Apr 112014
image courtesy of xkcd.com

Ah, productivity, how I miss you. You never call, you never write…

I feel like I've been spinning my wheels on this ever since Squawk was a week old and I began thinking about trying to fit my writing around her.

During all this time my thoughts — thanks to my brain chemistry and a remarkable ability to self-sabotage — have centred around my failure to be driven enough, or efficient enough, or organised enough. When I've remembered to be kind to myself, I've thrown in a few mitigating circumstances: I'm tired, so tired, no wonder I can't think to plot or plan. That sort of thing.

It's taken me fifteen months (quick on the uptake, me), but today it occurred to me: I have no routine. Well, okay, I've known about that ever since Squawk came and stripped it away from me, obviously, but the epiphany is that I rely on routine in order to be creative and/or productive.

Writing is an investment for me. I can't sit down and start unless I know, without a doubt, that I'll get at least fifteen minutes uninterrupted. More preferably half an hour. I need time to sink into the world, to pick up the threads and start weaving again. The more advanced a draft is, the more rewrites I've attempted, the more time I need in any given session to get started. The longer since I last looked at the story, the more time I need in any given session to reacquaint myself with it before I can get anywhere. (It's a vicious cycle: with no routine to ensure I get a dedicated session each day on the story, my memory of the story withers and I need longer and longer sessions, which my routine can't accommodate…) I've tried plotting in advance, so I can write when I get even a moment to myself, but I can't seem to plot without a notebook or keyboard in front of me — there's something about the physical act of writing or typing that allows my mind to let my thoughts flow. Otherwise it just holds on to that last thought, as if afraid of forgetting it, and I spend hours circling around the last known plot point but never advancing anywhere from it.

The solution is simple, right? I come up with a routine.

Implementing said solution is going to be challenging, however. Yesterday I utterly failed at explaining to Squawk that she couldn't have the biscuit in the picture because it was just a picture of one.1 I also apparently destroyed her every chance of happiness because I asked her not to touch fire.

I can just imagine how well the phrase "No, it's Mummy's laptop" is going to go over with her. A bit like explaining "not now" to Vesuvius, I imagine.

  1. To be fair to me, I actually succeeded at explaining this to her, I just didn't succeed at doing it in a way that made her happy, or at least resigned, to the situation of having to eat a milk arrowroot biscuit that was a different shape to the milk arrowroot biscuit in the American picture book. []
Mar 152014
image courtesy of xkcd.com (http://xkcd.com/220/)

The indefatigable Ellen Gregory — who is currently writing a fantasy novel with a unique magic system; she's been telling me snippets of the world and the plot over our many cafe writing dates and I really cannot wait to read the finished product — has tagged me for a blog hop about writing process. I have to say the short version of my process can probably best be described as "what process?!", but here goes anyway.

1. What am I working on?

A collection of short stories — none of which will "officially" qualify as a short story, since the shortest is about 11,000 words. So a collection of novelettes, then. I have two of the stories written-written, one in alpha draft, and one in not-quite-but-very-nearly-alpha draft. When I'm finally finished all four of them, they'll be edited to within an inch of my life, and published as part of the Twelve Planets series.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Oh. Um. I'm not sure I'm best qualified to answer this, as I'm never distant enough from my own work to truly know. Also, these stories are each different to anything I've ever written before. In subject matter they're all a little grim and in surface trappings they're all a little whimsical, and when all that comes together it's (at least in these stories) various shades of the pensive and the passionate.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Honestly, I could answer this question and all its many cousins a thousand different ways every time I'm asked it. And each answer would be true and false (or at least incomplete) at the same time.

I write because it stops (or addresses) my thoughts. I write because it's my way of processing the world and all its various stimuli. I write for the fun of it, for the discipline of it, for the escape and the creation and the privacy of it. I write because I have something to say, and I write because I want to say it quietly, to those willing and working to listen.

As for my genre … I write speculative fiction because I can't resist it. I love the layering it gives the real world, the sense of something more lurking beneath the mundanities. And I love the way it makes (or has the potential to make) the human condition universal, that even when everything else changes, nothing changes.

4. How does my writing process work?

You know, I didn't know the details of my writing process before Squawk happened. Now … well. Let's just say that this post was supposed to go up last Monday, so blowing through deadlines appears to be a part of my post-Squawk process.

I used to be a pantser, trusting my rambling zero draft to somehow coalesce, with its dead ends and false starts, into an inefficient outline from which I could draw out a story. These days I try and plot a little more upfront. I can't say it's working out, I'm still spending an awful lot of my zero draft floundering and flailing, but I'm still experimenting with what works best. I find it changes with every story I attempt.

I'm a character-driven writer, so I can't start without a character, and these days that includes their world. I can write not knowing everything else, however — although the less I know, the messier it makes the initial draft and the more time-consuming the revisions. And the more cafe/email chats my long-suffering friends have to sit through while I admit I've pinned down a ludicrous number of words without actually asking myself key worldbuilding questions yet…

5. Pass it on

As part of the blog hop, I'm supposed to tag three more writers to answer these questions, but where's the fun in restricting it to just three? So if these questions take your fancy, consider yourself tagged, and link back here so we know where to find you!

Feb 282014
The Unstrung Harp – Straying; text and image from Edward Gorey's "The Unstrung Harp", icon created by me

Last night, I wrote the last words on the alpha draft of what I've been calling Clockmakers, the actual title of which turns out to be "The Miseducation of Mara Lys".

Calling it an alpha draft is a bit generous, to be honest, but in the interests of having something pinned to the page which I can print out, read through, and start turning into something coherent enough to be read, it'll do. I've spent this morning duly reading through it, adding to the comments in the margin and taking down a master-list in my notebook of Things To Fix. About one-third of the way through the manuscript, still in the relatively-well-written-and-clean section of the story, and the master list is already 4 pages long.

I had hoped to have the coherent draft written by the end of today, but clearly that isn't quite going to happen.

I'm quite enjoying the read-through. It's already daunting, and even the opening section is not as clean as I remembered, and the tone is inconsistent as well as utterly wrong — but writing down questions without having to trot off and research/answer them straight away is awesome. Did Babylon have ducks? What names did the Moors use for that delicate lacework of stone thing they had going on in their eaves and architraves? What types of wood are pliable and flexible, and which more rigid, and which ones would be accessible in Mara's city? Do they have paper? What types and colours of cloth are common? (Why don't I know any of this already?)

The good news is, Clockmakers is (hopefully) the last story in my Twelve Planets collection. So now all I have to do is get Cherry Crow Children and Clockmakers into proper beta draft form so that they can be edited, and and and … (could it be true?) there'll be something for Twelfth Planet Press to actually work with?

I can't even let myself think it, I want it so much. Oh for more actual blocks of time I could give to my writing!

Feb 152014
image courtesy of xkcd.com (http://xkcd.com/470/)

It's been about a fortnight. Maybe more? I'm not sure. I've not said anything before because I didn't want to jinx it, and I still don't trust it – but guys, guys, GUYS.

Squawk sleeps. Through the night.

As a data point1, she's just shy of 14 months old. And it was basically an unforeseen step change. She had been getting gradually better, up to the point of sleeping in 3 to 4 hour stretches, and the resettlings were quick and simple, just a matter of letting her know she wasn't alone in the house — and then, one night, she went to sleep and 13 hours later she woke up. Not even a whimper in the meantime. And the next few nights, she did exactly the same thing.

Sickness, teething, it doesn't matter any more, she goes to bed and doesn't get up until the morning. She doesn't always not wake — but when she does, she puts herself back down within 5 minutes.2 Last night, sick and feeling poorly because of it, she even asked for an early bedtime and popped herself to sleep before I'd finished lowering the blinds.

The differences in our household are everywhere. There's the obvious one, in that she gets rest and so we get rest, but it spiders out further, into everything else. I can trust her to put herself to sleep, and she's no longer frightened of her cot, so bedtime has become less stressful for everyone. If she wakes up early in the morning, she's happy to just sit there and burble away to her toys while she waits for us to drag our sluggardly heads off our pillows. She wakes up happy. She wanders off alone through the house, less fearful of solitude or unheralded noises. She likes to sit and read her books by herself.

To celebrate, have a picture of Squawk demonstrating her skill with the Force, care of the pterosaur:


  1. for those desperate parents who've passed through sleep-debt and found themselves wondering whether Guantanamo Bay might prove a restful change, who might thus land on my site because they're looking for the answer to the question of when, when, when will a baby honestly sleep through the night, not the five hours in a row that officially qualifies as through the night but real honest goes down at bedtime and doesn't make a peep until morning []
  2. She does sometimes cry during those five minutes. Listening isn't always fun. But it isn't always horrible, either; sometimes it's just muttering to herself sort of cries. []
 Posted by at 3:58 pm
Feb 142014

It was serendipity that brought me a copy of Sofia Samatar's A Stranger In Olondria. For Christmas I'd received that most beloved of gifts, a book voucher, from a store that let you spend said voucher online, no less; and I'd just recently spotted on twitter some positive reviews from friends whose tastes I trust (to either align with mine or to broaden my horizons in some way, or both). So I bought it.

YOU GUYS. I am all of one chapter in, and the language, the immediacy of the world, the way everything leaps up, glowing, off the page…

I am going to devour it whole, sooner rather than later. And then I'm going to go back and do it again, and hope I can one day write a world so evocatively.

 Posted by at 11:29 am

Cool Change Ani

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Jan 242014
Calvin & Hobbes

Last weekend, we packed ourselves into the car and trundled off down to Geelong to pick up the newest member of our family:

She's a brown Burmese who hasn't finished darkening to her true colour yet, is home with us early at 10 weeks old because she grew up quicker than expected, and has settled into her new home with remarkable aplomb. I'd say she's ruling the roost, as kittens usually end up doing, but she and Squawk are still vying for that particular honour.

We're calling her Aniseed, or Ani for short. Expect photos!

Jan 142014
Hylas and the Nymphs (Study 2), by John Waterhouse

I missed a lot of Christmas Day for worrying about Squawk, who for over a week had been running a temperature that kept spiking up to 39°C; we ended up at hospital later that evening to get her some antibiotics. One week later, I missed New Year's Eve because, thanks to having caught Squawk's cold and being immuno-compromised due to sleep deprivation, I was back at the hospital getting treatment for conjunctivitis — which treatment didn't take, because I'd managed to contract a good dose of one of the few cases which didn't respond to the antibiotic eye drops. Two days later it had spread into sinusitis and tonsillitis for shits and giggles, between Squawk and I there were three different types of antibiotics (and a whole lot of aches and pains) on the go, and to call me miserable would have been an understatement. It felt like the bones of my face were contracting, grinding down into the meat of my brain, and my eyeballs threatened to burst at every movement. I have honestly never felt worse, than being sick and yet still having to care for a (sick) baby.

Safe to say, as far as parting shots go, 2013's was a doozy.

Which pretty much summarizes the whole of the year, honestly. After giving birth in the dying days of 2012, this past year for me was about learning what it really meant to usher a life into this world. To take a squalling ball of infinite need (more colloquially known as a child) and transform and guide it, one feed and nap and cuddle and game at a time, into a person. I've taught her how to smile, laugh, love, and play (including practical jokes), among countless other things.

I have not, to my endless sadness, successfully taught her how to sleep. So believe me when I say to you, I'm tired. In fact, I cannot tell you the number of times I shampooed my face this year. On the whole, I have to say I can't recommend sleep deprivation on a prolonged scale.

Pregnancy is easy: it's just turning food into a human, to borrow a line from Modern Family. Being a mother — being there for someone at all hours; guessing at and tending to their needs; feeding them when you can't hold your head up for tiredness; wiping that meal you carefully cooked off the floor; staying calm and patient (and sometimes not) when all you want to do is scream and throw things yourself; listening to them cry; letting them back on your breast despite the fact that the last three times you did just that they bit you with their brand new teeth, sharp enough to cut through human gums — being a mother is so much harder.

 Posted by at 8:39 pm
Dec 162013
Target, by Luke Chueh

It's like growing another heart.

That's what an obstetrician said to me, when I was pregnant. We were talking about depression, and my fears relating to motherhood, and she meant it as reassurance. Evidence of how rewarding having a child would prove to be, an offering of the greater promise and joy in store for me.

Mostly, however, it terrified me. Because I knew even then she was right — more right than she seemed to realise. Another heart meant more room for joy, yes, but only because it meant more room for every emotion. Fear. Pain. Hurt. Confusion. Defeat.

And the kicker is that second heart lies outside the curve of my ribs, beyond my arms' reach, so vulnerable and fragile and forever lost to me. I cannot protect it.

Becoming a mother is growing another heart — and then casting that heart out into the wild and savage world. Taking the key to your own destruction and giving it into the hands of strangers.

 Posted by at 11:23 am  Tagged with:

duhalar reindeer herders

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Aug 292013


Duhalar reindeer herders by Hamid Sardar-Afkhami

The Duhalar reindeer people live in Hovsgol — the land of the blue lake — a territory of about 65,000 sq. km in Northwestern Mongolia bordering the tiny Russian Republic of Tuva. The Duhalar are the guardians of this hidden realm, patrolling a maze of evergreen forests and snow-capped mountains on the backs of their stocky reindeer. They gain a meager existence by hunting for furs and antlers, which they sell in a nearby Mongol town.

The Duhalar depend on a healthy domestic reindeer population not just for their milk and as a means of transport but also for their spirituality – to move through a forest haunted by the spirits of their ancestors who counsel the living through the shaman’s songs. If the reindeer vanish, the songlines of the ancestors will also cease to exist. …