Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Still editing Stormlord Rising


Just chucked out a whole chapter. 5,000 words.
Why? Because it was boring.


Reprint time...

SONG OF THE SHIVER BARRENS went to reprint in the UK.

Yay. Always glad when this happens, cos it means that people have been buying all three books, and that there are still sales although the trilogy has been out for a while.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What's the worst thing about writing the middle book of a trilogy?

Actually, the worst thing is exactly the same, no matter if it is book 2 or book 3.

It's how to remind the reader of what went before.
Too little, and you have them mystified.
Too much, and you bore them to tears.
Too poorly executed and you end up with silly conversations or paragraphs of recap or masses of flash backs.

The toughest thing is always, always, always to get it just right.

In fact, I don't think you can. Why not? Because no two readers are the same. Someone has a photographic memory and doesn't need to be reminded at all. Same with the guy who just put down book 1 and immediately picks up book 2.

Other readers have lousy memories and don't remember anything, or they let a couple of years lapse before they get around to reading book 2.

How can you please everyone?

You just have to take a stab at it.
In the past the fashion often seemed to be to write a synopsis of the previous book(s) and include that at the beginning. No one seems to do that these days. I must admit I always found such synopses incomprehensible. I much prefer to have necessary info inserted discreetly as I read. Bits here and there.

And believe me that is tough to do.

More on this tomorrow.

Monday, April 27, 2009

For American Idol fans

My daughter Nashii at a recent function, with Adam Lambert...

Dunno about that guy in the background though. Bit suss...

Later: a closer look...

You can find out more about Nashii and her DJ duo here. Or here.
Remember, if you want a DJ in LA...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Flying fish?

True stories, not fantasy this time.

Imagine this. You are flying a commercial jet to Rhode Island, U.S., descending to land but still way up in the air - and your plane gets hit by a fish. That happened in 2000. A fish strike, a thousand feet up.

And what about this.
Back in the days of "Confrontation" when Indonesia embarked on a bizarre "invasion" of Malaysia. A few hapless Indonesian soldiers were caught trying to cross the Straits of Malacca. The coastal patrol boat that caught them put some personnel in their boat and began to tow them, invaders and boat and guards, to shore in Malaysia.

All of a sudden one of the Indonesians keeled over, dead.

There was a post mortem. A strange object was removed from the throat of the dead man. It was identified as the sharp snout of...a flying fish. Death by fish strike.

And the "flying" fish that hit the jet? Dropped by an Osprey.

Pix: an osprey taken by me at Virginia Beach.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Something good has come out of the Malaysian government's decision not to go ahead with Noramly's nomination as Director General of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency ( a decision that has nothing whatsoever to do with him or his competency or experience or anything of the things that you might think would count).

We have found out how many supporters/friends he actually has - people who are dismayed that he wasn't given a chance. People who knew he would make an excellent Director General. There has been a flood of emails from all over the world - from USA to Latin America, Australia to Europe, from one of Japan's top nuclear scientists, from other Asian countries, from the Middle East, from people who worked for him in the Agency before, from people who work there now.

He is truly an international scientist of stature and it's good to know that there are so many people in the field who still believe in him.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Horse Trading

When horse traders start trading, do they ever think about the horse?
No, of course not. Only its exchange value to them matters.
If they are wise, they also make sure they are backing the right horse in the deal...because if they make a mistake, they've thrown away the valuable horse and they're left with a nag that's not going to win any races ...and they get nothing.

And in the meantime, how does the valuable horse feel? Right at this moment, I have a very good idea.

What am I talking about?
Well, let's say I am not going to get to see the Viennese Lippizaners any time soon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ooooeeer, nice...

I have just seen the finished Australian Voyager cover for The Last Stormlord. Totally unlike the Orbit UK cover, but it is great. I am so lucky to have two different publishers producing great cover art and design for the same book.

And no, I am not going to show you. Yet.

Four months before it gets shipped out to bookshops in Oz.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What the rest of the world thinks about Malaysians' ability to speak English?

I came across something really funny quite by accident.

First, some background for Non-Malaysians:

For the past couple of months there has been a huge debate going on about Malaysia's attempt to teach its highschool students English usage. For a year or two, government highschools have been teaching science and maths in English instead of in the national language, and the debate is hot on both sides about whether this has improved English - or been a disaster for maths and science.

Unhappily, the fact remains that a great many kids emerge from even twelve or more years of schooling - having had some English lessons from first grade onwards - with a pathetic level of ability to make themselves understood in English.

I am reminded of listening to a German science student on his "gap" year here talking to a group of older Malaysian university science students. The place was a scientific expedition in Perlis State Park a few years ago.

The German was chatting easily. The Malaysians stuttered and stammered, trying to make themselves understood. Most of them couldn't even ask the questions they needed the answers to, let alone speak well enough to express an opinion, although they did try. They tried valiantly. They talked among themselves, trying to work out how to ask things.

Afterwards, I asked the German how he had learned English so well.
'At school,' he said, surprised by my question.
'Do you speak it at home?' I asked.
'No, my parents don't speak English.'
'Did you ever holiday in an English speaking country?' I asked.
'No, never. I've never left German till now.'
'Did you watch English language TV? Or go to films in English? Or read books for pleasure in English?'
He shook his head. 'No. I just learned English in school.'

What the Malaysian authorities seemed to have missed is that teaching science and maths in English is not the way to get Malaysians speaking good English.

The answer is so simple I can't see why they don't see it:

1. You have good English teachers, i.e. teachers who actually speak English. You don't do what they used to do - refuse to let people like me, a qualified English teacher and a resident, teach English in your schools because, horrors of horrors, I was a foreigner. Nor do you get teachers who can't speak English to teach it. When my kids were in Grade One, they already spoke better English than the teacher!

2. You teach the kids to SPEAK English. You don't get them to answer multiple choice questions on English grammar and vocab. You don't teach them to pass written exams. You teach them to COMMUNICATE. You throw away the written books and look at pictures and posters; you play games and sing songs and tell jokes and tell stories and have fun. Once you have done that for a year, the rest follows naturally.

Give me a free hand with a grade one class of kids at the beginning of the year and by the end of the year, I guarantee, they will all be chattering in English and loving it.

Ok, so much for my rant on the subject. Now I come to the hilarious bit.
I was reading a blog (led there by Boing Boing) talking about a published book and a person (Liz Smith) praising the book in the written blurb on the back cover. That's when I came across this:

What - what - what language is that even in? My opinion is Liz Smith is either a couple of Malaysian kids who write print columns through the magic of Babelfish, or Liz Smith suffers from mental retardation, because no one fucking talks that way if they are of average intelligence.

Oops. Malaysia has apparently become the epitome of bad English usage...

How humiliating.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Proofs, galleys, first pages...

That's what I have been busy with the past week or two. For The Last Stormlord

They are all pretty much the same thing - the last pass where you get to the book pretty much as it will be printed - but in large sheets. This time it was sent to me in a pdf file and I am reading it online; the first time I have done that, and I hope I see all the mistakes doing it onscreen.

In days gone by, if the author made too many alterations at this stage she had to pay for them, because it was extra work for a typesetter. Insert a word, and that could mean a line of type had to be physically moved (you, know, as in physically lifted with one's hands) to the next page, which in turn had to be physically adjusted, and so on through to the end of the chapter. Insert a paragraph and the changes could go all the way to the end of the book.

Nowadays that's a thing of the past, but still, one tries not to make any unnecessary alterations at this stage.

Oh, but you should see the necessary alterations!!

For a start there always seem to be things that don't translate very well between Word (used by me the author) and whatever programme the publisher uses. In this case, the MS seems to have lost its em dashes.

And then there are all the mistakes I never see until I have an actual what-you-see-is-what-you-get copy in front of me.

Others - most - only appeared when I did the copy edit, i.e. when I was correcting previous mistakes. Sigh.

Did I really write "Here that whining?"
Did I not notice that half the time I wrote "mud-brick", and the other half "mud brick"?
How come I never noticed that I referred to the hero by the wrong name at one point and made nonsense of a whole paragraph?
Or that I repeated the same noun three times in two lines?
Or that I made a mistake in the chapter heading?

And then there was the worst mistake of all. In the last couple of pages of the book, one of the protagonists is yelling defiance at his enemies, and he says something that I absolutely don't want the villains to know because it would make nonsense of a large part of the plot in book two.

Whew. I am glad I caught that one.
But it makes me worry about all the mistakes I might not have seen...

However the good news is this:

The Last Stormlord went through some really shaky stages. There were times when I despaired. The hero wasn't heroic. The plot had holes. The writing lacked oomph.
There were wonderful beta readers who came to my rescue.
There were many, many hours spend battling the book as if it was a recalcitrant puppy to be trained.
There was an excellent copy edit.

And the end result? I think it is great. Finally. I love these characters. I love the world they inhabit. I feel for them as they struggle to survive against appalling odds. They love, they laugh, they pick themselves up and move on as disaster and evil stalk them...

The Last Stormlord rocks.

Coming in September in Oz.
March for UK and US.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

And my husband has just corrected yesterday's post. See what I mean?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The difference between a scientist and a creative writer...

There we are, standing together by the stove, watching an egg fry. It's inside a metal ring placed on the flat base of the frying pan.

Some air has got under the egg and it expands, making the egg bubble up from underneath; it heaves and shivers, swells and shrinks, then swells some more, creating its own rhythm, bom -di-di- bom -di-di- bom... The runny white spills over the edge of the ring and trickles down into the pan in runnels, where it solidifies.

Like an active volcano, I think. And look at those patterns made as the egg cooks. You can see through the clear part of the uncooked white to the cooked bits underneath...that's neat...

I look at my husband, wondering how to express the fascination of taking time to watch such an ordinary, everyday thing.

"Interesting, isn't it," he says, "how the different proteins cook at different rates. The coagulation denaturation time is governed by -"


Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Message to the young Malaysian: you too can aspire...

About a man called Prof. Dato' Dr Noramly B.M.

My husband Noramly* was born in a rice-growing village in Malacca.

As he was growing up in the post Second World War years, attending the local elementary school carrying his shoes because he didn't want to get them dirty in the padi fields, he had high aspirations. He wanted to do well, so he looked around for people he wanted to emulate.

Back in those days, Malaysia was not yet independent of British rule, and in those times he knew he couldn't aim for the top because he wasn't British. So he looked for people like him who were successful. And because he had dreams, he chose the most important Malay he knew: the Chief Clerk of the district, serving his colonial master at the District Office.

"I'm going to be a Chief Clerk," he announced to his Dad.

Fortunately, the coutry gained its independence and he found other role models as time went by, and had other dreams come to fruition as he grew older. University lecturer then Professor at the National University; Dean of the Science Faculty then Deputy Vice-Chancellor, and now Adjunct (Senior) Professor. Head of the Malaysian Nuclear Agency, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Licensing Board. Head of the Defence Research Institute. Deputy Director-General of the U.N's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria.

No other Malaysian has reached such a high post within the United Nations.

Always he felt that he had something to contribute, and that when he moved on he had left something good behind. He had, in effect, became a role model himself.

He is still striving, still wanting to contribute, still wanting to make the world a better place.

Oddly there are people who say he shouldn't try: sit back and do nothing, they say. Retire. Travel. Go fishing. I can see their point, I suppose, but I know my husband, and that's not him.

But much, much worse, there are others who say, what if you lose? How humiliating!

I don't understand that last, at all. If he'd never tried, he'd probably be a Chief Clerk somewhere.

You have to risk failure to be a success. And there is no shame in the failure of dreams. There can never be failure in trying, especially when you have something to offer.

He is a towering Malaysian, worthy of emulation, an example to young Malaysians. And yet there are people who want to teach young Malaysians another lesson: don't try, you may fail.

Shamefully, in this case, those are the people who look like succeeding.

What's next I wonder: don't send a Malaysian team to the Olympics - they won't win?
*For people from other parts of the world: A Malay Malaysian has only one name (sometimes double barrelled like, say, Mohd Ali), followed by his father's personal name. He doesn't have a surname in the Western sense. My husband's name is Noramly. I call him Ramly for short. His father's name was Muslim. Yes, his name, just as Christian is a boy's name in some countries, or Jesus in others. So my husband is called Noramly bin (son of) Muslim. His father's name was Muslim bin Taib. And so on.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Noramly in the news again...

...with a two page spread in The Star. Here's part of the online version. You can read the full version here.

(Written by a reporter who doesn't know the difference between persecute and prosecute...)

"This is where a little-known local body comes in: the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) under the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry. The AELB is a regulatory body that deals with the safe usage of nuclear power in the country, by issuing licences to those who use this energy source and making sure they adhere to proper usage guidelines.

The AELB’s main task is dealing with safety. According to AELB chairman Prof Datuk Dr Noramly Muslim, this includes both the safety of the workers or individuals involved in using nuclear technology and the well-being of the general population.

“Our licencees are dealing with nuclear technology, radioactivity and radiation, so safety is very important. We have to make sure the operators who are handling the technology are safe, and equally important, that the technology itself is safe,” explains Noramly, who at 68, has had more than three decades’ experience working with nuclear energy.

“So our responsibility is two-fold; firstly, the safety of workplaces that utilise nuclear technology is very important, so we have to regulate how the technology is used and the safety measures put in place. Secondly, we also have to enforce the regulations. If an organisation fails to follow our rules, we have to persecute them.” ... ... ...

"Noramly sums it up eloquently: “I would like others to know that we have a credible organisation that has the international capacity, competency and expertise to handle nuclear energy. We already have the ability; what is important is for the country to have confidence in us.”

Prof Datuk Dr Noramly Muslim: ‘Our system can detect airborne radiation, so, for example, if there is an accident in Vietnam, we will be able to detect it here.’

Monday, April 13, 2009

More burglaries...

Another of our neighbours, four doors down, was threatened and robbed during a middle-of-the-night burglary by a gang of six or more armed men.

Of all the numerous home invasions around us - too many to count now - not one gang has been apprehended that I have heard of. There is at least one home invasion a month within a fifteen minute stroll of our house. No one has yet been physically hurt or killed, but we all know it is just a matter of time. Our house is a fortress, and I hate living like this.

Rant over, back to writing. And proof reading.

UPDATE: Just heard that the neighbour mentioned above was actually robbed two nights running; apparently they weren't satisfied the first time around and came back the next night with more men. The scum of the earth, getting their kicks by scaring people to death.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

More sf/f fans on the way...

I like the advice over on John Scalzi's Whatever blog this morning: Go buy a Tobias Bucknell book. Or two or three - the guy has just become the father of twins. He probably needs all the help he can get! Besides he writes interesting, intriguing books, so there's a bonus for you.

And you can see the twins and their lovely mother here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thursday, April 09, 2009


And the earth moved too?

"Same-sex 'marriage' is a movement driven by wealthy homosexual activists and a liberal elite determined to destroy not only the institution of marriage, but democracy as well."

--Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, on the day the Vermont legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage. (Quote via Slate).

Obviously said by someone who doesn't understand the meaning of democracy.
Or the meaning of - Oh, why bother. He's just daft.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Oh, writing is SUCH fun

Switching between doing the proofs of Book One, The Last Stormlord, and the final draft of Book Two, Stormlord Rising. Going mad.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

More writerly madness

Today I was wandering around the garden with a piece of glass from a photo frame trying to catch sunlight and redirect it. Trouble is, in the tropics, the darn sun disappears behind clouds for days at a time. Sheesh. Still, it was possible.

In the meantime, my reputation as the crazy lady on the block is spreading...

On the comments of the last post Shaanti posted this:

Trudi Canavan and Richard Morgan discussed the need to obey the laws of physics on Radio National recently. Trudi also made a reference to Glenda in that show. The link is here.

Thanks Shaanti. Trudi and Richard are guests at Swancon next weekend. Wish I was there!

In the meantime I am still trying to meet the extended deadline for Book 2 (Stormlord Rising), which is the end of this month, and I have just received the proofs of Book 1 (The Last Stormlord) to look at as well.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Why I should have done more physics

Last night I spent some time going around the house with a large hand mirror, bouncing light reflections off the walls.

Sort of practical physics.

I did do a year of physics in high school. I was fourteen, couldn't make head nor tail of it and very nearly failed. I decided it wasn't for me, and continued with Biology instead. Now I discover that that was a bad idea; you need physics to write good fantasy. As I don't have the knowledge, I turn to the wonderful Phill Berrie instead (doesn't he just look like a physicist?) - or bounce light off walls and wonder if my hero and heroine can really do the same thing without a mirror and on a very large scale. Hmm.

And wonder, too, why I had that knowledgeable teacher fellow in Book One say that you couldn't do the impossible using magic... Darn. Confounded rules of magic.

Let me play with that mirror some more.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Confessions of a lipstick junkie

Those of you who know me well will know that you hardly ever see me wearing lipstick. Not even on very formal occasions.

There is a reason for this. You see, I eat the stuff. I'm addicted. Put lipstick on my lips and I instantly consume it to the very last bit. Five minutes, max - and it's all gone.

Do I do it deliberately? No, of course not. I mean, who wants to spend all that money on a tube of brand-name lipstick and then never see the benefit? I don't consciously eat the stuff. But the proof is there - when I look in the mirror, there is none. If I want a photo of myself looking lusciously sultry with shiny red lips, I have to apply it and then look straight into the camera, saying, "Quick, quick, before it's gone!"

No problem, said my kids. There's lipstick around now that is lick-proof. You know, the sort those synchronised swimmers wear...

So off I went and bought some. It was a bit like applying industrial strength paint suitable for, say, a battleship (ok, wrong colour, but thick glue-like stuff that should last through a sea battle or two). Worse, it makes your lips dry out like dehydrated hardtack for naval recruits.

Never mind, the kids had warned me; you just use lipgloss over the top. Right. Know how long lipgloss stays on my lips? About 30 seconds. If I'm lucky.

Fortunately for my reputation, I applied the industrial strength lipstick at home first, and then returned to the bathroom ten minutes later to see how it was holding up.

All gone. Lips as naked as the day they were born, and a lot less cute.

My jaw dropped.

Which is when I saw what had happened to the warpaint for lips.

It was now strongly adhering to my teeth. Glenda, Queen of the Vampires, had struck again.

I had to take a cloth and apply lots of elbow grease to remove it. Now why the hell can't it stick to my lips like that??

Which is why you will rarely see me wearing lipstick.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The name NORAMLY hits the news...

It's all over the internet tonight, and doubtless it will hit the newspapers in the morning, so I can tell you now.

Noramly - that's my husband, not me - is in the news.

The Malaysian government is submitting his name as a candidate for the post of Director General of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna Austria, to replace Dr ElBaradei, who is retiring.

Noramly was a Deputy Director General for over six years up to 1992.

I am enormously proud of this man - he did a great job at the Agency before, he believes wholeheartedly in U.N. objectives and ideals, and in the future of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. He is a technical man, who believes that it is time the Agency returns to its technical roots; and that political decisions - which, when it comes to nuclear matters can be real hot potatoes - should be left up to the Board. I reckon he would do a great job, but y'know, I am probably prejudiced...

Of course, none of this may come to anything. The Board will vote in June to elect a new D.G. from the candidates put forward by governments. It is supposed to be the turn of the Asian region, although that is not necessarily the way things will turn out.

As for me, well, I always did love Vienna...

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Another look at a Port Dickson sunset, and what I'm reading

I have just finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love and Other Demons". That should be required reading for all those Malaysian students in the UK* who think they were possessed of djinns. (Alternatively, they could start studying their own religion for themselves, instead of believing the rubbish others say they ought to believe.)

A lovely, lyrical book - and a look at what can happen when people use their fear of the unknown and hysteria to make decisions, instead of reason and rationale and science.

An education is supposed to make you think.

This is a direct quote from the article in The Star* newspaper the other day:

"While there are cyber laws to nab high-tech criminals, those who practise black magic get off scott free due to a lack of legislation to bring them to book. Towards this end, a non-governmental organisation in Britain has proposed the introduction of sihir laws to nail those who cast evil spells." ... "Without sihir laws, anybody is free to practise black magic without fear of being arrested..." etc etc. (They are Malaysians, aiming for such laws in Malaysia, rather than UK, I suppose).

In other words, these maniacs want to return us to a time similar to those centuries when women (and you know what? It almost always was women!) were killed for owning a black cat, or because the man next door had a mysterious illness the doctors couldn't cure, or the neighbour's cow died. Salem, anyone?

This pernicious rubbish being spouted in UK is not Islam. It is superstition, and vicious at that, because there is always a victim to be villified. And the victim is the person accused, not the person who had bad luck or a sick cow or who failed their exams.

And of course, black magic was always so easy to prove. For example, in days gone by, what you did was throw a person in the local duck pond with their hands bound. If they drowned, they were innocent... I wonder what the modern equivalent is? I'm sure these clowns will think of something. The djinns apparently chat to them quite happily - in Malay, of course.

*See my post of 31st March. Or see The Star 30th March
*To be fair to The Star, I imagine that they are bringing this to the attention of the public because they are as alarmed as I am...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Totally astonished

I go to as many sf/ conventions as I can afford, which is actually not half as many as I'd like. I do without stuff to get there.

Last year I attended my second Worldcon, this one in Denver. I had a ball. Frankly, I always do, no matter how small or how large the con is. I go with that expectation, and I have never been disappointed. The little things that could have been done better are hugely outweighed by the things that are done right.

Today I received a lovely letter from Denvention with thanks for my contribution to making the con a success by my voluntary services - and a refund! Ohmigod.

Denvention, thank you. And in the interests of making sure the money is put to a good sf/f community cause, I am looking around for the next convention I can attend and volunteer for.

And all you readers, writers and sf/f folk out there - remember you don't want to miss out on Aussiecon in Melbourne next year.