there’s some cool world-building here

I received my feedback from the 2017 Book Pipeline competition, in which the judges consider an extract of your novel (or your graphic novel/script/non-fiction book/book proposal) for its potential to be made into a film or TV series. For a fee, of course, but that is the usual course when you decide to put your work in front of judges for any purpose. You can see the shortlisted works here, and the finalists will be announced in a couple of weeks. My book The Pale is not shortlisted, but the exercise wasn’t a complete washout.

Book Pipeline’s extra incentive to pay an entry fee is that even if your work is not shortlisted (and therefore can’t win), you still get a paragraph of feedback.

So here is what they say: kind of yeah, no, yeah, but no.

That’s alright as I can cherry-pick the good bits (like our politicians do with ‘facts’), such as “there’s some cool world-building here”, and “classical in its approach”, and “familiar” elements “similar to Mad Max: Fury Road” (for the cyber-punk-ish bits) “and The Hunger Games” (for the competing factions aspects). I thought when I submitted that the biggest problem might be rendering the canini – my GM dogs with thumbs, enormous brains, and advanced language skills – onto film, but they didn’t get a mention.

Dystopian spaces are “incredibly saturated”, which I guess means that these folk watch the news :-). The Pale is considered just a little too classical, and too familiar, for movie purposes, but actually I think maybe that’s not a bad thing for books. Generally if readers like a book, they want to read another one that’s similar.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting and instructive process, and I now feel that I can legitimately compare The Pale to the Mad Max franchise (of which, guiltily I admit, I have never seen any), and to The Hunger Games trilogy (well, I have read the first book, but haven’t seen the movies). And “cool world-building” may well be a quote I can use for marketing.

Now, what can I pitch for the 2018 round, starting March 15th?

A Novel Kidnap

They have cut me off at the pass. They won’t leave me alone. They arrive at all hours and demand to speak to me. I feel that way too much of my life is currently in ransom to them.

And they’re not even flesh and blood!

Before you call the zombie apocalypse team or the ghostbusters, I will confess that these pesky creatures are of my own creation. When I started writing The Pale, I had no notion of how much attention these folk would claim.

My plans for February were: send Pale #2 (‘Broad Plain Darkening‘, or BPD to those in the know) to my wonderful beta readers, and give the manuscript a rest from me for a while (and vice versa). In the meantime, I aimed to spend time spruiking The Pale and attending to the thousand and plenty follow-ups. I also created quite a few questions for my beta readers to address before I embarked upon the next book in the series. I thought that their answers would help inform the action and the character development that I had loosely mapped out.

However, I planned without the consent of my characters themselves. They have insisted, and I have complied – Pale #3 has begun. Yes, it has a working title – but that’s way too embryonic for any other gaze at the minute.

Oh, and my jotted mapping of Pale #3? It may just go out the window. Character X really doesn’t want to do Z, even though it’s what I planned for him. He says he doesn’t want to head in that direction, and I have to listen to him.

Especially at 4 am.

Mapmaking, worldmaking

There are a number of fantasy mapmaking programs available free on the internet – who knew?

I’m especially fond of boing boing – where you can generate your own random fantasy world, and there are a number of others. Wonderful fun. I can (and did) spend hours exploring quite a few of them.

However, I need a map of a fantasy world which is not random, but which conforms to all the particulars I have created for it. I’m currently working on a hand-drawn draft, which is totally out of scale*, but is helping to put shape into the world of The Pale. I’ve based the coastline of the continent on various stretches of Tasmania and New Zealand, by tracing actual maps.

It’s huge fun and a big project. Once I get it into more reasonable form, I’m also going to make myself a city map for the Pale itself.

And yes, there are random fantasy city map generators out there, such as the excellent one by Geeknative.

*Just how far can a tribesman walk in one day across the hostile terrain of Broad Plain? That is the question – or one of them, at least!

A name, a name

I’m looking for a book title that’s searchable and succinct, catchy and attractive.

I realise that I didn’t do enough research when naming the first novel in my story sequence. While I checked that there were no other books called ‘The Pale’, I didn’t perform an Amazon, Goodreads, Booktopia, etc., search. Now I find that searching for The Pale brings up every book that has ‘pale’ in the title: The Pale Horseman, The Pale Rider, and so on.

So I’m being a bit more cautious about naming Pale #2.

Its current working title is ‘Broad Plain Darkening’. I like it, and a search brings up no books, but a line in a long, long poem about Napoleon – The Napolead: In Twelve Books, by Thomas Hedges Genin, published in 1833. The line (above) looks very appropriate for my purpose.

Any other ideas for a title gratefully considered!


To market to market, to tell a fat tale

I have just heard that my wonderful fellow authors from the Odyssey stable (garret? mansion?) had a great success at the Ferny Creek Market yesterday. With a mystical theme, they still managed to sell all five copies of The Pale that I sent to the table. Wow, just, WOW!

I guess sci-fi with talking dogs was just within the net of interest for Faery and Angel followers. They too love their dogs I guess.

Meanwhile, I was engaged in an interesting conversation with my mum. She says such fascinating things these days. Indeed, I have plans for a new book, all about the amazing ideas that come to the surface of her reality, which is often in an alternarive universe from where I am living.

Yesterday she introduced me to a new resident at her care home. Although she never addresses me by name, she does introduce me as ‘This is my daughter Clare’, so she definitely knows who I am! Anyway, she then proceeded to tell me the history of the new man at the afternoon tea table.

‘They found Jack in the street, you know, and he wanted to buy the place so they let him in. He lives here now but he works at the local newsagent on Mondays. He’s going to bring me a copy of The Age because I still haven’t seen the article they wrote about my cooking.’

See, it’s absolute gold, isn’t it? Such a rich world. She can cram in more nuggets of intrigue in one go than I can smash into a chapter.

Hmm, I wonder where I get my love of telling stories?


The fact that my book now sits on a library shelf seems very surreal. I must visit and take a photo before someone borrows it – NO, wait, I really want someone to borrow it!

There is this thing where authors get paid micro-microcents for each time their book is borrowed, but really, you wouldn’t want to hold your breath to use it for a cup of coffee. What’s much much much more exciting is that the story could possibly, maybe, perhaps, get into the hands of a reader. An actual live person turning pages.

The thought that somebody unknown might go in and have a look at my imaginary world is just amazing. It’s strange how even the chance that it might happen affirms the world of The Pale as somehow more real.

And very motivating. Right, out of the blog and back to writing Pale #2!

What am I doing? Moral agency and the writer

Sometimes I look up from the imaginary world I’m writing and take note of what’s around me. Sometimes I ask, What am I doing? Is this worthwhile? Can stories have value? Is this how I want to spend 2018?

A dear friend recently sent me this link from Literary Hub on the moral agency of the fiction writer. I include it here because it makes total sense. The quote is from Susan Sontag’s At the Same Time: The Novelist and Moral Reasoning, and addresses the morality of the writer:

“Obviously, I think of the writer of novels and stories and plays as a moral agent. . . This doesn’t entail moralizing in any direct or crude sense. Serious fiction writers think about moral problems practically. They tell stories. They narrate. They evoke our common humanity in narratives with which we can identify, even though the lives may be remote from our own. They stimulate our imagination. The stories they tell enlarge and complicate—and, therefore, improve—our sympathies. They educate our capacity for moral judgement.”

See the page with many more snippets of Sontag’s wisdom at

I have been re-reading this passage as I write. It seems to me to be very apt for the stories that come out of Odyssey Books, where nothing exploitative or repulsive gets a look in. Odyssey – where books are an adventure – and very often, a moral one at that!


Thanks to the British Library free Flickr stream for the image taken from:  “Italien … mit 12 Städteplanen und 40 Ansichten in Stahlstich”, by Georg von MARTENS, p. 1775, Stuttgart, 1846.