilometre two day event that starts at Northam about sixty kilometres from Perth and follows the Avon as it races down over the Darling Scarp to join the Swan River. It attracts a large number of entrants to tackle the fast flowing river and its rapids in motorised dinghies, kayaks, canoes and double and single surf boards. It's not without its dangers.

Given Walyunga’s popularity as a place to watch the would-be competitors practising, I have to wonder why you would a) put sprinklers on in the picnic area during the day when you know there are going to be a fair number of visitors and b) put on sprinklers at all in the wettest time of the year? Yeah, beats me too.

All that aside, I love this place. It's in a valley deep in the foothills. The river rushes past frothed with white after splashing and roaring over the rapids where it emerges from the depths of Boongarup Pool about twenty minutes walk upstream. Where I'm sitting is calmer. A peninsular of rocks, dumped in some distant flood perhaps, juts out into the stream forming a quiet pool where the rafters paddle in to beach their craft on a rocky beach. Swimming in the summer is now frowned on due to the hidden snags and tricky currents but this time of the year the water is flowing so fast that the occasional overturned rafter is only at risk from hypothermia.

The birds and animals are incredibly tame. They come and sit on the table in search of handouts, leftovers or anything that happens to get dropped. While I have been sitting typing this a magpie, very handsome with his neat white jacket and black shirt front, has been sitting on the opposite side of the table, head cocked to one side, as he talks to me in soft chirps and warbles.

In the last five minutes this is what I have seen:

A flock of Western Ring Neck parrots (known as twenty eights here because of their call) drifting out the trees like a sudden fall of leaves.

A pink and grey galah dancing in the tree above me until a flock of its fellows swept across the river and it followed them.

A pair of sulphur crested cockatoos screeching downstream only a few feet above the river, feathers brilliant white in a sudden ray of sunlight.

Two plump grey teals waddling up, shovelling crumbs between quacks.

The rafters have all packed up now. The only sounds are the rushing water, the murmur as the afternoon wind starts to pick up, the rustle of the leaves and, in the distance, the beep beep of the bus backing out.

The types of birds have changed.

Two Australian ravens are scavenging around the picnic tables. They manage to look dignified as they stalk along, a hint of iridescence on their glossy black feathers.

In a lazy circle a pied cormorant surveys the banks for a place to spread its wings to dry.

A pair of Australian wood ducks wandered up from the water to graze on the grass. He's a handsome fellow too with his soft brownish grey body, dark head and matching dark stripes the length of his back. His mate is more drab - like a faded image of the male.

The afternoon is closing in now and there's a chill striking up from the ground. The kangaroos are starting to wake up. A mob of Western greys have just bounded down the slope to feed on the soft winter grasses patchworking the hillside. They say Ireland has forty shades of green but I’m pretty sure I’d find at least that many here.

The Australian bush I think is unfairly characterised as drab. Western Australia in particular has stunning wildflowers in breath-taking colours even in midwinter. In the wildflower season, which starts in a few weeks, it’s truly spectacular. Even today I’ve seen scarlet bottlebrush blossoms, puff balls of golden wattle, soft pink myrtle and on the opposite bank touches of unidentifiable white, blue and yellow flowers. It's not Europe or North America but it has so much to offer for those who bother to look.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Annual Report Card

It's slightly overdue, I'm afraid, but it has been a hard year in many ways. No need for details but the year of full-time writing was almost wiped out. A sea of unavoidable tasks and problems surged up sinking the boat and leaving writer and writing to battle the surf, gulping air whenever they made it to the surface then disappearing under the waves again for longer than you would imagine them surviving.
But survive we did. We might be lying shivering on the sand just now but the storm has eased, the sun has come out and we are ready to move on.
So what has been achieved this year? I have re-edited my novel and have about a quarter to a third of the sequel at first draft stage. I have taught workshops - some under more difficult conditions than others - and given talks. Most importantly I have kept writing. Nowhere near as much as I would have liked to have done but that doesn't matter. I have kept on. Now I'm going to dry myself off and roll up my sleeves, soggy though they are. The boat has washed up beside me and, once I've bailed it out, it's back into the water and straight out towards the gap in the reef and the open sea.
This year will be the best ever.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Of Laryngitis and Workshops

The Society of Women Writers WA held their Day of Writing Workshops yesterday - and it was good. I had been asked to present a workshop on "The Art of Critiquing Well" and until Friday afternoon I really didn't know if I would be able to do it. The previous Friday I woke up with a scratchy throat which escalated during the day to a full scale searing throat inflammation accompanied by a pounding headache. Next morning I had lost my voice. The best I could manage was a whisper - and it stayed that way until Thursday when it slowly started to improve. Even so it was more like a murmur than normal volume.
By Friday midday I decided I could manage with the aid of a microphone (and inadvertently sent the organisers into a spin by starting my email requesting one with "I've been struggling with laryngitis". Sorry, Linda.)
Well I managed although my voice has gone back a few notches to a whisper today. I find these events very stimulating both as a teacher and student and the session, I think went well. I stayed on for another session and wished I could have gone to them all. What a collection of gifted writers giving freely of their knowledge - Helen Iles, poet and editor, Janet Woods, a prize winning romance novelist, Jennifer Langley-Kemp, poet and short story writer, Ian Toyne, actor and playwright and Elizabeth Bezant, writer and writing coach. If you weren't there you really did miss something special.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

July and We're Half Way through the Year

W got our gas and electricity bills this week, the first since Virgo moved out. We have been waiting to see just how much difference it would cause. When she went travelling a few years ago we were surprised to find costs in general nearly halved - and they have done it again. It's extraordinary how much difference one person makes. We always knew that Virgo was a big consumer of power and water but it's really been brought home to us. She will no doubt be shocked when she gets her first bills but I will resist saying I told you so.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Power Crisis

Middle of winter. Cold. Everywhere. Feet, legs, fingers, nose. I spent most of yesterday's writing session at Karrinyup Writers' Club wearing gloves while I wrote. And the reason for all of this?

In Western Australia we are in the middle of a critical gas shortage. The supplier of a third of all the gas used in the State is out of action due to an explosion at their plant on Varanus Island and it will be some months before the plant can be repaired. This in turn means a power shortage because the gas is used to produce electricity as well as supply gas to businesses and homes. Businesses are struggling with inadequate supplies and are faced with sending employees off on leave or standing them down. The Government has appealed to householders to use heaters as little as possible, cut down shower times and do the laundry with cold water. Add in the fact that it is winter and cold and we are not in a good place.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Big Strong Men

All dressed up and locking the house on our way to lunch yesterday and I heard my neighbour calling me. He and the landscaper had found a blue tongue lizard (really a skink but known locally as a bobtail goanna) curled up hibernating under some of the bushes they were about to pull out.
I called back, "Just pick it up by the neck behind the head. It won't hurt you."
Neighbour points to landscaper. "He can pick it up. He's got gloves on." He did too - great thick workman's gloves.
Landscaper, "I'm not touching it."
"It won't hurt you. Even if it tries to bite, it can't hurt you."
Neighbour and landscaper look at each other, at lizard, back to each other. Neither makes a move towards the lizard. So I go and pick it up and release it in my garden, more than happy to have it join the resident population which has lived and bred there since we moved in. They help control slugs and snails and if the odd strawberry goes their way it seems fair payment.

Sadly many people are afraid of these fascinating creatures. They do have a fairly effective scaring mechanism where they open their jaws wide, exposing a dark blue tongue and deep pink mouth while raucously hissing but it's all show. They have fairly strong jaws for their size - they only measure about 30 cms full grown - but they are highly unlikely to bite. They are timid and just want to be left alone to go about their business.

Yep, It's Definitely Winter

We've just had nearly a week of glorious days - sunny and warm after a chilly (by Western Australian standards) night. A good thing too as the Council is having its Green Waste Clean Up in our area with roaring chain saws and crashing branches everywhere all weekend. We had relatively little to prune - only six wheelbarrow loads - but I filled five large boxes with couch and onion weed and feel full of virtue. The vegie garden is still a waving pasture of weeds but, given the demands on my time over the last year, that's only to be expected. I miss being able to wander out to pick vegetables for dinner just before I start cooking. Time for positive steps. I'm seriously considering borrowing some of my neighbour's hens and setting them loose in there. Who knows, I might score an egg. Then sheet mulching and an order of sheep poo.

Today there will be no gardening. A severe cold front came through during the night and is still blustering away. Each time I look outside another potted plant has fallen over. I'm glad I picked the roses last night. The few I left on the bushes are already badly battered and bruised.

The other thing I see as I look out is no trees. The house behind us has changed hands. It has been badly neglected for years and the new owners are trying to restore order. Nearly all the trees that lined the back fence have had to go. They were planted much too close to the fence and each other and over-run with star jasmine. I would probably have done the same thing in their place but, oh, the birds. The jasmine thicket provided food, shelter and nesting places. Dozens of birds made their homes there - at least seven different kinds of honey eaters and wattle birds, not to mention visiting mudlarks, willy wagtails, magpies, ravens, butcher birds and parrots. We will put creepers in and a trellis of some sort but it will be years before the nesting and food sources can be replaced.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

And Yet More Success

Today it's another Clarion mate, Daniel Braum, with a flash fiction piece, Houdini's Grave, at the Daily Cabal along with some other good reads. He has another piece in their archives - A Picture of Zurich. Look here for a free read. There's a steady stream of stories coming out from this group. I wonder if all Clarions are followed by such a spate of creative productivity?

And just for fun - with thanks to deepfishy for the link - a visit to the exact centre of the Internet. Try it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Successes from Clarion South 2007

Yet another of my fellow Clarionites has a story published. It's getting hard to keep up with all of them. This time it's Peter Ball, whose story On finding the Photographs of My Former Loves, written at Clarion South, is in Fantasy e-zine. I loved it then and still do. To read it go here .

Friday, May 30, 2008

Hal Spacejock

I see on Satima's blog that Hal Spacejock, the first book in Simon Haynes' comic science fiction series and published by Fremantle Press, can now be downloaded as an e-book from the author's website. This is an hilarious blend of adventure and the ridiculous in a similar vein to Red Dwarf. Try it. I think you'll enjoy it.
So far the adventures of Hal and Clunk, his robot companion, have only been available in Australia. Overseas readers now have the opportunity to read the complete book before deciding whether to order more of the four books in the series.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

English Spelling

Several recent discussions got me thinking about the way language has changed (and no doubt will continue to do so).

English is more complex than most languages. Waves of invasions by different language speakers over centuries as well as input from Britain's colonial past, have created a language that is an amalgam of Greek, Latin, Celtic, Germanic, French, Scandinavian and Hindi to name only a few. In consequence it seems at times quite irrational, particularly in spelling. While this makes it hard even for native speakers, we often don't give any thought to the question of whether we should ignore the history of the language it shows.

Language is dynamic. Humans are lazy in our speech. We contract words and phrases, slur others together and sometimes simply drop part of a word or phrase. We've been known to borrow a word or phrase complete from another language and then mangle its pronunciation or alter its spelling phonetically. This, as well as the need to create new words for new technology and scientific discoveries, means that language is constantly changing. It also means that without some form of standardised spelling our written communications run the risk of being completely indecipherable but the question is how far this should go.

There have been a number of attempts to collate English. We've all heard of Dr Johnson's Dictionary, one of the best known early examples, towering above others of the time in scope, wit, research, precision of definitions and examples of usage and since then there have been many and varied attempts, some more successful than others. The thing that has distinguished them all is that they did what they set out to do. They collected words and meanings in a comprehensible form and put them together as a reference tool.

This brings me back to what started this train of thought. A writer on an LJ was musing about how difficult and complicated life must have been when spelling was phonetic and without any constant form and I agree with this entirely. You only have to read - or try to translate may be a better description - anything written more then a couple of hundred years old to see the problems that arise. My point of disagreement was that standardisation can go too far when it becomes a way of "improving" or "rationalising" spelling. I quoted the "reforms" of Noah Webster, the man who introduced what he saw as improvements, and which resulted in the US form of English spelling in use today. My dislike of his changes has nothing to do with my opinion of Americans and everything to do with the fact that by making these changes Webster ignored the origins of the language. For example when you spell theatre as theater you hide its French origin. This is only a minor example but why change it?

Webster, of course, is not the only one who has tried to rationalise English spelling but he is the only one who has succeeded in changing the language of a nation. Indirectly this is changing the spelling of many other nations too. As I have been typing this I have been seeing red lines indicating spelling errors appearing under my correctly spelled words. US English spelling is the default on this site and I can't change it although it is incorrect usage in Australia. The same thing happens on my emails and word processor but at least I can change from the default on the last one. I am confident enough in my spelling to ignore these errors but many are not.

Anyone who has ever learned another language knows that they all have their idiosyncrasies and many nations have been fighting a battle to preserve the unique quality of their language even to the point of trying to prevent the use of words that don't come from their own language. They see it as a record of the past of those who speak it as their mother tongue as much as a communication tool. I think this is as big a mistake as rationalising away the history of a language. In the future these hybrid words will tell those who study such things something important about what was happening at this time.
It seems to me that we take a severe risk when we "reform" or "rationalise" a language. We might gain simpler spelling but we lose history and that is what has made each of us what we are today. Without our history - good or bad - we cannot know ourselves.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Scarily Funny Blog

I found this by accident - and I'm so glad I did. Do have a look. It's worth it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Ravens

All day the Western ravens have been hunting, swooping and calling from roof tops, lamp posts and trees around the area. The constant cawing drives my little dog to distraction. She has a real hatred of these large black birds since one threatened her when she was a puppy and considers herself honour bound to rid the neighbourhood of any interlopers. Unfortunately the ravens have been nesting, in an ever increasing flock, in a very tall eucalyptus tree at the front of our back fence neighbour's house for several years. So picture me trying to work all day to a cacophony of more than a dozen raucous ravens, which I could swear were stirring up trouble for their own entertainment, and an hysterically barking dog throwing herself at the door whenever the ravens approached the yard - which was frequent.
Then, once night had sent the birds to bed and I settled down to catch up with my friends' blogs and LJs, I found this on Neoguardian's LJ. It's based on crows and, though I'm still not a fan of big black birds, is stunningly beautiful. Have a look.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rats!

Despite the pungent odour announcing that at least one rat has met its end in the roof space, we have not yet beaten the resident rodents. This morning as I sat in the family room a handsome silver grey rat raced along the wall and in behind the wall unit. By the time I peered in, it had gone and cat and dog were both now focussed on the space behind the sofa. I pulled the sofa out, dislodging the contents of the magazine rack. No sign of the rat. Decided to sort through and discard the bulk of the magazines, making a hasty trip to the rubbish bin and back before the truck turned into our street. Coming back, I slipped on an errant magazine which is how I came to break my toe.

So that does it! No more guilt. It's bad enough having a kamikaze mouse. Now a rat is making attempts on my life with magazines. It must die. The only problem is how. So far as far as I can remember I have tried the following baits: peanut butter, bacon rind, potato peel, a macadamia nut, pumpkin seeds, dog biscuits, cat biscuits and in desperation bread. Apparently this rat is a gourmet because it hasn't taken any of them but what it is subsisting on I have no idea as there is no sign of any other eaten or stolen food. But I can wait and revenge will be sweet.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lest We Forget

Over the past week Australia has remembered her war dead in the lead up to Anzac Day. This year the discovery of the wreckage of the Sydney, sunk by the German raider, Kormoran, off the coast of Western Australia during World War II, added another dimension giving families of those lost in that maritime disaster some degree of closure.

Today driving home from my father's house under a lead grey sky, the first drops of rain splatting on the windscreen, I was listening to the poet, Ted Egan, recounting his experiences when he visited Gallipoli on Anzac Day in a touching montage of songs, poems and reminiscences. As the Last Post sounded at Anzac Cove a squadron of black cockatoos swept across the road ahead of me, heads bent low as if in a mark of respect. The last notes died away and Egan went on to describe how the next day he went into the market of the nearby town of Chanakkale commemorated in a haunting Turkish song sung in Turkish and translated by Egan verse by verse. The singer lamented how when war was declared he and his fellows were called up they had lost their youth and all that implied. It was incredibly moving.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Life Moves On

And when it does it's quick. In the space of a week my parents' house has been sold. It's mostly bare now with only a few pieces of furniture left to go. The garden is a different matter. My parents have always been enthusiastic gardeners and Dad's collection of flowering cacti is large - very large. When they aren't in bloom they are nothing much to look at but when they flower they take your breath away. He has no room for them on the balcony in his new place and I couldn't bear to think of the new owners looking at the baskets of straggly leaves hanging on the wall and dumping them as rubbish so I have rescued as many as I can.

Pisces is not impressed. "Don't you have enough already?"
Well probably but the thought of glorious blossoms draping the otherwise drab wall along the side of the house is enough reason for me.

I've also brought home all the potted roses. They will look stunning in the bed I'm planning along the brick wall on the lower level. Pisces is happier about this. I've promised him a garden seat under an arbor where he can sit and watch the world pass by. Maybe I'll join him.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rodent Alert.

For the second time in two days I have been attacked by a mouse! To be fair, it probably sees it as escaping but as far as I'm concerned a mouse - a large mouse - dropping on your head and skittering down your arm constitutes an attack.

This irritating little beastie has been in the house for a couple of months. It disdains all traps no matter how tempting the bait but the cat is definitely looking more svelte. This may be in part due to the strict diet he's been on for about six months - expensive vet prescribed calorie controlled food at that - but he is certainly getting the work out component via the mouse.

I think it has realised its days of grabbing a snack whenever it pleases are long gone because, now every bit of potential sustenance is removed or covered every evening, it is getting a tad desperate. It is currently busily and slowly gnawing its way through the wire of the family room screen door. We wake during the night to the sound. Puss then slowly unwinds himself from his favourite sleeping position around my feet and stalks out to investigate. He returns about fifteen minutes later swearing loudly as only cats can do.

The hole is big enough for it to pass through but it has encountered a more difficult barrier in the glass door behind it. This may be why on the last two mornings the dog has discovered it hiding in the track between the screen and glass doors in the dining room. It can get in here more easily because the plastic flap supposed to block unauthorised rodent entry has given away under the weight of years so it can slip past and rest its sore gums.

Jaz and Cadillac deal with this situation in very different ways. Jaz alternates between scratching on the wire and jumping at the door. Surprisingly given her tendency to bark excitedly in stressful moments, she doesn't even whimper. Cadillac (cat, master predator), on the other hand, sits behind Jaz, paws neatly placed together observing er ready to pounce - and miss because Jaz invariably gets in the way - once the mouse has been flushed out.

Not being completely stupid, the mouse takes all this quite calmly until I either open the curtains or the screen door. It then panics er attacks, races up the nearest vertical surface - door or curtain - so it can drop on my head, scuttle down my arm and race off to shelter, usually behind the sideboard. I might have believed this was an accident if it hadn't happened twice. So - and this is the mouse's decision - it's war. Posts from the front will be delivered as they come to hand.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Magic Moment

Early morning, the sun rising in a burst of gold and gilding the trees. On the highest point of my neighbour's roof a pink and grey galah* dancing. Wings lifted wide, crest flared, it bobbed gracefully along the ridge capping, the clear dawn light outlining it in a faint dark halo. At the end it bent and swayed, wings spread wide, out over the garden below before it pirouetted around to bow to two others stepping sedately behind. One loud screech and they took off, circled and vanished behind the trees in the next door garden. Beautiful.

Another not so magic moment this morning. Cat and dog hunting behind the curtains in the dining room. Jaz jumping, as I thought, up at the glass. Chasing a fly or moth perhaps. But no. As I pulled open the curtain something fell and, on the way down, it bounced off my head to scrabble on my bare arm before hitting the floor and scampering off, cat and dog in pursuit. Another blasted mouse! Where do they come from? Well I've an answer to that having half an hour ago discovered a neatly chewed hole in the wire of the security screen door. This is despite it being wire mesh, not the less strong nylon. Aaargh!

*Pink and grey galahs are a medium sized Australian native parrot.