Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marieke Hardy, Fire Engines and Coffee

This is my second attempt today at posting this entry. My computer really dislikes me at present.

Today I had an appointment with the headshrinker. A new one to be precise. I suspect my last one was unable to continue coping with mental delinquents like me and ran screaming from the building.

A strangely conscientious Ross arrived early. Well, to be honest, I was five minutes late for the time I thought the appointment was for but was actually twenty-five minutes early for the actual appointment time of 1pm. Except the appointment was no longer for 1pm at all but had been rescheduled and could I please come back at 3pm.  Although there was no 'could' or please. "You vill report back here at 3pm and you vill be on time for Doktor Mengeler."

Fortunately today's post had delivered a long-awaited copy of Marieke Hardy's biography, You'll Be Sorry When I'm Dead. Another reviewer got hold of our review copy before me and enjoyed it so much that they had difficulty in letting it out of their hands. But I have it now so all is forgiven. Now it was hardly worth my time to now traipse across town to uni only to be there for five minutes only for it to be time to start traipsing back again. So I settled down in the cafe on the building's ground floor for lunch and reading.

As I was soon chortling out loud, I elicited some strange looks from other people, particularly when I managed  to snort Coke Zero out my nostrils (not regular Coke as I'm on a health kick or at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it). This is a lady who writes like how I would like to but Marieke does it so, so very much better than me.

Just then, all hell broke loose. Alarms began shrieking, hammering and pounding like an entire punk concert on speed. Something was up! Had terrorists struck? Or worse, had someone else pinched my idea of letter-bombing the Mental Health knobs?

Strangely, I seemed to be the only one paying any real attention to this alarm. The cafe staff just spoke a little louder as they continued dispensing coffee and sandwiches. The couple at the table next to me merely introduced plenty of 'Pardon?' and 'What?' to their discussion.

Well obviously it must be a drill, I decided. But the noise was becoming too much for me so, like Elvis, I left the building. Now that's something I would like to do for a laugh one day; pay someone to make an announcement over the PA in a busy public place that 'Ross has left the building - repeat - Ross has left the building.' I could then amuse myself watching people wonder who the hell Ross is and why should they give a toss if he's in or not.

As I utilised the egress (I suspect that is grammatically incorrect but I think it looks good, so there) I heard then saw a fire engine approaching, all sirens, lights and bravado, which then pulled up beside the building. Yet there was still a conspicous absence of anybody else leaving the building even though it was clearly more than just a drill. Odd, that.

I retired instead to Smith's Alternative Bookshop. Interestingly I am yet to determine exactly what the alternative is to books that they are selling. Particularly as there are in fact books for sale inside. But Smith's does a good coffee and as anybody who knows me is aware, that is a good way of getting my attention. Somehow the flamenco version of I Did It My Way in Spanish playing inside, lacked quite the same degree of excitement of fire alarms and engines.

I now had a soothing coffee and a comfortable place to continue reading Marieke. Now to see if she could make me snort coffee out my nostrils.

P.S. I didn't snort coffee as I was now forwarned but still kept chortling aloud.

P.P.S. Having just reached the chapter describing Marieke's heartbreak at the demise of  the Fitzroy Football Club, I am now irretrievably in love. Go the 'Roy Boys!

P.P.P.S. The health clinic neither burned to the ground nor was letter-bombed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: In the Best Interest of the Game

review first published at

In the Best Interests of the Game

Darrell Hair
978 0 7322 9288

Cricket umpires are a strange breed. And it’s hard work. Just umpiring informally for an hour or so at a time when official umpires are not available can be hard enough, concentrating every single ball just for that period of time. Yet umpires at the first class level have to be ‘on’ for six or more hours in a day’s play. Blowed if I know how they do it.

A good umpire is barely noticeable if they are doing their job well, but should be more-than noticeable when needed to be. As an observer, I have always seen Darrell Hair in that light. He was courageous enough to first raise concerns about the bowling action of Muttiah Muralitharan back in the 1990s, later calling him for illegal bowling deliveries. In the wake of later testing of Murali’s action, the law-makers changed the rules to permit up to 15 degrees of movement in the elbow during delivery, a single degree more than the amount of movement adjudged to occur in Murali’s delivery of his ‘doosra’. Not that I have ever seen an umpire issued with any measuring equipment to ensure every delivery does not exceed that degree of movement. The concerns of Hair (and others) were obviously justified but simply later by-passed in what I thought was a pretty pathetic piece of fence-sitting by the authorities.

Hair covered the Muttiah Muralitharan episode in a previous hard-hitting book although it again receives a little coverage towards the end of this latest title. This title however covers the other major incident in Hair’s career- the refusal of the Pakistan team to return to the field in 2006 leaving Hair and his fellow umpire in the match, Billy Doctrove, little option under the rules than to award the match to Pakistan’s opponents, England. This refusal to return to the field was in protest at the umpires jointly agreeing that the ball being used by the Pakistani team had been tampered with and under the rules, awarded a five-run penalty to England.

The subsequent treatment of Hair by his employer, the International Cricket Council, in the wake of the ball-tampering affair, was absolutely appalling. The ICC breached so many fundamentals of the employer-employee relationship, it simply isn’t funny. A subsequent tribunal appeal by Hair saw the ICC quite rightly being absolutely ridiculed for their behaviour and ridiculously contradictory evidence. I think it quite fortunate over their monumental cock-ups.

This book is every bit as courageous and uncompromising as Hair himself in his pursuit of what he believes to be right and ‘in the best interests of the game.’

Monday, September 19, 2011

a thought...

While I refuel on some coffee, I decided to do a little reflecting.

The Internet is a wonderful thing. No, I am not referring to the fact that I must be seriously challenged in the genital area, judging by the number of emails I receive offering to increase the size of my offering in that department. For that matter I must also obviously suffer badly with erectile dysfunction and am in need in several gross of watches.

I am talking about the way it can help us connect with people.

I have just had a conversation with someone via Twitter. She is in Canada (British Columbia) and I'm down at the other end of the world in Oz. We all just take that sort of thing for granted now, but she and I are thousands of miles apart, never met in person yet here we are, chatting like old mates. I remember as a kid, Dad giving me an old radio that had a shortwave band on it. I used to delight in hearing these strange languages coming through the ether to emerge from the crackling old speaker. Yet now I am just so blaise about being able to pretty much instantly talk to anyone, anywhere.

For the record, my friend is artfullyangie, a pretty kewl artist ( not to mention being pretty darn cute as well.

And that is probably my deep thought for the day.


review first published at

Book Name: Germline
Author/Editor Name: T. C. McCarthy
Book Series: The Subterrene War
Number in Series: 1
Publication Year: 2011
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-0-356-50041-6

War is Oscar Wendell’s ticket to greatness. A reporter for the ‘Stars and Stripes’, he has a pass to the front lines of a brutal conflict over natural resources, where genetics – the germline soldiers – battle heavily armed troops deep beneath the icy, mineral-rich mountains of Kazakhstan.

But the front is nothing like Oscar imagined. The genetic soldiers are more human than he’d bargained for too. Hooked on a dangerous cocktail of drugs and adrenaline, lives are beginning to blur. And if Oscar doesn’t find a way out of the chaos soon, he may never get back.

I dislike trying to sum up a novel in a single word but on this occasion it is not hard to do so: brutal.

Initially I was expecting something along the lines of space opera or military sci fi but I was a long way from right.

This is a future where the USA is the aggressor in a war for mineral resources. In a short time, losses on both sides are horrific, despite the introduction of the genetically engineered super-soldiers. On the US-side, these are all identical teenage females, which if they survive to age 18, are killed due to increasing mental stability. Yet these female genetics were more successful and stable than attempts with males.

After Oscar has a brief relationship with one of the genetics, he finds himself being interviewed by two men from the Department of Defence who explain they are trying to increase the mental stability of the germline soldiers.

“To make it so they don’t get attached to men like you. If we can do that, we have a product that’s useful over a greater period of time and, consequently, worth more to the Defence Department. It’s all about lowering production and maintenance costs and making a larger profit. Commerce.”

That is about the coldest attitude towards human life and war as you are going to get.

Oscar goes through Hell – both on earth and his own mental torment. We see an already flawed individual fall even further.

In reading, I found myself thinking of two particular influences: the filth and horror of the World War I trenches and the drug-fuelled desperation of some of the US draftees in Vietnam.

Desperation is a repeating theme through the novel, desperation in the battle lines among the soldiers, leading to a variety of responses. I am left with the impression that McCarthy researched his subject well.

This is not a ‘nice’ read. But it is a compelling story all the same. In places I was reminded of Sebastian Junger’s powerful narrative about the current fighting in Afghanistan, ‘War’.

I definitely want to see where McCarthy takes this story in future instalments.

BOOK REVIEW: Allison Hewitt is Trapped

review first published at
Book Name: Allison Hewitt is Trapped
Author/Editor Name: Madeleine Rouox
Publication Year: 2011
Publisher: Headline
ISBN: 978 07553 7912 5 (Trade paperback)

This is one of those oddities, a story originally serialised in a blog. Unlike others, I have seen in that form, this does really take the pattern of a string of blog entries, complete with comments from ‘readers’.

The story did draw me in, aside from confusion on my part arising from having just finished reading another zombie novel. To quote John Travolta from one of his very early roles, ‘I’m sooo confused!’ (and if you can pick up what reference that is, you’re an old fart like me!).

There is plenty of action with shambling zombies being cut down by axe, shot in the head, belted with baseball bats, teed off on with golf clubs and burned. While we don’t see quite the same level of social breakdown that is often typical of the apocalypse-zombie genre, we do see things like armed vigilantes. And those Black Earth Wives were just plain creepy.

Unlike many others in the genre, we learn little about where the original infection came from, or least not until a partial explanation in an epilogue of sorts. Or perhaps that is being saved up for the next book?

I have to be honest and admit that I did not find it quite as funny as some others apparently have. But yes, there were indeed sarcastic throwaways.

I did have a practical issue though. With all of these zombies being cut down everywhere and left to lie where they fell, there should have been one hell of a stench from all that rotting flesh. Or did the other zombies eat their own ‘dead’? It was never clear to me.

This won’t go down as my favourite zombie novel. But it was interesting and quirky enough to make me want to read Roux’s next book which is due out later this year.

Ross the Repellent

Sunday, September 18, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Thanquol's Doom

Review first published on
Book Name: Thanquol's Doom
Author/Editor Name: C. L. Werner
Book Series: Thanquol & Boneripper
Number in Series: 3
Publication Year: 2011
Publisher: The Black Library
ISBN: 9781849700849
Backstabbing. Duplicitous. Paranoid. Scheming. Treacherous. Self-serving. Cowardly. You name it, the term can probably be applied to the skaven, the giant ratmen of the Warhammer world.

The Grey Seer Thanquol probably represents all that is nasty about the skaven, thus in his mind, is truly a fine specimen of skavenhood. He becomes one of those horrible villains that you just like to read about and see him come undone.

Having narrowly survived his unsought adventures on the tropical island of Lustria, Thanquol, in his never-ending quest for self-advancement, finds himself thrust unwillingly into war against the engineer dwarves of Karak Angkul. The dwarves are a particularly hated enemy of Thanquol's, courtesy of the dwarven Slayer, Gotrek, aided by his human rememberer, Felix, having previously thwarted Thanquol's plans in the past.

Thanquol was first created by William King in the early Gotrek & Felix novels, before being continued in that series by Nathan Long. But it was C. L. Werner who was given the task of creating the spin-off series, Thanquol & Boneripper. The Grey Seer has gone through several rat-ogre bodyguards, all called Boneripper, and now the skaven engineers of Clan Skryre have gifted him with the re-animated remains of the original Boneripper.

One of the things I enjoy about the skaven is the technology emerging out of Clan Skryre, which has a steampunk feel to it. That of the dwarves has a similar feel, although not powered by the corrupting warpstone as so much of the Skaven technology is. So it was interesting to see the two clashing once more.

Werner has taken that existing character of Thanquol and expanded it while remaining true to the original. In fairness, the constant changing of Thanquol's attitudes to suit the immediate situation was laid on a little thick at time. But nonetheless, in Thanquol's Doom the story of Thanquol continues and even deepens a little.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ross the Repellent

Character development

At workshop with Fiona McIntosh a few weekends ago, Fiona stressed the importance of having a strong female character in the story somewhere, at least if you want something with commercial potential.

As I continue to steadily plod along with Blood Redemption, my urban fantasy, I realised that the female character with the strongest character potential was not nearly well enough developed.

When I am thinking about characters, I need to be able to clearly picture them in my mind. Once I have an idea of them in mind, I usually go looking for a physical model to help further build them on. With female characters in particular, flipping through celebrity picture sites can be very helpful. With the proliferation of paparazzi etc, we can see people pictured in formal poses, movement, even in positions they may well rather not have been captured in. It is a little more subtle than my other approach of sitting in a public place like a coffee bar and watching people.

I had reached a point in my story where I needed this particular female character to come more to the fore. That was when I realised that I was a long way short of having developed her in my mind. The name I had was bland. I had mislaid previous notes about her and could remember virtually nothing of them. Most importantly to me, I could not picture her in mind. Being quite visually orientated, I need that image to be able to start hearing them, understanding them.

So I shoved the work aside and started trying to have a mental conversation with this person who was pretty much a complete, hidden stranger. I thought about how I was using the character in the story, what role they were to play. It started coming together a little but still pretty much a fuzzy, indistinct person.

Sometimes I find just walking away from things and forgetting about it for a bit, can be a good way to allow the right thought to weasel its way into the frontal lobes. There was a pile of DVDs in a pile so I began sorting through them, making sure discs were all supposed to be where they should be. The cover of one caught my attention. I studied it. This seemed promising. I grabbed a disc and slipped it into the player. I skipped through portions of some episodes, looking at the actor in question. That was the one, the look that worked to give me a visual to keep working on.

Refill the fountain pen, grab a notebook and start scribbling. The character now swiftly began taking shape. Not quite the same as the character played by the actor in that particular series, but it wasn’t my intention to just simply copy.

Having discovered my character and had her story, I felt a sense of excitement, wanting to write about her.

Oh, and the actor and series that gave me the needed nudge? Anna Torv in Fringe.

Kernels and inspiration

Some time back I had the opportunity to interview US author, Diana Gabuldon. While discussing her approach to writing, Diana revealed that she develops a novel as groups of individual kernels of writing, eventually pulled together into the finished product.

Late last year I had the opportunity for a fifteen minutes one-on-one with author David Malouf. After briefly discussing my university research project, Malouf encouraged me to write scenes as they occurred to me, not waiting to begin writing.

As my urban fantasy continues to take shape, I find that I am increasingly applying both approaches.

Being one of nature’s anal-retentives, my tendency is to want to start at the beginning and write straight through to the end. But inevitably, sooner or later, I find myself stuck. When that happens, my work usually stalls. But what rule says I am only allowed to write in that linear fashion?

Over time I have slowly realised that creativity means being prepared to go outside that natural inclination, relax the inhibitions and let go.

As a result, lately I have found progress with the novel is becoming increasingly productive and meaningful by taking a particular part of the story and writing that as an individual kernel.

I use the yWriter program (a freebie and a little ripper!) to develop and write the novel. If a kernel does not fit into the chapter and scene structure already in place, I can slot it into a ‘yet to be assigned’ chapter. As things continue to develop and grow, these kernels seem to naturally fit somewhere in the expanding structure.

When I find myself thinking about a new piece or kernel, I start writing on it as soon as I can, if possible. At the least, I make some notes ready for when I can start work on it. And those project notes have their own place within the yWriter structure.

This seems to be a good way for me to write, although only time will tell just how effective it ultimately proves to be.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Perhaps we are exactly where we are meant to be...

A brief word while I re-caffeinate myself.

I have had reason recently to reflect on a few things.

I love comedy. I admire immensely comedians who can do the crazy, way-out stuff that practically makes me wet my pants with laughter. Perhaps not surprisingly, I wanted to do it as well - stand-up. But I simply had no idea about how to do it. I did some work with Tim Ferguson early last year in a weekend workshop which was a great help but when push came to shove, I simply could not face it. This was more than the usual fear of public speaking - I have had enough practice at that over the years to be comfortable in front of an audience. I no longer need to make a dive for the rostrum to hide the fact that my left leg was quietly doing its own Elvis Presley impersonations. But getting out there and doing comedy proved to be too big a thing once I finally was faced with the opportunity. The state of my nerves and my sheer bravado are simply not what they were in my pre-breakdown days. So it seemed that opportunity had come knocking and gone.

In mid-October, I finally make that debut as a stand-up. And this has come about in no small part, due to Tyra Banks of all people.

You see, I was working backwards to come to that realisation.

This comedy opportunity came about after I saw a quite discrete poster advertising a 12-week comedy workshop program for people with mental health issues. Well, I certainly qualify there. I saw this poster at uni where I am currently working on a Master of Arts by research.

This Masters opportunity arose because I previously studied at the University of Canberra back in 2008, doing a Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing. It was that which lead in 2010 to a senior member of the staff encouraging me to return to do these research studies.

I was only able to return to uni full-time back in 2008 because I had been thrown onto the invalidity scrapheap the year before. Those studies were part of my pursuit of my dream to be a working writing.

While I had wanted to be a writer for some years and had a small but slowly growing portfolio of published work, it was during my all-too-regular sick leave prior to the forced retirement on invalidity that I found myself watching Banks's talk show, Tyra. In fact I found myself watching it quite regularly. And yes I am both honest enough and shallow enough to admit that it was the attractions of the delectable Ms Banks that initially drew me there. That and being too sick to do much else and too bored not to watch some daytime television. And on one episode, Tyra's big message was about the importance of having and pursuing your dream.

Having a lot of time on my hands back then, I did a lot of thinking about that. Being a writer was my big dream so why not pursue it much more vigorously than I had been to that date. The invalidity, as painful, upsetting and both morally and spiritually catastrophic as it was, provided me with that opportunity.

So it was by taking on board Tyra's message and deciding to pursue that dream which has indirectly lead to another dream on the verge of being realised. Which recently made me wonder if in fact I am exactly where I am meant to be, right at this time.

Peace and out

Sunday, September 11, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Edinburgh Dead

This review first published at

The Edinburgh Dead
Brian Ruckley

The blurb
In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.

Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city's criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.

Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment - and no one is safe from its corruption.

The review
When writing an historical novel, even one delving into a bit of gothic horror as this does, the danger is always that of making sure you have your history spot-on. That has been a significant reason why I tend to steer away from it myself, because the moment you do get it wrong, nitpickers come flooding out of the woodwork to have a gripe. Like me.

From the interesting interview with the author located in the rear of the book, Ruckley describes his basic idea stemming from the thought that what if the infamous body snatchers who turned to murder to supplement their supply of corpses, Burke and Hare, were dealing with more than supplying medical schools? The novel only touches on Burke and Hare but does relate a particular ending to Hare which unfortunately overlooks the fact that there were supposedly confirmed sightings of him in England at a later date. That was my little historical nitpick.

From discussions with a friend of mine who knows Edinburgh very well, the descriptions of the New and Old Towns rang quite true, as did the policing of the time.

It is unfortunate that I have only not long finished reading and reviewing another historical novel also with a backdrop of body snatching, albeit in London. That protagonist and Ruckley’s protagonist have a number of similarities as does aspects of the plot. Please note that I am not suggesting plagiarism or anything of the sort, but merely that once you enter a historical setting like that with a protagonist who is a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, and there were plenty of those, the chances are that more than one writer is going to have similar ideas. But not all readers are going to have also so recently read a similar book.

The pace of the story drew me along pretty well until the closing stages which fell a little flat with me. There were also a few points within the story that puzzled me a little as to what they were intended to be doing. For example, an obviously darkly magical charm is placed in Quire’s room but we never really find out exactly who put it there or what it was intended to mean other than something dark and nasty was probably in Quire’s future.

If you like the mixture of history and gothic, then this is worth a read although it will not be making it into my final list of favourite books of the year. But then I can be a picky bugger.

Great workshops at Conflux

That orgiastic delight of speculative fiction writing and fandom, Conflux, is being held in Canberra at the end of this month - see for more details. Especially have a look at the workshop program - some great stuff there and you don't have to sign up for Conflux for all of them. Definitely worth checking out, people.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Another form of writing practice

Learning never ceases. That point has kept getting forced home to me again and again over the years.

I have always like to make people laugh although I was never particularly good at doing it. I was fortunate enough to do a weekend workshop with comic maestro, Tim Ferguson, early last year and learned a great deal from that. Tim encouraged attendees to try stand-up comedy as it helped you learn more about the mechanics of making people laugh. I was determined to give it ago but when the opportunity did come, I wimped out completely. More truthfully, I panicked and couldn't go ahead with it all.

So that seemed to be pretty much that.

A couple of months or so back, I saw a poster advertising a program of comedy classes targeted at people who have or have had mental health issues. Actually I only just happened to see it among the other mess on the noticeboard because I stopped to use a drinking fountain beneath and tie a stray shoelace. Otherwise I would probably have never noticed the thing. Being a formally diagnosed loony, I thought that was for me.

Apart from having a bloody great time, it struck me that this is really a condensed form of story telling. The joke has a set-up (topic, attitude, premise) and then the gag itself which hopefully gets the laugh. And you have to carefully look at what words you are going to use, how to put them together, the all-important timing. This has become another form of writing practice.

Just as discovering poetry forced me to start looking more closely at my word choices and mental images I am trying to create, so the comedy writing has further reinforced that even more strongly.

It really is a great learning experience, not to mention one heck of a lot of fun.

The end result of the workshop program is a gala performance in the company of other, working stand-up comics. Hopefully this will be recorded by someone and I can post some choice bits to YouTube or somewhere.