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

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


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.