Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 - a personal retrospective

As usual, a mix of a year. Good and bad. Awful and wonderful.
But the good dominated - what more can one ask?

In no particular order:
Good times that have to head this list...

Family:
A good year. Saw younger daughter a couple of times and had a great holiday with her. Saw my sister and had a great camping holiday with her. Saw elder daughter, son-in-law and grandson (now aged 4) for an extended time and went camping with them. Caught up with other family members in Oz whom I love dearly.
Everyone healthy and doing well.

Friends:
A good year for me, truly. I saw so many of my overseas friends...
The best of the best had to be something that Karen Miller did for me, completely out of the blue. That lady rocks. Never in all my life did I ever expect that anyone would dedicate a book to me. Yet there it was, the dedication for The Riven Kingdom:
For Glenda Larke, a great writer and an even greater friend.
It blew me away. Still does. Got to be one of the highlights of the year.
Great to share a room with Donna at Denvention. Donna is another one of those people I wish I lived just down the street from...
I had a friend here in Malaysia who has emerged on the other side of breast cancer in sound health. If ever I have the rotten luck to be in that position, I will try to emulate the strength and pragmatism and good sense of this woman. I have rarely admired someone so much as her during this time.
Hrugaar visited me from his rock and we went to Taman Negara, I met up with an old friend in Lake Como and had some more good times...
My wonderful sister-in-law still smiles even though life deals her a tough hand.
Another couple of friends here had a fiftieth wedding anniversary.
And then there's all of you: the people who read this blog.
So many good friends in so many different countries - I am blessed.

Conventions:
I was the National Guest of Honour at Swancon. I shall not forget that in a long time - I revelled in the honour of being asked when the National Convention was in my home state, hope I did all that was expected of me, had a ball, made new friends and saw a lot of old ones. Davina, Satima, Dave (both of them), Karen, Trudi & Paul, Theresa, Helen, Simon, Stephanie, Zara, Ju, Juliet, Joel, Bevan, Sean, Jonathan, Ian, Marianne, Dianne, Cat, Annaliese...the list goes on and on.
Thanks, everyone on the Swancon Committee. Thanks a million, really.

And then there was Denvention, my second Worldcon. Another great convention. Wonderful to meet people like Kate Elliott and David Coe and Cheryl Morgan and Willandra for the first time. To meet up with Orbit US publishers. To talk books and fantasy and sf and...to enjoy the feast when I am more used to a famine.

And possibly, best of all, to vote for the 2010 Convention, AussiCon4, to be in Melbourne. I am now officially a participant. I was incredibly impressed by the people who worked to make this happen. And today's the last day to pay up at the old price - quick, get over to the webpage and buy a membership!!!

Virtual Conflux. Where I was on a one-person "panel" with lots of virtual observers/questioners. Great fun. Love these, and kudos to the organizers.

Travel:

This has been a bad year financially. I haven't had any "real" work since the beginning of March and my husband has not been paid (although he works fulltime) since end of July*. So that leaves his pension and my writing to live on.

And yet...I travelled. A lot. The fare to Australia was courtesy of Swancon. The children chipped in for the far to USA. The Lake Como trip was my big expense of the year (husband on duty, so his fare/hotel got paid). But worth every bit - great friends old and new, gorgeous scenery, perfect weather, delicious food. Wish I could do that more often.

And what a lot of wonderful places I went to: Yosemite, the Goldfields and the southern coast of Western Australia, San Francisco, Charlottesville, Virginia Beach, Como Italy, Pulau Kapas In Malaysia....

Travel doesn't come without sacrifice. We don't have a TV. We share a not-fancy car. I don't buy much in the line of clothes. The roof leaks. We don't go out much. When I travel, I often do it cheap. Red-eye flights. Overnight in airports. Camping, smelly motel rooms, etc. But oh, what a store of good times and memories!

Health:
Yuk. Arthritis. Ulnar palsy. But I am alive! Still ambulatory. 'Nuff said.

Work and Writing:
I had two books published this year: Clairvoyante (the French translation of The Aware), and the UK edition of Song of the Shiver Barrens. And one book that was supposed to come out and didn't: Gilfeather in French translation (Guerisseur).

YAY. I signed up with two publishers for the new trilogy after an agony of waiting. YAY.

I wrote a book, 170,000 words. And polished another.

"Real" work was not forthcoming after March. Just still pending. And has been for 9 months.

And lastly:
Obama won the election. I can't say how relieved I was...

It was a good year. Thanks for dropping by.

________________________________
*will explain some other time.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What I read in 2008

I read 66 books in 2008 or 1.3 books a week. Possibly more, as I may have forgotten to record some. ( I am sure that at certain times in my life I have done a lot better than that.) I haven't included books related to my work.

I have listed them below and will start a new list in my sidebar for 2009. The division into genre is of course a bit debatable, as the line is always blurred...

I read mostly fantasy not just because I enjoy it, but because as a writer of fantasy I need to know what is out there, and to learn from my fellow authors. I try to read a variety of mainstream books as well, for both enjoyment and to keep abreast of what writers are thinking about in different parts of the world. A good book is always a learning experience, as well as entertainment.

I like pure SF too, although if the author assumes a heavy knowledge of physics and chemistry, I am totally lost and tend to abandon the read. My science knowledge is all towards the life sciences and ecology - in the field what's more, rather than what you find out in the lab.

Learning the World, by Ken MacLeod was a great read from my SF list - it has one of the most delightful "first alien contact" scenes I have ever come across. The title starts off by meaning that one has to learn all about the world you are about to explore, and ends up meaning so much more. When your knowledge of your universe alters, then you have to relearn your own world in light of that discovery.

I can't help but think that this is where we have fallen down here on earth (no doubt one of the things Ken was so brilliantly pointling out!). Our knowledge of our world has altered so profoundly over the past 50 years, yet we still want to view it using old paradigms - religious, economic, educational, environmental, cultural. And now we are in a terrible mess as a result.

Highly recommended book. Although I probably should point out that I am definitely prejudiced. Ken was the international Guest of Honour at the Australian Sf/f convention in 2008, where I was the national GoH. He was not only a great GoH to have, possessing a marvellous dry sense of humour, but he also wrote in my copy of "Learning the World, the following: 'To Glenda, a moving point of light...' Love the man, love the writer.

Science Fiction:

--Nylon Angel by Marianne de Pierres
--Hal Spacejock by Simon Haynes
--Learning the World by Ken MacLeod
--Newton's Wake by Ken MacLeod
--Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Fantasy:
David B.Coe Winds of the Forelands
--Rules of Ascension
--Seeds of Betrayal
--Bonds of Vengeance
--Shapers of Darkness
--Weavers of War

Marion Zimmer Bradley
--Exile's Song
--City of Sorcery
--The Fall of Neskaya
--Two to Conquer
--Thendara House
--The Shattered Chain
--Darkover Landfall by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Jennifer Fallon The Tide Lords
--The Immortal Prince
--The Gods of Amyrantha
--The Palace of Impossible Dreams
--The Chaos Crystal

Karen Miller
--Hammer of God by Karen Miller
--Witches Inc (K.E.Mills)

Marcus Herniman Arrandin trilogy
--The Siege of Arrandin
--The Treason of Dortrean
--The Fall of Latuan

Sheri S.Tepper
-- Family Tree
--Six Moon Dance
--Grass
--Gibbon's Decline and Fall

Miscellaneous authors
--Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
--Lost by Gregory Maguire
--The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
--The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
--Feast of Souls by C.S.Friedman
--Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott
--Shadow Touch by Maureen Lui
--Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost
--Storm Front by Jim Butcher
--Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novak
--Daemon by Camille Bacon-Smith
--Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales & by Anna Tambour
--The First Weapon (Bk 2 TheTriumvirate) by Bevan McGuiness
--The Awakening (Bk 1 The Triumvirate) by Bevan McGuiness
--Two Pearls of Wisdom by Alison Goodman
--Dark Heart by Russell Kirkpatrick

Mainstream:
--White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
--Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
--Certainty by Madeleine Thien
--The Sorceress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
--Animals' People by Indra Sinha
--Birds without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
--Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
--The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
--The Gathering by Anne Enright

Other Genre:
--Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
--Born in Death by J.D.Robb
--Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovitch
--Immortal in Death by J.D. Robb
--Murder at Madingley Grange by Caroline Graham

Non-Fiction:
--The Year of Living Biblically by A.J.Jacobs
--The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
--Growing up in Trengganu by Awang Goneng
--The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
--The Snow Geese by William Fiennes
--The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
--Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Monday, December 29, 2008

Seasonal doggerel

This courtesy of my publisher's website: www.voyageronline.com.au

On the twelfth day of Christmas/Yule/
Insert-Your-Holiday-Choice-Here,
my true love sent to me

Twelve knights a-jousting

Eleven gods a-squabbling
Ten priests a-scheming

Nine robots computing

Eight maids a-butt kicking
Seven dragons a-flying
Six zombies a-walking

Five woodcutter's sons (on a quest)
Four talismans
Three demons
Two emperor's heirs,

And the one ring of power to bind them all ...


And from me:
may you all have some great fantasy reading in 2009,
including a new Glenda Larke (the best yet)!

And why am I jumping the gun on the New Year wishes?
Because today is the Islamic calendar's New Year's Day.
Happy New Year!

And here, just for fun,
is the longhorn beetle
now sitting on my verandah clothes-line.
[And yes, all you dryer-using people - we use clothes-lines.
And sunshine.
In fact, I can't say I know anyone who uses a dryer here,
although I am sure there must be some around.]
This guy is about an inch and a half in body length.



Sunday, December 28, 2008

More from Lake Chini

The rainforest is a huge complexity of life - exuberant overkill, in fact. To a newcomer it can be overwhelming. Tourists from temperate parts of the world often walk through it and see almost nothing. They cannot separate out the elements from the whole. Quite literally, they don't see the trees for the forest, let alone see the spiders on the trees... Note above the cat-like face on this spider's abdomen.

Pix 2: Bracket fungi on a tree.

Above: A bug on the bark. And another fantasy face stares out above some fancy buttons on his jacket.
Below: a wild orchid.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tempe

This entry is for Jo.
The model is my younger daughter (of Bedtime for Toys band, as you can see from the T-shirt)
The dish is fried Tempe, which is a kind of compressed fermented soya bean. You buy it in the market, wrapped in a leaf (Pix 1)...
Pix 2: Don't take any notice of the chopper. She added that for effect...
This is what the tempe looks like when you unwrap the leaf (which is then discarded. Wonderfully biodegradable and doubtless Western countries would ban it as unhygienic or something). The whiteness is the fungus that ferments the beans.
You coat the tempe in flour and tumeric and fry.

And here on the board you have the finished product. Simple.
Of course there are other ways of cooking it too; this is just the most basic. It is a rich protein source and has a nutty flavour. Usually eaten as a side dish to a rice and curry meal.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas past

It's Christmas Eve here.

I haven't celebrated Christmas in an awful long time...probably not since we lived in Europe and had our first white Christmas evah (I was in my forties...), and did really Christmassy things like go to the Kriskindlemarkt in Vienna, buy a REAL Christmas tree like the one in picture books (also first time evah), drink gluhwein, and walk up Beethovengang at the back of our house into the Vienna woods - to counteract the effect of too much turkey.

Oh, I do remember a lovely family Christmas in Glasgow when my daughters and my niece all met up - that was after we left Europe, and it was memorable too. We ended up in a snow covered cottage near Perth...Scotland. About as far as you can get from my Perth Australia childhood Christmases.

The highlights of those?

  • Making our own Christmas decorations. Paper chains and cutouts...
  • Decorating the tree. Except the year the aunt sent artificial snow that my sister and I turned out to be allergic to...
  • Hot summer holidays that had just begun and stretched away ahead like the promise of heaven, and included two weeks in a caravan by the beach!
  • Waking up to see what was in my stocking. There was ALWAYS a book, so that I didn't get up too early.
  • Unwrapping presents after breakfast.
  • The book from Grandad. Always a book, always appreciated by a farm kid without access to a library, or a book store.
  • The Christmas packages from the two childless aunts. Especially the one which came from exotic places - Japan, Korea or New York. Oh, the delight of that wooden duck that quacked when you pulled it! Later, the exquisite Japanese lacquered things or that traditional Korean doll, too lovely to play with.
  • The weird books the other aunt used to send - she worked for a printer and when kids' books were misprinted with pages in the wrong order or upsidedown, she'd rescue them from the bin and send them along to us. We adored them!
  • That lovely home grown roast chicken with sage and onion stuffing and lots of gravy for Christmas dinner, eaten early afternoon. Homegrown vegies, including the peas we shelled ourselves and cooked with mint...which I loved.
  • Finding money in the Christmas pudding.
  • Sitting around all afternoon cracking nuts and eating licorice allsorts and bit black raisins with the seeds still in them.

Ah, to be a child again. I feel sorry for the affluent kids today. When you have it all, all of the time, how can you possibly know the intensity of the pleasure we had? Christmas truly did come only once a year in those days.

The nicest thing about this Christmas is that my two daughters are together, in Los Angeles. Not something that happens too often these days.

So seasons greetings, whatever the flavour, to all the readers of this blog.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What my study table looks like...

...at the end of writing the first draft of a book.


Finished! Er, so now the real fun work begins.


So here it is: 2,500 words longer than my goal.
Which leaves me 7,500 to play around with in the numerous rewrites coming up.
I love rewrites. They are so much easier than the first draft slog.

Book Two of Random Rain


First draft progress

Due Date: March 1st 2009 ... for a polished version
Publication date: March 2010

Monday, December 22, 2008

What better place to finish a book...

I just spent a day and a night in Seremban, the capital of Negri Sembilan state, because my husband had a meeting there at the lovely Royale Bintang - used to be the Adelphi. That's the pink building peeking through the trees. The city is actually only half an hour from our house, but it is 40 years since I walked the Lake Gardens there.
Now Seremban shall be remembered (by me anyway) as the place where I finished the initial draft of Random Rain Book 2. Well almost. I am over 170, 000 and have just two more pages to go. I shall be done before I go to bed tonight, back at home.
Book Two of Random Rain


First draft progress

Due Date: March 1st 2009 ... for a polished version
Publication date: March 2010

Sunday, December 21, 2008

OO-er, you naughty people...

I have been looking at the analysis of hits to this blog, and you know what? Saturdays and Sundays have substantially less hits than weekdays.

Are you to be commended for spending your weekends communing with your families instead of glued to the computer - or chided for reading blogs at work, hmmm?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

You know what...?

I don't think the first draft is going to come in at quite 170,000. It will be over. But even so, not much to do now. The battle is raging. People are dying. Confrontations are occurring. And love is there in the midst of it all...

Love these exciting bits.

Book Two of Random Rain


First draft progress

Due Date: March 1st 2009 ... for a polished version
Publication date: March 2010



Friday, December 19, 2008

More from Lake Chini & Lake Bera


Remember I mentioned that these lakes were the inspiration for one part of Book 2 of The Isles of Glory? The Australian cover depicts the lake as it is portrayed in the book.

Here are a couple of paragraphs.

In this first extract (slightly abbreviated) the narrator is Blaze Halfbreed, as she and her friends pole there way towards their destination, an island in the middle of the Floating Mere :


At first glance, there seemed to be a solid wall of plant growth in front of us, a boatman’s nightmare. They grew in clumps, each about the height of a man. We later found they could grow four times as high. Each clump had a barrel-like central core that sprouted stems on which long narrow leaves grew in spirals. Each yellow leaf was thick and solid, edged with a rim of green that sported nasty hooked spines, and each could be three or four paces in length. About three quarters of the way up each leaf the leaf-spike folded over and drooped downwards as if it couldn’t support its own considerable weight.
Creepy,’ Dek muttered. ‘They look like green and yellow spider legs.’

'Big spiders,' Ruarth said, awed.

As our craft made ripples on the water, the clumps stirred. When I looked down into the blackness of the tannin-stained water, I could see their thick roots spreading out, tangling with one a
nother, forming rafts, catching their own dead leaves to use in self-cannibalistic nourishment. Fortunately for us, not all the clumps joined. They were floating islands, rafts varying in size from three or four plants to sizable platforms that stretched for several hundred paces. You wouldn’t have wanted to step foot on any of them though: the leaves sprouted out in all directions, each one lethal in its arsenal of spines.

Under different circumstances, I might have found the Floating Mere beautiful. In the occasional clearing in the pandana, the blackness of the open water reflected the plants and sky with mirror-like clarity. The plants floated, serenely peaceful considering their weaponry, and the waterways twisted and slithered blackly between them, like forest paths heading into the depths of some primordial jungle. Sometimes the plants met overhead and the paths became tunnels that undulated gently as we passed through. It was as if it was all one living creature, observing us neutrally as we slipped by.

I wasn’t sure that the place was entirely benign, though. Occasionally we heard strange sounds, eerie song notes that seemed to have no pattern or even discernible origin. They would whisper through the pandana and then die away as mysteriously as they had started. Perhaps unconnected, every now and then something would rise up through the water to break the surface, and I would have a momentary impression that I was being watched. When I turned my head, I’d have the briefest glimpse of something large and of an indeterminate colour, before it slipped beneath the surface, gone in a swill of ripples.

I couldn’t help feeling that we were being followed.


Followed, or hunted? I tried to tell myself that anything that was so skittish was not going to be much of a threat to us, but I didn’t feel comfortable.

The second extract later in the book has a different narrator, Kelwyn Gilfeather, a physician, who is trying to find out why Blaze and her party have gone missing:

There was more that was eerie about this floating world: sometimes we were poled through tunnels for half an hour or more, twisting pathways of black water lit only by sunlight shattered to splinters by the thick network of barbed leaves. Sometimes the tunnels split into branches, then rejoined, rather like a network of arteries and veins and capillaries. Even more disconcerting, sometimes it closed up behind us, as if the floating plants were trying to block our retreat. A silly notion, I know; the islands moved only because we stirred the stillness of the water with our passing.

Probably the feeling was aggravated by the strange noises of the place, dissonant whistles that seemed to seep out of the water on every side at odd intervals, akin to the music a wind may make playing around the corners of a building. I might have dismissed it as nothing, except that there was no wind, and occasionally the notes seemed more …deliberate. Like language. Only who — or what — was speaking? And to whom?

I shivered.
The Isles of Glory trilogy can still be bought from Australian bookshops as all three books are still in print. They can be obtained by overseas readers through Australian bookstores such as the book chain Dymocks, or specialty bookshops such as Galaxy in Sydney or Slowglass in Melbourne.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Weird Stuff. Again.

A burglar broke into a small sundry store in Terengganu state when the owner had gone on holiday. When the owner returned, he found a dehydrated and starving burglar on the floor in a sorry state. He said he'd broken in three days earlier, only to find that he was temporarily blinded and a supernatural figure kept pushing him to the floor, preventing his escape, or - one assumes - eating and drinking any of the merchandise. (His story, as later told to the police.)

The store owner had to cart him off to hospital where he has been treated for the past four days for severe dehydration and shock ...

Of course, everyone has been asking the storekeeper what black magic he used.

None, says the fellow. My shop has been broken into so many times when I am away, that I prayed to God as I could no longer tolerate it. That's all.

See? No magic involved...!

Not far now...

Book Two of Random Rain


First draft progress

Due Date: March 1st 2009 ... for a polished version
Publication date: March 2010

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More on Tasek Chini

The lake has been in the papers a lot the last couple of days, with many protesting its pollution and degradation, saying the polluters ought to have to pay.

The difficulty with that is this:
Normally, the Chini River flows into the Pahang River.
When the huge Pahang River floods, the level of the water is higher than the level of the lake, and the Chini River reverses its flow. In other words, the water from the Pahang flows into the lake.

This is the flooded Pahang River near the entrance to the Chini River, taken last week:
  • The River Pahang is thick with the topsoils of the irresponsible vegetable growing and uncurbed hillside clearing in Camerons Highlands,
  • it carries the poisons and fertilizers from thousands of hectares of oil palm estates run by wealthy companies which have planted down to riverbanks and never given a thought to protecting rivers from run off and erosion,
  • it holds the effluent and plastics and toxic chemicals and rubbish from the town drains of Raub and Kuala Lipis and Bentong and Termerloh and Mentakab.
The Pahang River is a flowing brown sewer of mud and poisons - and it all flows into Chini Lake during the wet season. And tell me, where is the public and political and commercial will to actually do something about all that? Or, in fact, about any of that?

If you are a Malaysian, have you even done the very minimum and joined the Malaysian Nature Society, supporting the people who try to do something? Or are you going to shrug and say, "Who cares? Let my kids deal with it when they grow up?" One year's membership will cost you less than the price of one buka puasa in a K.L. hotel ... and you know what? Not even as many as 1 person in every 10,000 Malaysians bothers to join.

This is from a letter in today's The Star newspaper from someone who used to go to Tasek Chini regularly some 15 years ago:


It was beautiful then - clean waters, beautiful plants and great fishing. (....)
On the way back, on the small stream that led to the Pahang River, we had the shock of our lives. In the distance we heard a very loud splash in the water heading our way. It was so loud and scary that my hair stood on end. When we got near, we noticed that it was hundreds of huge Toman fish heading upstream, feeding on the smaller fish...

Here is the small clear stream he speaks of, once one of the most beautiful rivers in the world until most of the big trees were killed by mismanagement of the river for tourism:

Not much chance of seeing any fish in that, is there?


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Censorship of a peculiar kind

You've heard me gripe about the peculiar brand of censorship, book banning and proscribed books that they have in Malaysia, where the righthand hasn't a clue what the lefthand doeth, and nobody gets told what's going on - not the author, the bookshops nor the public.

And of course, no reasons are ever given for decisions. Of course, I could say that last is because there just isn't a reason that makes the slightest bit of sense, so, if you try to explain yourself, you end up looking even more like an idiot. (I mean, how could you ever explain the banning of a book about collecting Chinese teapots??)

Now, however, I have heard about an even more bizarre kind of censorship. And it comes from Australia. There are some interesting observations on Neil Gaiman's blog.

Basically, a judge with a appeal before him turned down the appeal and stated that yes, an internet cartoon showing characters modelled on Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson engaging in sex acts, is child pornography.

Now as weird and distasteful as I think such a cartoon might be (and as annoying as it must be to the original authors of the cartoon), it's a long stretch to think it's a form of child pornography.

Where is the child involved? Come to think of it, where is the human involved? How can a static picture that involves neither child, nor human, nor movement, nor action, nor anything real that ever happened anywhere to anyone - how can that be child porn worthy of a fine of $AUD 3,000? And presumably a criminal record as a child pornographer??? What child was harmed? What child was endangered? What child posed for the drawing? What child was depicted?

I love Neil's comments, including this:

...I should warn members of the Australian judiciary, fictional characters don't just have sex. Sometimes they murder each other, and take fictional drugs, and are cruel to fictional animals, and throw fictional babies off roofs. Crimes, crime everywhere.

The ability to distinguish between fiction and reality is, I think, an important indicator of sanity, perhaps the most important. And it looks like the Australian legal system has failed on that score.


If I have one of my characters indulge in child rape (as I have done in "The Tainted"), am I guilty of being a child pornographer? Am I safe because I didn't draw a sketch of it, but only used words? If so, why? How is what I did any different from this case, except for the artistic medium I use?

The Judge said Australian law on child pornography was, among other things, ...calculated to deter production of other material, including cartoons, which "can fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children" and this was the reason he was approving the fine.

So, have I fuelled the demand, simply by writing about it? Did the man charged fuel the demand simply by having a cartoon on his computer? Because that's what the judge said. How do you judge that it would fuel a demand for the real thing?

I think the judge - and those who brought the original charge - should come and give lessons to the Malaysian Ministry for Home Affairs on how to be really, really bizarre.

What do you think?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Revisited: Chini Lake, Pahang

This is where I was last week. Lake Chini is not far from Lake Bera.
People have done some awful things to Lake Chini over the years, in the name of greed and ignorance. Fortunately, they have failed to ruin it altogether.
Noramly and I were there with a team of students and staff from the National University (UKM), under the leadership of a dedicated and passionate scientist, Dato' Dr Prof. Mushrifah, working to return the lake to a ecologically natural and viable basis.
There is - of course - a dragon that lives under the water. He is called Sri Gumum. More about him another time.
It was wonderful to see that there are people who care about our wild places, and who do their best for our environment.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Australian sf&f authors rock...

...they really do. And they are selling on the international scene thick and fast. Here's another returning to the wider world after a break. She's a lovely lady who has managed to write and do all kinds of fabulous things with her life while raising an enormous family (6 kids in 10 years. Yikes! I'd be prostrate...) and looking good enough to model for Vogue, all at the same time.

From the info in the press release:

Rowena Cory Daniells now has a three-book deal with Solaris, the mainstream genre imprint of BL Publishing. The series is entitled King Rolen’s Kin and the first book, provisionally called BYREN’S BANE, is due for publication in early 2010.

"The books follow the lives of three of King Rolen’s heirs, when their kingdom, Rolencia, is invaded by their ancestral enemy, Merofynia. A sweeping fantasy adventure, the narrative explores the eternal questions of ambition, trust and betrayal."

Over the years Rowena has run a bookshop, a graphic art studio, illustrated children's books, sold nearly 30 children's books and a fantasy trilogy (The Last T’En) internationally, established R&D Studios and served on the management committees of state and national arts organisations. She lives by the bay in Brisbane with her husband and children, and has a Masters in Arts*(Research).

Rowena Cory Daniells, congratulations!

_________________________________________________

* My book, Heart of the Mirage, was one of the case studies for her master's thesis, along with Ursula K. le Guin's Earthsea and Rowena's own The T'en Exiles

Progress

Book Two of Random Rain


First draft progress

Due Date: March 1st 2009 ... for a polished version
Publication date: March 2010

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weeping for the world

Today CNN had a programme titled Planet in Peril. I didn't watch it. I decided I wouldn't be able to bear it. For years, I have worked hard and long to convince folk about things that are so screamingly obvious to me, yet with such little effect...

The only membership-based general conservation organisation in Malaysia has a measly 3,000 plus members out of a population of 23 million people.

And then this CNN report today:
"The Bush administration cleared the way Thursday for federal agencies to skip consultations with government scientists when embarking on projects that could impact endangered wildlife, the interior secretary said.

"The final regulations to the Endangered Species Act take effect before President Bush leaves office in January, but wildlife conservation groups say undoing the damage could take months.

"...the agency in question can satisfy the requirement that no harm will come to an endangered species, then there is no need to consult with either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Services. The determination of 'no harm' will rest with agency bureaucrats instead of scientists..."

To me that is the most shocking, cynical step by a greedy president busily saying thank you to his cronies by giving them permission for a last bit of rape of the country before he bows out. What possible reason could there be to give federal agencies permission to do that unless it is to make it easier for someone to make money somewhere?

I will bestow a prediction on you all, one I will not live long enough to see: 50 years from now, the thing for which the Bush government will be most reviled will not be the Iraq War, or the Katrina mess, or the economic meltdown, or any one of the tens of things he did or didn't do; it will be for his deliberate lack of attention to both the environment and the biodiversity - of both his own country and the world where the US has an interest.
One of you youngsters can blog about it in my name on December 12th 2058. You, after all, will be the ones who will most suffer for the legacy of the Bush years. See if I am right.

And what are the pix above? Well, last time I went to Lake Bera, it was a thriving resort. Now, so typical of Malaysia, it is dirty and unkempt and untidy. Yep, throw that old urinal out in the camping area, where else? After all, no one wants to waste money on maintenance. The tourists will come without it...won't they? Hmm? And no one is going to sue us when they fall through the termite-eaten boards of the jetty, will they?

I despair.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tasek Bera revisited...

It may have looked as I I have been sitting at home posting on my blog, but the wonders of blogspot allow me to cheat. I have actually been three days without internet connection.
It has been some years since I was last at Tasek Bera in Pahang state. And it was interesting to return, particularly as the two lakes Bera and Cini were the inspiration for part of Gilfeather. Remember the lake with the floating islands of pandana trees?
More about the trip tomorrow.

Random Rain

Was delayed by a blackout while I was away, but I am still chugging along.

Book Two of Random Rain





Due Date: March 1st 2009 ... for a polished version
Publication date: March 2010

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A few random statistics

  • I have read at least 60 books (other than my own) so far this year.
  • This is the first year ever that I have actually kept a record.
  • I am sure I have missed some too, but more than a book a week is not too bad, considering that some of those books were very large tomes...
  • I expect I will read another four or so before years end.
  • I suspect that I read less then I used to because I read so much on the internet these days.
  • In the past 4 months I have had people (or bots??) from 107 different countries visit this blog.
  • 38% of those visitors were from either Australia or USA, who were almost equal in number.
  • Malaysia and UK, also almost equal in number, provided another 22% of visitors.
  • i.e. Australia, USA, Malaysia and UK made up 60% of my visitors.
  • A few of the most surprising places that registered a hit: Bhutan, Mali, Maldives, Virgin Islands... *Glenda waves*
  • I have visited Europe, USA and Australia this year. Crickey. No wonder my bank account looks so sick.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Aurealis Shortlist

Usually I have a vested interest in the Aurealis Awards, but alas, not this year, not having published a book. Anyway, I should hate to be up against those who are on the shortlist for the Best Fantasy Novel of 2008:

Alison Goodman, The Two Pearls of Wisdom, HarperCollins
Sylvia Kelso, Amberlight, Juno Books
Margo Lanagan, Tender Morsels, Allen & Unwin
Juliet Marillier, Heir to Sevenwaters, Macmillan Australia
Karen Miller, The Riven Kingdom, Godspeaker Book Two, HarperVoyager

Note Karen there - and I see Simon Haynes, another one of my recommended authors for Christmas present purchases, is on the Science Fiction Best Novel list! See, I have good taste.

Please see the Aurealis Site for more of the shortlists in the numerous categories. One of the most amazing feats comes from Sean Williams - shortlisted in 4 different categories! Is that a record??

Congrats to you all - it is an honour to be shortlisted.

And let me say what I say every year: thank you, thank you, thank you to all you good people out there who organise the Aurealis Awards and ceremony, and to all those who do the reading and judging. Without you, this would not happen. It's a pretty thankless task, but here is one writer who loves you all.


Monday, December 08, 2008

More Books I have read this year for your Christmas list...

Here are three that I read, which are the all the first book in series or trilogies. Each was a fabulous read and each had me aching for the next in the series. Each had me thinking about it afterwards - not the sort of sugar fix where the effect doesn't last. These books stay with you...

Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott
Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost
Feast of Souls by Celia Friedman (C.S.Friedman)

More about them individually in a minute.

These days I am much pickier than I used to be, and there aren't that many books that I can lose myself inside, especially when it comes to fantasy. Instead, I often find myself thinking about the way the book was constructed instead, asking myself why they did something that way or thinking of how I would have done it.

These three were definitely books where all thought of the writing process went out of my head as I was reading. All I could think about was the story and what was going to happen next.

Spirit Gate is the first in a saga (Crossroads), so don't expect a quick end to this one. And don't wait for the last book either, before you begin. The journey is the thing with this one, not the destination. The second book, Shadow Gate, is already out, and is on the top of my TBR pile. I was so anxious to get it that I ended up with an Orbit trade paperback, so it doesn't match the US mass paperback I have of Spirit Gate. But who cares? The story's the thing!

This series is set in a complex world with numerous cultures, always a difficult thing to bring off successfully, let alone brilliantly, as here. The intricacies of the plot - the cultures, the stories, the characters - entwine and separate and come back together - leaving me in awe. I was involved every inch of the way, I guess because I was so rooting for the main protagonists, both male and female. Hey, who couldn't like a hero who rides an eagle?

Who is this book not for? I guess you wouldn't like it if you want that quick sugar fix. It is for readers who love a long involvement with people and a world that will stay with you.

Shadowbridge: great story. And an intriguing mystery too. Draws you in and keeps you turning the pages. Fascinating world - more bridge than land, a strange construction where peopel live and surreal things keep happening. The main character is a shadow puppeteer, which in itself is intriguing.

And every now and then you learn a tiny bit more about the mysteries of the world and the characters and whatever it is that threatens them. Trouble is, every bit you learn seems to ask another question... Definitely one of those reads where the sense of mystery pervades everything and the reader learns the answers along with the equally puzzled main protagonist as the story progresses.

This is only a duology, so you don't have to wait long for all the answers. The second book, Lord Tophet, is already out in the USA.

Feast of Souls: I have read Friedman's sf and fantasy books and loved them all. This is the first in The Magister trilogy, and the second book is out in February, so not long to wait. She's a masterful writer who asks difficult questions and fashions an un-put-downable story around those questions. In this case: what would you risk for power and a very long healthy life - as long as you wanted to live, in fact? More to the point: what would you be prepared to pay, or have another pay? How much, in fact, do you care about someone you've never heard of?

The second book, Wings of Wrath, is out in February. Great stuff.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Book Two of Random Rain



Another 1%.

Due Date: March 1st 2009 ... for a polished version
Publication date: March 2010


Pix: Banksia flowers, south coast Western Australia

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Reading Amazon Reviews

Yes, I read the reviews of my books on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. It has never occurred to me not to. I also run a Google notification for internet reviews and the same from BlogPulse, which tells me when my books get mentioned on a blog.

So, if you write a review out there on a public site, there's a pretty good chance that I will get to hear of it, and read it. I regard this as feedback from readers, and I love readers. Especially readers who buy my books and readers who care enough to write a review.

Of course, it does mean I have to take the good with the bad.

If the review is a "good" review (i.e. one which explains what the reviewer thought was good/bad, and why; what sort of readers might like/dislike the book, and why), then I learn something. That's great feedback, and I love it. It's a learning curve for me as a writer. The only thing I have to be wary of is taking one person's opinion as a universal opinion.

Occasionally writers get reviews that just trash the book without being coherent, which is not helpful. You know the kind: "Waste of paper and trees. Don't buy this stupid crap and if someone gives it to you, throw it in the rubbish bin without reading. Or better still recycle into toilet paper."

The key to reading reviews is simply to remember each is only one reader's view and if a single gushing review doth not a genius author make, a single trashing diatribe doth not a crappy book (or author) make either. You have to keep your perspective.

I was surprised to see (over on an E-forum I belong to) how many authors simply prefer not to read any reviews, particularly Amazon ones, because if they do, they obsess too much about the opinions.

Not me. I want to know what people think. My real complaint is that I don't get enough Amazon reviews to be able to generalize. I think the most reviews I've ever had for a single edition was the US edition of The Aware - 13 reviews. I am madly envious of writers who get 30 plus, let along the mega stars who get 100's for a single book.

Yep, if I was so lucky, I'd read every one...

Wish I could do this faster

Book Two of Random Rain



Wow - hit the 90% mark of book 2 ... first draft.

Due Date: March 1st 2009 ... for a polished version
Publication date: March 2010

Friday, December 05, 2008

More light-hearted reads...with a dash of the serious

You are buying books for Christmas, right?
For the kids, the aunts, the partner, the friends, the cat?

So now I am going to talk about one of my favourite book-writing people.

K.E. Mills, aka Karen Miller. She's a Sydneysider, but I have decided to forgive her that solecism.
She dedicated a book to me, the daft woman, so I will forgive her anything. She is one of the most versatile writers under the sun - dodging between media tie-ins for Stargate and Star Wars, to standard fantasy (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology), to gruesome no-holds-barred swords and sorcery (try Empress of Mijak, called Empress in the UK, the first book of the Godspeaker trilogy), to humour with a streak of the deadly serious about it.

Karen's greatest strength is characterisation, particularly dialogue and speech rhythms. You can hear her characters speak as you read the page.

Her semi-comedic stuff is a series, Rogue Agent, not a trilogy, so each book has a beginning, middle and end, but the characters pop up again in the next book, which is just as well because you won't want to say goodbye to them. The snappy, witty dialogue and repartee forms the basis of the comedy, funny because it reflects the characters - from the articulate bird Reg, to the bumbling, well-intentioned Gerald Dunwoodie, to his friends - and some pretty nasty enemies. Reg is as memorable as, say, Nanny Ogg or Granny Weatherwax.

The first book is called The Accidental Sorcerer; the second is Witches Inc. The world reminds me a little of that of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, with Reg being a sort of acerbic avian Jeeves ... no medieval fantasy this!

I love these books. Need cheering up, but like excitement too? Then try the Rogue Agent series.
The Accidental Sorcerer

The Accidental Sorcerer

Rogue Agent - Book 1

(UK Release)

PUBLISHER: Orbit
FORMAT: Paperback
RELEASED: 01-Jan-2009 (which means it will be available before Christmas)
ISBN-10: 0316035424
ISBN-13: 9780316035422

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Some light-hearted fantasy Christmas reading

Tis the season to be jolly, right?

Books make great presents, they aren't too expensive, they smell good when new, they are easily transportable, they can be thrown at the cat without doing too much damage to either cat or book, they rarely get stolen by burglars, they can be talked about and lent, they can be burned in the fireplace when you get cold, or used as doorstops, or sold to secondhand bookstores; they can be read in bed or on trains or at Bangkok airport in the middle of a protest, all without being plugged-in and recharged...and they can cheer you up.

So here today and tomorrow are a couple of recommendations for those who want more light-hearted reading.

First up: space opera idiotic fun.
The Hal Spacejock series by Simon Haynes (he's lives in my home town so I had a soft spot for Simon even before I met him!).
First book is called simply Hal Spacejock, but you don't have to read these books in order to enjoy them. You can find out more about the four books already out here.

This is not a series for people who take their space opera seriously. It is just plain wacky - the adventures of an accident-prone, not very bright pilot who can't actually pilot a ship:

In the flight deck, Hal Spacejock was studying the main viewscreen from his customary stance in the pilot’s chair — hands clasped behind his head, boots up on the flight console and a cup of coffee at his side.

I mean, why bother to learn how to pilot a ship when you have an onboard chess-playing, smart-ass computer who can do it for you, not to mention a robot sidekick called, um ... Clunk?

Hal's webpage says:
"If you enjoy books by Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt and Jasper Fforde, or TV shows like the Young Ones, Firefly, Blackadder, Lovejoy, Auf Wiedersehen Pet, Red Dwarf and Doctor Who, then the Hal Spacejock series is for you."

They are written as books for adults, but I would say they are also great books to give to reluctant teenage boy readers to get them hooked on books, and there aren't too many authors you can say that about.

There's plenty of snappy dialogue, but I think visual humour is also one of Simon's strengths as a writer. His books would make great zany films, or even cartoons. As Hal plunges from one disaster to the next, most scenes unfold as visual comedy as much as verbal, which is harder to achieve than it sounds.

Tomorrow: K.E.Mills - humour with an undercurrent of the serious.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

And some more...

Book Two of Random Rain*



* Ok, have corrected the title. That's what happens when I stay up too late working.

What to buy for Christmas...

I could tell you about the latest idiocy re Malaysia and censorship. Or I could tell you what I think of a certain President who ignored and sidelined the very people paid by his government to investigate the truth about the lack - or presence - of WMD in Iraq (one of them a personal friend of ours, so I know what I am talking about) and who now has the gall to lie, "Nobody told me!"

Instead, in the next few days, I'm going to tell you what to buy for Christmas. Books of course.

For those who like long, complex stories I recommend the following:

I've only read the first 3 books, but I have no doubt that the next two will be just as good. For a start, David is an expert with characterization. A series like this has a great many people roaming through Dukedoms, realms and an Empire, and we follow a number of them, yet each is memorable and distinct. There was no glossary of characters, yet I rarely had to refer back to see who someone was. That's classy writing.

It's a series for those who like politics and machinations, villainy on a large scale, different levels and fascinating kinds of magic, and heroes who have to make choices that are far from easy. There were times when I thought he nailed the true problems of racial politics and relationships and prejudices with uncanny accuracy. And because very early on he killed off a couple of likeable characters, I am none to sure who is going to make it to the end alive and well, so the tension is there too. The remaining two books are high on my TBR pile.

Tide Lords tetralogy by Jennifer Fallon.
(Ok, so maybe it's not all out in US and UK yet. Never mind, you can get it from Australia...)

The Immortal Prince; Gods of Amyrantha; Palace of Impossible Dreams; The Chaos Crystal.

This one is for anyone who likes strong plots with lots of twists, and plenty of strong characters vying for preeminence with diabolical deviousness. Complex politics, interesting use of magic, the kind of world that you think you have a handle on until Jenny peels back another layer and you realise you didn't have it worked out after all. Not until Book 3 do you realise just who is calling the shots, and has been all along, and you don't understand why until well into book 4. And not until the end of Book 4 do you realise fully just what has been going on...

I guess what I liked best was the way that you keep on thinking you understand, only to find out later that you were mistaken. It's easy enough to keep a reader thoroughly confused, but that's not what Jenny does. She does something much harder for a writer, she continually changes your perception.
Don't, whatever you do, read the last pages first. You'll regret it if you do.
I loved the ending. Brilliant.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Nine months more

...until Book 1 of Random Rain is published. Sounds like a baby's gestation. Would you believe, discussion is still ongoing what to call it? Things get a bit complicated too, when there is more than one parent publisher involved in different countries.

Today, though, I felt as if another milestone was reached. There was some discussion about the cover and I know who is the artist for one of the publishers involved, and the name has blown my mind... wow.

I am officially getting excited - but birth publication day is still so far off! How can I keep my cool that long? I feel like a kid finding out on Boxing Day that Christmas only comes once a year.

Or a woman realising she's got to be pregnant for nine whole months...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Puff, puff...

Book Two Random Rain

Age and the aargh factor

One of my dearest friends I have ever had is an in-law. When I was one month old, born into a world at war, she was born in another country occupied by enemy armies.

Who would ever have foretold that future friendship...

She rang me this morning, telling a tale of woe about how she had gone to get her passport and bankbooks from the place she always hides them, only to find none of them was there - and she has no memory whatsoever of moving them. Nor can she find them now. And her house has not been broken into.

I sympathise. Age does that sort of thing to you.

So after this morning's phone call, I go into the kitchen to put on some soup. I made the stock yesterday out of some beef scrag ends (yes, there are still housewives who don't buy their stock in cans or cubes) , but shoved it in the frig afterwards without straining it or anything because I was on my way out to a birthday party of an even older friend.

I go to the frig , get out the stock and strain it over the sink, throwing away the stock and preserving the useless bits and pieces.

Definitely an aargh moment.

And this from someone who thinks she can write a 3-book trilogy containing over half a million words spanning 10 years in the life of four complex interlocked lands with different cultures, a story of war, love, magic, hope, courage and battle in the lives of four main protagonists struggling against the machinations of a group of amoral villains with a totally greed-oriented agenda.

Talk about hubris. I can't even strain the soup stock properly.