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Beastly ideas

The Pale (SO excited! very close to publication day!), as you might know, features dog/wolf-like creatures who can think, talk, debate, take action, and make decisions about how best to live in the damaged post-Cataclysm world they have inherited. These characters are called canini and they are very close to my heart.

Talking dogs is not such a new idea, I know, but I am forced to ponder my protagonists in the light of two books I have just read. (And in considering the canini’s part in the two planned sequels to The Pale!)

These two books are separated in genre (philosophy vs fantasy) and in time (2002 vs 2017), reflecting quite different understandings of the place of sentient non-humans in our lives and in the physical world.

In one, JK Rowling, channeling that delightful wizard Newt Scamander, wonders about the status of ‘beasts’ versus ‘beings’:

“We now ask ourselves, which of these creatures is a ‘being’ – that is to say, a creature worthy of legal rights and a voice in the governance of the magical world – and which is a ‘beast’?”*

In the other, philosopher Raimond Gaita outlines his thinking about the consciousness of animals, dogs in particular. Gaita avers that one fundamental difference between human consciousness and that of dogs is knowledge of death:

“Because animals have no reflective knowledge of death, they cannot dread it and if they could, they could not take comfort from the fact that they are not alone in their mortality. It is a fact utterly basic to human life that we are consoled by the knowledge that others suffer as we do and die as we must.”**

I know that the canini function more as beings than as beasts in The Pale, because they are certainly worthy of rights and of a say in their future. They also think about the value of their lives, the work of a good life, and the inevitability of death. The human-ish characters in The Pale – at least some of them – are perhaps more beastly. I need to ponder and reflect a bit more. The fundamental beast/being contrast is an idea that I am already exploring.

 

*Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander (JK Rowling), Bloomsbury, London, 2017, p. xviii.

xfantastic-beasts-where-to-find-them.jpg.pagespeed.ic.R-RHMJL09s

**The Philosopher’s Dog, Raimond Gaita, Text, Melbourne, 2002, p. 72.

 

Five learnings from the ABA conference

ABA = Australian Booksellers’ Association – a pretty important group for authors to access.

Thanks to the good offices of my lovely publisher at Odyssey Books and our dynamic distributor Novella, I was able to join the stand at the Sunday afternoon trade exhibition. This is where booksellers meet distributors and publishers. Our task was to interest booksellers (ie the folk who sell books to the reading public) in the books we had on display, so that they would consider stocking Odyssye titles (and titles from other publishers in the Novella stable).

I had a wonderful time and learnt many things about the book trade and about book folk. Here are  five major learnings that could change the way you approach marketing and self-promotion:

1. It’s hard to give away books

Even though all the sample books were free, it is quite difficult to persuade a bookseller that they need to add any specific 500g of brilliance to their luggage for the flight home. They have to be convinced that it’s worth their while. I hadn’t expected this – I mean, put me in a room full of free books and I’ll pay excess baggage any time!

2. About giveaways and gimmicks…

Some of the stands offered all manner of freebies, including champagne, chocolates, cupcakes, pens, notepads, neck massages and canvas bags. The neck massage included a chance to sample an e-book on an iPad. My impression is that the stands with canvas bags gave away most sample books, especially at the start, because folk could put the books in the bag. I wasn’t sure that the other giveaways resulted in more books being taken – but they certainly helped to stop the traffic so that booksellers actually looked at the stand.

3. Being an author counts

I had the best success when I was able to tell the person I had waylaid that the book I was offering had been written by ME (pointing to cover and to name tag so the connection could be made…). Booksellers appeared to be impressed by the fact that I actually had written a book that was being published! Congratulations flowed (more so than the champagne). Giving away review copies of my own soon-to-be-published book was comparatively easy, and indicating that I would be (more than!) happy to visit book stores to do readings/signings created a warm glow that I will definitely follow up 🙂

Being there to sign the actual book also worked for another Novella author who was present, Harrison Craig whose book Harrison’s Song has just been published by Wombat.

4. Folk won’t wait

At other events, I have also experienced this conundrum – either there’s nobody at your stand and you look sad, or else your stand is crowded with people and other potential contacts walk away without a backward glance. This is inevitable at such an occasion, but I wished for an easy (and light-weight) take-away for such people, along the lines of those tear-off contact details you see pinned to notice boards.

5. Books ARE judged by their covers

It’s quite true. Not saying that good books might not dwell inside dodgy covers, but it was definitely the cover art that made folk look at my book. (PS I love the cover art!) Another cover that drew interest on the day was for the children’s book The Whirlpool by Emily Larkin, also published by Wombat. High quality, attractive images that clearly indicate the book’s genre seem to be the way to go.

6. Bonus learning: say YES

OK, I said five learnings, but here’s number six: whenever you are offered a chance to spruik your book, do it! You and your manuscript have already survived the seas of rejection and heartache, so what does it matter if some people think your book is not worth its weight in their suitcases? Someone else will tell you they love the look of it – and just one of those comments is worth any number of ‘no thanks’-es!

That’s a nice shirt

There’s been a hiatus while I attended to large life events, but I’m hoping for more time and discipline now. At least I have a fresh source of stories from my mother’s new neighbourhood. Here’s a little tale she told me this week:

It’s breakfast time again. Marlene stalks across the carpet on her two canes and nudges her usual chair. Across from her, George lifts his eyes from contemplation of his plate of toast.

‘That’s a nice shirt,’ he says.

‘Oh, are you there?’ says Marlene, bending like a paperclip as she inserts herself between the chair and the table. ‘My daughter bought it for me.’

‘Did she visit?’

‘No, she sent it by helicopter.’

‘Huh.’

Marlene frowns at her plate. ‘Toast.’

Pamela approaches, bustling her wheeled chair in stilted lurches through the patterned axminster. ‘Move away!’ she warns the young nurse beside her. The nurse dispenses her characteristic wide smile, and helps Pamela manouever up to the table. ‘There now. I’ll get your coffee.’

‘Wait!’ calls Marlene. ‘Wait! There’s toast on my plate.’

‘Yes, that’s right, Marlene. You always have toast.’

‘And a banana! And a banana!’

‘Yes,’ replies the nurse, ‘but we have no bananas today.’

George lifts his chin, which he does when deeply moved. He sounds a note to get the key, and begins a loud and stirring rendition of ‘Yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas today!’

Pamela says to Marlene between phrases, ‘That’s a nice shirt.’

 

Image from Wikimedia commons: By Poulsen, Harry – Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15009010

 

Agency models

Here is an essay about the difficulty of locating strong women role models in our cultural narrative history. The featured image is a painting of Judith slaying Holofernes by the 17th century Italian Baroque painter Artemesia Gentileschi, the first woman painter to be accepted into the Florence Academy (yes, there have been novels writter about her!).

We’re taught that all narrative conflicts boil down to one of three stories: man versus man, man versus himself, or man versus nature. So what about women?

via Acting With Agency: The Power and Possibility of Heroic Women — Longreads

Diagnosis blues

This week has been quite a difficult one. We discovered that our mother has a brain tumour. While this explains all of the bizarre and inconsistent and unreliable behaviour that we’ve been noticing recently, it’s a bit of a shock.

Did I tell you how Mum was acting more and more strangely and refusing help? Well, one day a couple of weeks ago she took herself off to the doctor in a taxi (at a time when she should have been home for the cleaner – resulting in multiple phone calls with the next step being the police! – because she didn’t tell anyone she was going – but that’s another story). Mum went to ask if she had dementia, so the doctor ordered a CT scan that afternoon. The first I knew about it was a call from Mum saying I had to take her to the hospital for a brain scan. All the way there, she criticised her children as being too managing, too interfering, too nosy, and for sending too many helpers, and making too many phone calls, and ordering the wrong food to be delivered. She was certain that the brain scan would show no dementia and that after the diagnosis we could all just leave her alone, thank us very much. Very Greta Garbo.

The upshot is, after a lengthy scan and a trip back to the GP, that she has a meningioma which is not malignant in itself, but steadily growing and impacting on her brain function. Off we went to the neurosurgeon next day, who ruled out surgery (her bad health and a long recovery time) and any other treatment (tumour too large for radio). And a palliative care team has been allocated to us.

So it’s been  an interesting time, negotiating all of us siblings and our diverse opinions. Mum, on the other hand, is very stoic and quite serene, and says she’s much happier now that she knows. She is calling everyone in her address book to tell them she has a brain tumour!

Greta Garbo ‘Wild Orchids’ film still from Wikimedia Commons at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Garbo_wild_orchids.jpg?uselang=en-gb

Living on the edge

The older couple wriggled their way through to the front of the crowd. In only a few minutes, the aging rock star of their courting days would pass by in his elevated limo, beaming and waving, flashing the shiny ceramic imposter of his once-famous  smile. The old woman had prepared a small bunch of flowers to throw – nothing too heavy, for their idol was even older than they, and nobody wanted an incident: Aged Groupie’s Gladiolus Tribute Takes Out Star’s Eye. The crowd of younger fans eddied and heaved around them. The old man took her elbow, protecting her somewhat from the metal barrier that lined the roadway as well as the press of people behind.

A rising tide of sound marked where the star’s cavalcade was approaching from the left. As the wave of excitement rolled towards the old couple, a security guard unhitched the metal barrier. The pair suddenly found themselves staggering onto the roadway. As they disappeared under the great wheels of the big black car, the guard re-hitched the barrier.

Another group of fans squeezed their way to the front. Here’s the next lot, thought the guard, carefully folding her wings behind her. She looked over the crowd to the back, where new people joined the throng in an irregular pattern, not unlike the on-and-off disappearance of those at the front. Like lemmings, she thought, so eager for life that they fall right off the edge without even realising it.

She unhitched the barrier again, and waved another few people through.

 

Image: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10587

A creation fable

 

‘Are you sure?’ asked the god.

‘Yes. I can’t face another day of ordinary conversation. I want everyone to know how much I am suffering!’

‘I can’t reverse this process,’ he warned.

‘And I can’t turn back the clock. Just get on with it!’ Marta yelled.

A short while later, she left the god’s garden, looking much the same as usual. Her long hair, pulled back from her face, was the same dull, unwashed brown. Her comely mouth turned down at the corners in the usual way. There was something fierce in her dark eyes, but that was usual too.

Marta tested the god’s work. Deliberately, she walked into the village market place. Her gaze fell upon a young mother, squatting on the cobbles while she helped her toddler with his slice of apple.

Immediately, the god’s will kicked into action. Across every inch of Marta’s skin, multiple fonts burst into words. Blue as veins, stark as cemetery epitaphs, the moving letters came together. Across her forehead, I am crying inside. On one cheek, I will never see her again. On the other, I hate my life. On her neck, Let me die too. Over her shoulders, I hurt too much. Pulsing from her forearm, Don’t talk to me. Down one thigh, Don’t pretend everything will be fine. Down the other, My heart is broken. Across her feet, My tears will never end. From the ends of her hair, No-no-no-no-no…

The words kept rising to the surface, spilling from Marta’s skin onto the cobbles, into the drains, down to the creeks, the rivers, the seas, and up again through the mists and fogs into the weeping clouds.

Grief is what they called this new creation.

Lost arts of the twentieth century: the rendezvous

Back in the day, there were meeting places where you waited for your family or friends to come find you. Under the clock at the railway station, in front of the department store window (yes, ‘window’ singular), at the corner of the school. Eventually, Dad would come to drive you home from the station, or your friends would show up for your shopping expedition, or your little brothers would mooch up to be walked home.

File:Grenfell, NSW - Railway Station 1.jpg

No mobile phones, so no texts or emails or either, to let you know someone was late, or that they weren’t coming. I guess waiting is a bit of a lost art too. No phone to look at while you stood at the meeting place. (Of course, I always had a book at hand. Always.)

Meetings could be the highlight of your day, or your biggest disappointment. Being stood up by that cute guy I met at school dancing class, who promised to meet me at the bus stop the next week. Such an embarrassing and gauche moment!

On the plus side, at least he didn’t text me saying it was him, not me…

Notions like this complicate the writing process. It can be quite difficult to get into that space, that space where your characters don’t know what’s happening elsewhere, and can’t easily find out. Mind you, writing about the twentieth century is Historical Fiction after all. As a writer, having inhabited a previous era is no guarantee of being able to write it convincingly.

Ah well, back to the typewriter I guess…

Photo: Grenfell Station by Geez-oz from Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grenfell,_NSW_-_Railway_Station_1.jpg