Mother

Mother is a psychological horror inspired by:

… a notorious Adelaide Hills firebug who was sentenced to 13 years prison in 2007 for the deliberate lighting of 21 fires around the town of Harrogate using customised mosquito coils.

$7000 damage was done to fencing and the largest blaze blackened 180ha of land. Residents describe the year before her arrest as a period of terror.

Links to news reports: The Australian, ABC, Adelaide Now,

My partner was witness to one of these fires at his family home in Oakbank. He remembers waking up during the night and seeing the fire at the end of the driveway to the property. During interviews with the CFS and the police, he learnt the incident was one in a long string of suspicious fires intentionally lit that summer.

It was believed, at first, that the culprit was male and from Harrogate. Many meetings were called by the local town council to discuss and condemn the terrorising actions of this individual.

The incidents became so serious that locals took to taking shifts, sitting in their cars and monitoring the entry to the town and recording suspicious vehicles passing through.

When White, loving mother of two and one of the most vocal advocates for catching the perpetrator during this time, was convicted, it sent shock waves through the community.

White told the court she had been suffering from post-traumatic stress due to an incident in her childhood, post-natal depression and anxiety.

She remembered watching the blazes but didn’t remember lighting the fires.

She was released on bail in 2016.

 

[excerpt]

 

Mother didn’t bother finding out my sex, so sure she was that I was a boy. ‘Gave a kick like a ginger hare in a ferret’s mouth,’ she told me once at Christmas, saluting with her empty scotch tumbler. ‘Near broke me ribs.’ As she laughed, the smoke from her Winnie Blues choked the tiny square space of kitchen.

Mosquitoes, a black storm cloud of them, rush the porch, blocking moonlight, wings beating a sound like static, angry humming becoming murderously loud. Once inside, I can hear the pebble bulk of their bodies battering the windows and doors, catching on the thin wire mesh of the fly screen.

‘There’s something wrong with my baby,” I say.

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The Moon and The Sundarban

Sundarban: ‘Beautiful Forest’ (Language: Bengali)

This short story was inspired by a documentary I saw on the BBC UK channel in 2013 entitled, ‘The Man-Eating Tigers of the Sundarbans’. The documentary was about the Bengal Tiger living in the tidal mangroves of the Sundarbans, Bangladesh—the only place in the world where tigers actively seek out human prey (up to 300 people are attacked and killed each year). While it is a phenomenon that continues to stump ecologists, it has been loosely attributed to global warming (rising tide levels leading to a decrease in tiger’s rainforest territory). This is a concern for both the villagers and the tiger conservationists, who have seen a rise in poaching and ‘revenge killings’ of the endangered creature as a response.

The most fascinating part of the documentary was the conservationists’ innovative plan to train local stray dogs as a pack to warn villagers when a tiger is near. The bravery, intelligence and instinct for survival of these previously mistreated strays was what inspired me to write this story about Dukhe, a stray dog from the streets of Khula, Bangladesh, who finds his leadership of the Chadpai pack threatened by a mysterious creature lurking on the outskirts of the forest. He goes to investigate, and in the course of a single turning tide, changes the hierarchy of the forest forever.

 

[excerpt]

Dukhe lifted his shaggy brown head and sniffed. The villagers were at it again – burning incense, beating rapid footfalls on the hard clay earth and chanting in low, guttural voices as they did on the eve of each shrinking moon. Dukhe was so used to these strange monthly rituals that he let his eyelids grow heavy and stretched his forepaws towards the campfire flames, soaking up flickers of warmth. But as he was about to rest his head again, he caught a whiff of something heady, pheromone rich, skirting the opposite bank of the river just beyond reach of the firelight. The scent may have eluded a lesser nose, but it set the coarse hairs of his haunches bristling and exposed his canines to their root. Years living on the busy streets of Khulna in the far North—where the slightly rancid scent of another stray’s breath could carry with it the wide-eyed craze of the frothing sickness—had taught him never to trust a scent he couldn’t immediately define.

The sound began in the hollow of his chest, hitching a couple of times before bursting forth in a wolfish pitch. It was a sound that called to the heart of any dog whose breed had not yet been tamed, and for a second, the forest stilled, listening. The breeze held its breath. The tittering nocturnal creatures ceased their midnight rustlings. The tiger rose, hair bristling, the tip of its tail agitating left and right as though to swipe away the sound. When its attention shifted towards the village, Dukhe slipped beneath the tangle of roots and swum back to the banks of the khal where he rose, bloody and dripping.

 

To read full short story, order your copy of Pencilled In Magazine, Issue 1, ‘Fear and Hope’ here : http://pencilled.in/product/issue-1-fear-hope/  – A new literary magazine dedicated to publishing works from Asian-Australian artists and creators.

Cover pic

NYWF – Implementing Professional Advice and Feedback

Interpreting and implementing Professional Advice and Feedback­

*Fact sheet prepared for National Young Writers Festival, Sydney, September 2016

Downloadable PDF

Reading is highly subjective and so finding the right set of eyes to give feedback on a new piece of writing can be both instructive and detrimental, making the process of interpreting and implementing feedback daunting for any writer.

Listed below are sources of feedback a writer might expect to receive:

Writing mentor:

One of the most valuable and accurate sources of feedback can come from a writing mentor (see blog post ‘Professional Mentorships’ for more information on sourcing a mentorship). This process guarantees personalised and targeted feedback from a professional in the field who may be working in a similar style and genre for a target audience. Forms of feedback can include industry, structural, copy or proof as well as general personal support (as outlined in next section).

In-house editor / publisher / agent:

If you’re at the stage where you have gained the attention of an in-house editor or publisher, some agents and publishers will request a ‘revise and submit’ from an author before signing them. This is as much to identify how well an author receives feedback as it is to determine how successfully they can integrate that feedback into their manuscript.

Critique partner / critique group / beta-readers:

This is a great way to ‘cast the net wide’ and collect the opinions of a sample of readers. Sometimes the collective opinions of a group can help a writer better identify any weaknesses / trends in their work. Formal critique partners can be sourced through most writing institutions such as state writing centres, Australian Society of Authors and through writing memberships such as Romance Writers of Australia.

Freelance Editor:

Freelance feedback services are available from most writing institutions (State Writers Centres, Australian Society of Authors) and come at a cost. Rates vary depending on the editor and the type of service (structural or other). The South Australian ‘Society of Editors’ has a list of registered editors on their website and the kinds of services they offer. Registered means that each editor has undergone and passed state standards to receive qualification. http://www.editors-sa.org.au/

Manuscript assessment services:

Manuscript assessment is usually a combination of industry, structural, copy advice on a manuscript, with a focus on the big-picture—content, voice, tone, style, plot pace, characterisation, setting, dialogue, market, audience, theme. More on these categories outlined below.

Types of advice that may be contracted or received:

Industry advice:

  • Will the story idea appeal to the market in which it’s intended?
  • Does the story idea identify a target audience in tone, theme, voice, plot, character?
  • Does the story idea hold its own in the current marketplace? (Has it been overdone? Does it offer something new? Is it following a trend?)

Structural advice:

  • How does the work read as a whole?
  • Are events logical and consistent?
  • Are there any obvious plot holes?
  • Does the world/setting/characters work? Do the characters and relationships work?
  • Does the book begin/end in a satisfactory manner?
  • Does the author’s choice of tense and voice work?

Copy advice:

  • Is spelling, grammar consistent and accurate?

Personal advice:

  • Personal advice, usually given in an informal fashion (through mentorships, discussion panels). May include advice on how to handle rejection, stress, career pressures. This can be just as important as craft, industry and career advice to some writers.

Some thoughts on interpreting and implementing feedback

It is important to be open to feedback in order to learn and improve. However, being too influenced by feedback, or making uninformed changes based on mixed feedback can confuse and water down the intended effect of a particular work. It is important to develop a strong sense of intention before approaching feedback so that subjective opinion may be strategically and implemented or considered and, sometimes, disregarded.

Remember, as Neil Gaiman stated:

“…when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/477087-remember-when-people-tell-you-something-s-wrong-or-doesn-t-work

How to chair a panel at a writing festival

Saturday 7th of May 2016 – I had the opportunity to chair my very first panel at the speculative fiction/fantasy festival held at SA Writers Centre with the lovely Gillian Rubinstein aka Lian Hearn and our very own South Australian writer, Tony Shillitoe.

Getting to meet two incredible writers with very different experiences and opinions, and to engage them in a discussion about the growing number of crossover readers that comprise the current YA market – a percentage believed to be as high as 55% – was enlightening and one which I can’t wait to repeat should the opportunity present itself again.

While I was extremely nervous about hosting a panel, I quickly learnt that writers are not only generous with their knowledge of the industry and their craft, but with their understanding and helpfulness. Most have been on both sides of the table and are more than willing to help steer the conversation. Here are some of the most important things I learnt from the experience:

  • Research the authors. Make sure you have a good knowledge of their work, their views, their expertise. Watch previous interviews (podcasts are great) to see how they address questions. Ie: Are they softly spoken? Are they animated? Do they like to joke around? Do they give short answer questions or do they elaborate on topics?
  • Research the topic. Example: When thinking about YA crossovers, I made sure to have a thorough knowledge of the main conversations concerning YA literature such as censorship, marketing, themes and changing technologies. I looked at past and current trends as well as future outlooks for the market.
  • Know your audience. What’s the demographic? Are they majority writers or majority readers? What specific areas would they be interested in? Craft-related advice? Industry knowledge? Or do they just want to hear from their favourite authors and learn more about their books and lives?
  • For a 40-60 minute panel, write around 4-5 open-ended questions that could lead to smaller investigative follow-up questions. Try to vary question depth and involvement required by the panelists. Start with some easier, ‘warm-up’ questions and build to the high concept questions. Try to vary mode of questioning (How do you feel about … ? Why do you think … ? Do you agree with … ? What are your thoughts/opinions …? Can you explain … ? Have you done …. ? Is there an example of … ?)
  • If possible, try to introduce yourself to the panelists at least twenty minutes prior to the session to get to know them, to discuss few key topics that both parties would like to cover and, most importantly, to get a feel the group dynamics.
  • When introducing the panelists, keep their introductions brief and relevant to the topic being discussed. Example: if you’re talking about YA crossovers, reference their YA works. The audience wants to know that the author they’re listening to actually has experience in the field they are discussing.
  • During the session, allow the conversation to flow naturally and for the authors to explore larger concepts and ideas. However, try not to let the conversation go too off topic or else the audience isn’t getting what they came to hear.
  • Listen to what the panelists are saying but feel confident to offer alternative views or opinions in a way that encourages interesting and positive discussion.
  • Try to avoid talking about yourself or monopolising the conversation. This isn’t about you.
  • Keep track of the time. If you’re using a watch, place it on the table so you can see it without being obvious. You don’t want to be bringing your wrist to your face every time you need to check the time. It’s distracting and can make people think they need to wrap up.
  • Bring a pen to jot down key words or ideas should the conversation spark a new question or concept.
  • Allow 10-15 minutes for audience questions at the end.
  • Be prepared to clarify/repeat audience questions.

I made my own colour thesaurus

After being inspired by Ingrid Sunberg’s ‘The Colour Thesaurus‘, I decided to put my day job to good use and share some of the wonderful colour names I come across as a showroom assistant at a kitchen cabinet company.

Every year, new colours of laminate, natural/composite stones, acrylics, timbers, metals, paints come in, and some of them have some extremely creative and inspiring names which I’ve shared below with the hope of inspiring others in their narrative descriptions.

Enjoy!

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Clear/white

Diamond, salt, icicle, polar, crystal, snowdrift, alpine, quartz, fleece, foam, silica, talc, dove, sorbet, mist, swan, alpine, avalanche, Everest, birch, calacatta

 Cream

Pearl, champagne, parchment, cappucchino, latte, porcelain, pannacotta, linen, antique, chalk, eggshell, putty, limed, nougat, pannacotta, frappe, crème brulee, carrina marble, ivory, clamshell, atlantic, alabaster, alpaca, twine, moleskin

Grey/silver

Smoke, palladium, iridium, ash, iron, gunmetal, nickel, oyster, carbon, armour, concrete, sarsen, pewter, platinum, seal, pumice, fossil, basalt, slate, soapstone

Yellow

Malt, buttermilk, ginseng, sand, chamois, honeycomb

Brown

Quarry, caraway, leather, char, cinder, truffle, wenge, hazel, cocoa, walnut, biscuit, taupe, cinnamon, kashmir/cashmere, mocha, feldspar, husk, macadamia, sable, bronze, teak, balsa, bamboo, maple, oak, mahogany, reed, straw, macchiato, shitake, clay, jute, peat, caper, espresso, moose, heartwood, russet, tawny

Black

Graphite, peppercorn, flint, ashphalt, aniseed, galileo, swan, raven, battalion, ebony, eclipse, midnight, licorice, volcano, domino

Red

Cabernet, tulip, redgum, alder, cherry, raspberry

Orange

Tangello, caviar, persimmon, mandarin, Olympic orange

Blue

Lagoon, peacock, teal, china, ocean, bay

Green

Snowgum, zinc, sorrel, jalapeno, olive, lichen, grass, spring, pesto, Amazon

Pink

Blush, posie, coral

Purple

Eggplant, plum

Petrified

The Beggar paces, antiquated pants hanging off his convex hips and rubber soles leaving ghostly impressions on the rain slick pavement. He raises his cup, thirsting for pity, but with each metallic chink of coin against coin, his head sinks lower.

Across the street, the Stray watches, bug eyes bulging from his emaciated head. An icy wind spurs him forward and, using the last of his tread, he slips between the jail bars of traffic to sit by the Beggar’s side.

The Beggar drops his cup and replaces it with the Stray’s mangled jowl, just to feel its warmth. The snowstorm breaks. Master and companion become a frostbitten handshake, an ancient pose petrified into the pavement.

***

This is a poem I had published in the first issue of Dubnium. For more great work from South Australian Creatives …

Available as an ebook from Tomely

Dubnium Cover

17 Questions a Publisher Might Ask of your Novel at a Pitching Session!

From the 24th to the 26th of July 2015, I was lucky enough to attend SA Writers Centre’s ‘Pitch Conference’ – an intensive three days of pitch workshops and 5 minute pitch sessions with publishers. It was the first time the conference was held in Adelaide and was made possible by the tireless work of SA Writers Centre staff including Director, Sarah Tooth and program director, Bethany Clark and funding bodies such as Arts SA.

pitch conference logo

Attendance was stellar and included the likes of Tim Tomlinson, President of New York Writers Workshop where the conference first began, and Australian publishers such as Kate Blake (Penguin), Sophie Hamley (Hachette), Meredith Curnow (Random House), Roberta Ivers (Simon and Schuster), Angus Fontaine (Pan Macmillan).

It was an extremely successful event with 27 out of 42 participants receiving requests from publishers and a total of 44 manuscripts being requested (some by multiple publishers). It was an invaluable opportunity for Adelaide writers to pitch their manuscripts directly to interstate publishers.

Here are some of the questions the publishers asked:

  1. Does your book have a central question / theme?
  2. What are some comparison titles?
  3. What are some comparison titles from Australian writers?
  4. Where did you set the book? Where would you imagine it being set? Why?
  5. Can you speak to broader concerns relating to the current political landscape of your novel?
  6. Main attraction of your book? Why would a reader gravitate to it?
  7. Is there a love interest? What’s the pacing of the romance?
  8. What’s the pacing of the story like? Backstory – journey – main conflict – resolution? How long does it take to get to the journey?
  9. Where did you get your inspiration from?
  10. What was your writing process in coming up with this story?
  11. Plot-driven or character driven? Why?
  12. Is there more than one main character? If so, how did you separate the voices?
  13. In what POV / tense is your novel written?
  14. What is the turning point of the novel?
  15. What are you willing to do to assist with selling your book?
  16. Why would our book be interesting to women? (Women make up 70% of market in terms of readers).
  17. Have you been published before? If not, what have you done to improve your writing?

Extra tips (nuggets of gold)

  • Answer the publisher’s questions as succinctly as possible. Don’t give convoluted answers or a scene-by-scene run-down of what happens in the novel.
  • Use buzzwords and punchy adjectives. Write your pitch in an active voice.
  • Use language that connects with the mood/tone of book’s world but make sure it’s not in the book’s prose.