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Us versus Them – or is it? with Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Mikhaeyla Kopievsky is an Australian speculative fiction author. She is the author of the Divided Elements series and an upcoming gothic novel set in Tasmania. Mikhaeyla was longlisted for the 2019 EJ Brady Short Story Competition for her piece, Grasshopper.

Mikhaeyla is an administrator of the Australian Speculative Fiction facebook page (if you write sci-fi, fantasy and/or horror, I really recommend that you join this wonderful group!) and a developmental editor with their Deadset Press imprint.

Black Australorp chooks (chooks is Australian for 'chickens' or 'fowl')

Black Australorp chooks (chooks is Australian for ‘chickens’ or ‘fowl’)
Image from
https://www.knowyourchickens.com/australorp-chicken/

Born in Sydney, Mikhaeyla now lives in the Hunter Valley with her husband, son, two rescue dogs, four Australorp chooks, a hive of cantankerous bees, and the occasional herd of beautiful Black Angus steers.

When she is not writing or reading, Mikhaeyla enjoys cooking with the produce harvested from her kitchen garden, going to the beach, stargazing, and training to be a ninja.

I’d better watch out, because ninjas are a bit scary. Time to turn over the post to Mikhaeyla!

 

Mikhaeyla talks about inspiration

Mikhaeyla: I’ve always been interested by stories that explore the (artificial) divide between us and themRomeo and Juliet, Brave New World, Handmaid’s Tale, Hunger Games, Red Rising – they all show what it is to sort people into pre-defined boxes so that you can align yourself with one side and demonise the other. It’s part of our evolutionary psychology to seek out our ‘tribe’. Our biochemistry is designed to give us hits of happy chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin when we’re accepted into (and by) a group. It’s why we get so much pleasure from social validation or feeling like we’re part of a team, and why it’s so hard to break away from social norms or reject peer pressure.

Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Book Punk and SFF Author Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

I enjoy writing stories about characters who have to confront the neat boxes they’ve constructed for their identity (and the perceived identities of others) and engage in more complex, uncomfortable, and nuanced relationships because of it. Ellie Safak, a brilliant writer, gave a great TED talk a few years ago on the politics of fiction and she used this wonderful metaphor of circles – explaining how everything dies when it is surrounded (almost entombed) in a circle. I like putting my characters in situations where they are forced to break out of that circle.

 

Fascinating! And you have an extract to share?

This is an excerpt from the first book in my Divided Elements series, Resistance. The series is set in a future, dystopian Paris where everything is engineered, including identities, and a resistance movement has emerged to upset the carefully-constructed order. The first book follows Anaiya, a Peacekeeper who has her mind realigned to a different identity so that she can infiltrate the resistance movement and bring it down. In this scene, Anaiya has just got her first real lead and is about to embark on a night out in the hedonistic and carnival-like nightlife of the Northern Area:

Extract from Resistance

The late afternoon light filters through oppressive brown clouds as Anaiya makes her way back towards the Ravignan Strip. She shivers past the long jagged shadows cast by Stricken Core on the ancient bricks of Ruzais Street, her boots slapping the uneven surface as the descent falls steeper and steeper.

Arriving at the start of the Ravignan Strip she stops to survey her target. The Lavoir izakaya rises seven storeys, its pale-brick walls following the sharp angle of the intersection and forming a wedge. Anaiya tilts her head back and stares up at its heights, intrigued by the way its triangular shape is softened by rounded corners that defy the geometric rigidity of rectangular bricks.

The strange perspective pushes her off-balance and she finds herself swaying like the treatment boats in the nearby River Syn. Closing her eyes tightly, she steps back to regain her balance, stopping abruptly when she collides with something behind her.

Spinning around, she is confronted by a smiling Elemental. It takes a moment for the surprise to fade, for her neocortex to kick in and allow her to assess him.

Male. Sixth lustrum. Six feet four inches, maybe five. Traces of skin ink on left arm from mid-ulna upwards. Non-hostile stance. Intelligent eyes.

“Hey,” he offers casually, reaching for the entry panel next to the izakaya door.

The door clicks and he pulls it towards him. Anaiya watches as his sleeve recedes further up his arm, revealing more of the skin pattern – thick, dark lines stretch into twisting ribbons, reaching up to cradle a skull.

“Hey,” she replies.

He stands there, the door still grasped in his hand.

“Going in, butterfly?” he asks, inclining his head towards the activity just beyond the door.

Anaiya blinks in recognition of the familiar nom de douceurThis Elemental with the interesting ink is the same one who barred her exit from izakaya last night.

She stares at him, trying to gauge his approach, interpret his intent. His body language is neutral, the smile still dancing at his lips. He is teasing her. Anaiya returns the smile involuntarily, enjoying the moment of levity even if it is at her expense, and ducks through into the Lavoir.

Inside, the lighting is dim. A score of ancient incandescent bulbs dangle from plastic cables, throwing soft light around the low-ceilinged, narrow space. Music beats and pulsates, bouncing off the wall and blending with the low hum of conversation. The air is rich with smells and noises.

Anaiya pauses, allowing her limbic brain to revel in the feast of sensations presented before her. The breeze at her back dies as the door to the izakaya clicks shut. She drifts between Air Elementals, slow-dancing a wandering path towards the bar. Her gaze tracks along its architecture; a long piece of graphene, suspended on transparent glass to seemingly float above the polished concrete floor.

The Earth Elemental behind the bar is two generations older than Anaiya, the lines of hard working and hard living marking her handsome face. Beside her, a now-familiar inked arm reaches out to plug its silver cable into the terminal.

“Five lyseracids,” he requests.

He looks over to her, eyes glinting in the yellow light.

“Six,” he says, amending his order.

The bartender turns her back to fill the order, leaving them alone in the small space buffeted by the throng of Elementals around them.

All Air Elementals possess a certain charisma: A freedom, a spontaneity, that sweats through their pores. As a Peacekeeper, Anaiya had detested it – passed it off as an arrogance and independence bordering on Heterodoxy. Tonight, she envies it.

“Where are you from?” he asks, tapping his fingers against the matte grey surface of the bar.

She runs her fingers along the graphene in a subconscious response, shadows lengthening and retracting under her fingers – her neocortex feeding her an appropriate response even while her limbic mind surrenders to the tactile and audio sensations assaulting it.

“Eastern Area,” she says.

“Yeah, you looked green,” he says, turning back to the bartender.

Green.

For Peacekeepers, the adjective is used for pups – inexperienced Trainees who don’t yet understand the way of the world.

“Why the transfer?” he asks, stacking the shot glasses in a narrow rectangular tray.

“Hypoxic demotion,” she says, feeding him the standard response.

He nods, handing her a shot glass brimming with the liquid lys.

“Bienvenue,” he says, his voice lilting in the pidgin convention of Air Elementals.

Welcome.

And with that, he retreats from the bar, never looking back, gripping the tray of lys and walking to the far end of the izakaya.

Anaiya shoots the dark liquid, a cloying sweetness coating her tongue. To her left, Air Elementals download their wristplate playlists via one of two terminals attached to the bar. A screen embedded in the bartop flashes with the music’s identifier – sometimes a name, other times a visual – before adding it to an updated queue. Bodies sway and dip and writhe in a contorted imitation of Anaiya’s free-running; their movements chaotic where hers were precise.

 

Thank you so much, Mikhaeyla. What an intriguing set up.

I’m so glad to meet you and your writing. Till next time!

 

Liked this excerpt?

The good things keep coming. Get your copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to keep reading!

You can read more about Mikhaeyla and her novels at www.mikhaeylakopievsky.com

There’s also a free Divided Elements novella for you when you sign up to her mailing list.

Past inspirations, secrets, and gifts

At the launch of The Stars in the Night

Launching The Stars in the Night

Preparing for the annual Anzac Day celebration, I’m taking a break from interviews.

Around this time every year, there is renewed interest in my World War I academic book, The Purpose of Futility, as well as my historical novel, The Stars in the Night. Both of them came out of my PhD studies at the University of Melbourne. Today I have three goals:

  1. to share some of the fascinating background to my story
  2. to let you in to some of the secrets hidden inside the covers
  3. and offer you a free copy of The Stars in the Night*#

 

*#UPDATE April 18th: Thanks all, the free copies are GONE 🙂 … but feel free to sign up for my newsletter if you wish in any case

Behind the story

Here are some facts and figures for you. I know some of you love numbers and weird trivia.

Fact:

Australia of all the combatant nations in the First World War did NOT execute any of its own soldiers.

The Purpose of Futility: writing World War I, Australia style

Figure:

Over 316,000 Australians served overseas in WWI, but only about 7000 remained in service from Gallipoli to Armistice.

Fact:

Originally, only those soldiers who served at Gallipoli were called ‘Anzacs’. Their identifying colour patches were distinguished by a gold letter ‘A’.

Figure:

After the war, more than 250,000 servicemen returned to Australia, bringing with them a new perspective on our place in the world.

 

Hidden Secrets

My reasons for studying WWI novels in the first place had to do with family. My paternal grandparents arrive in Port Adelaide in January 1914, escaping the threat of European war. My father had some stories of their experiences. Some of these have made their way into my novel.

Secret 1:

Harry Fletcher’s German grandmother, Liesl, is modelled on my grandmother Albertine. She died when my dad was only 9 years old, so I never met her. Quite possibly, I have a rose-tinted view of her.

Secret 2:

Harry Fletcher’s birthday is the same as mine!

The cemetery at Poperinghe

The cemetery at Poperinghe, photo by Clare Rhoden

Secret 3:

Harry’s mother Ellen is based on my mother-in-law Nell. Watch out. I’m sure she’s still around in one way or another.

Secret 4:

The German widower and his son, who come into Harry’s bakery early on in the story, represent my dad and his bereaved father. I wanted them to have jam doughnuts.

 

Finally, free copies!

*#UPDATE April 18th: Thanks all, the free copies are GONE 🙂 … but feel free to sign up for my newsletter if you wish in any case

To help commemorate Anzac Day 2021, I am offering a free print copy of The Stars in the Night to the first three readers who sign up for my newsletter. *Australia only this time. See the panel to your right to sign up. I promise there not to deluge your inbox with spam!

The Stars in the Night

The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden

 

 

 

“A gift from the sea”: Heather Ewings

Celtic myths abound about the selkies – seals who can shed their skins to become human…or is that humans who can take up a skin to become a seal? Our fascination with creatures of the sea is a long-standing one, from the classical sirens who tempted Jason and the Argonauts to Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid. Yes, long before Disney. And who can forget the Attack of the Mermaids in Pirates of the Caribbean?

Of course, all earthly life started in the sea. We’re mostly water, after all.

Today’s guest is Heather Ewings,  a fellow Australian speculative fiction author. Heather lives and writes on the land of the Pallittorre people of Northern Tasmania, and has an MA in Modern History. She also has a particular interest in Tasmanian colonial times, as well as a fascination with myth and folklore.

I’m fortunate to day to speak to Heather about her writing inspirations.

What inspires me?

Heather:

I once won a book by answering this question! That was about fifteen years ago, but the answer I gave still applies today. I’m inspired by hearing how other people have achieved their dreams, whatever they may be. I love hearing of the so-called ‘over-night’ success after years of hard work – it encourages me to sit down and put the effort in to take that next step. Whether improving my writing or editing skills, or learning how to market and promote my books, there’s always more to learn. But it’s not always easy to find the motivation to sit down and do the work.

Author Heather Ewings

Author Heather Ewings

… And for those who want to know which book I won, I’m pretty sure it was Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult, which I won through a competition run by Allen & Unwin!

***

Heather has kindly provided an extract from her novel, What the Tide Brings. Here’s the blurb, just before you start reading the story:

In most tales of selkies it is a woman whose magical skin is stolen, who is forced to marry the lucky thief and live a life of misery, pining away for her home in the sea.

But what if the stolen skin belongs to an infant, taken before they have memory of life under the waves?

Extract from What the Tide Brings:

Myna tossed and turned on the rickety bed as recent conversations circled her mind.

There was Wayanna’s hopeful plea: ‘That’s my seal skin. You have one too,’ quickly followed by Father’s defensive tone: ‘You’ll never find it. Your ma hid it too well, even from me!’

Could it be true?

Myna wanted her walk to the beach to be a dream, but it hadn’t ended suddenly, as dreams always did. Instead she’d had to walk the long cold path back home, and undress again, and climb back into bed beside her still sleeping husband. And then she’d lain there, for an awfully long time, as thoughts whirled around inside her head.

When the faint light of dawn crept in between the shutters, Myna sighed and slipped out of bed.

In the main room she stoked the fire, setting the kettle to boil before starting on the morning’s oats.

Father slept on a cot by the wall. Ronan intended to build an extra room for him, one that would be Ebba’s once he’d passed, but though the foundation stones had been laid the walls hadn’t been started, and Myna felt a stab of irritation. How long can it take?

As though he’d heard her thoughts, Ronan exited the bedroom, crossing the room to give Myna a kiss before leaving the house to start the morning’s chores.

Myna carried the heavy pot, hanging it on the hook over the fire when she heard the cot creak.

What am I doing here?’ Father propped himself up on one elbow, blinking at her.

You live with us now, Father.’ Myna turned to remove the tea cups from the shelf and place them on the table.

Nonsense. Take me home. Your mother will be wondering where I am.’

Mother died years ago.’

Father sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed in a rare moment of agility. ‘You’re trying to find it, aren’t you? She’ll spank you when she finds out.’

Myna lost her patience. ‘My mother. Really? You’ve been full of tales these past months. Accusing me of searching for something I never knew existed. I thought you’d gone mad—that you suffered the derangement of old age. But you haven’t, have you? You’ve just lost the ability to hide the truth. So, tell me this thing I’m supposed to be looking for, that my so-called mother doesn’t want me to find.’

He frowned, and blinked, his eyes gaining a clarity Myna hadn’t seen in such a long time.

Oh Myna.’ His shoulders sagged. ‘I told your mother to leave you there.’

No question how Myna found out, not even a hesitation.

I told her it were no good, taking you from the sea. And look where it got us, a fishing village with no fish, and your mother and me ostracised, and all because of you.’ His finger pointed at her, and his voice filled the room. ‘But she wouldn’t ever give you back, no matter how we begged and cajoled, she just wouldn’t let you go.’

He sighed, his arm dropping to his lap. When he spoke again his voice was softer.

I’m sorry, Myna, love. We were going to tell you. We just…it’s hard to know when the right time falls for such talk. At every point we feared destroying your present happiness or upsetting you more than you were. Your mother struggled to conceive a child; you know that. And when she saw you…’ He sighed again.

She thought I was a gift from the sea.’

He nodded.

So you just found me, abandoned on the beach?’ Myna wanted it to be true, that the people who’d raised her had saved her, but when Duncan’s gaze dropped to the table between them her hopes sank.

You were there with a selkie woman.’ His gaze flicked to Myna’s face and back to the table. ‘Your mother, Dyllis, she asked to hold you. The selkie seemed unsure, but agreed. Then Dyllis ran.” Duncan’s eyes flicked again. ‘Selkies aren’t used to running, are they? She couldn’t catch up. And then once Dyllis made it to the trees there were too many sharp sticks underfoot. Selkies’ feet aren’t used to sharp sticks.’

Myna’s knees gave way beneath her, and she sank into the nearest chair.

You and Dyllis took me from the shore. Even though I was there with my mother?’

Father cringed. ‘She loved you, from that first moment. We both did.’ He stopped, met her eye. ‘We both do,’ he amended. ‘You know that, don’t you?’

Myna’s eyes stung as she shook her head.

You may have thought you loved me, but you hated not being part of the town, living on the outskirts. And what about me? I grew up with no friends—always the outcast, always the focus of stares and whispers.’ She wiped the tears building in the corners of her eyes. ‘My own mother would have loved me. And I would have grown up as one of a group, not always the odd one out.’

Myna—’

If you and Mother had loved me, you would have sought out what was best for me. You would never have forced me into a life of your choosing. You would never have taken me from my family to begin with.’

She stood, and strode the few steps across the room to the door, slamming it on her way through.

She was a selkie, was she? Selkies hadn’t been seen since before she was born. Long extinct, her parents had told her when she’d asked about the tales. Ronan was from a larger town, further down the coast. He considered them folklore. How could she tell him they were real?

How could she tell him she was one?

***

Keen to read on? Check out Heather’s website – sign up for her newsletter and receive a free copy of the prequel yo What the Tide Brings – Maggie and the Selkie

Links:

www.heatherewings.com.au

Songbird Inspiration: J Victoria Michael

My author friend Judith Michael is a New Zealand-born writer now living in Melbourne.

Judith is fascinated with other dimensions, time travel and unexpected, remarkable talents. She writes as J Victoria Michael.

Inspirational

Judith has a passion for epic stories that stir the imagination, so we have a lot in common! Judith’s imagination takes her into shadow worlds where strange things happen, and words make music. She’s very musical and loves dance as well. The GriffinSong Trilogy is her debut as a novel writer. Judith’s short stories have been awarded and published in hard copy and e-zines.

You can read my review of the first novel in the series, Songbird, here. I loved it!

I asked Judith to tell me about what inspires her. She responded by explaining all about the main protagonist of the GriffinBird world, Irenya O’Neil. Here’s what Judith told me.

Irenya O’Neil

Who is she, and how did a thirty-one year old Melbourne mother, teacher and musician finish up in a story with fantasy elements?

Irenya O'Neil from the GriffinSinger Trilogy by J Victoria Michael

Irenya O’Neil from the GriffinSinger Trilogy by J Victoria Michael

Irenya and I agreed to meet up early in the writing of GriffinSong Trilogy. She arrived, carrying her own chair, which was one of those wickerwork things with thin cushions. It didn’t take much to get her talking. Here’s some of what she told me…

David and I were planning to marry soon, but I’ve had problems. The panic attacks were getting worse. I was shit-scared of dying – still am – and the anti-depressants were doing piss-all to help me. Supermarkets are the worst. It’s that Musak. Does my head in. Same as my grandmother. What if our little boy has inherited this too? It worries me sick. Then, just before Christmas, and with no warning, I finish up in this place called Dar Orien. Trying to find my way home is exhausting. If I was one of those show-off, kick-ass teenagers, I might find life in another world interesting. But I have a 15-month-old son, for Pete’s sake, and I miss him so much. All I want is to go back home. Now you’re telling me there are two more volumes to my journey here…”

Irenya doesn’t realise it but she is on a liminal threshold. As the year 2020 has shown us, the shift from one reality to another can be long-term and devastating. You may no longer be sure of where you are, or even who you are, as Irenya discovers in Songbird the first volume of my trilogy.

Liminality

Liminal exactly describes Irenya’s journey. Arriving in the alternate world of Dar Orien means she has crossed a physical threshold, but has yet to complete the transition across mental, spiritual and sensory boundaries. She is standing on the threshold between two worlds, on the verge of something new, and praying for the chance to return home, unaware that what she is waiting for is transformation. For her, it is a state of being that is painful, distressing and exhausting. It’s a state that threatens to tear a vulnerable woman to pieces.

Liminal also describes the realm of Dar Orien and its inhabitants. They too, are on a threshold, waiting for transformation, yet hamstrung by their inability to see beyond the tenets they have accepted for millennia.

The liminal state does not allow a return to where you were.

That particular place and moment is gone, as Irenya comes to realise. There is only one direction she can go, and that’s forward. As for her being in a story with fantasy elements, I am an author who loves stretching my imagination. Apart from that, it was luck of the draw.

In my latest release GriffinSinger (GriffinBird #2), Irenya finds a new state of grace, which, in the year 2021, is something we’re all hoping to find.

Fleetwalker (GriffinBird #3) is due for release this year.

 

Thanks Judith, that’s so interesting. And now for a gift extract!

Songbird by J Victoria Michael

Songbird by J Victoria Michael

 

From Songbird (GriffinSong Trilogy #1)

Elaaron clasped his hands together, his expression changing from courteous to grim. His cool gaze was unsettling. ‘Tell me about Tire. When were you last there?’

It was several seconds before Irenya could reply. ‘Wh… Where’s that? In this valley?’

‘Tire is a town more than one hundred leagues from here.’

She tried to work out the difference between leagues and kilometres. ‘I’ve been here all the time. The physicians will confirm that.’ She waved a hand at the snow-capped mountains outside the windows. ‘Why do you think I’ve been anywhere else?’

‘I have come from Tire. You were seen there four summers ago.’

She wanted to laugh, but his manner did not invite that response. ‘And…?’ she prompted.

‘I spoke with several of the townspeople who remember a woman who fits your description. Your face. Your voice. Your name. They were describing you.’

‘I… I’m sorry. I just have to laugh because that’s impossible. A long way from here and four years – I mean four summers ago? I haven’t been here anywhere near that long. It can’t have been me. It…isn’t…it just can’t…’ She subsided. Her face was beginning to overheat. In the prickly silence she felt a bead of perspiration run down the nape of her neck.

He unclasped his fingers and placed his hands palm down on the table, precisely shoulder-width apart. ‘Do you deny that you and your brother, Mikey, were in Tire four summers ago?’

‘What! My brother died when we were children. And my son, Mikey, is still an infant. Yes, I do deny it, because it’s impossible.’

To distance herself from his outrageous claims, she pushed her chair back from the table, folded her arms tightly across her chest and squeezed her eyes closed. She heard the chime of glass and the gurgle of poured liquid. A cup of water appeared before her. He clasped his hands again.

‘So.’ She met his gaze. ‘According to the good people of Tire, I was there four years ago – summers, years or whatever – with a child I would not conceive for some time.’ She raised the cup and drained it. It was his word against hers, and in this place, he was the authority.

‘Did you bring me here?’ The question had hung in her mind for days.

‘No.’ He shook his head once, the movement glancing light off the single gold earring he wore. ‘Meia willing, I hope I am never called upon to keep a mother from her child. Why did you choose to come here?’

‘You think I just came to Dar Orien? As if this is a holiday!’

He had shaken her with the Tire story. His constant scrutiny and his claims were exhausting. She looked at him, wanting him to give her the faintest ray of hope, anything that might tell her how she could go home.

He made a study of her face before replying. ‘You came here for a purpose,’ he said. ‘Though being here appears to constantly surprise you.’

Irenya was silent. The only surprise she wanted was to find herself back in Melbourne, one second after she’d left. How that might work, and what their problems might be here, was not her concern; she wanted to go home to David and Mikey.

‘Now, he said. ‘The seer, Fis… If the accounts I have are correct, she may still be living in northern Ishter, possibly over the border into Midrash. Given the slowness of our communications I can give you no assurances. I plan to journey north with a small company in spring. You should travel with us.’

‘Spring!’ She reeled in shock. ‘I don’t even want to be here then, let alone searching for a seer who may or may not be able to help me. Can’t we go now?’

‘We do not have a choice in this. The mountain pass is already dangerous, even for an experienced rider. We cannot leave until the spring thaw has melted most of the snow. I will not risk lives. Talk to Leachim. Ask him to tell you everything he knows about the Gifteds, and the fleetwalkers. After all, he was one.’

This was not the first time she’d heard words that filled her with dread, words that opened chasms beneath her feet. Living in this world was like walking on ice with no idea how thin it might be. Each step she took could land her in danger. She had already experienced that.

As if he had read her thoughts, he said, ‘If the MageGate had survived the invasion it would not have been necessary to test you with primitive fire. Though I apologise for the ill treatment, I would not wish to mislead you. Had I judged you harmful to this realm, I would have let the flames take you.’

Her skin prickled hot then cold and her throat tightened.

‘Lady,’ he continued. ‘I will overlook your tendency to appear disrespectful, on the grounds that you are unfamiliar with our customs. Be mindful, and do not give others cause to complain. We are living in hard and testing times.

‘With regard to the mirror, it has been fixed to that wall for a very long time. It is no more than an ornate, oversized looking-glass. I believe it is a portal that you alone may open. If someone did not send you through the mirror, then you must surely have journeyed here yourself. That leaves two questions. Why did you come here? And why do you deny yourself a passage home? Open your mind to what makes Dar Orien different from your world.’ He sat back in his chair and she sensed a dismissal.

She rose to leave, thanked him for his time and his advice. The squire reappeared and Irenya stepped into the passage, acutely conscious of the intense blue stare at her back. He can’t help me, yet my life is in his hands…

Thank you so much for sharing! Here are some links to Judith’s books.

Highly recommended!

Judith’s Links

Judith’s author site:   www.jvictoriamichael.com
Songbird:   www.odysseybooks.com.au/titles/9781922311078/
GriffinSinger:   www.odysseybooks.com.au/titles/9781922311276/
Find Judith’s books on Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com.au/J-Victoria-Michael/e/B08BJX2XJJ/

Running out of time on a fragile planet: Rod Taylor

The fragile state of our planet prompted author Rod Taylor to collect stories about the impact of climate change in his book Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet. I asked Rod what inspired him to start writing.

Rod Taylor – inspired by nature

Rod: In late 2016 I was an IT consultant, not a bad job, paid well. By night I was a science columnist for Fairfax and doing radio, occasionally for the ABC.


So while things were pretty good for me personally, I was becoming increasingly concerned about the future of humanity. My scientist friends were telling me ever more alarming news about the state of the planet. Things are looking really grim and we’re running out of time.

Author Rod Taylor

Author Rod Taylor


Then Trump got elected, which is a pretty clear message that a lot of people have no idea of how serious our situation is, often viewing it as a green-left socialist conspiracy to attack our freedom.
What to do? I am by nature a problem solver and it was clear to me that the only way forward is people. People are the solution.


While I am by nature optimistic, this is profoundly gloomy. I can’t live with that, so I decided to write a book.

This book would tell the stories of people who inspire me and, I hope, the reader.

We have a maggot farmer, a politician, a physicist and a guitar-playing part Maori. According to the title, the book charts ten journeys, but really it’s eleven because it’s partly mine too, as I navigated this path.

Thanks Rod.

Rod’s book features contributions from:

The Activist: Simon Sheikh
The Solar Pioneer: Professor Andrew Blakers
The Maggot Farmer: Olympia Yarger
The Accidental Activist: Charlie Prell
The Thoughtful Salesman: Leonard Cohen
The Politician: Susan Jeanes
The Climate Game Changer: Inez Harker-Schuch
The Advocate: Professor Kate Auty
The Lady with a Laser: Monica Oliphant
A Question of Hope: Dr Siwan Lovett

 

Here’s an extract from the book. Thank you so much Rod for sharing this with us.

 

The Activist: Simon Sheikh

Extract from Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet by Rod Taylor

 

Outside it was beautiful and sunny, but it was a bleak day. Donald

Trump had just delivered his inauguration address and already

he was attacking climate science. The world had just broken

temperature records for the third year running, while then Prime

Minister Turnbull was blaming renewable energy for blackouts in

South Australia. All this was just as the nation was about to record

mean temperatures for the month (0.77°C above average) and

eastern Australia would be hit by a run of heatwaves.

 

After reading all this grim news I met Simon Sheikh, but he

was cheerful, friendly and upbeat. We were about to record a live

interview, but it was he who started asking me questions. How long

had I done radio? How did I start writing for the newspaper? What

were my plans for Fragile Planet? I could see he’s a good operator

because of his genuine interest in other people and it was hard not

to be carried along by his enthusiasm. It gave me a glimpse of how

he’s been able to stir people out of their complacency to get them

active with groups such as GetUp.

 

Like anyone I don’t mind talking about myself, but we were

about to go on-air and I needed to get ready, so after a few minutes

I had to cut in, “Hey, I’m supposed to be interviewing you.”

Transcribing the interview later, I was struck by his use of

language, which was peppered with words like “passionate” and

“enthusiastic”. I made a note to learn about how a person could stay

hopeful in the face of relentless bad news.

Simon’s father was born in India and spent time in Pakistan.

 

Somewhere in his heritage is Saudi Arabian, which is where he gets

his surname. On arriving in Australia, his father quickly detached

himself from his ethnic background and assimilated. He’s even

largely forgotten his native Urdu. Sheikh, who was born in Sydney,

says he doesn’t think too much about this, but sometimes wishes

he knew more about his mixed background. He thinks of himself

as Australian and was surprised one day when his wife Anna Rose

told him most people don’t think of him as a “white Australian”.

 

Simon is tallish with soft features and breaks into an easy smile.

His Indian heritage is visible but not dominant. If you meet him on

the street, you’ll see he’s obviously not “full blood white”, but with

the ethnic mix in Australia, it’s hardly noticeable. What stands out

more is his surname, which, with his public profile, has made him

a target for online racist attacks. Even in a multicultural, relatively

progressive nation, some of these forces are just below the surface.

Still, he’s prosaic and shrugs it off. “That’s the nature of modern-day

engagement on things like social media.”

 

His sister Belinda died before he was born and his mother had a

bout of encephalitis when she was much younger. Later she suffered

mental health issues, which left Simon’s father the job of looking

after him. Sheikh describes those times in a Sydney Morning Herald

article. His mother’s mental health worsened during her pregnancy,

and by the time he was born, Simon’s parents were living apart.

His mother was becoming increasingly delusional with psychotic

episodes.

 

Simon had to deal with his mother’s instability such as the

day she set fire to the kitchen while cooking chips. It wasn’t made

easier living in the inner-Sydney neighbourhood. Enmore was a

rough neighbourhood back then and drug and alcohol abuse was

common. It was an unsettling start to life as he recalls, “I’d often hear

huge fights as I lay awake at night. I remember being scared a lot.”

“I slept with an axe next to my bed after being threatened for

not paying enough protection money to a local gang.”

 

When Simon was 10 or 11, his father had a major heart attack

leading to a quintuple bypass. Now the young Sheikh found himself

caring for his father as well as his mother. He says his father “really

didn’t recover full strength for quite some time” and at various

times both parents were dependent on welfare.

For Simon, it was a formative moment that could have gone

either way. In an ABC interview, he told Richard Aedy:

 

[His father] would come back from work, in those years that

he was working, cook dinner, ensure that I was studying, and

then go back home again. Every single day. And that put in

place for me a regimen that was very helpful in keeping me

grounded and particularly in keeping me away from a lot of

the troublemakers that I grew up around.

I had a year or two there where things could have gone

wrong.

 

By Year 7, Simon was showing glimpses of his future life and the

energy that would propel him into national prominence. Already

he had an emerging political awareness and a sense of social justice.

His first rally was against the rise of Pauline Hanson. It was, he says,

something he did with encouragement. “I was lucky in high school

to have teachers help propel that along.”

 

Simon’s impressions from the “fairly poor” community of his

childhood have stayed with him. “I got to see a few challenges faced

by the people around me.” There were sole-parent families and most

parents didn’t manage the finances very well. There were high levels

of drug and gambling addiction. His parents had other problems,

but he’s grateful for the strong grounding they gave him. “I owe a

lot to my dad,” he says.

 

After a day at school, he would go off to private tuition, which

was something few other parents could manage. Today he can

see that it was the commitment of his parents and their focus on

education that got him into university. “They were always putting

every dollar they could into education,” he recalls. “Growing up

the way I did meant I learned to be self-sufficient and to navigate

systems to achieve the best outcomes.”

 

LINKS:

Website: https://tenjourneys.blogspot.com/2020/04/ten-journeys-on-fragile-planetcoming.html

A Circus Load of Inspiration

The Last Circus on Earth leapt out of my reading pile last year and filled me with that rarest commodity of 2020: delight. You can see my review here.

Today author Ben Marshall is treating us to his take on inspiration, and a Fabulous Extract from the novel.

I know you’re going to enjoy this!

Welcome to the blog, Ben. Can you tell us what most inspires you?:

Ben: Connections inspire me. Between people, nature and ideas.

Lichen photographed by Ben near Loongana in Tasmania

Lichen photographed by Ben near Loongana in Tasmania

Science, art and gardening are three great ways to connect.

Also pubs.

I guess pubs are actually places of connection, so I see a theme.

Now for our special treat: an extract from The Last Circus on Earth. The story is told by Blanco, a surprisingly likeable killer … Yes, I know! But I truly do love him 🙂

 

In Blanco’s Words:

Strombo smiled at the Gaffer; a nasty smile what promised nothing but bad stuff for Sparrow. ‘I’ll give her a test run, eh?’
Which is when I lost it.

Later on, Madam Tracey explained to me I got what the head doctors call ‘impulse control problems’. But when she said it, there was a hint of a smile in her voice, like she approved but couldn’t let herself show it. Don’t get me wrong, I know what I done was stupid, but that’s what comes of no sleep, no food, murdering people, dealing with psychopaths, and having the girl you like kiss you.

Strombo didn’t know what hit him. Me—with a punch that had my heart and soul in it. For a big bloke he stayed upright what seemed like a long time. But his eyes were glazed over and all of us could see he wasn’t with us no more. Like a big tree chopped at the base, he slowly toppled, and everyone jumped out of the way because Strombo’s big enough to kill you even when he’s unconscious. Time sped up again as the Gaffer turned, knuckle-duster in place, and threw a feint with his right before launching the metal with his left. Normally, I’d let him graze me, then roll myself up for the beating. But this time I was angry in a way I never been before, and I let my reflexes do their thing. I sidestepped, drove a fist into his solar plexus, brought me shoulder up into his chin and finished him off with a Glasgow kiss.

Madam Tracey’s jaw dropped, the Professoré’s eyebrows went up and stayed up, and Mala and Milosh looked impressed—and like they were ready to finish me off if it came to it.

As the Gaffer hit the deck, I dropped my fists, opened up my stance and looked into Milosh’s eyes. ‘If anyone ever looked the wrong way at Mala, would you do any different?’
In the split second it would’ve taken him to bury a blade in me, he didn’t. Milosh don’t hesitate when there’s trouble—he’s in there and it’s all over. This time he just shook his head. ‘You just make bad trouble.’
I shrugged and walked away. ‘Trouble’s me middle bleedin’ name.’

I finished my prep and sat with the rest of the freaks, waiting for the axe to fall. We all agreed I’d basically given myself two choices—do a runner, or stay and be killed. If I stayed, the Gaffer would put me in the circle with Strombo for a straight-up bare-knuckle fight. Then it’d be on until someone—me—got beaten into a coma.
There’s a code, see. You do a colleague an injury like what I did to Strombo and the Gaffer, and there’s consequences. It’s like an old-fashioned duel except you’re tied together, and instead of a neat bullet hole I’d have Strombo’s ham-like fists tenderising my skinny body into sausage meat.
I cuddled Daisy, letting her lick the cold sweat off my face, and considered my fate. Baba Yaga brought me a concoction she said would clear my mind, which it didn’t, but Moineau—Sparrow—come in all done up for her Nightingale act looking right serious.
‘Madam Tracey tells me what you just done.’
I shrugged, brain jammed with misery and fear—not for me but her. ‘You need to run, Sparrow. Tonight. Now.’
‘Madam Tracey said otherwise.’
‘You’re not safe here.’
‘Nor you, you big pillock. Always looking after other geezers, you are. Which proves you is a diamond geezer and worth likin’. A lot.’
I kept looking away, stroking Daisy, who was cheerfully chewing my thumb. I couldn’t answer Sparrow because she made my head spin.
She kneeled and looked up into my dial. ‘You been protecting me. Now it’s time I helped you.’
‘You can’t, Sparrow. I’m done for. If not this time, the next.’
‘Listen—I been stuck inside this head of mine watching and listening. And what I don’t know about the people in this circus in’t worth knowing. I also know you in’t just strong in here.’ She thumped my chest. ‘You is smart up here.’ She tapped the side of my head. ‘And people likes you—even if you is a misery sometimes—because you care. It’s inside of you to look after other people. You can’t help it. So maybe it’s time to see Splinter again—get him to sort things for you, so we can start working on a new Steering Committee.’
I looked up, startled, and the freaks, all listening intently, looked to each other. They were shocked by what she said, but not so shocked they were shutting her down. Baba, Erik and Methuselah nodded first, then Elasto, Lobby and Dislocato followed suit.
‘You’re all madder than me,’ I said. ‘You’d be cutting your own throats going against them lot.’
Methuselah cleared his throat. ‘Splinter is mortal and will, or so you tell us, die sooner rather than later. The Gaffer will then become a power greater than he already is, but without Splinter to check his excesses.’
Baba Yaga nodded. ‘The Gaffer rules by fear. I don’t like.’
‘He’s already in the top job, if you ask me,’ I argued. ‘He does Splinter’s evil will, so he might be a better Gaffer when Splinter’s dead.’
Sparrow snorted. ‘Either way, you won’t be around to see it if you don’t sort this beef you got with him and Strombo. You need to talk to Mister Splinter.’
I shook my head. ‘Nothing short of a gun in me back could make me go in there and face him again.’

A minute later, there I am, standing on the steps of Splinter’s caravan, Sparrow prodding me in the back. ‘Go on, Blanco. What’s the worst thing what can happen?’

***

Isn’t that marvellous? Whatever is happening, the wry, sassy voice of Blanco makes me smile.

Thank you so much Ben for sharing.

The Last Circus on Earth by BP Marshall

The Last Circus on Earth by BP Marshall

Now here are some links that you’ll love to follow up

benmarshallwriter.com
http://briobooks.com.au/booklist/lastcircus
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54584809-the-last-circus-on-earth

Patricia Leslie

Patricia Leslie blends history, magic, and fantasy in novels that explore hidden and untold stories. Today she gives us some insight into her sources of inspiration.

THEN enjoy an extract from Patricia’s Novel Keeper of the Way, Book #1 of the Crossing the Line series.

Inspirations

Tell us what you find inspiring!

Patricia: Art and poetry are the touchstones of my general inspiration especially the creators of those artworks and poems that resonate deep within. They inspire me to learn and understand more about the wellspring of creativity in a person’s soul.

The outpourings from these springs often seem at odds with the nature or the behaviour of the people that contain them. For instance, Vincent Van Gogh, a man seen as misunderstood, is often quoted as a source of personal wisdom. He was a deeply troubled man with mental and physical health issues that coloured his interaction with the world, and the people, around him.

How do we reconcile Van Gogh’s work with his illnesses and his consequent behaviour? He was not a particularly nice person to be around and his health probably exacerbated that. But would we now have the art he gave us, if not for the troubles that plagued him?

The interplay between the within and without of personality is a bottomless pool of eddies and currents that play beneath the surface. Whether the surface is pleasant or unpleasant, what lurks beneath is the inspiration of many a story.

I use this sort of inspiration for the character of Clement Benedict in my series Crossing the Line and have been delving into the paradox of evil and good, and how we recognise and respond to ever-changing shifts in the people that influence our journey through life.

Patricia Leslie Author

Patricia Leslie Author

Interpretation of history is also a constant source of inspiration and one I use as the base theme in Crossing the Line in regard to those early cultures and practices often labelled as witchcraft by opposing forces through ignorance or deliberate manipulation and oppression. It seems that any practice (in any culture) not within the realm of their understanding and belief is labelled observed by outsiders as “witchcraft”. Is there actually any such thing as “witches” – especially those women vilified and murdered as such?

The magic, spells and symbols throughout the Crossing the Line series is influenced by early Scottish and Irish traditions. While set in Australia, it’s during a time when emigration from Scotland and Ireland was high and the ties to home countries and family were strong. I’ve explored the strength of those ties and the tradition of wise women and healers that came out of centuries old belief systems, and looked at them through a more female-centric lens.

 

Keeper of the Way by Patricia Leslie

Keeper of the Way by Patricia Leslie

Extract from

Keeper of the Way

Patricia says:

I’ve chosen this extract as an early indication of the quixotic nature of Clement Benedict’s. Externally, he appears urbane and something of a dandy (when not in disguise) while internally he is a ball of conflicting thoughts and feelings. His relationship with his father is at the centre of his changing emotions and always carefully hidden behind the mask he presents to the world.

***

Lord Algernon Benedict’s word was both law and compulsion, the binding that kept his son close and, for the most part, biddable. Clement wasn’t sure whether he hated the old man or loved him. He knew though that he, and only he, had the man’s trust and that behind the stiff collars and trimmed moustache, the permanently frowned forehead and florid cheeks, his father was proud of him.

And so, Clement perched in a low branch of a tree. With his coarse woollen trousers and heavy cotton shirt and vest, worn boots and ex-navy cap, he had the appearance of one of the street cleaners, and should any curious soul wonder at his lurking presence in the garden, they would assume he was shirking his duties. A crew of cleaners were hard at work not far off, scrubbing shit and mud and dust from the wooden road. What was one more, albeit not quite as hardworking as the others?

Music stuttered out from the exhibition building behind him. He thought he might attend the evening concert if all went well. He’d miss the first half, of course, but the program was to be repeated and he was sure to fit it in before more nocturnal chores later in the week. The colonial band of musicians warming up for the night’s festivities struck a nice balance between the higher style he was used to and the working class jigs he’d taken a liking to on board the ship out here. A carriage rolled past, a couple of soused men fell out of the hotel across the road, and a straggle of people walked down the path. He ignored the distraction of the music and concentrated on the hotel and the people. He’d sipped a rather fine whisky in the main bar earlier in the evening; his father’s interest in the hotel proprietor had necessitated a reconnoitre of the premises. The woman in charge watched over her customers something like a mother hen, or hawk, he hadn’t decided which. She didn’t appear to be much of an adversary, but the effect she had on the crowd of drinkers couldn’t be mistaken. Raised voices softened when her gaze raked that section of the room; rough bantering edged toward gentlemanly conversation as she walked by. No, she didn’t look much of an adversary at all. They were the most dangerous kind.

Clement’s task tonight, simply to watch and remember, was already growing tedious, but it was one he was particularly good at. He had never forgotten a face, a voice, or a name.

He pulled his pipe and tobacco from his vest pocket, tucked the bit on the end of the aged wooden shank between his lips, and held it in place with his teeth so he had two hands free to pull out a small wad of leaf from the pouch and drop it in to the bowl. He pulled the strings of the pouch tight to close it and replaced it in his pocket. Hands free again he took the pipe, tapped down the tobacco with the tip of his finger, retrieved a packet of safety matches from another pocket, and prepared to light up. The process helped his concentration, and as the match flamed he paused before waving it gently in a circular motion over the tobacco. He breathed in the acrid smoke and let his focus go to the people walking down the incline toward him. They would pass by within feet of his position in the tree, but they were too full of themselves and the night ahead to notice him. Their chatter drowned out the soft draw and gurgle of the pipe as he coaxed it into warmth. He judged time by the life of the pipe. Each life took approximately twenty minutes. He allowed a similar length of time between lightings. By the end of the night, his mouth would be dry and bitter, and his lungs would ache. The next morning his chest would be thick with the need to cough out the poisoned air of the night before. But right here, at the start of the first pipe, he relaxed and enjoyed the taste and smell of the tobacco.

The chattering group passed by. Dusk was fast becoming true night. Lights in the hotel blazed like beacons as men going in to drink and out to wobble home ebbed and flowed like the tide. Clement narrowed his eyes and avoided the bright light to direct his gaze on the dull streetlights dotting the footpath. A lanky teen and young woman had rounded the corner on the opposite side of the street. They were ordinary in the extreme, nearly as chatty as everyone else out and about, until they drew level to the tree where Clement hid, and then silence fell over them. They darted fearful glances into the gardens; the woman appeared to look straight at him, and quickened their step as if they sensed danger.

The woman couldn’t have been much older than the teen and it was clear that she must be his sister, though her hair was a dark frame around her pale face while the boy’s hair was a sandy untidy mess beneath his cloth cap. The light was too dim to see the colour of their eyes, but the intensity with which they searched the trees was unmistakable. Clement held his breath and cupped one hand over the bowl of his pipe to hide the tell-tale glow of the burning tobacco. The smell would hardly be discernible over the stinging aroma that trailed behind the street cleaners. The boy put an arm around his sister and they hurried past the hotel, ignoring the drinkers and the noise, and sending furtive looks in his direction until they reached the corner of a dark lane. They turned in and disappeared between the buildings.

The buzz of excitement washed over Clement as he drew a deep breath and felt the warmth of the burning tobacco on his face. He’d seen who he needed to see.

***

Wow! Now that’s wonderful. Need to read the rest now?

Patricia’s Links:

Website: https://www.patricialeslie.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/patricialeslieauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/patricialeslee/

 

Inspire me in 2021

After the roller coaster that was 2020, it’s time for a change.

Welcome back to Last Word of the Week. In the 2021 series, I’m looking for inspiration.

Each week, a different author will tell us  what inspires them. Then they will share an extract from one of their books!

I’m looking forward to their encouraging words and their stories.

I’m going to launch the series

My inspiration for stories comes from family, from culture, and from nature. Our precarious planet provides us a flimsy shield from the vastness of the universe. I love to look out and in, to our own species and the precious flora and fauna around us, for insights into what it means to be alive.

Inspired by a puppy

Inspiration comes in many shapes

The worldwide refugee crisis and Australia’s punitive response is the inspiration behind my sci-fi fantasy series, The Chronicles of the Pale. Writing these three books helped me work through my despair to find a way to hope for the future.

 

 

Here’s an extract from Book 3: The Ruined Land. In this scene, Feather of the Storm tribe arrives at the den of the canini (yep, taking wolf-dogs) of the Ravine. Oh, you can see a list of characters here if you wish.

 

The Ruined Land cover

The Ruined Land

The Ruined Land

‘I never thought to belong to such a pack,’ said Callan, one paw scratching busily behind his ear.

‘Nor I,’ commented Feather, cross-legged on the hard floor of the pack’s main den. He shifted a little as Callan leant back against him. On his other side, the half-grown canini cubs Niccolò and Rhosyn were tangled in slumber, their paws occasionally flapping against his leg in a dream run. Feather watched as Callan rose to all four feet, shook himself vigorously, and then settled again by his side with a long, soft exhalation. In the hours since they had rediscovered each other, the big white canine and the tribal envoy had been almost inseparable.

Freeing one hand to stroke a bit of comfort over Callan’s back, Feather looked around the den. From where they sat against the far wall, they had an excellent view of the astonishing company they shared. By the entrance, Hippolyta the leader of the ravine canini was engaged in serious conversation with Marin, huntmaster of the Storm tribe, and his partner Willow. Beside Willow, Jarli sat quiet and frowning, listening much more than he spoke. From the way that he leant close every time Willow spoke, Feather guessed that the Storm’s foremost couple had recognised the outclansman as the father of the twins, a man whose claim to raise them was greater than Marin and Willow’s plan to adopt. The older pair were probably trying to convince Jarli to stay with the tribe rather than taking his infants back to the less safe life of the outclan Owl. Feather was glad to be out of that conversation. The decision was Jarli’s, and it would not be easy.

For himself, his only thought was to return as quickly as possible to the new settlement of Newkeep Port, where Jana, and little Rasti, would be waiting. His father Helm, too. The easy, joyful reunion he had with his own daughter Freya, here in the ravine, had made him think again that he should make more of an effort to connect with his father. He was uncomfortably aware that he had not only failed to mention Helm’s return to Freya or to anyone else in the tribe, but also that he had avoided serious discussion with Helm during the weeks that they had laboured at the Newkeep site. He swallowed his worries. Problems for another day. It was enough to enjoy the nearness of Callan and the sense of happy community that pervaded the ravine.

In the space between the elders and the den, a handful of tribal children slept among the rest of the canini, human and canini young mingled in attitudes of casual trust while their parents guarded the ravine. He had not seen such a thing since the days when the packs of Callan and Waleen had shared their lives with the Storm. It was a pleasant sight. Lifting his gaze, Feather could see the shadows of equii – Pinto and Violeta, whom he had met within minutes of reaching the ravine. He had been told that the senior equii liked to visit the canini every few days, taking it into their round of the territory as they led the rest of the herd from pasture to pasture. It had given him much joy to find that quite a large herd of equii had found shelter here in the ravine. On their journey, he and Jarli had seem more bones than they cared to study, but Feather was sure that some of them were equii. He had feared that all of them, all who had run from their confined life in the Settlement, had perished on the unforgiving stretches of Broad Plain. That many had found safety, and that some at least of them had once more opened their minds to speech, was an unexpected but joyful discovery.

‘That was a good thought of yours, Callan,’ he commented, indicating the visitors.

Callan looked away, hiding some emotion. ‘For them, I daresay. There was no future for them out on Broad Plain. I don’t know that they’ve added much to our comfort, though.’

Feather smiled at the back of Callan’s head. ‘They have rediscovered their language, and they are safe. Knowing that must be counted as a benefit to all of us as well. Their lives are precious, and worth saving.’

‘Hmm.’ Callan sent a look back over his shoulder, his face creased in the semblance of a grin. ‘Trust you to find some good in that. As long as they don’t completely strip the ravine, I suppose there will still be food for all.’

‘Undoubtedly.’

They stayed silent for a while, enjoying the contentment of their reunion. The afternoon was fading, and Feather noticed a ripple of movement as the next detail of lookouts left to take up position at the pinch point of the trail. A good sentry post, but also a death trap, by everything Callan had told him. He returned Freya’s wave as she returned from her turn on guard, glad that he had seen no sign of the ravening horde of giant vulpini as he and Jarli had crossed Broad Plain. They had encountered only carcasses. In fact, it looked as if the vulpini had grown to excessive size and then suddenly died, all their life force sucked out of them by the freakish growth spurt. Interesting.

Just as the thought stuck him, he saw the humachine Hector join the group by Hippolyta. The big silvery creature sat at the leader’s feet, accepting a bowl of stew which one of the Storm youngsters handed him. Feather stilled his hand on Callan’s back. ‘And that one,’ he said softly. ‘What is he? Who is he? Can we trust him, Callan?’

‘Ah!’ answered Callan. ‘That is Hector of the Ravine. Mashtuk adopted him. He is to be trusted, yes.’

‘He’s from the Pale,’ murmured Feather, frowning, although he heard the faith and affection in his friend’s voice.

‘Let me tell you his story,’ offered Callan.

 

Thanks for reading! See you next week.

Clare and Aeryn

Clare and her distracting writing companion

 

 

The Ruined Land Links

Who’s Who in The Ruined Land

Amazon buy link

The Chronicles of the Pale box set

 

*PS: If you are an author who would like to be featured here this year, please contact me via this form. Cheers!

Love Books? Keep them coming!

It’s no secret that I love books.

This year I’m sharing some bookish ideas for end-of-year gifts, for yourself or others.

I recently heard society philanthropist Lady Primrose Potter interviewed. She’s an interesting person. One comment that stayed with me was that if you love something and you want it to last, do everything your power to support it.

We all have different amounts of power.

Lady Primrose is an important patron of the arts in a number of fields. While I don’t have that kind of might, I can give my love to books in other ways.

I buy books, I read books, I review books, I recommend books, and I do my best to help fellow authors with purchases, reviews and shares. I know how much effort goes into writing.

But buying books costs money

Which is wonderful if you have it. If you don’t, you can truly support books (and authors) for FREE – see the tips at the end of this post. It all helps, truly!

Books to Buy

There are so many good books out there! If you need help deciding which book to buy for a particular person, I recommend that you check out the reviews and recommendations from the independent booksellers such as

Readings: https://www.readings.com.au/newsletters-and-e-news

Here you will find the archive of their newsletters with reviews of 2020 publications in all genres and age groups.

Independent BookSellers Australia: http://indies.com.au/catalogues/

Listings of 2020 books in every genre, with extra attention to Australian authors and presses

Small Press Network Book of the Year: https://smallpressnetwork.com.au/book-of-the-year-award/book-of-the-year-2020/

Supporting small independent presses in Australia, the Indie awards are highly regarded

My 2020 Reviews on Goodreads: Clare’s Books

You will be able to see my short reviews and ratings of the 89 books that I’ve read this year, and the 300+ that I’ve rated on this site since joining in Dec 2016. Feel free to follow my reviews on Goodreads into 2021 and beyond!

Buying Books:

You choose the source: e-books are of course online, and print copies can be found via online retailers, department stores, OR YOUR HEROIC LOCAL BOOKSHOP.

My courageous local bookstore is Benns Books of Bentleigh. They supported me throughout lockdown with local deliveries to my door, yay. Their excellent Christmas Gift Guide is here.

 

Free bookish gifts for authors

Finally, some suggestions to cheer up the writers in your life with some free love.

  1. Use the local library, because authors get a tiny percentage of a cent for each borrowing.
  2. Suggest titles for your local library to buy, because authors will get a little percentage of the cover price for every sale.
  3. Use a free reading platform to rate the books you read, such as Goodreads, BookBub, or Voracious Readers.  If you happen to ever buy anything on Amazon, you can probably post a star rating or even a review on there too. These days, ratings and reviews help sell books.
  4. Share the books you have. The author won’t get another sale but they will get another reader, maybe with a word of mouth recommendation or a library borrowing of their other books. Chances are that the person you lent the book to wouldn’t have bought it or even found it on their own.
  5. Recommend our books. You have access to readers that your writer friends will never meet, especially if you are a member of a book club. More readers is always better for writers, even if it isn’t more book sales. See above: borrowing from the library helps support us too!
  6. Invite us to talk to your book club, especially virtually in these times of virus. We would love to go viral online! Zoom me in, Scotty.
  7. Drop us a line. Let an author know, by email or tweet or Facebook follow, that you enjoyed our books. One of the most satisfying email I ever received was from a reader who told me that my book The Stars in the Night had helped her understand her grandfather, a veteran of WWI. This actually made me cry. All my efforts were worthwhile!
  8. Share our Beautiful Covers: Instagram and TikTok are great platforms for sharing lovely images of the books you’ve enjoyed. #booklove, #bookstagram, #amreading are all useful. Oh, pro tip: if you wish to tag, please tag the title or the publisher, not the individual author. Some algorithms will demote a post that tags individuals as a friend-share, not a customer recommendation. Hey ho.
  9. Enjoy Reading. Keep it going. Like many other industries, publishing has struggled with new releases this year. Online launches sell about a quarter of the books sold in real-life launches. Love your books and pass on the love.

Happy Reading! I look forward to seeing you in 2021.

Until then, love your books to life.

 

Castle of Kindness: can books change the world? asks Felicity Banks

Felicity Banks is an awesome author, fighter for justice, escape room magician and innovator. She’s a fellow writer at Odyssey Books, and I spoke to her in 2018 for Last Word of the Week.

Today I’m thrilled to present Felicity’s guest post about the Castle of Kindness Project and the complexities of life in general.

Felicity Banks speaks about the Castle of Kindness

Felicity: From the age of twelve to twenty-two I planned and trained to become an aid worker in Indonesia, teaching slum kids English. During that time I travelled to Indonesia seven times, studied the language and culture from Year Seven to university level, and became fluent in Bahasa.

Then I. . . changed my mind. I wanted to stay In Australia.

I married, had two kids, and even finally had several books published.

Heart of Brass books by Felicity Banks

The Heart of Brass books by Felicity Banks

Then

My health collapsed into disability via chronic illness. But in all that time, Indonesia stayed in the back of my mind. Not to mention the rest of the world.

You can call it white guilt, if you like.

Or you can cause it historical awareness. Like every non-Indigenous Australian, I benefit from the illegal seizure of this land. And from the attempted genocide of the Indigenous people.

And from the systemic, institutionalised racism that continues in the form of police and prison brutality, media bias, and so much more. And from the day-to-day racism that means I am more likely to get a job (or a favour, or a loan) than an Indigenous person who is just as qualified as I am.

How do I live with that?

I’m no longer well enough to work at a “real” job, which ironically gives me every writer’s fantasy: the ability to write full-time. Writing is such an enjoyable thing to do, it hardly seems fair. I wonder, often and always, if my books are making the world better. If anything I do matters. If I should be doing something—anything—more than I am.

What more can I do?

And then I read [book title redacted due to spoilers]. A fantasy story, in which people from our reality step through a portal into a brilliant, beautiful, magical land. Even the toilets are magical: anything that goes into certain containers simply vanishes into thin air. Fun!

But the characters discover that all that magic is being taken from the ‘enemy’ population. The wealth that creates beautiful buildings leaves slums in the other land. The toilets empty into their backyards. Even the illnesses that would afflict the beautiful magical creatures in the first kingdom are given to the children of their enemies.

Ouch.

The characters, being fundamentally decent, must immediately give up their beautiful magical land and its exploitative underbelly. . . but in the process they discover that there are several types of magic, and many branches of magic are not being used at all. Magic is not a zero-sum game after all. Although it is difficult, it is possible for everyone to have a decent amount of magic (and the beauty, health, and wealth that comes with it).

A second fundamental truth: being decent human beings doesn’t mean I need to sell my house and give all my money to the poor (and then live on the street). I don’t have to lose everything to lift others up.

Author Felicity Banks

Author Felicity Banks

 

It occurred to me, somewhat belatedly (I’m now 38), that I could help Indonesian people white still living in Australia. I know better than most how difficult it is to live in a nation that speaks a different language, because I’ve been there. So I am ideally placed to help migrants and refugees coming from Indonesia (or anywhere really) to settle into Australian life.

This epiphany happened in 2019

And since then I’ve been looking for ways to give what I have to people here in Canberra (without much success).

A few months ago, one of the groups I’d reached out to reached back: The Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (check it out here).

Long before I read the books that changed my life, several major refugee advocacy organisations got together to study refugee sponsorship in other nations (such as Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand) and design a program specifically for Australia.

This year—yes, this miserable plague of a year—they set up a ‘Mentor Program’ as both test and training to see how their refugee sponsorship program could work in practice.

There are now about twenty groups set up around Australia, ready to welcome and support refugees and refugee families in a number of practical ways: helping them find work, helping them meet new friends in their new home, helping them settle their kids into school, helping them with English practice, teaching them about Australian food (and animals that will kill them), and helping them financially until they’re able to stand on their own.

I am now the coordinator of the Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group. Our GoFundMe is here and we’re running a Fundraising Gift Shop (including books donated by Clare Rhoden herself—and my extremely fun and magical Australian steampunk trilogy) here.

Until the end of this year, all the money raised in my shop (up to a threshold of $1000) goes into the refugee sponsorship fund.

And I’ll sign, gift wrap, and post them to the address of your choice.

 

This is happening, and it’s beautiful. And it’s all because of a book.

 

Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Logo

Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Logo

 

We meet our first refugee family today.

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Thank you so much Felicity for sharing your story and you kindness!

Please visit Felicity’s store if you are looking for a bookish Christmas/end of year present that also helps others.