Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What I said that made Tunisian students crack up...

Last January, our Prime Minister, with an astonishing lack of understanding of what it means to be an Australian today, gave Prince Philip a knighthood. 

Today, our treasurer indicated that he will work towards making our country a republic (something that really should have occurred at the time of federation in 1901). 

Both of these news items take me back to a time in the 1990s, when I was teaching several English language classes to engineering students at a university in Tunis, Tunisia, where we were living at the time. (Most of them were already fluent in French and Arabic).

It was a sharp learning curve for both them and me. On my first day, each time I walked into a new class and introduced myself, the students burst out laughing when I said I was Australian. I finally asked the last class of the day  what was so funny about Australia...? 

One student, braver than the rest, told me that in Tunisia that had a saying, "When my ship sails for Australia..." -- meaning the day that their wildest dream comes true. Australia was their Eldorado, their idea of Utopia, and the idea of going to Australia to live was akin to winning the lottery. They laughed because the idea that an Australian would want to come to Tunisia was both funny and utterly incomprehensible.

[This story is the prelude to the present influx of migrants across the Mediterranean. The despair of young people in North Africa is not something that started yesterday. The history of that is long; the world just chose to ignore it.]

But what was the thing that made these students really crack up? That happened later. During lessons, I tried to encourage them to talk in English as much as possible, and they were always eager to learn about Australia. They knew little, except that it was a land of wealth, where everyone could live a good life. They wanted to know details -- for example: What government did we have?
"And who is your Head of State?" one asked.
So I explained about the Governor-General and our relationship to the Queen. Of -- incomprehensibly -- Britain. 
They looked at me in total astonishment.
"Are you not independent, like us?" another asked. "Why would you have a Queen of another country as your monarch? C'est incroyable!" Unbelievable indeed and, to me at the time, highly embarrassing to have to admit.

And that was when they really cracked up. Yep, part of the rest of the world thinks our relationship to the Queen is high comedy.

Bring on the republic, please!

Monday, August 10, 2015


I have handed in the final book of THE FORSAKEN LANDS, called The Way of the Dagger. The only steps that remain to be done are the copyedit and the proofs. It is now slated to come out in April next year.

In the meantime: Book 1,  THE LASCAR'S DAGGER is available today for $A1.99 as the Amazon daily deal. 

Spread the word!

Friday, June 05, 2015


We live on a narrow strip of land between the Indian Ocean and the Peel Estuary. It's called (tongue in cheek) The Island, or Mandurah Island, because to get here by land is only possible if you cross a substantial bridge. There are three bridges, the third of which, to the south, spans an artificial cut made between the sea and the estuary, allowing more flow through the area. The estuary is fed by no less than three rivers -- the Murray, the Serpentine, the Harvey, plus a  number of seasonal streams.
The above photo is taken from "The Island" looking at an island in the estuary, the day before yesterday. A quiet, pleasant afternoon...
There were birds about -- it is a Ramsar Wetlands Area and an IBA (important bird area). We saw cormorants, duck, terns, gulls, pelicans, egrets, herons, darters, Black Swans, a Whistling Kite (which you can see against the white of the puffy cloud over the trees...)
And then all of a sudden, came a change. Cormorants and gulls and terns began streaming past...

More and more of them arriving by the minute, all heading in the same direction...
To this area above, where pelicans and cormorants were diving like maniacs and other birds gathered to glean the remains of a fish feast.

Until, below, the pelicans and other birds were so thick on the surface, we couldn't see the water.
Interestingly, the cormorants were behaving in a remarkable way when they were on the surface, thrashing the surface with their wings, ploughing and churning up the water. The only reason we could think of was that they were actually trying to herd the fish or confuse them in a way that benefited other birds.  
The schooling fish vanished, the birds disappeared, and the rainbow arced into the sky...
I love my island.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


 Perlis is the north-westernmost state of Peninsular Malaysia. It's tiny, poor and very beautiful, known for its rice fields and limestone outcrops. 
Rice fields
I love Perlis. Or I used to. I even climbed a good way up Gunung Perlis (Mt Perlis). I've trekked part of the way along the border ridge between Perlis and Thailand (on a trail through mountainous rainforest). I knew the village of Wang Kelian well back in the 80s, 90s and 00's. And the town of Kaki Bukit. And the border crossing between Wang Kelian in Malaysia and Wang Prachan of Satun Province in Thailand. 

 You can see a couple of my blog posts on the area here and here and here.  

So when I woke up one morning this week to this: Mass Graves in Perlis, Malaysia  
and this from CNN: 
Malaysian authorities have uncovered 139 graves of victims caught up in the human trafficking trade in forests close to the Thai border... ...police found 28 illegal camps, the largest of which may have held as many as 300 migrants. The fact that the camp was fenced and guarded by sentries shows that the trafficked people were captives... 

It was a bit of a shock. There was evidence of torture and unbelievable horror. Many graves contained more than one body. That's right. This was mass murder, and death probably came slowly by starvation and diseases of malnutrition, as well as torture. 

 Here's what the Guardian has to say: 

“There were stories about these camps that went back nearly 10 years,” Matthew Friedman, the former chief of the UN inter-agency project on human trafficking, told the Guardian. He now heads the Mekong Club, which campaigns against slavery in Asia. “We passed the information on to the local authorities, but there was no follow-up.”  

How could that happen? One thing I am certain about -- nothing happens along that border -- NOTHING -- that local people don't know about. Families in the area spill across the border, which is just a line drawn on a map to locals.

When we trekked this area, there were soldiers patrolling. We had to apply for permission to enter  areas in the thickly forested slopes of the national park along the Thai border.  

I remember once when we were birding one weekday along the road that led to the border crossing. In those days, perhaps 12 or 15 years ago, the road was quiet -- no more than three or four vehicles an hour making the crossing, except at the weekends when there was a cross-border market. On one side of the road was a wet marshy area of forest, on the other, a damp earth ditch and a wire fence, separating us from the no man's land of the border.  

A flat-bed truck (a ute if you're an Australian) passed us and stopped maybe 50m from the Malaysian immigration/custom post. In full view of us and the immigration post, several men hopped out of the car. Each shouldered a large full jerrycan that had been wrapped in thick sacking. They then crossed the road and jumped into the ditch. They walked along it until it ran under the fence into Thailand, where they scrambled under the wire.   

They were quite blatantly smuggling petrol from Malaysia (where it was subsidised and cheap) into Thailand, where it was much more expensive. This smuggling was so brazen we were left gobsmacked. They made no attempt to hide, and made only the most inadequate of attempts to be unobtrusive in order to provide the customs officers on both sides of the border with a chance to look the other way.  

Did we report this? To whom was it possible to report, may I ask? Every policeman and government servant in the area already knew. In fact, they knew far more than us -- the names of all those involved, for example. 

  And here, I believe, we have the perfect example of what can happen when corruption gets a hold. A little cross-border smuggling is the beginning, a little harmless look-the-other-way and pocket a few dollars in pay-off (probably from your cousin or your cousin's pal).   

In the end, you are looking the other way while the poorest of the poor are tortured and murdered in your backyard.

  Perlis, the Pearl of the North.  Oh, Malaysia...

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Remember the thrombolites and stromatolites, those ancient organisms that put the oxygen into the atmosphere? The other day we were at yet another lake around here that has some...
Lake Richmond, Safety Bay.
Australian Black Ducks standing on thrombolites
Lake Richmond, W.A.'s deepest freshwater lake (15m+)
The stream that flows into the lake

Pelicans, Sea-eagle, Red-necked Stints, Great Crested Grebes et al...
White-bellied Sea-eagle and a Whistling Kite
This was a trip organised by Birdlife Australia. I am gradually getting into birding here, although the final book of the Forsaken Lands still dominates life at the moment.
Notice those blue skies. And we are coming into winter. I love the Australian dusk, the sunsets are gorgeous, and at this time of the lunar month I look out my kitchen window to see the sliver of a new moon and the bright twinkle of Venus.

Thursday, May 07, 2015


 Flying through the sea...
 Where we were today... Dawes Cut.
Above: a fire in the distance: possibly a controlled burn.
 Husband was fishing, see below. I was polishing book 3 of the THE FORSAKEN LANDS.

And we were visited by a very large stingray -- over a metre wide. A huge thing. I know that Australia has the biggest ray, and it may have well been that one, the Smooth Stingray, which has a very short tail. 

I actually suspect though that this fellow may have had his sting and part of his tail chopped off by an ignorant human being who thought wild animals should not have anything that might be threat to him.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


 When travelling back from Jurien Bay, we stopped to have lunch at Hangover Bay (above) and came across these odd looking leathery egg sacs hanging on coastal vegetation. We actually didn't have the faintest idea of what they were.  A centimetre in diameter, they were suspended by strong springy spun threads in two groups of four. The 4 on the left of the photo were whitish, the other 4 much darker and more distinctly marked. The whiter ones had tiny holes and appeared to be empty.
You can see one of the tiny holes as a black dot.
Being one of the nosy naturalists that we are, I detached one of the empty ones and tried to break it open. No go. It was as tough as boot leather, and resisted being torn. We left the others as they were and I did some checking when we arrived home.

As far as I can see after a Google search, they are probably the egg sacs of the Bird-dropping Spider -- so called, not because it drops birds, but because it is a squashy, messy-looking fellow that resembles a bird dropping. We didn't see the lady guarding her eggs, so maybe her disguise was really good...

Bird-dropping Spider (Celaenia excavata)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

Over the past two weeks I have been asked by three different people:
                                  Where do you get your ideas from?"
If you are not a novelist, you probably have no idea how common that question is!

Answers vary from the tongue in the cheek ("At this quaint little curiosity shop in the lane behind the markets..."), to the more mundane ("From inside my head"). Only one of those is near true.

Even more truthfully, I can illustrate the answer to the question by the photo above, taken this week while with a group of naturalists from the West Australian Naturalists Club exploring the Mount Lesuer National Park near Jurien Bay, some 270 km north of Perth. If you look very carefully, you will get an idea of scale -- there is someone actually standing at the middle of the foot of that dark...thing.

Most people, coming across something like that, would look at it -- and after dismissing the possibility of an elephant rampaging around in the West Australia woodlands -- would decide that it is actually some kind of dead plant. In fact, a closer look would reveal a dead tree covered with a tangle of dodder, a kind of creeper (Cuscuda sp).

 But to  a writer?
Our brains work differently. We look at something ordinary, and think something extraordinary. In effect, we ask ourselves, "What if...?"

In this case:
"What if that was really an alien life form?" (A science fiction writer)
"What if there was a skeleton hidden in there?" (A crime writer)
"What if that dodder was a magic twine keeping an evil sorcerer imprisoned in its coils?" (A fantasy writer)
"What if that plant was about to take over the earth?" (A horror writer)
"What if it was the disguised entrance to an underground laboratory?" (A thriller writer.)

So the truth is that writers see exactly landscape as non-writers, but our brains use the mundane as the spring board for our imaginations. And that is where we get our ideas.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

When a writer hands in a manuscript....

They need a break.
Really, they do.
The book is far from finished. There are still revisions and edits, polish and condensing, expanding and inserting cutting to be done. But for a moment, there is a need to do something else.

Birding, for instance. 
So this is what I've been up to,
 around my area:
At Black Lake (above) and Creery Wetlands (below)
Above:  Four species, one photograph -- Great Egret, Australasian Ibis, Yellow-billed Spoonbill and Grey Teal.
Lake Goegrup at dusk
Pelicans on Lake Goegrup
Little Pied Cormorant
A Magpie goes birding
Osprey and Silver Gull
Must try this
Quenda (Bandicoot) at dusk

A Wecome Swallow from above

                  And a Welcome Swallow looks up:
Dusk at Erskine Lake

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Oh, flowers!

Husband had the champagne on ice when I came home from Swancon. 
(He's a very special man!)
And today the Hachette Australia delivered flowers. Many thanks to Louise, Justin and Fiona.
Love my publisher!

Monday, April 06, 2015


Well, what a lovely day yesterday was.

SWANCON, the SF convention of Western Australia, was this year also the Australian National SF convention, which for a start is always fun. This year the International Guest was author and blogger John Scalzi ( an inspired choice!) and the National Guest was Kylie Chan (equally fabulous!). And I was sharing a hotel room with Donna M. Hanson, Canberra writer, con-organiser and longtime friend. So all those things = have a great time.

Lots of old friends, uncovered new ones. 
Yesterday I had a kaffeeklatsch with some of the attendees, which gave me an excuse to babble (and thanks for all who came to listen). In the evening, there were the awards, which included the Tin Ducks (for West Australian talent), the Ditmars (the national awards) and the A.Bertram Chandler Award for Contributions to Australian SF.

So what  could  be better than for me to win two awards and for Donna to win the Bertram Chandler (richly deserved, I might say, as there is no one who has worked harder than Donna in the interests of Australian SF). The Ditmar was shared in a tie with the lovely Trudi Canavan (who is touring in Europe at the moment). For my book to be up there with Thief's Magic is a huge compliment.

So there I am with not one, but two, especially crafted and totally gorgeous trophies and some very golden memories. The photo below is of Donna holding Trudi's award and me with my Ditmar.

Me looking as supercilious as possible
The presenter was John Scalzi, and that man is SO MEAN. We had been talking earlier on and I'd told him that I'd never won anything and so there was no way he'd be presenting anything to me that night, cos I don't win things.

When he announced the award, and realising that Trudi was not present, he said "And the winner is Thief's Magic by Trudi Canavan!"
That presentation was made and I thought, 'Oh well, no surprise...'
 And that sneaky man then said, fixing me with a beady eye...  "Wait, there's more. It was a tie..."

 And here is me (cynically dubious of the depth of his contrition)  wondering if I should forgive him:

Of course no one wins awards without help. 
My beta readers are fabulous for a start. 
My editor at Orbit (Hachette), Jenni Hill, deserves a mention.
 And then there's all the folk at Swancon and Natcon who worked to organise the awards. And lastly -- and perhaps most importantly -- all those people who voted. 

Very hard to photogroph because they are clear!
You rock, one and all.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


I shall be attending Swancon over Easter. Please come and say Hi if you are attending. I will be on at least one panel (with John Scalzi -- exalted company!) 

I am giving a kaffeeklatch as well (small group discussion over coffee/tea where you can ask me anything.) There will be a gift for everyone turning up to that -- books and other stuff. 

Most of the time I will just be hanging out in the bar or around the hotel. Please feel free to come up and introduce yourself if we haven't met.

I believe the Ditmar and the Tinduck Awards will also be announced during the convention. (And for those attending, have you voted yet?)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


The one on the left is the UK cover.  The book itself is a smaller size and the cover is slightly bluer and darker. 
 The US book on the left has a tinge more green and is lighter.

The other difference is in the reader/reviewer comments on the back. 

UK has quotes from Elizabeth Moon and Karen Miller; 
US has Karen again (but a different quote), Publishers Weekly and RT Book Reviews.

I have no idea why there is a difference, 
but I suspect there is a reason!