Friday, March 31, 2006

And I have to hear about my daughter's car accident by reading her blog...?

Kids! When I complained, she said 'Well, Mum, I learn all sorts of things first from reading your blog...' Sign of the times, I guess. We live in different countries and blog publicly before we talk privately. How mad is that?

My daughter is surreal. She has a penchant for weird car accidents. In this one she had a car full of drums.
My first accident was backing into a broken-down post. Hers? She managed to drive into the side of a stationary three-week-old Bentley.
And if that wasn't enough, there was a fatality too, but fortunately he was dead first. Yep, she drove her car into a hearse. With a body in a coffin. And flowers. And an audience of mourners waiting for the procession to drive off to the cemetery. I hope they had a sense of humour as they watched the coffin rocking under the impact.

Her band has just had a single out in UK, and it is doing well - nice reviews. They have their next release in Australia, April 10th. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can visit their website here: F.O.Machete.

Photos by Simon Clark
(copyright)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Author Trepidation

The rain is bucketing down - lightning tripped the circuit-breaker an hour ago in the middle of the storm - but the bucket in my dining room has remained dry. This, after 3 visits from the roof guy who muttered all the while about people who ought to know when they have to shell out for a new roof. I don't think he believed me, especially as we were only talking about half the roof, when I said we can't afford it yet a while.

So the lack of a leak was a plus. Second plus, it seems we may have found a small apartment in Kota Kinabalu - with, would you believe a view of Mount Kinabalu, surely one of the world's most spectacular and memorable mountains, rising as it does - like Kilimanjaro - so far about its immediate surroundings. 4095 m, 13,435 ft.

Even so, today I am a firewalker on hot coals...can't stay still. My latest baby is out there in the world, on its own for the first time, and no one has yet told me how lovely it is. Or how puking awful. Or anything.

I wanna be a playwright. They don't have to wait days or weeks to find out what everyone thinks of their offspring.

And, there is absolutely no connection between all that and the fact that a category four cyclone (hurricane), Cyclone Glenda, is on the rampage in Australia, heading into my home state.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Win a free book!

If you don't know about this opportunity to win a free copy of Heart of the Mirage, scroll down a bit for details.

Here is the first question:

The second book of The Mirage Makers trilogy is now called The Shadow of Tyr. While I was writing it, it had another name. What was that name?

Do NOT send in your answer yet. There are 2 more questions coming up within the next 2 weeks.

And just for the heck of it, here's a picture to brighten up your day. It was taken by my husband - and those are not beetles sitting on the wings of that moth. That's just nature pretending...
And the dead leaf in the bottom left? That's another moth.
And we sff folk talk about sensawunda? Nature beat us to it by eons.

At last, some sense on bird flu...

I was interviewed by Tan Cheng Li from The Star newspaper last week, and today the article came out. And a very good article it is too, to counterbalance some of the wild statements that have issued forth from the mouths of the ignorant in this country. There was even one state politician who seemed to be suggesting that we kill all migratory birds.

There is far more evidence to suggest that wild birds do NOT spread bird flu than there is evidence to suggest that they do. Interesting, eh? Especially when so much of governmental investigation is aimed at wild birds. One hopes they are also committing the same amount of resources to the illegal transport of poultry, illegal import/sale of caged birds and cock-fighting birds, import of organic manure, organic fish-food and poultry feed - all of which have been heavily implicated elsewhere.

I don't want to die of bird flu. I want the truth about its causes and how it is spread. And while people point the finger only at wild birds - thereby avoiding blame for their/our human stupidity - then we are not searching for the truth.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Three free books for readers of this blog...

Ok, folk, if you'd like a free copy of Heart of the Mirage
- book 1 in "The Mirage Makers" trilogy - here's how:
Open only to folk who are NOT residents of Australia & New Zealand.
(Mean, aren't I?) You folk downunder have a chance to buy a copy in your local bookstore from Wednesday onwards.


1. Answer 3 questions which will be up on this blog sometime in the next two weeks. Answers can be found somewhere in the blog. (Fortunately I've only been at this two months, so you don't have far to search!)
2. Once question number 3 appears, send your 3 answers to me at info@glendalarke.com

The first question will appear tomorrow. The first 3 people to supply correct answers to all 3 questions will then be asked to supply a snailmail address for postage of the book.

If you want to know what the book is about, here's the media release from Harper Collins:
A magnificent new offering from the author of The Isles of Glory trilogy, brimming with betrayal, invasion, magic, and survival against all odds.
'From my early childhood, my life was paved with the mosaics of illusion … a history of betrayal'

The Exaltarch rules the Tyrans Empire through force and a network of spies known as the Brotherhood. In Kardiastan, the empire has forced out the ruling class of Magor and imposed their own leaders.

Ligea Gayed, one of the top agents of the Brotherhood, is ordered to find a Kardiastan rebel leader and bring him to justice. A straightforward enough assignment for her, but all Ligea finds is mystery upon mystery. The rebels seem able to come and go at will. And if Tyranian soldiers attempt to cross the desert in pursuit, they are never heard from again.

As circumstances begin to unleash chaos into her world, Ligea is forced to face her own demons and her own violent past so that she may discover the secrets of the Magor of Kardiastan …

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Glenda Larke was born in Western Australia. She trained as a teacher and taught English in Australia, Vienna, Tunisia and Malaysia. She currently combines her passion for writing fantasy with an equal passion for bird watching and rainforest conservation. Glenda has two adult children and lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with her husband. She has recently become a grandmother and has spent some time in America, looking after her new grandson. Glenda's first trilogy with HarperCollins Voyager, The Isles of Glory was popular with readers and critically acclaimed.
Travelling has given me ideas galore. And I think I have gained an understanding of how cultural differences are formed… an essential understanding for a fantasy writer who has to build a whole society from scratch.’

ACCLAIM FOR ‘The Mirage Makers’:

Glenda Larke writes stories of real consequence, and this is no exception. Powerful, down to earth and filled with the sharpness of the true storyteller, The Mirage Makers is entertainment with an edge.’
Russell Kirkpatrick, author of The Fire of Heaven trilogy

‘The Mirage Makers is a masterpiece! Larke has crafted a compelling tale of duty, honour, and redemption set in a Byzantine empire filled with betrayal, passion and greed. One of the finest writers of fantasy fiction Australia has to offer, and a world-builder extraordinaire. Larke’s characters jump off the page and take a hold of the reader’s heart and mind. You will remember this take and the world it is set in, long after you have finished reading!’
Mark Timmony, Galaxy Bookshop, Sydney

ACCLAIM FOR ‘The Isles of Glory’:

‘This is a novel from an experienced and gifted writer and it shows’
Visions magazine (on The Aware)
The Aware is part mystery, part political intrigue, part love story and many parts rollicking adventure. The action takes place in the refuse tip of Gorthan Spit, and Larke paints a nose-twitchingly vivid picture of this ramshackle, cut-throat harbour and its denizens.’
The Courier Mail (on The Aware)
Really, really good! A witty, enthralling story to keep you up late!’
Trudi Canavan, author of The Magician’s Guild (on Gilfeather)
Selling this one is going to be easy. For the first time in ages there is a book I think just about anyone who is into fantasy would enjoy’
Stefan Brazulatis, Dymocks Carousel (on Gilfeather)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ten things I have learned as a fantasy writer.

Over at Ben Peek's blog here and at Elizabeth Bear's here , there are great lists on what they have learned as a writer...

So here's my ten things I have learned as a fantasy writer:

1. No matter how brilliantly you write, there will still be people who will assume you write crap because it’s fantasy.
2. There is no way a fantasy writer can answer the question, ‘What’s it about?’ without sounding like an utter idiot.
3. There will always be the odd person who thinks you write the other kind of fantasy.
4. No matter how much you think people who read speculative fiction of any kind must be in search of writing that is sharply different, imagination-challenging and intellectually stimulating, the truth is that, by and large, what sells best is the comfortable stuff that wouldn’t challenge a Barbie doll.
5. There is no way a fantasy writer can answer the question, ‘Will they make a film out of it?’ without sounding like you’re making excuses for not being good enough.
6. It’s better not to look at the expression on the face of the person who has just said, “Fantasy? Oh, you write children’s books!” as you try to explain that no, you actually write stuff for adults.
7. Fantasy writers stutter a lot when speaking to people who don’t read fantasy but want to know all about it.
8. Science fiction writers are not always kind about fantasy books or fantasy writers.
9. Any sff book that achieves success in the wider world of literary fiction gets called something else – like “magical realism” or “surreal fiction” or “fabulist" or "a visionary portrayal” or “an allegorical look at the modern world” or “a futuristic tale of…” You get the picture. Never science fiction or fantasy.
10. Marketing people think dragons on the cover sell books, even if there’s no dragon in the story. Likewise with wolves, chain-mail (especially on women), swords (especially wielded by babes), castles on crags, bearded ancient sages with staffs, eagles, stormy skies, ravens…

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Mixed Bag Day

My husband went off to work this morning with all the gate and front door keys, leaving me locked inside. Well, I could get out of the backdoor, but not out of the yard, not unless I climbed over the front gate - and left without the car. When he came home, much abashed, I accused him of doing a Taliban. Lucky I still have a sense of humour...

On the up-side, I received a copy of The Aware from my publishers. A peek inside, and I see why - it's their way of telling me it has gone to a fifth printing. Yay!

Also nice was an email from my wonderful agent, telling me she thought Book 2 of The Mirage Makers was 'unputdownable' and lots of other nice things. She also remarked that it was a wonderful title for a wonderful book (the selection of that title gave me endless trouble, you may remember!). The MS has now been delivered and has entered the process towards publication. Whew.

Out in the garden a couple of Plantain Squirrels have been doing repeated circuits, one chasing the other: across the verandah, up the mango tree to the rambutan, down the bamboo and through the gingers, up the avocado, down the other side of the house under the longan tree, and back to verandah - all done at the pace of a cheetah on a double dose of speed and amphetamines. I suspect it was all about sex and being macho...it usually is. For pix see here.

Dennis (the birder) and I once had a strange experience with this species in the Johor mangroves. We were in a small open boat, investigating the birdlife of some of the tangle of hidden waterways, quietly paddling along, when we heard the subdued chatter of squirrels. Not one or two, but dozens and dozens of them. They came through the trees like long lines of soldier ants, one following close behind another. No squabbling, no racing, just squirrels wherever you looked. They crossed the waterway we were on by following the network of branches overhead. We counted thirty-five - but they were just the ones we saw. There was chattering all around us, as others unseen passed through the trees. After a while, they all came back again.

It was eerie. I was reminded of that children's song: Don't go out in the woods today...for every bear there ever was will gather there for certain, Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic...

Just substitute squirrel for teddy bear, and there you are. As a child I always thought there was something creepy about that song, and now I know why. The picnic was probably an orgy.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Russian Translations...


Havenstar was published six or so years ago in Russian translation, and I have only just found out what it was called: Stars of Hope . (Thanks Tsana).

The English version can be bought secondhand for 30 pounds and upwards at the moment, which is a heck of a lot cheaper that what it was selling for in the US recently.

Tsana also tells me that The Aware is called She Who Sees. This is the cover for those who missed it the other day (see below for my comments on 19th March).



Thursday, March 23, 2006

So, what's the book about?

Heart of the Mirage is available in Australia – at least from some bookshops – as early next week.

The story of this book resonated with me from the moment I first started to build it up from the foundations of the idea, but I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to talk about where the ideas came from, the ideas that fuelled the story…
It started when we were living in Vienna, Austria. I turned on the TV one Easter, and they were showing a made-for-TV film in Italian (which I do not speak) with subtitles in German (of which I understood about half because I tend to read a foreign language too slowly). So I was a bit hampered linguistically, but as far as I could tell, it told the story of a Roman official sent by Rome around 1 AD to find out why a man they thought they had crucified was being reported as having been miraculously seen after death. Sounds like a fantasy, I thought, and my mind was off and running.

I was at the time writing The Aware, so I never did anything about the idea just then.

In the years before and after I had been becoming acquainted with the Romans ruins around Europe – walking sites as far apart as Hadrian’s Wall and Roman roads in the UK to Nîmes in France, to the bits and pieces under Vienna itself, to so many major ruins of Italy (all heady stuff for someone from Australia where ruins go back 200 years if you are lucky).

I remember catching the last bus of the day with my sister, and getting off on a cold March evening under a louring sky so that we could walk and see the aqueduct at the Pont du Gard. Magnificent arches looped across a river valley. There was no one around, no traffic, just this ancient edifice of stone, the rushing water and the promise of rain in a dark sky in the late evening. This was the stuff of stories.

Then we moved to live in Tunis. There was a base of a genuine Roman column in our garden. Digging in the rose bed could unearth pieces of Roman tiles. My study where I did my writing had a window that looked out towards the Mediterranean. I could see the ruins of Carthage in one direction, and the Jebel Bou Kornine – the sacred double-horned mountain of Carthage - in the other. The Punic civilization that was Carthage was obliterated by Roman in 146 BC. More stuff of stories.

I have always loved the Australian inland. The colours, the savagely aged landscape, the stark and yet beautiful brutality of a land that has too little water and too much sun. My mother told me stories of dust storms she faced as a young wife on a lonely farm, stirring my imagination. In Tunisia and Algeria I saw a different desert. I felt the heat of the winds that blew out of the desert and dumped its sand onto our doorstep in summer. More stories.

During this time in my life, my children were suddenly growing up and going off to university, coming home in a rush and filling the house with friends and then gone again, so confident and busy and independent. They were a joy in my life, and I considered those mothers who had not had that joy – stories had emerged in the 1970s and 80s as my children grew, of Aboriginal children, the stolen generation, taken forcibly from their families to be raised among strangers in a strange culture for reasons we cannot now fathom.

Further away from home, in Argentina, there were other perhaps even more tragic, heartbreaking tales – stories of brutality, rape and murder – where a military junta took newborn babies away from women they then murdered, sometimes apparently by pushing them out of planes over the sea while still alive. Those who murdered the parents raised the children, steeping them in the very ideas the parents had fought against and died to resist. Tragic stories that resonated. That grieved me, as a mother.

And each story provided an idea that would become part of the base on which I built my own story, The Mirage Makers trilogy.

I had my ideas, and I began to plot the tale, my tale. It's not a Roman story. Or a Punic one. It's not that TV show, or the Australian desert, or the Sahara, or the Argentinian military junta. It's my very own world, my very own tale. A tale of betrayal and war and love and courage, set in an empire called the Exaltarchy – an empire ruled by legions, based on slavery, and about to be torn apart by rebellion.

Read it. You can buy it online through Australian bookshops

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Robbery, Roth and Rain

As we were about to leave the house at dawn for our walk, our nextdoor neighbour called us across to the fence to tell us they had been woken up just before five a.m. by the sound of a gas tank being heaved at their locked bedroom door. Before they could do anything, four men rushed into the room and held a knife to the throat of the woman. They were robbed of their handphones, laptop, camera, cash and jewellery. They were then tied up with their son and the thieves left.

They both seem remarkably cool about such a terrifying experience. As the couple are government pensioners, they are hardly rich and one of their concerns during the course of the robbery was whether they would be able to persuade the robbers that they really didn't have scads of dollars and diamonds hidden in some secret place.

Such robberies have become a way of life. Hardly a week goes by that we don't hear of another in our area. The perpetrators often appear to be Indonesian workers who think having a night job is part of the deal of an immigrant worker in Malaysia. We have had two recent unsuccessful robbery attempts during the day at our house (I startled one by coming back, my sister-in-law did the same thing to the other), followed by a devastatingly destructive robbery that resulted in four smashed doors and a cut grille, lost cash, laptop, camera and - because they took the whole dry box - the loss years of irreplaceable digital photographs. I'm just glad that no one was home. We now have an extensive, supposedly foolproof, alarm system.

It seems we pay the price for having a poverty-stricken neighbour across the Straits of Malacca that exports its thieves along with its hard workers.

The other kind of common theft - more probably committed by local drug addicts - is the theft of metal. People come home to find their gates missing; in the street everything goes - the metal covers to drains, signs, poles, fences, guard rails, even electricity pylons have been brought crashing down by such brainfried idiots...

The shame of this is that there must be so many local people willing to deal in stolen goods to make it all worthwhile. We are quick to blame Indonesians, but they are selling the fruits of their robberies to someone. The people who buy the metal, the cheap handphone, the laptop: you are just as guilty as the man who holds the knife to the neck of a terrified child. Be careful, my friend; next time it might by you woken up in the middle of the night, your children threatened with death. Think twice.

On the reading front, I am halfway through Roth's Plot Against America, which leaves me, each time I put the book down, with a deep sense of sadness at the human idiocy of hope. I don't mean the sort of hope that inspires, but rather the kind of hope that people hang onto in place of common sense and wisdom because they don't think. Because it's easier to hope things will turn out all right, than to do something to make it happen.

Just to round out the day, our roof is leaking. I called in someone to fix it. He came, did something, told us our whole roof needs replacing, and left.

Then it rained. Heavily. We now have two leaks instead of one. Or rather, we have the original drip into a bucket in the dining room, and a waterfall down the wall in the family room. What the hell did they do?

Monday, March 20, 2006

On Being a Writer: Making the Dream Come True – Step One.

I watched - with appalled fascination - some of the early trials for American Idol. It was eye-opening to see so many thousands of young people with impossible dreams: all wanted to be stars. There were so many of them that, if all succeeded, there would be no one left to listen. No audience for tens of thousands of singers…

And some of them were beyond terrible, yet didn’t seem to know it. Some were devastated when they were weeded out, as if life was now over. It was both pathetic and frightening. Rather like reading about the poll they did of British school kids some time back, asking them what they wanted to be. By far the most common answer was “popstar” or similar; even, with delicious vagueness, “celebrity”.

That was the sum total of their ambition? Do they have any idea of what they are asking for? Any idea that it’s not the fame that’s important, but the love of music? Any idea of the hard work it normally takes to be that successful? Maybe that’s one of the attractions of American Idol or similar shows – it seems like such a shortcut. Add water and stir: instant fame, without the hard stuff. Unhappily, there are also a lot of writers out there with unrealistic expectations too. Who want the fame without the work.

So, if you want to be a writer, should you hold on to that dream? Because here’s the first unpleasant truth: not all of you out there dreaming are going to make it. Not even those of you who work damn hard. Not even those of you who have talent. Not even one in five thousand of you.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming. But there is something else that is even more important, and you should never forget it: it doesn’t matter if the dream doesn’t come true. Why not? Because you are loving the journey. Because what really matters is the love of writing. If you don’t have that, then you shouldn’t be doing this. You’ll be like one of those young singers, dreaming not of the song, but of the celebrity.

So how can you make the dream come true?

Here’s step one and it’s the simplest one of all, and the most fun, and yet it is also the most important:

Buy New Books. Read. Teach your kids to read. Read to them at bedtime every night. Buy books for your grandkids. Give books as gifts to your friends and family. Ask for books as presents for yourself. Raise generations of readers.

Huh?
Yeah, that’s right. Publishers are in a business. If they don’t make lots of money, they won’t sign up lots of new authors – of which you might be one. So that’s the first step you can take down the road to being an author.

Told you it was simple.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Covers again: gotta love 'em...


I have just seen the Russian cover of The Aware.

To appreciate this, you should know that when I was mulling over the idea for this trilogy, I made a very deliberate decision not to write books set in a medieval-type world, or in one filled with druids and Celtic or Arthurian-style heroes.

I love worldbuilding, and I hope it shows. (I've wondered if that is one reason why Havenstar is so popular.)

I like to describe the world of The Isles of Glory as somewhere between Captain Cook at Botany Bay (1770s) and the Voyage of the Beagle (1830s), and the first book, The Aware, is set on an island that is no more than a sub-tropical sand spit with one main port and not much else. No horses on this sand spit. No dragons either. See if you can separate the guys from the, um, ladies....

By the way, the other two books have very different settings again - but no Eurocentric cities anywhere. If you like your fantasy settings to be stone castles ruled by a king in armour with young princes learning to joust, this may not be the series for you. But I do have mangroves and bird stacks and carved cliffs and strange lakes and British Colonial-type towns and less than salubrious ports and tidal races and...well, go buy the books and read.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Borneo Blog coming up...!

My husband - that's him there without the feathers - has just accepted a 6 month contract to be a Visiting Professor at the University of Malaysia Sabah (UMS), at the Institute of Tropical Biology & Conservation.

What, you may ask, is an ex Deputy Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna doing messing around with conservation in North Borneo? Well, he's a man of many parts...

He's particularly interested in beetles, moths, gingers and fungus. And teaching. And field biology, expeditions...you name it.

What does this mean for us? Well, in between visiting my daughter in the US, and doing some environmental work for the Malaysian Nature Society here in Kuala Lumpur on the mainland, I will also be living part-time in Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo. And oh, yes, there's a little thing of writing another 100,000 words of my latest book before the end of July. And going through the copy-edit and proofing of the one I just completed as well, sometime in this period.

And Malaysians retire at 56. Are they insane?

My husband is looking forward to being back in Academia, occupying that office with his name on the door, and I know that what my mother said to me when I told her I was marrying this guy is absolutely true: "You'll never be bored."

She was obviously psychic.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sorry, don’t want that Hugo…

There has been a bit of discussion on some of the Australian blogs about whether one can opt to withdraw from consideration for an award.

And I say: No, you shouldn't be able to.

An award is not a contest. It is not something that you, the writer, enter. It is something bestowed on you - or your work - for your excellence.

If Aloysius Muddlesworthy decides - because he is a really, really nice guy and he has been winning the Best Book of the Year Award for residents of Downunder for umpteen years - that he doesn'’t want his work to be considered any more, and the organisers agree to allow it, then he is short-changing both the award and his fellow Downunderian writers.

How can Scintilla Cuddlesbug, this year'’s winner, feel proud of her win if she knows that the Muddlesworthy book was not considered? She -– and everyone else -will be wondering if her book really deserved the win, or whether it just won by default. That'’s not fair to her, and it devalues the Award.

And what about Spyte Sickleton, you might ask? He had a different reason for not wanting his work to be considered. Maybe he thinks the Award is crap. Maybe he thinks the judges take bribes. Or maybe he just had a row with the organiser. He might be paranoid, or he might have a very valid reason. The actual reason doesn'’t matter - he feels that if his work is considered, he is being a hypocrite after he'’s spent the past year telling everyone the awards suck. So, you might ask - shouldn'’t he be allowed to withdraw his work from consideration?

My answer remains : No. For the same reasons as above. If you are going to have an award for The Best Book of the Year in Downunder, then every eligible book should be considered - or discarded -– by the judges or the voters. Not by the writers.

Fortunately, Mr Sickleton still has a choice. He can refuse the award if he wins. That'’s his privilege. He should not, however, have the privilege of withdrawing in the first place.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Tooth Fairy Bird

Are you worried about bird flu?
You ought to be, not least because of the misinformation occurring -
prompted by fear or greed in the farming sector,
or perhaps even by the ignorance of researchers who don't understand bird migration.

At the moment, evidence points to the real vectors NOT being wild birds.
In fact, wild birds seem to be the victims, rather than the cause.


So read on about the real culprit:
The Tooth Fairy Bird.


Surely one of the most startling of the flurry of new findings made during the spread of H5N1 avian influenza has been the discovery of the Tooth Fairy Bird – which we believe is the first bird species to have been initially described by virologists, and is remarkable for being able to survive and sustain and spread H5N1. Here, we present a review of information on this intriguing taxon.

Perhaps a single existing bird species, perhaps a closely or remotely related grouping of bird species, the Tooth Fairy Bird has never been certainly recorded, but like esoteric sub-atomic particles its existence has been inferred through a variety of indirect means. By drawing on reports from virologists, agriculture and health officials and journalists – though as yet, alas, not ornithologists and birders – it is possible to describe the behaviour of this unusual bird, whose Latin name is yet to be settled upon, though suggestions include Robwebsters petnotionas, Vectorius (mythicus) invisiblus, and Anas stealthbomberensis.

In brief, the Tooth Fairy Bird is capable of both surviving infection by a strain of H5N1 that is otherwise highly lethal to all species it infects, and of flying long distances, efficiently spreading the virus at only few places it visits. Curiously, rather than follow major migration timings and flyways, it often flies long distances when many birds are not migrating, and has a strong tendency to follow railway lines and roads. Further, once the Tooth Fairy Bird has introduced the virus to a new area, it then plays little or no role in spreading the virus there; indeed, it may quickly vanish altogether

-- from Dr Martin Williams and Nial Moores

For the full text, click here.
And my apologies to Dr Williams. In the initial post, I gave him a new first name...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The mystery of the missing middle book ...

I just got my royalty statements from HarperCollins Oz this week, and while chatting with another HC Voyager author on the same day, we both remarked that the third book of our trilogies had sold a whole lot better than the middle one. Huh?

So what we both want to know is:
Why on earth do so many of you skip the middle volume?
Is it that the middle book so often sucks, you decide to skip it on principle?
Is it that publishers have got it wrong - you don't want trilogies, you want duologies instead?
Everyone gets the middle one from the library?
You buy one between you and pass it around?
Two is an unlucky number?

I really am intrigued. Especially as I thought that the middle book of mine, Gilfeather, was actually the best of the three. And I would have thought that it would be very difficult to understand book 3 without having read it.

So, can anyone tell me: what is it about middle books?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Downside of Being a Writer

There are two things I dislike about being a writer.

The first is that I enjoy reading less. The second is that I don’t have much time to read anyway. And that's tough for someone who started reading so young she can't remember how she learned.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of reading. The joy of snuggling up in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night in one of those soft and lumpy armchairs with a book I hadn’t read. Waking up on a hot Christmas morning, the sun already heating up the unlined zinc roof overhead, knowing that there would be a new book in my stocking, (bestowed by wise parents who didn’t want kids waking them up too early).

Reading everything a zillion times because there were never enough books. Loving it when I was nine and new neighbours moved in on a farm half a mile or so away with a library of books that they didn’t mind lending. Loving it when I was ten and my sister started university and began bringing home all those lovely, lovely books by people I’d never heard of with wonderfully exotic Russian and French and Jewish and German names…

There was no T.V., of course, and we lived in a household that "went to the flicks" much less often than we visited the dentist. The only library was at school, and books were rationed like wartime coffee. We were allowed to change a single book once a week. (Perhaps it was reverse psychology on the teachers’ part – to inculcate a love of reading by making it an almost forbidden treat? If so, it worked. Reading was a wonder, a joy, and a new book was indeed something delicious to be savoured. Of course, being kids, we bookworms got around the rationing. We each took out one book, read it and passed it on.)

Now, however, whenever I read for pleasure, there is almost always part of me that is observing the tools used by the author. The plot devices. The dialogue tricks. The way they have built characters or shifted a scene, or foreshadowed an event. I note the clumsy phrase and think to myself, "Well I would have done that another way..."

It's a pain. I want to get lost in a good book the way I did as a child. I want that sense of immersion, of being somewhere else, of being someone else. And very, very occasionally it does happen. There comes along a writer who whisks me away from this world with such a deft touch, not just for a page or two, but for a whole book. And I'll read anything they write, any time. And I think, Ah, if only I could write like that...

The second downside to being a published writer are those things called deadlines. Terry Pratchett might get a kick out of the sound of them whooshing past, but all they stir up in me is a sense of guilt whenever I sit down to read. I feel like that same little girl who used to read under the bedcovers with a torch, long past her bedtime, devouring the Myths of Greece and Rome, or one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, or The Complete Plays of George Bernard Shaw – probably all in the same week. I didn’t discriminate back in those days. I just read.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Gull Ability


I hate sea gulls. They are born with one plumage and tend to look like every other species of gull when they are young, and then they spend anything up to five years getting to be an adult, looking different each year. It's quite possible for them to have a first winter tail and second year wing patterns. And then, when they are adults, some of them cross breed just to confuse idiots who want to go look at them. I swear, they set out to deceive and the word gullible can't be a coincidence. Only that's a word to describe the birdwatchers trying to identify the gulls, not the gulls themselves.

I don't have a photo taken this trip, but here's one of me in the same area, heading towards a mud spit. Photo taken by Wetlands International (M).

So what the hell was I doing on Saturday out in the middle of the mud and mangroves, looking at a blasted seagull?

Because those guys from Wetlands International here reported a new species for Malaysia: Heuglin's Gull, which breeds in northern central Siberia. I believe there will be some photos in The Star newspaper tomorrow.

Anyway, on Saturday six of us headed by train to Port Klang, then to Pulau Ketam (Crab Island)
by vaporetto ferry (decorated inside with plastic greenery strung down the ceiling, yet with splashes of red paint all over the windows no one had ever bothered to clean off - like the remains of a collision at speed with a flock of Heuglin Gulls...?)

After that, it was a locally-made speedboat for a ten-minute ride to the southern mudflats. Where the boat got stuck on the mud on the falling tide. Not that we minded: we had great views of Chinese Egrets in a selection of breeding and non-breeding plumages, plus waders fussily scampering up and down the edge of a mud spit, and terns flying past, elegant as always.

Then, after a couple of hours two things happened at once: the tide came in, and the damn gull came and sat on the mudflat. Our boat floated off, swinging around in all directions while six birdwatchers with telescopes tried to focus on the same bird and keep out of each other's way. Chaos and curses. A couple of us abandoned ship, thinking to get a more stable view from standing on the mud, and ended up thigh deep in quickly rising water. Ok, so that wasn't a brilliant idea after all. And of course, then the bloody bird flew off.

We consoled ourselves with a fish lunch on Pulau Ketam. If there had been sea gulls on the menu, I would have been tempted to order...

So, if you happened to be in K.L. Sentral on Saturday, and saw a disreputable group of muddy, wet people lugging tripods and optics as we dispersed to catch trains, that was us.

Back home it was time to look at the field guides and internet pix, and try to ID the gull. Ha. Whaddya know, it didn't look like any of the pictures. Gulls never do.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Title Troubles

I hate choosing titles. And I don't think I am particularly good at it either.
So I need some help...

My new trilogy is called The Mirage Makers.
The first book - out in a couple of weeks - is called "Heart of the Mirage".
The third book is called "Song of the Shiver Barrens".
The second book is called...um...
The damn thing is finished and I still don't know! Half a dozen words and I spend more time on them than two or three chapters of writing.

So, what do you think of Born of the Riven World for book 2? Does it resonate with you? Make you want to buy it?
For the trilogy, Trudi Canavan suggested:
Heart of the Mirage
Sword of the Mirage
Song of the Mirage
but I think they are too similar to one another to be individually memorable, even though each is a good title.

Friday, March 10, 2006

There are covers...and there are, um, covers


The whole business of what attracts is a total mystery to me, especially when it is compounded by cultural differences between countries. Here are the covers to The Isles of Glory trilogy. One set is Australian and one set is American.

As an Australian when I look at the American covers - and this is a personal observation, not a criticism - I think they don't represent my books very well. However, I know nothing about marketing, and have to believe that my publishers do. They know what sells and why. The American covers are done by a very talented fantasy artist, Scott Grimando, and I certainly have no complaints about his skills, yet I can't help but feel they suggest a raunchy book, which it is not. Does it suggest that to American readers too? I'd love to know.

And I like to think my fantasy books are more than swords & scorcery action novels - although there is plenty of that too. To me, the Australian covers suggest that world beyond the action, the other story I have tried to tell about power and people and belief and love and mystery. By use of the 'porthole' effect, they cleverly give a hint of an important aspect of the books - the fact that outsiders come to observe the people of the islands.

They were done by one of Australia's top fantasy artists, Greg Bridges. The third cover can be seen on my website. (I'll try and get a copy that I can post here later.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

They came in their thousands

Raptor Watch is over for another year, although the count continues at the lighthouse for another couple of days. (There was a surfeit of counters, so I came back a couple of days early - I need to work on Book 2 of the trilogy as my editor wants some minor changes before the MS gets passed to the copy editor.)

The birds could not have been better behaved. They streamed in, to a total of several thousands each day, flew low over the viewing area, circled upwards in full view - I saw people in tears! There is something moving about watching birds at the beginning of such an arduous journey. Something about seeing a few individuals, so exhausted by their sea crossing without the help of thermals, that they have to fly straight into the trees and rest before proceeding. Something about watching others flapping tiredly, beaks agape, legs drooping - then to watch as they catch the first thermals over the land, and start to bank and circle and glide - until the sky is studded with birds, patterning the blue or the cloud like cut-outs of a gigantic mobile.

I'll be back next year. And the next. Can't help myself.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Back on Monday March 13th


Yep, I'll be offline for 10 days. Yes, folk, there are still places where you can't get connected, and a lighthouse by the sea in the middle of some rainforest is one of them. Hope I live through the withdrawal symptoms.

I have left a whole pile of goodies for you to rummage though while I am gone. Leave your comments, and I promise I will read them all when I return.

And for those of you in this part of Malaysia, how about dropping by to see one of the most spectacular of wildlife sights - eagles on the move! (See below for details)

The map shows the route of one satellite-tracked bird - a round journey of over 20,000 kms. Now if that is not awe-inspiring, I don't know what is.

"The Mirage Makers" trilogy map

Here's a look at part of the map that's in Heart of the Mirage, just to tantalize. It has been done by Perth artist, Perdy Phillips. Her website is http://www.perditaphillips.com/

Booksellers tell me that the book will be available in Australian bookshops at the end of March. Hey, that's only three or four weeks! I can officially start getting excited.

If you want to buy it online, then may I recommend Galaxy Books store in Sydney at www.galaxybooks.com.au or Slow Glass Books in Melbourne at www.slowglass.com.au .

Advice to writers: your first novel

Chuck it.

That's right - throw it away. The odds are ten to one (or worse) that it will ever be published. And yes, I do know that advice is going to hurt...

I admire anyone who actually finishes a book. It's not a simple undertaking - it requires perseverance and sacrifice. It's time you could have spent with your family, or watching TV, or reading, or something else just as attractive. You had the required strength of character, and you finished. And now you want the world to know the result and love it the way you do.

Sometimes it even happens. I personally do know people who did have their very first book published and it has turned out to be very successful too, the start of a prosperous career. However, it is a rare occurrence, believe me. When you press most successful authors for the truth, you will find that most of them threw the first effort away, or never showed it to anyone, or never finished it.

The truth is that no tennis player gets to Wimbleton centre court first time out; no golfer wins the Masters first time around. What you don't see is the years and years of practice that gets them to that point. Remember those hours and hours of piano practice you did as a kid? Or the band practice in the garage, or the guitar practice in your bedroom with the door shut? Your first book is that practice. And possibly so is your second, third and fourth.

Some of you are now muttering, "No one is that stupid. Write four or five books and never get any published? They should have given up! And if they did do that and weren't published, they are obviously crap writers and idiots to boot..."

Hey, wait a moment. That's me you're talking about. I may be an idiot, but I'm not a crap writer. And I have been published - in five countries and three languages. I now have seven books published or on their way to publication. I've been shortlisted for awards. Yet my path to success is littered with unpublished manuscripts - and I've lost count of how many.

I finished my first novel when I was twelve, my second and third when I was in my twenties, and so on. Some I never showed anyone at all. Others were read by friends. Most I sent off just the once or twice and then gave up when they were rejected - not knowing how precious the words of encouragement I received were. (I truly was an innocent abroad...)

My advice is: don't put all your hopes in your first effort. In fact, think very carefully about marketing it at all. Writing is a lifetime career, and you have to learn your craft first. When you have finished your first book, start immediately on the second. You can always come back to that first one again later, and either mine it for ideas, or rewrite it with a new outlook in a few years time.

Daunting? Yes. The question is this: just how much do you want to be a published writer? Are you in it for the long haul? If you know you will write no matter what, then an unpublished MS, or two, or three, is nothing. They were fun to write, after all, weren't they?

Remember Ursula LeGuin? Asked what she would have been if she hadn't been a writer, she replied: "Dead." Well, that's me, too. And most other writers worth their salt. This is not just a job we do for money, it's a drive we have to create. It's the journey that counts. Remember van Gogh? The only paintings he ever sold in his lifetime were to his brother. It didn't stop him from painting.

So my advice is : Write. Keep on writing. Learn your craft, and one day you'll probably get there. But don't, don't, get too hung up on the fate of your first book. After all, you were just practising...

Wasps in the bathroom

When you live in the tropics, you live with the wildlife. Especially if - as is the case here in Malaysia - there are no screens on the houses. I also have a family of civets living in the roof, and a myriad of hyperactive, anxiety-ridden treeshrews (which don't live in trees and aren't shrews) in the garden.

Sometimes the animal life is not as welcome. Cockroaches are part of life, and the war I declared on them when I first arrived will never be won. At least not by me.

For the last couple of days, a wasp has been building a mud sarcophagus, rather like an inch long turd, on the back of the bathroom door. Six turds in fact, built into a packet shape and doubtless containing not only an egg but also a paralysed victim whose fate is to be eaten alive. I tried removing the first effort, but she just came back and built another, so I shall wait until she is finished.

Wasps and I have a chequered history. After a number of painful encounters, I developed an allergy to the sting of at least one variety, and a single sting results in an inflamed lump six inches long. In fact, when people speak of the dangers of the rainforest, it's the humble wasp that sends shivers of fear though me, not tigers and leopards.

The worst encounter I had was when we were walking though a mangrove swamp in search of the nesting colony of some Adjutant Storks. The guide, a local boy of about twelve, brushed against a wasp colony in a rotten tree stump. By the time I realised what had happened, I was being stung. I fled, yelling. No more picking my way through finding solid ground -I just plunged towards the bund, leaving my shoes sucked off my feet by the gluey grey mangrove mud. As I fled, I was taking my anti-histamines out of belt pouch and swallowing the strongest dose...but in truth, I thought I was going to die.

By the time we had left the wasps behind, I had thirty-five stings, more than my three companions put together. I was also caked in mud and barefoot - even my socks were gone, and there was no way I was going back there to have a look for my shoes! Luckily, I didn't appear to be allergic to this particular wasp.

All of us washed up in the brackish drainage channel and began the long walk back to the car feeling very sorry for ourselves. There was a single house on stilts there next to the bund, and the owner took one look at our sorry band and invited us in for a drink. We sat on the bare boards of the floor (there were no chairs) and drank incredibly sweet tea. My friend produced a packet of imported biscuits from his pack - they probably cost as much as the owner of that hut earned in a day - and we shared them with the family.

Why is it that the poor always seem to be the most hospitable? When I remember that day, it's that moment - sitting on the floor, wet and dirty and sore, drinking black tea-flavoured sugar - that resonates.

Havenstar sells...!

There has been one copy of Havenstar on sale at Amazon.com for ages now, not surprising seeing as the price was a colossal $US 107 for a paperback. (See my remarks on Feb 19th ). The sales ranking was well over one million.

Well, the darn thing has sold. The sales ranking is now 300,000 plus, and there are no more on sale - and my bottom jaw is down near my knees somewhere. Someone paid $107 for a book of mine? I am beginning to eye my two copies and wonder...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Orange in April - Heart of the Mirage


Had a lovely surprise this morning when I saw that HarperCollins Australia has released a pix of the cover of my up and coming book: Heart of the Mirage, book 1 of The Mirage Makers, due out in April. I'll say more about the book later, but for the time being, here's the cover. My thanks go to Shane Parker (artist) and the HC design team.

And believe me, this might be my fifth published book, but you never stop getting that wonderful rush of excitement as publication approaches. Especially when the book is the start of a new series.

As yet, it hasn't been sold on to any overseas markets. However, for anyone who doesn't live in Australia/NZ, once it is out downunder, I shall be running a competition here and on my website for overseas readers so that they can win a copy, so watch this blog...