From the Wasteland: what’s it all about?

A new anthology of speculative fiction called From the Wasteland will gather original stories inspired by TS Eliot’s The Waste Land  

I first had the idea for this collection last December while walking the Empress (otherwise known as Aeryn Spoodle).  I was listening to an episode of ABC Classics’ The Game Show (music from video games). This episode had a very dark theme. Naturally my mind turned to my studies into First World War literature, and then to The Waste Land.

The Waste Land begins with a chapter titled The Burial of the Dead. The very first line says that ‘April is the cruellest month’. What an attention-grabbing start!

The 434-line poem is Eliot’s extended lament for the lost lives and the destruction of the 1914-1918 war. He’s talking about the collapse of civilised behaviour, the wanton wreckage, the widespread despair. And he does it in style.

Australian headstones at Tyne Cot cemetery
Australian headstones at Tyne Cot cemetery on the Western Front (my photo from my 2011 study tour)

When I got home from my walk, I looked up the poem, recalling that it includes dozens of splendid lines. Then I discovered (re-discovered?) that the poem’s first publication was in 1922.

Lo and behold, 2022 would be the centenary!

The idea of an anthology of Wasteland stories burst into my head. Wow! so many good lines there that are almost irresistible as story titles – for something in literary speculative fiction genres. (Literary spec fic? Think Margaret Attwood and Octavia Butler.) Look at these phrases for a start, all from The Waste Land:

  • a heap of broken images
  • they called me the hyacinth girl
  • looking into the heart of light
  • the barbarous king
  • are you alive, or not?

I’ve invited a select band of other active speculative fiction authors to write short stories springing from Eliot’s poem. I’m thrilled to say that we are a merry band of 19 writers. You can see more about them here.

snow covered trees
My story is based on line 5 of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land’: Winter kept us warm, covering earth in forgetful snow’, from the first section of the poem, ‘The Burial of the Dead’.

‘From the Waste Land: speculative fiction inspired by Eliot’ will include ghost stories, fantasy, horror, steampunk, dystopia and queer romance. All will be intriguing and amazing tales.

I’m doing my best to ensure that this anthology will come out in the second half of 2022 to coincide with the poem’s centenary. I’m very busy querying publishers–no easy feat when we don’t actually have a completed manuscript on hand yet! And of course, I’m writing up a storm with my collaborators…

It’s going to be fabulous. Keep an eye peeled for more news about this wonderful project.

The Ten Stages of Writing a Series: Part 3 Book Three

One novel is now a post-apocalyptic series.

Welcome to Part 3 of how I wrote a post-apocalyptic fiction series: from one novel to three novels in three years.

Let’s recall the first five stages:

  1. An Idea
  2. A Short Story
  3. A Novel
  4. A Rejection
  5. An Acceptance

If you need a full recap of how it all started, check out this post.

And then three more steps:

  1. The Sequel
  2. A Plan for Book 2
  3. Writing Book 2

If you need a recap of how I got to Book 2, check out this post. Now we’re up to Book 3.

The Ruined Land cover
The Chronicles of the Pale #3: The Ruined Land

Stage 9: The End Game

I admit that deadlines are good for me. I love writing inside a time frame. But remember, I’m a bit weird – I loved exams. Adrenaline = inspiration for me.

Broad Plain Darkening raised a lot of questions that I couldn’t wait to tackle. So many issues that I wanted to resolve. Imagine me rubbing my hands together in glee.

Once again, I needed a plan.

Strangely, my “plan” looks almost like a maths problem. How does it work?

Notes in a book
Example page from my TRL (The Ruined Land) notebook
  1. You’ll notice very few words. The story was in my head. These are just reminders so that nothing got left out. Sticky notes for my brain.
  2. Chapters are important. They need a starting point, an action or change point, and some sort of conclusion – one that leads to the next chapter, or one that closes the action and allows the next chapter to tackle another aspect of the story.
  3. Chapter length is important. That’s what the numbers are about. I’m moving scenes around to ensure that each chapter is a similar length.
  4. The first page of this notebook is dated Oct 19th, 2018. Three years ago today! That means that I was deep in writing Book Three while waiting for the edits to come back for Book Two.

Editing and writing at the same time: heaven!

Editing is such a satisfying task. You wrestle with what comes back; you suddenly see what doesn’t work. Then you scratch your head over how to make this or that point any clearer. You laugh at your hilarious typos (the runted land LOL!) and in your imagination, you high-five the editor at the brilliant saves.

Once again, working with Odyssey Books suited me down to the ground.

So within two years of launching The Pale, and inside 12 months of launching Broad Plain Darkening, I was back at Readings Carlton, surrounded by well-wishers, thrilled to introduce my new book to the world.

The Ruined Land was born, and my idea for a novel is now a post-apocalyptic series.

Stage 10: The Series in a Box

The Chronicles of the Pale is now a complete entity. You can even buy it as an ebook box set:

The Chronicles of the Pale Complete Series

The Chronicles of the Pale Complete Series available as an ebook
The Chronicles of the Pale Complete Series available as an ebook

Seven-piece Essential Toolkit for Writing a Series

  1. follow up your good starting idea
  2. create characters to care about … ones that YOU care about
  3. expect a great deal of work writing your idea into the first novel … possibly years
  4. refrain from killing your characters too early – but be prepared to kill them at the right time
  5. keep tweaking and submitting until you find a match
  6. be responsive to your publisher’s needs
  7. treasure the publisher who believes in you and your work

What next?

I have a dozen ideas for short stories set in the world of the Pale, but it’s no use planning a short story collection (working title The Chronicles of the Pale #4: Before and After) until I actually write those stories.

Jotted words in a notebook – useful as they are – do not turn themselves into publishable writing. And I also have in mind the possibility of a graphic novel or an animation. So a lot of work to be done first, but the world of the Pale now has to wait on edits for my current projects.

In the meantime, watch out for my next novel

How to Survive Your Magical Family

which will be out in time for Christmas. More news soon!

Coming soon
Coming soon: How to Survive your Magical Family

The Ten Stages of Writing a Series: Part 2 Book Two

Once upon a time, a single idea became a novel, and a novel sparked a series.

Welcome to Part 2, where I cover the big picture of how I moved from a stand-alone novel to a post-apocalyptic fiction series: from one novel to three novels in three years.

Let’s recall the first five stages:

  1. An Idea
  2. A Short Story
  3. A Novel
  4. A Rejection
  5. An Acceptance

If you need a full recap of how it all started, check out the previous post.

Stage 6: The Sequel

It took a little while to get my head around the possibility of more novels in the world of The Pale. A whole series of post-apocalyptic fiction? But hey! The world was all there, the characters created, and a trajectory beckoned. Plus the world always needs more books with talking animals.

All I needed to do was pick up where I left off, right?

It’s not that easy. Something I found quite testing was to check and re-check my built world, to ensure the consistency of both stories. Remember that I’d invented a highly-detailed setting, with too many characters, too many places, too much that was too clever by half (including an over-clever calendar)? Well, thanks to me being such a smarty-pants, there was too much in my head. I had to match the published version of my world, not the one teeming in my brain.

Hmm, did I mention this particular detail before? I kept asking.
I told myself: probably not.

Can I include it? I thought: Yes, but…

Can I do without it? Answer: YES!

The thing about world-building

It so happens that I know a lot more about the back-stories of the characters than will ever be published.

And that’s the way it should be. I am the iceberg. The published work is the best fraction of it.

Readers really only want to know what’s happening NOW.

They want ACTION. And they want EMOTION. They want RESOLUTION.*

*Beware generalisations. Some readers like the long way round a story

Readers don’t want to know about the hours I devoted to googling baby names as I tried to make my cast diverse and interesting. They don’t want to know about my failed attempts at tracing maps of Tasmania and putting Pale-style names in tricky terrain. And they especially don’t want to hear me arguing with myself about just how evil I can make the villain without turning science fiction into horror.

Stage 7: A Plan for Book 2

Take one ambitious time frame, add a thriving cast, lots of conflict and then make the world explode. Or at least cause the ground to shake.

I’m a pantser by nature, but I needed a plan. More, I needed – for the first time in my fiction writing – to create lists and signposts. I discovered that writing a series is like writing a thesis: there is more material than you can keep in your head at one time. You MUST be organised.

A character list was easy enough, and here it is. I also asked for it to be included in the printed book, because many readers like to refer back as they’re reading.

A map! Fortunately, I have very talented people in my family – they’re so creative, this lot! – and @bernardjmaher listened carefully, coped with my scribbled diagrams, and voila! a map.

Territory and city map ThePale
Territory map for The Pale

Stage 8: Writing Book 2

The deadline was good for me: six months to the first draft – remember that the first novel took several years to gestate.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. My method is to write a lot, and then edit, edit, edit. Then I add, subtract, rearrange and polish.

Characters from offstage demanded to be heard – for example, Helm, the lost tribesman. He’d always been there as Feather’s missing father, but he insisted that he had a much bigger part to play. More talking animals wanted to be heard, and many of the villains began to flex their muscles. Dystopia is like that!

Back and forth with editing. It was so much better this time around. I was more relaxed about strangers’ eyes on my imagined world, and more confident in my choices. I mus say that working with Odyssey Books has been amazing – truly life-changing.

Amazingly, within a year of launching The Pale, I was back at Readings Carlton, surrounded by well-wishers, thrilled to introduce my new book to the world.

Broad Plain Darkening was born, and my idea for a novel became a post-apocalyptic fiction series!

The Chronicles of the Pale #2: Broad Plain Darkening

 

Next time, I’ll talk about how Book 3 rounds out the series, and test out whether there’s more to come from the world of The Pale.

 

 

 

The Ten Stages of Writing a Series: Part 1 The First Novel

The Chronicles of the Pale series

This month is the second book-iversary of my dystopian fiction series The Chronicles of the Pale.

I’m very proud of these books and still very much in love with them.

But how did this love affair with talking animal stories begin?

Today I’m letting you into the ten hidden stages behind the Chronicles.

Stage 1: An Idea

Ideas comes from everywhere. I can’t stop them.

This one began with a dream in 2014. We were shut inside a gated compound while outside, crying babies were dying from exposure. We couldn’t get out, but my dog Dinny (an ancient and beloved German Shepherd) snuck out and carried the two babies into safety.

German Shepherd Dinny
German Shepherd Dinny, the original model for Mashtuk

From small kernels of inspiration, a big story grew.

Dogs had to feature!

Stage 2: A Short Story

The story of the babies left to die Outside was too good to lose, especially during the height of the worldwide refugee crisis. The wise and compassionate canini Mashtuk and Zelie, the heartless humachines, and fully-human Hector appeared in my head.  I wrote them into a story and submitted it to progressive journal Overland. My first ever short story acceptance!

Man-machine-dog-Illustration
Man-machine-dog-Illustration from Overland #215

Man/Machine/Dog‘ is available online.

If you’ve read The Pale, you might like to see where it started.

Stage 3: A Novel

After the story was published, an indie publisher contacted me because my Overland bio said that I was writing a novel about these characters.

Ahem.

I hadn’t started, but I immediately began. Ideas came too fast and the novel grew too long, but I submitted it within six months.

Stage 4: A Rejection

Sadly, The Pale Version 01 didn’t make the grade. The novel was BLOATED with too many characters and dozens of subplots, and falling over itself with over-complex world building.

While the feedback was positive, the novel needed severe editing.

Stage 5: An Acceptance

More time passed. I took a good hard look at my manuscript and pruned a few thousand words. Some of the off-cuts were old favourites: names for every (and I mean every) minor character, a newly invented calendar based on the many seasons recognised in indigenous cultures, and a subplot involving flashbacks to the time before the Great Cataclysm…

Then I sent the new manuscript to my dear, dear beta readers. Their ultra-valuable feedback (thank you – you know who you are!) resulted in more tidying…and THEN

I sent the manuscript off to another indie press looking for new authors.

The Pale cover detail: Mashtuk
The Pale cover detail: Mashtuk

About three months later, and email came, asking if The Pale was still available.

Yes! I shrieked. Yes, yes, yes!

(Thank you Odyssey Books!)

 

What next?

Oh, my. Having a novel published was a lifelong dream come true.

I fell onto a steep learning curve. Working with fiction editors challenged me, but I could see that every discussion, every point, made my work better. A wonderful cover artist sent me concepts, and I jumped with delight on the one with the city and the canini – of course, it’s Mashtuk!

I’ve talked about launching here, and I can still remember the wonderful feeling. The Pale sold some copies. Readers contacted me and asked about the characters and what happened next? The characters gambolled around in my head.

And the publisher said: is there a sequel?

Next week, I’ll explain how I got from a single dream to a three-novel series … and perhaps a set of short stories in genesis.

The Pale
Chronicles of the Pale #1: The Pale