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Posts tagged ‘dystopian’

The multi-dimensional Alice McVeigh is inspiring

Alice McVeigh uses the pen name Spaulding Taylor when she writes science fiction. She may have two names, but she has many more roles than that. She’s a ghostwriter, an editor, a performer , and a musician.

Alice is with me today to talk about what inspires her creative output. She is also sharing an extract from her book Last Star Standing (I love that title!) which is a dystopian sci-fi thriller!

Welcome, Alice.

Author Alice McVeigh who also writes as Spaulding Taylor

What Inspires Alice

ALICE: I’ve been very open about my triumphs and disasters, perhaps particularly here:

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/author-interview-alice-mcveigh/

Basically, I was lucky enough to get a Booker-prize-winning agent when I was still pretty young, along with a two-book contract with Orion (now part of Hachette). These novels sold very well, but not well enough for Orion, who rejected my third.

I then entered a period of real depression, retreating into ghost writing and cello-playing (my only degree is in cello performance, oddly enough!)…  But fiction, eventually, pulled me back, and Unbound released my Kirkus-starred speculative thriller only a couple of months ago.

What inspired me? A meditation, which I mention in the interview. It was a crazy experience, having a character come and tap me on the shoulder! – But I’m very grateful all the same…

***

Thanks Alice, that’s so interesting. It’s not often a character accosts a writer, but it’s worth following up when it does happen.

Now Alice is going to share an extract from Last Star Standing

***

 Background to the scene:

Ravene, the alien King’s heir, was Aiden’s lover a decade earlier.

Aiden, along with Bully and the gromeline, is in the King’s encampment, on the mission to assassinate the King. Aiden is telling the story.

But Aiden is currently in the body of a hideous Tester, a bull-like humanoid alien. He’s taken aback when Ravene notices him in this guise and insists that he accompany her, alone, to her quarters.

Last Star Standing by Spaulding Taylor

Last Star Standing by Spaulding Taylor

Excerpt from Last Star Standing

Ravene shifted into a sitting position and flinched. She spoke almost to herself, as if I was too stupid to understand. ‘You’re ugly, of course, but then, you’re all ugly. But there’s something different about you. You remind me of someone I first knew years ago.’

Might not have been me, of course. Always sought-after, Ravene. The legs, mostly. She turned her head, reminding me that her profile was tops, as well.

She continued, ‘He was human. Good-looking – not stunningly good-looking, but still handsome – well-built, clever, amusing. Tenten was his name, you might have heard of him? He was only recently executed.’

So the King had lied even to Ravene, his favourite child and acknowledged heir.

As some answer seemed expected, I rasped, ‘A known rebel. A known traitor, lady.’

‘A traitor to us, perhaps, but utterly true to his own people. You must realise, hircht, that I am part-human? My siblings constantly remind creatures of this, in hopes that I might be discounted in the succession.’

I knew all this, of course. Whether most testers would have, I hadn’t a clue. I stood in the approved tester pose: staunch, wooden, dull.

Ugly too, I bet.

‘Perhaps that’s why I remember him so warmly. Of course, he was impulsive, stubborn, in some ways difficult, but his humanness somehow spoke to me. I’ve never since—’ She lapsed back into thoughtfulness, while I kept wondering why the hell she was telling me this.

‘He had such feeling! Everything with Aiden was always so wonderfully in the moment! There was a time, I remember, we were on a balcony—’

Oh God, I remembered that too. Almost fell off the bloody thing.

 I shifted uneasily as she said, almost dreamily, ‘And then, and then, another time – we were on a picnic with other students. It was autumn in the overland and somehow one could still sense it, even deep below – perhaps some movement in the air, some atmosphere, some sense of leaves being trodden, decaying, into the dark earth… The picnic was in one of those kycnm fields with false-rainbowed skies and grass that never smells right. Aiden and I drifted away from the others. We had been dancing – did I mention the music? – but why on earth am I telling you this?’

Search me.

 But beneath both my hammering hearts I was still bewitched. That rainbow-textured sky, that music, that day… Sternly, I attempted to think of Bully, of Pavlina, of any bloody thing, just to break the spell.

This didn’t work. Instead, I was also caught up in remembering.

Ravene, casting her gaze backwards in the Academy corridor. Ravene waiting in the disabled loo, hair already rapturously dishevelled. Ravene winning the badminton tournament, with that perfected eye. Ravene sliding her palm into my pocket in the refectory… I tried to remember Petra, but she lacked vitality, in comparison. It was as if Ravene had tossed diaphanous silks over everything that wasn’t ourselves – young and handsome, young and full of hope, young and full of glory, the way the young are.

She sighed, stirred, and continued. ‘We left the others, just the two of us. We – oh, I don’t suppose you understand for one single second what I’m talking about! – but luckily, you’re far too stupid to understand. At any rate, we left the others under that great canopy of false sky. And above it there was a crack, and through it – like a gift – a slice of real sky. And he took me, just there, under that—’

She had been gazing into the distance. She glanced over at me and wriggled discontentedly. ‘What an apish expression you all have!’

As for me, I was still trying to look like the dimmest tester going. As much as I was feeling glad about anything, I was glad that I had shoved Bully out with the gromeline.

‘Lady, just tell me what to do,’ I growled, as politely as I was able. ‘Command me. A drink, a pundling, an attendant—’

She half-rose on her elbow, staring at me. Both of my hearts stopped.

***

BOTH MY HEARTS STOPPED!

What a place to finish. If you’d like to read more, you can find Alice’s work at the following links. Thank you so much Alice for speaking with me today on Last Word of the Week: 2021 Inspirations Edition.

Alice’s Links:

Alice on Facebook

Alice’s Website

Alice on Instagram: @mcveigh.alice

Alice on Twitter: @astmcveigh1

The Snow Fox Diaries: gripping eco-fiction from Jan Mazzoni

Climate fiction (cli-fi) and eco-fiction are having a moment. Quite a long moment. Our concerns about the natural world, our impact on it and its impact on us, are thrown into stark relief by extreme weather, immense wild fires, and the global pandemic.

Only recently Jan Mazzoni discovered that – surprise, surprise – there IS a genre where her writing fits perfectly. It’s eco-fiction. Writing fiction that combines her passion for the natural world with a gripping tale for many years, Jan’s delighted to find a place where the stories she so loves to tell are completely at home.

Not that eco-fiction is new. In many ways, eco-fiction is much like any other genre – historical, thrillers, even romances – because every story needs the protagonist to go through some kind of hellish situation before reaching the (hopefully) happy ending.

As Jan says, eco-fiction just tends to have all this happen in prettier locations.

A yearning for wilderness encouraged Jan to move to a little house hidden in a large, rambling garden on the edge of Exmoor, a windy, bleak but beautiful part of the UK. Here, with husband George and four Romanian rescue dogs, she leads the simple life she’s always craved. She calls herself a recluse-in-training. As an only child she long ago grew up living inside the stories in her own head, and is quite happy there. She can control that world. And when the ideas that come seem like they’re worth putting down on paper, she retreats to the shed at the top of the garden and taps away at the PC. Sadly the dogs don’t usually go with her. It’s too cold up there.

Welcome, Jan, I’m so pleased to speak with you about The Snow Fox Diaries, and about your writing in general. Can you tell me when you decided that you ARE a writer?

JAN: I can’t remember when I haven’t wanted to write. As a toddler I cuddled books instead of toys. I made up stories – usually about animals, I started my animal rights campaigning early! –  and made everyone borrow them. Then I became a real librarian. But that didn’t involve writing of course so I went on to become an advertising copywriter which I loved. It was a real learning experience. But I’m easily bored. So next I tried my hand at cookbooks (vegetarian), dabbled in journalism, wrote magazine fiction, a book of short stories. And finally two novels – one of which was The Snow Fox Diaries, which I’ve revised and am relaunching right now.

The Snow Fox Diaries by Jan Mazzoni

The Snow Fox Diaries by Jan Mazzoni

Is writers’ block a thing for you?

No.  I’m lucky, that’s something I’ve never experienced. I love sitting down at my desk – feel a buzz of excitement as I switch on my laptop, I mean a real buzz, like I’ve just flicked a swich inside my head too. Probably goes back to the days when I was a copywriter. If you got writers’ block you got fired.

That’s a bit extreme! You and I first met through a discussion about covers. Could you tell me your thoughts about book covers.

Again, this may go back to my advertising days. For me the cover is like the box that a product goes into. Would you want to buy it if the box was plain brown cardboard? Or if it didn’t at least hint at what’s inside?  Same with a book – I can’t imagine having to choose books if they had blank covers.  I couldn’t do it. It’s my one problem with using a kindle.

It follows I’ve been very much involved with the covers of all my books. The Snow Fox Diaries originally had a stunning cover that was, in fact, a blue fox as we couldn’t get a picture of an albino (yes, they really are that rare). I wanted to change the balance with this revision, emphasising the moors on which the story is set as a character, while the the fox becomes more mysterious, elusive. We found a moody, misty shot that captures this unique environment perfectly. And then – a miracle – I found a photo of a real albino fox. Tucked on one side, she’s tiny, so you can’t see that she has pink eyes. But I assure she has.

I actually love both covers. I completely agree that the cover is the first thing that grabs me when choosing a book to read. What’s your favourite genre to read in?

I don’t have a favourite. I like to try new things – something that’s had a good review or has an intriguing title. I’ll read a book just because I love the cover!  I do have phases though. Right now I’m into translations. What better way to travel without leaving home? Just visited Poland (Olga Tokarczuk) . Next I’m off to Japan (Takashi Hiraide).

Reading is one way to travel these days! Now, you say that The Snow Fox Diaries is eco-fiction. What is your definition of eco-fiction?

Eco-fiction (also called eco-lit) has been around forever but it’s only just becoming popular. Put simply, it’s fiction that has a strong environmental theme woven through it. It can be any kind of story – horror, love, family saga, YA.  My niche is examining the link between humans and animals, the effect one can have on the other, both good and bad.  But – as you’ll know from your own growing following – dystopian fiction is all the rage right now, which isn’t surprising with the way the world is being trashed. I love reading it but couldn’t write it. I’d find it too frightening.

I think dystopia and eco-lit both have a lot to say in the twenty-first century, and both link strongly to fact. How much research is involved in your writing?

I was probably researching for The Snow Fox Diaries before I even thought of the book! I helped at a small wildlife hospital, which meant taking in casualties and then nursing them in my own home. It’s one of those experiences that sounds more fun than it is.  Baby birds have a terrible tendency to be doing OK, and then to just out of the blue drop down dead. Squirrels bite. They’re through to the bone instantly – and it hurts! Hedgehogs were a favourite, such weird little snuffly creatures. Even so, I recall one summer evening out on the patio with a sickly hedgehog on my lap, picking off maggots one by one, and wondering what on earth I was doing.

I’ve never actually worked with foxes though I’ve spent a lot of time around them. But when I heard the true story that inspired me to write this novel, I already had a lot of background info about caring for wildlife. And I live on Exmoor, so where else would I set it?

I think you’re a perfect match for the story! If I wanted to interview one of your characters, who would you suggest?

It would have to be Kevin. In the book he hangs around the edge of the story, keeps himself to himself, at least until he’s reluctantly drawn into the action. Even then he doesn’t say much, and never lets on what he’s thinking or feeling. Could be very little of course. Or he could one of those complex characters who are full of surprises. I’d love you to interview him because then you could tell me what makes him tick.

Ah! A character keeping secrets from his creator. I love it. What’s your writing goal over the next twelve months?

I like to keep a number of projects going at once. I’m working on three right now. A book of short stories (yes, that link between people and animals again).  A novel combining fact with fiction, based on the life of (English etcher) Eileen Soper who was a brilliant wildlife writer and illustrator, a recluse, eccentric of course. She deserves some recognition.  And I’ve been approached about making The Snow Fox Diaries into a radio play/podcast, which could work brilliantly. Capturing the moors in sound would be a wonderful challenge. I’ve already found the perfect music for the opening scene. It’s by Sting, called Cold Song, (from Purcell’s opera King Arthur) and it really makes you tingle. Now all I have to do is get Sting’s permission.

Maybe another version! Sounds a perfect choice, though – very English and snowy. Thanks for chatting today, Jan, and good luck with all those projects.

You can read my review of The Snow Fox Diaries here.

 

Jan’s LINKS

Website: https://janmazzoniwriter.com

All Jan’s books: https://janmazzoniwriter.com/books/

 

THE SNOW FOX DIARIES: A novel by Jan Mazzoni

Revised and with Author Notes August 2020

Available from Amazon

 

When passion becomes obsession, anything can happen…

Chic, intelligent, highly motivated and unexpectedly unemployed. AND soon to be forty. Not a situation Katie Tremain finds easy to cope with, especially as it gives her time to notice that she and husband Ben seem to get on better together when they’re apart. So when the opportunity to escape the city and work on a dilapidated house on Exmoor comes her way, how can she refuse?

Then, one misty morning, she comes across something so bizarre that she can’t believe her eyes. A fox with fur so white it sparkles, like snow. A very rare albino vixen.

From that moment Katie’s days – and her life – change completely. And as the fate of her faltering marriage becomes entwined with that of the fox, Katie must decide just what she’s prepared to risk to save this beautiful but vulnerable creature.

Her sanity? Her marriage? Even her life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dream Big and Read Often says Melissa Wray

Melissa Wray finds time to write stories, usually late at night, when the rest of the household is quiet. She’s a mother of two, a teacher and lover of walks along the beach. Her new young adult novel, The Ruby Locket, is a dystopian novel that unfolds through the eyes of the two main characters.

Kerina and Saxon. Two different stories. Two different lives. One connected future.

Great to speak with you, Melissa, and to find out more about what’s behind your writing. What was your favourite book as a child?

Melissa: The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I loved these characters and desperately wanted the giant plum tree in our back yard to become the Magic Faraway tree. I would sit still for as long as possible, hoping to capture a glimpse of Silky or Moonface!

That makes perfect sense! What about creative writing courses – do you think they are valuable?

Absolutely! The key is finding one that suits your needs. There are many courses, both online and in person that an emerging writer can complete. Keep an eye out through your local writer organisation e.g. Writers Victoria or Geelong Writers Inc. Or subscribe to a writing industry newsletter such as Buzz Words or Pass It On. Both are valuable sources for courses, writing advice, and submissions. Both of these are excellent value for money.

I totally agree with that. There’s always more to learn … or re-learn! Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?

I write whatever I feel interested in telling a story about. I have written stories suited to all age groups, from a picture story book to middle grade fiction through to a young adult audience. The genres have ranged from contemporary to historical fiction through to dystopian. I like to challenge myself in life whether it be at work or play and writing is no different.

A born story-teller, then! Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

Of course! Bryce Courtenay, one of my favourite Australian writers, once said “I take a fact and put a top hat on it, and a silk shirt and a bow tie, but I don’t ruin the fact.” I love this quote and try to include some secrets into my writing. It gives me a thrill that only I know what those parallels to real life are.

That’s good to know. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

I have one novel that is about 75% complete. I haven’t worked on it for some time so would like to revisit the characters and storyline to see if I can finish the story. To do this I need to keep a balance between my work, family, social and writing life. Quite a precarious balance!

Cover image: The Ruby Locket by Melissa Wray

The Ruby Locket by Melissa Wray

Yes! Mix all that and add a pandemic…Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?

My debut novel, Destiny Road, was published through Morris Publishing. I entered the first four chapters into a writing competition with them. It was shortlisted and I then had to submit the whole manuscript. From this, Destiny Road was selected for publication. This was a huge break for me! It gave me a boost in confidence that can be far between for writers, especially new ones.

I imagine it would. That’s fabulous. Now that your books are out there, how do you feel about reviews?

Mixed. It is uncomfortable knowing someone is reading your story and forming an opinion about it. Stories can take years to write and even longer to get published. The writing process takes commitment to writing and editing and hoping the characters are built well and the storyline works. Somebody can cut the story to pieces with a bad review or they can build you up with a good review. Both are equally terrifying to learn what people think.

And it’s completely out of your hands. Quite terrifying! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

One reviewer wrote the following review for Destiny Road and it still makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

“Wray has managed to write with absolute brutal honesty that very easily could have become too confronting- especially for those that have undergone a similar situation. The timing is perfect. You have time to catch your breath when needed without ever compromising the flow. In fact, the novel has such a polished feel I was surprised this was indeed her debut novel into the published world.”

That’s perfect. What would readers never guess about you?

My sense of adventure and the need to live a fulfilled life. I once slept in the middle of the Egyptian desert beneath the night sky after travelling all day on a camel. It sounds like a crazy thing to do now, but I love that I have this memory. I don’t want to look back one day on my life and wish I had made different choices.

 I would never have pictured you on a camel, that’s for sure. What would be a dream come true for you?

That’s easy. My book gets made into a movie and I have a cameo role in it. How much fun would that be?!

The Ruby Locket in multiple formats

The Ruby Locket by Melissa Wray

 

LOL! That would be wonderful. Thanks for speaking with me today, Melissa, and all the best with the launch of The Ruby Locket

 

Melissa’s LINKS:

Website: https://melissawray.blogspot.com/

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

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6465945.Melissa_Wray

 

Buy Links

Odyssey Books: https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/

The Ruby Locket: https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/titles/9781922311245/

 

About The Winter Trilogy, with Mark Smith

Australian author Mark Smith lives on Victoria’s Surf Coast, where he writes novels and stories, and runs outdoor-education programs for young adults. His first novel, The Road to Winter (2017), attracted the attention of many literary judges and has since been adopted as secondary school reading here in Australia. Its themes of a dystopian future, survivalism, compassion and the struggle against injustice in its many forms are deftly packaged in a gripping and sparely written tale, with not a word too many. It’s almost poetic in its emotional intensity.

Mark’s second novel, Wilder Country, won the 2018 Indie Book Award for Young Adults, and the final book of the trilogy, The Land of Fences, was published to acclaim last year.

Australian author Mark Smith

Australian author Mark Smith

Hi, Mark, thank you so much for speaking with me today. Here’s a tricky question: what would readers never guess about you?

I hated reading when I was young! I know a lot of authors are brought up in houses full of books or they are turned onto reading by a sympathetic librarian, but at the age of fifteen I’d never read a book. I knew how to read, I just didn’t have the inclination. I was very much an outdoors boys and I always associated reading with being closeted indoors. Then, when I was fifteen, I had a horse riding accident that left me with a badly broken neck – so suddenly I had to spend a lot of time indoors. My mum was an avid reader and she got me started on books like Storm Boy and I Can Jump Puddles. Discovering reading could transport into other worlds and other people’s lives, I progressed quickly to Catcher In The Rye, Steinbeck and George Johnston. By the time I returned to school six months after the accident I had read about twenty books and my outlook on learning and reading had changed completely.

That’s a very extreme version of book love! Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?

Writing courses are hugely valuable. Though I have never studied writing at a tertiary level (a Victorian university rejected my application to do a PhD in Creative Writing last year because they didn’t consider twenty published short stories and three novels adequately met their selection criteria!), I have completed a number of short courses at places like Writers Victoria. As much as anything, I think they help expose the areas you need to work on in your writing. They are also valuable in creating writing networks that can support you through your successes and inevitable rejections!

The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

Good grief! That uni needs to take a good hard look. I also love the Writers Victoria courses and have found them very helpful in practical ways, while my degree was helpful in craft ways – a good supervisor is worth a few thousand rejection letters! What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

No one wants to hear it, but there is no silver bullet, no secret to success other than hard work and perseverance. When I started writing I had stories rejected for twelve months before one was accepted. Other than that, my own mantra for writing is: “Don’t let the words get in the way of the story.” If you are writing to impress, you are probably not writing well. Also, draft and redraft until it is the best possible piece of writing you can produce then – and only then – send it out into the world.

I love that, thank you Mark. Very happy to hear it! You talk about perseverance – do you have a go-to routine for writing?

I like to get up early – about sevenish – and write for at least two hours before breakfast. I can generally bang out a thousand words, if not more, and it gives me time in the rest of my day to do other things I love, like surfing, riding, reading and planning for appearances and workshops. I am more clear-headed in the morning but I use the rest of the day to mull over what I’ve written. I do a lot of what I call writing away from the desk. This is just thinking through scenes and descriptive passages, considering how I might improve on them. I can do this while I’m riding my bike, surfing or walking the dog on the beach. When I get back to the desk the next morning, I know what I have to do to improve what I’ve written the day before.

Wilder Country (Winter #2) by Mark Smith

Wilder Country (Winter #2) by Mark Smith

I agree; a lot of writing happens inside your skull. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

Because my first book, The Road To Winter, is taught in schools around the country, I love hearing from students who have discovered reading through my books. I like to tell them about how I was also a non-reader until I was fifteen. I also like the fact teenagers are brutally honest. On a visit to a large boys school a couple of years ago, a student waited back after my presentation to talk to me about The Road To Winter. I asked him what he thought of it. He replied, “Well, it’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s not the worst!”

That’s high praise from a teenager, I suspect. How do you feel about reviews?

I know some authors say they don’t look at reviews and that they don’t take them to heart, but I think most do. Good reviews are great and bad reviews – of which there will inevitably be some – can wound. The best advice I ever got regarding reviews was that I should never take them personally. The reviewer is criticising your work, not you.  And, in the end, it’s just one person’s opinion. This is particularly true of Goodreads reviews. Most are not from professional critics, just readers with an opinion. My favourite one star review from Goodreads was a short and simple one for The Road To Winter: “I hate it!”

Goodness, that is succinct. Has your work been compared to other writers?

Because I’ve written a YA dystopian series, my books are most often compared to John Marsden’s. To be honest, I am honoured to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. I was lucky enough to interview John at a festival last year and I found him to be a very humble and engaging man. He read my books in preparation for the interview and was very complimentary of my writing. My favourite comparison though comes from a review of my third book, Land Of Fences, by Fran Atkinson in The Age that said “…there is almost a Winton-esque lyricism when Smith writes about the big blue and the coastline that features regularly.” I am a huge Tim Winton fan and his writing has influenced me more than any other, so that quote now sits on the pinboard by my desk, for easy reference whenever I doubt my own abilities.

Land of Fences (Winter #3) by Mark Smith

Land of Fences (Winter #3) by Mark Smith

I agree with her – there is a very Australian lyricism to your books which is reminiscent of Winton. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?

I started my career as an English teacher and I always had this little inkling in the back of my mind that I could maybe try writing. But, like most people, I didn’t do anything about it for years. I was in my fifties before I enrolled in a short story writing course taught by Emmet Stinson at Writers Victoria. Melanie Cheng was in the same class and we’ve been friends ever since. After lots of rejections, I began to get my stories published in a few journals and anthologies. But I still didn’t dare call myself a writer. Then I was lucky enough to win the Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize for a short story called Manyuk. With prize money of $10,000, it was one of the richest short story prizes in Australia. I didn’t realise at the time, but that’s as much as a lot of first time authors get as an advance on a novel. But, having won the prize and banked the cheque, I very tentatively started to call myself a writer. A three-book deal with Text Publishing confirmed it three months later.

Wonderful! How do you get feedback about your story, before it’s published?

I don’t show my drafts to anyone until I’m convinced I need a different set of eyes to read them. For each of my novels I have sought the advice of my local bookshop owner. I took a risk and did this with my first book because I knew she would be a speed reader (and therefore get back to me quickly) and she knew the book trade intimately so she would be able to tell me whether the novel had legs or not. As our friendship has grown, I’ve also encouraged her to be utterly ruthless in her feedback. Her instincts have been spot on every time!

She sounds a treasure indeed. Is it easy for you to meet other writers?

The best thing about becoming a writer is meeting other writers. We are a pretty small community in Australia and we need to encourage and support each other. I go out of my way at festivals and gigs to introduce myself to the other writers and I try as much as possible to attend their launches and events.  Social media also facilitates this interaction – follow your favourite writers and let them know you like their writing. I have “met” a large number of fellow writers on social media, some of whom I’ve yet to meet in person. Following them also keeps me updated on their new releases and the events they have planned around them.

I completely agree. The Australian writing community seems to be very supportive and I love interacting with fellow writers online … like right now! Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?

This is an easy one to answer because my first manuscript was picked up off the slush pile at Text. I knew nothing about publishers so I simply chose the one who published my favourite authors and sent the manuscript to them. Text have a house policy of all its employees reading off the slush pile on Friday afternoons. One of the senior marketers picked mine up, loved it and the rest is history!

That’s wonderful, and a great practice by a publishing company. I’m so glad that your book was plucked out of the slush because it’s marvellous. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Mark, and more power to your writing.

 

Mark’s LINKS:

https://www.facebook.com/marksmithwriter/

https://twitter.com/marksmith0257

https://www.instagram.com/marksmithauthor/

BOOKSHOP LINKS:

https://www.greatescapebooks.com.au

https://www.facebook.com/TorquayBooks

https://www.facebook.com/bookgrove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Blame Science Fiction

The apocalypse is here, in the form of more fires, floods, and storms. Meanwhile, belief that democratic processes can find a solution is fading.

In difficult times like these, an outpouring of stories occurs. Witness the millions (literally) of books inspired by, based on, and discussing the Great War. A terrible experience gave birth to a never-ending strand of stories.

Now there is an explosion of science fiction: dystopian, cli-fi, and post-apocalyptic. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Scott Westerfeld’s The Uglies, among many other examples. Australian Mark Smith’s fabulous Winter trilogy is right on topic.

Alongside the enthusiasm for such stories, there is a strain of dismissal. Dystopian science fiction is criticised for glorifying hardship, or for giving unrealistically happy endings, or for giving depressingly horrific unhappy endings, and especially for not providing answers. A recent article on the dystopian sub-genre called hopepunk (where continuing to fight for good is an affirmation of humanity) commented that such stories, validating the struggle rather than providing a solution, were simply telling the downtrodden that it’s their place to suffer.

Many of you know that my academic area of interest is Great War literature. War stories, too, have been criticised as glorifying war, revelling in misery, continuing the cultural expectation that life is harder for some than others, and worst – not preventing future war.

I have to ask whether that is the role of war fiction. Isn’t it rather like expecting murder mysteries to solve crimes? Romances to enable real-life happy endings? Fantasies to provide tangible proof of faeries?

I could go on about the role of literature (and I have elsewhere), and I could enter the discussion about the bourgeois nature of fiction (which, after all, is written by the literate for the literate). And I probably will go on a bit more soon. For now, though, let me say:

Don’t blame science fiction for the world’s ills. Science fiction can sound a warning, or point out current issues, or provide role models. Dystopian stories are like the traditional adventurer genre described by the poet Paul Zweig, too*. Such narratives imply action and purpose, and to my mind this is just as valid as feelings of hopelessness. Adventure stories show how to keep living in the face of peril.

This is not a new role for stories. In fact, I would argue that it is one of the original tasks of the storyteller, handed down from the first oral stories and continuing through the earliest written narratives of about 4000 years ago. Ancient stories such as The Odyssey and Gilgamesh reassuringly confirm ‘the possibility that mere [hu]man can survive the storms of the demonic world’ (Zweig 1974, vii); a powerful affirmation for readers in apocalyptic times.

I’ll no doubt write more about this. I see ample opportunities in the difficult future, sadly.

Until next time, read on!

*Paul Zweig (1974) The Adventurer: the fate of adventure in the western world.

Crisis Interruptis

I interrupt the regular run of Last Word of the Week with an explanatory story about Australian dystopian fiction and bushfires.

Apologies to anyone looking for my Middle Child post – that’s been rescheduled to next week. The national bushfire emergency is too high a priority.

I wish I’d never written that book

As the climate emergency continues, I’m forced to reflect on my writing. One social media post I saw described a bookshop as moving its post-apocalyptic fiction books to the current affairs section.

I feel the same.

The Chronicles of the Pale started with a dream – or nightmare – in which desperate refugees were shut out of a fenced compound, and those of us inside were prevented from bringing them in to safety. This dream arose from Australia’s harsh treatment of refugees, a policy condemned by the UN. Scott Morrison as the Minister for Immigration at the time introduced Operation Sovereign Borders, and his lack of empathy, his inhumanity, his stubborn conviction that he and only he was right, inspired the cruel characters who rule inside my fictional policosmos, the Pale. Jason the Senior Forecaster and Élin the Regent care only for themselves.

If Australia had been a more compassionate country, I would never have written The Pale. I truly wish that was the case – better a world with care for refugees than a world with one more dystopian novel in it. I wish I had never had to write that book.

ruins pale

And I wish I’d never written the next one

In Book 2, Broad Plain Darkening, it’s the discriminatory practices of the Settlement that come under the most scrutiny. It is no surprise to me, now, to reflect that this novel was written during the bitter gay marriage referendum debate that occupied Australians at the time. I was also extremely distressed by the live export controversy, and got nowhere with my communication to the then Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce. Profit above all, no matter who or what suffers.

I can see my rejection of this every time one of my favourite characters acts in a compassionate way, every time they work against discrimination and cruelty. It’s sad to think that my fictional folk – humans and animals – have more heart than many of my fellow Australians. Brettin, the outrageously upright Lady of the Temple, represents all that distresses me about religion and prejudice. And that’s saying something.

Now that the current Federal Government is pushing through its religious ‘tolerance’ bill, allowing many acts of bigotry to flourish unchecked in the spurious name of religious freedom (ie freedom to discriminate against the LGBTI+ community), I’m sad that Book 2 also had to be written. A better world would never have the need for such a story.

BPD horses

If only I hadn’t written the third book!

And so we get to the climate.

The Chronicles of the Pale 3, The Ruined Land, is about my fictional world falling apart under the feet of all the communities that depend on it. Here’s what happens:

Volcanoes destroy the Shaking Land – and yes I did write that before White Island erupted just off the New Zealand coast.

Unchecked fires rage through the Broken Ranges and send smoke across the entire continent, with displaced and starving ursini (bear creatures) invading Broad Plain because their habitat is gone – yes I did write that before Australia burst into unprecedented flame.

Water floods the land as the temperature rises and the ice caps melt back into the sea … and I wrote that before Australia patted the Pacific islands on the head and told them not to panic. Does any of this sound familiar?

In my story, there is even a child – Jasper Valkirrasson – who does his best, at great personal cost, to warn the crusty old misanthropes at the old Settlement about the coming danger. I wrote Jasper’s courage and his big heart before I had even heard of Greta Thunberg, but if I hadn’t , she would certainly have been my model.

The Ruined Land was written at a time when – again and again – Australia turned its back on environmental reform in the name of money, and held the position that Australia had no desire or mandate to be a world leader in this field. True, our overall effect may be comparatively small, but we are also one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. We should care more. Many of us do, and we take the small steps we can, because we can’t keep on pretending that how we live has no effect on the planet.

TRL fire

I hope to never write dystopia again

I would like to live in an Australia that was compassionate, ethical, and environmentally responsible. I would like us to spend our money on resettlement of refugees, on bushfire mitigation strategies and equipment, on sensible use of water, on transitioning away from live export, on responsible waste treatment, on public transport, on the preservation of wildlife habitat, and so much more. People will shout about the cost, but our current policies are just as costly in dollars, and much more costly in long-term damage to the Earth and its inhabitants, of all species.

I have to say that unfortunately I’m planning to have The Chronicles of the Pale #4 ready for late 2021.

This post is, and isn’t, about writing. Writing, for me, can’t be divorced from who I am and what I believe. All the same, the books can simply be read as a story. I’m just so sad that so much of it has come true.

Next week, current affairs permitting, I’ll be back to plain old talk about books!

 

No Rusty Nails? Try a book launch…

‘I’d always imagined attending a book launch would be something you’d only do if an opportunity to stick rusty nails into your cornea wasn’t available,” writes author Katy Colins in her blog #notwedordead

Luckily I read Katy’s fabulous piece about book launches before I prepared my speech for the unveiling of The Ruined Land, and laughed myself out of all my nerves. Book launches can be fun, and I have enjoyed every one that I’ve attended. Talking to booksy people about books? What could be better?!

I’m so grateful when people come to my launches. And kind of surprised. They must have run out of rusty nails…

How long should a launch speech be?

I aim for under four minutes, which for me is maximum 400 words.

Then I add a five minute extract (about 600 words), so under ten minutes in all.

Add 4-5 minutes for the lovely person who introduces me, and the official stuff is wrapped up in under 15 minutes. That’s my aim.

Here’s my latest, at 369 words, in case you’re interested.

1

Launch Speech for The Ruined Land

First up, some words of gratitude.

Thanks so much to Nat for those thoughtful words. I’m very appreciative of the love and support I have from my dear friends. I’m actually very grateful to have worked at UniMelb, because I met some of the world’s best people there.

My friends and family have been endlessly supportive, and I’m so glad many of you can celebrate with me tonight. My publisher, the cover designer, the editor – they’ve all been fab. As has Readings which has now hosted all four of my book launches.

A couple of special mentions – to my niece Kate, who along with Aveline my friend in London, is a fabulous beta reader if anyone wants a recommendation.

And my brother in law Bernard is responsible for the very cool maps which you now find inside all three books of the Chronicles of the Pale. He comes highly recommended too!

So. The book.

Having a book published is definitely a Dream Come True – something I imagined in primary school. But there’s a bit more to the dream than that. The Chronicles began with an actual dream in 2013, a dream of abandoned babies and refugees, people I couldn’t reach to rescue. In the dream, my German shepherd dog Dinny, long since departed, saved the day. The character Mashtuk is based on Dinny

This was back when PM Scott Morrison was the minister for immigration. I feel that now the world is much the same, or maybe even darker.

My dream became a short story, which became a novel, which became a series, which became some sort of fully populated, fully imagined world parallel to the real world. There are now even more stories there because this mirror world we live in hasn’t changed enough.

Dreams can come true, but I’d like some happier dreams.

OK, I’m going to read from the very beginning of Book 3. This is Mashtuk, the canini scout, recovering from the wounds he suffered when the ravine was attacked.

Here you can find the extract, if you wish to read it.

Until the next launch – I mean until next year* – be safe and happy, and read lots!

*The regular Last Word of the Week author Q&A returns in February 2020. In the meantime, I’ll be posting all sorts which I hope you’ll enjoy.

Melissa Ferguson, a new and shining writer

Melissa Ferguson’s debut novel The Shining Wall was released earlier this year. Melissa is a medical research scientist with a graduate certificate in human nutrition. She likes to explore scientific possibilities through fiction. Her short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in lots of places that pay very little money.

When I reviewed her astonishing speculative fiction for Aurealis magazine a couple of months ago, I used words like grounded and observant,  accessible and engaging. I was utterly transfixed by the premises in the storyline, so frighteningly futuristic and so devastatingly apt for today’s world. I’m looking forward to reading more from this Australian writer and very pleased to have her on board for today’s Last Word of the Week.

Welcome, Melissa, it’s so lovely to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Melissa: Access to affordable healthcare (as well as accurate health and nutrition information) are very important to me. I worked in medical research for many years (cancers and infectious diseases) and also completed a graduate certificate in human nutrition. I’ve also been a patient in the public system myself (two babies and Hodgkin’s lymphoma). And I have two children, one with allergies and asthma. The possibility of Australian healthcare being eroded until it resembles that of the United States terrifies me. I see people on social media crowd-funding for their treatment and paying ridiculous prices for medications such as insulin and epipens. I can think of nothing worse. There are many themes in my novel The Shining Wall, but access to affordable healthcare is the most important one to me. 

The Shining Wall_COVEROh, interesting, because there are so many fascinating themes in your book. I’m a huge fan of the Neo Neandertal/Sapien contrast that you explore, reflecting so many historic instances of some people being seen, and treated, as lesser than others. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

There’s one scene in The Shining Wall where the stories of all three point-of-view characters converge briefly at one of the city gates. The repercussions of that chance meeting have profound impacts on each of their stories. Angling the different threads of the story towards this convergence and then playing it out was a lot of fun and very satisfying.

And it’s really well done, IMHO. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

I think all the characters in The Shining Wall would be quite relieved. They’d probably also wonder why I hadn’t created a kinder imaginary world for them. There’s a lot of weird consciousness stuff going on in the manuscript I’m working on at the moment. Those characters would probably be resigned to the nature of reality being an illusion.

Alida & Graycie by Brad O'Gorman

Alida & Graycie by Brad O’Gorman

Relieved! That’s an excellent response ! Now, can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I was always writing as a child. I was very into fantasy stories and fairy tales. I stopped writing to pursue science in my late teens and I didn’t take up writing again until I was in my thirties and had had my first child. The first things I wrote were short misery and motherhood memoir/realistic fiction pieces. Then I found Margo Lanagan’s books (Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels) and I wrote a fantasy novel with witches, selkies, dragons, man-eating trees, fighting bears and all sorts of fun fantastical stuff. While I was writing that I discovered Octavia E Butler and decided science fiction was for me.

Some other books that have influenced my writing include The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, The Power by Naomi Alderman, and Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, The Road to Nowhere series by Meg Elison, and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.

The character of Alida in The Shining Wall was influenced by some of my favourite female characters in fiction including, Mirii from Marlee Jane Ward’s Orphancorp books, Devi Morris from Rachel Bach’s Paradox series, and Temple from The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell.

Oooh, thank you, there are a couple of new ones there for me. I love to hear about undiscovered treasures to chase. They sound excellent. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Ten years ago I’d just moved from Melbourne to Geelong, had left a job that saw me crying in the toilets on many occasions, was very pregnant with my second child, and very worried about my future career opportunities. If I could talk to that woman now I would say: ‘Your science career is going to fall flat on its face. Enjoy the time with your children and concentrate on your writing because that’s where most of your joy will come from.’ I would also maybe say: ‘No spoilers, but someday someone might even publish one of your books.’

Ooh, now I’m scared that I would adversely affect the future if I told past me too much!

Lucky you don’t write time travel then, eh? LOL. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

By the time I’d finished The Shining Wall I’d written three full-length novels in the space of five years. As a result, I felt the need to take on a more wieldy project. So during 2018 I wrote a novella, set in the world of The Shining Wall. The novella is out on submission at the moment (fingers crossed). I’m currently working on another story set on both a far-future, post-apocalyptic Earth and a distant planet colonized by a cult of humans. My plan is to keep exploring ideas that interest me with the hope that other people find them interesting too.

TSW front and back coverLovely to hear that there’s more where The Shining Wall came from! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I don’t think I could take the adrenaline of being a fictional character in the kinds of books I like to read. I like a quiet life. I would have to read some slow-paced realistic/literary fiction to find a suitable answer for this one (it’s not going to happen!).

Follow Melissa here:

Website/Blog:  http://melissajaneferguson.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/melissa.ferguson.50309

Twitter:  @melissajferg

Instagram: @melissa_ferguson

Buy The Shining Wall here:

https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/the-shining-wall/

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/the-shining-wall-by-melissa-ferguson-9781925760187

https://www.readings.com.au/products/26956184/the-shining-wall

 

 

Sue Paritt, writer with feeling!

Ardent Australian author Sue Parritt (who was born in England) has penned an impressive collection of novels across genres: future dystopia, WWII history, and contemporary fiction for a start. Sue’s writing is all about humanity and how we interact with each other. Providing great characters, detailed settings and fascinating plots, Sue Parritt is a writer to follow wherever she leads.

Author Sue Parritt

Author Sue Parritt

Welcome, Sue. I’m thrilled to be able to speak with you today. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Sue: I am a feisty sixty-nine-year-old, passionate about peace and social justice issues. My goal as a fiction writer is to continue writing novels that address topics such as climate change, the effects of war, the harsh treatment of refugees, feminism and racism.  I intend to keep on writing for as long as possible, believing the extensive life experiences of older writers can be employed to engage readers of all ages.

I’m totally with you, Sue! Writers must write, and from the heart. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

The scene in my fourth novel, ‘Chrysalis’ p.311 where my protagonist, Jane leaves the comforting cocoon of her sixty-year life to face an unknown future.

“Water seeped into Jane’s shoes as she disembarked at Heathrow central bus station. Stepping away from the puddle, she waited impatiently for luggage to emerge from bus bowels. At least the rain had stopped and grey clouds parted to reveal a washed-out sky of palest blue. She tilted her face, felt a hint of warmth to come. The perpetual promise of spring, new life, new growth and in this her sixty-first year, an opportunity for complete renewal. In an instant she had unzipped, cast-off, dashed over to a nearby rubbish bin and tossed her old jacket inside.

            And there was a butterfly underneath, damp wings trembling in straw-coloured sunlight as she prepared to take flight.”

This scene reflects my feelings on taking early retirement eleven years ago to concentrate on creative writing.  I took a risk giving up paid work but have no regrets. Like Jane in the final sentence of ‘Chrysalis,’ “today I know for certain true freedom lies within and I alone can birth its endless possibilities.”

How wonderful! How brave! If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Sannah the Storyteller, protagonist ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim.’  “As a storyteller I am familiar with the imaginary. An articulate speaker, I employ both voice and body to weave a spell around my audiences, make them believe whatever the government dictates. But never forget that in my clandestine role of Truth-Teller, I share the truth about Earth’s degradation with readers and other characters to evoke essential action.”

Sannah is a great character, very brave, compassionate and intelligent. Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I have always read widely, however some of my preferred authors are:  Helen Garner, Margaret Drabble, Mary Wesley, Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan, Kate Grenville, Anita Shreve, Joyce Carol Oates and Elizabeth Jolley.

From my days as a sickly child reading Dickens in my grandparents’ kitchen, I have found inspiration in fiction. Each narrative presents a microcosm of lives and worlds, providing for me not only a rich reading tapestry but also the stimulus to create my own stories.

We share some favourite authors too. I just knew it would be fun to speak with you! Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Have faith in your writing, learn your craft and never give up no matter how many rejections you receive.

Great advice. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Back to the future for my eighth novel, working title ‘The Doorkeeper.’ Set in Safety Beach on the Mornington Peninsula in 2100, this novel will deal with overpopulation and extended life expectancy in an increasingly climate-challenged world and the inhumane solutions adopted by a government determined to rid Australia of unproductive citizens. My protagonist will be forced to take up a position as a Doorkeeper, one of the hated individuals that choose who will be granted a continued lifespan or be euthanised.

Yikes, that sounds all too scarily possible. And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would be ‘Jo’ in ‘Little Women’ – the tomboy, the writer, the one that isn’t afraid to flout the conventions of a society that seeks to confine her.

Dear Jo! What a role model! Thank you so much for talking with me, Sue, and all the best for your future writings!

 

Sue’s Links:

Sue’s website is at www.sueparritt.com

You can find her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SueParrittAuthor/

Hannah Lynn puts in the Last Word

Hannah Lynn, author and genre hopper and therefore very much one of my tribe published her first book, Amendments (a dark, dystopian speculative fiction novel) in 2015. Hannah has since written The Afterlife of Walter Augustus (a contemporary fiction novel with a paramormal twist) which won the 2018 Kindle Storyteller Award. Hannah also writes the delightfully funny and poignant Peas and Carrots series. I’m thrilled to host Hannah on today’s episode of Last Word of the Week, and also to find such a great body of work to add to my TBR pile.

Hannah_Lynn-7

LWOTW: Hello, Hannah, lovely to meet you. Can us about when you first realised that you are a writer?

Hannah: I have always been someone who writes. At school I was writing silly limericks when I should have been working in lessons, and I spent a long time writing short stories and stories for children before embarking on novels. I don’t think there’s ever been a point when I realised I was a writer as such though. It has simply always been a part of me.

You seem a natural born writer. Do you rely more on dreams, imagination, or planning?

A combination of planning and imagination. I need to know where I’m going to, otherwise I lose my focus and drift, but often my stories and characters takes twists and turns that I really didn’t see coming.

Characters as strong and rounded as yours have minds of their own, I’m sure! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

The highlight has definitely been winning the Kindle Storyteller Award. It was total unexpected and was such an amazing event. That would take some topping!

Award Banner

Yes, congratulations on that! Fabulous. What are you most looking forward to at the moment?

Getting all my ideas down on paper. I love writing, so the more I get to do it, the happier I am.

That’s great to hear. If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Keep reading, and keep going!

And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?

Definitely a strong minded, independent woman. Perhaps Lady Door from Neverwhere.

I love Lady Door! Great choice. Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Hannah, and more power to your pen. Keyboard, I mean 🙂

Hannah’s important links

Goodreads

Facebook

Twitter

Amazon

Bookbub