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Sue Polson

Disability Part 1

By | Disability, News
Lauren Hislop- blogging about living with disabilityHave you ever lived with a puppy, one which becomes your beloved family pet? Whilst you watch Netflix, it nestles in your lap, an intrinsic part of your life. However, after a long day at work, when you open your front door to be greeted with dog excrement, your endearment to the pooch wanes.

Living with a disability is similar to this situation, while I have embraced mine, it has its unique challenges.

The body I inhabit is always ‘currently under construction’. My disability affects every muscle, resulting in my gait being extremely unsteady and I walk as though I’m an accident waiting to happen. My speech is slurred, most people require subtitles to understand me. I appear as though I’m permanently intoxicated.

My disability is purely physical, it doesn’t affect my intellect in any way. I was accepted into university on my own merit and have three degrees.

My disability hasn’t prevented me from experiencing the richness life has to offer. However, there are challenges and some of the most confronting, are people’s perceptions and reactions towards me.

As I step out of my front door, dragging my contorted body along the pavement, I’m met with a sea of stares. Many feel entitled to gawk at me and I feel like a thousand paper cuts are pulsating through my body.

I’m a celebrity without renumeration. I realise people gaping is often due to ignorance and in most cases I ignore or smile. However, occasionally I snap and say “would you like a picture?” Most decline the photo opportunity. If I feel playful, I smile and say “sorry I’m taken”.

My unsteady gait and slurred speech, also causes many to believe I have the intellect of an infant. Their tone of voice alters, pitch rising as they condescend.  I’m frequently addressed as a ‘good girl’ and whilst I aim to have a Zen like attitude, sometimes this aspiration goes out the window.

For instance, once, as I was walking to the sink in a public toilet, a woman who emerged from a cubicle, instructed me to ‘go clean your hands like a good girl’. I was infuriated. How dare she patronise me, I thought. My face turned crimson, a wave of indignation came over me. I cleansed my hands, violently, and without sufficiently rinsing the soap suds from my palms, I stormed out. If my speech was crystal clear, I had a list of retorts on hand, I can assure you they were not G rated.

On another occasion, I sat at a table while my partner bought our meals at a club. Two elderly couples across from me, began vocalising their paternalistic concerns that I shouldn’t be left unsupervised.  I guess they had a point, they did look dodgy!

In most cases I try to explain I am intelligent.  When my partner and I first started dating, he was surprised that whenever I met someone, I would automatically announce to them I had three degrees. He thought it hypocritical and elitist from someone who professed to be a socialist. However, by spending more time with me, he understood the rationale behind the introduction.

Many people have limited understanding of cerebral palsy and require education. However, I feel enraged when condescending attitudes remain even after explanations are provided. For instance, my partner conveys to someone that I’m intelligent with uni degrees. They turn, looking toward me, saying, “you ARE a clever girl!" Sadly, the perception of people with disability being intellectually inferior is so ingrained. Ignorance moves into arrogance, which is extremely difficult to deal with.

People often express to me they find me inspirational simply for completing ordinary tasks. I once attended a job interview, during which I was praised for getting to the venue ‘all by myself’.  I had no idea that catching a cab was so impressive. My notion of inspiring action involves reducing world hunger. Placing witticism aside, it’s frustrating that people have such small expectations of me due to my disability. As I ventured home, ‘all by myself’, I knew I wouldn’t be offered that position.

Despite encountering prejudicial attitudes, I have also experienced empathy and inclusion. My friends and family value the essence of who I am. I have experienced the best of humanity. People generally yearn to understand.

So next time you see a person with a disability, don’t be filled with fear or curiosity. We are really not that fascinating. I can assure you, your Facebook feed is probably more captivating!

Here is Stella Young's TED Talk: I'm not your inspiration

About Lauren:

Lauren Hislop is a social researcher, writer and a passionate disability advocate. She has been a blogger for various organisations. Lauren has been known as a professional uni student. She is a member of HWC, living in Newcastle with her partner.

Lauren Hislop- blogging about living with disability
Norway, where member blogger Kit Kelen is residing

Poetry Writing Part 1

By | News, Poetry

Professor Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a resident of Bulahdelah and he has travelled extensively around the world. He is a poet, painter and academic who has published a dozen full length poetry collections and translated books of poetry in several languages. Kit is Emeritus Professor at the University of Macau. Right now he is residing in a little farmhouse in Norway, 10kms from the internet. We asked him to blog about poetry and the writing process and he sent us this wonderful response:

a draft of the poem for the process 

here I am gathering lines from the track

(peripatetic, that is to say)

this is the draft

of the poem

of the process

of bringing the poem to be

(you’d have to read it though, to know

you couldn’t just guess

that the track is the way the words

fall on the page)

these are the secrets that give me away

*

often wake to the words

there because

must have thought in that direction

left for crumbs to collect in the night

for stones to shine

so to say

titles could come in anywhere

because the poem won’t yet know

if it’s beginning or ever will 

I follow phrases down into the page

improvise just on this theme

were they there already?

come steady from the rain as well

sometimes I come in with them dripping

even ironic sunshone

I work the shadows for a doubt

find a self folded into the text

also always there already

that’s the voice to run

salute to all doors 

feel free to rock gently

in throes of yoga too

with

the lines afoot  the effort in  the heart come racing till

in fear of where I am

and might be otherwise

smoke rising from my ears

a sign

and breathlessly up in the work

hold a mirror

show the world my way

catch rain in my compass for bung

I have a little radar

for the poem yet to spin

please don’t expect to understand

or dwindle me interpreting

where I’ve been bitten

there’s the rub

and one day they will say of him

trudge as far as he would come

third person that he is

lazy in the pages

climbing never quite arrived

but saw the peak from the queue

the rhythm of machinery was with this

and hear the footsteps - hot breath after

see them coming for the crown

I never had

I never wore

death of me this shroud

and red pen after

when I can’t correct

slow and steady

no one wins

go like the belled sheep

through my own words

four paws where the stone is dry

but here today the track again

and I so many rhythms

implausible insect of this day’s invention

old

fat

ugly

lazy

and

stupid

reflect on my better qualities first

they’re all in the work and its making

and there is the goat self I come impassably to

my cooling system sky

all that masked

at least I try

see ants when I hear the rain

that’s for a lame foretelling

in dots

then stand in the forest’s coat

buy time

scribble at the fact

I drip myself

to dot the page

it’s any forest takes me up

to pour out just these words

*

cuckoo begins me on a tune

as any little wings would

and the rain is a forest as well

come to

slip away from thought

a trill

and nowhere

write my name

consider then how much rain to a poem

how many suns?

a puddle and not to flow

track makes itself as well

and trippingly

how much slipping with down?

sometimes there’ll be a creek run of vowel

come like an inkling to call

otherwise

light instances

dream in the vision as such

and hear the sky’s increase

an image

smell the soil - one too

take the thing at a run

be the rhythm 
under own spell 

gone

I am constructing the flower machine

and how many words till it’s said

crawl into these least and hide

here for my vanish

and how about you

now you’ve come along this far?

I’m telling this to no one

you see how far I’m gone

*

all this wander in my woods

you simply must try at home
Phil WIlliams HWC member Live reading at Newcastle Art Gallery Speaker at July 2019 to a full audience and art works

July 2019 Newsletter

By | News, Newsletter

First Tuesday Live Readings at Newcastle Art Gallery

Our inaugural Ekphrastic live reading was held last week.

23 pieces were heard and the judging was very challenging!

All the works brought the artworks alive.

Congratulations to Brian Noble, Nicole Sellers, Gail Hennessy and, people’s choice award winner, Jan Dean.

See upcoming dates and themes below

August – Tuesday 6th – acknowledging Grief Awareness month – share a poem or story about grief and loss

September – Tuesday 3rd – readings by you in response to the Kilgour Prize 2019 (opens August 3)

October: Tuesday 1st – readings by you in response to Robert Dickerson: Off the Canvas (opens August 24)

November: Tuesday 5th – readings by you in response to Wish You Were Here: landscapes from the collection

Seeking: Writing Group facilitator 

Maitland Writing Group

Meets: First Wednesday of the month 9-12

Are you interested in facilitating this group? You do not need to teach. You need to be a person with a big smile who makes newcomers feel welcome. Contact us if that is you. Maitland library is keen to host this HWC writing group to share your writing.

HWC Workshops

New Date – August

Saturday 3rd August

de Pierres - author

Self Publishing – an online course
Nigel George is offering a half-price special to all HWC members for his new self-publishing course.
Visit the Indie Publishing Machine course page, select the Australian Version, and enter the code HWCJULY50 at the checkout to save yourself nearly $100.
You’d better hurry though – the discount is only available until the end of July!
 

person's hand holding an iphone showing rows of books

HWC Blog

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Michael Tippett, writer

 

Our current blogger is member Professor Kelen
Thank you to our members who have blogged thus far

Australian Literature 
- by Susan Francis

Speculative Fiction
 - by HWC Spec Fic writers

Writing History
- by Christine Bramble

Crime Fiction 
- by Megan Buxton

 

Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger

HWC Member News

Anne Walsh HWC member

Member Anne Walsh is part of the amazing line up at Cuplet  July 11 – tonight!

Gail Hennessy and Jan Dean HWC members

Congratulations Jan Dean and Gail Hennessy who won awards at the HWC Live Reading at Newcastle Art Gallery

Congratulations, Nicole Rain Sellers and Brian Noble who won equal first at the HWC-NAG Ekphrastic live reading

Writing Opportunities and Events

Dying to Know Day – August 8th

An informative opportunity to see into the world of your local Cemetery & Crematorium. Learn about funeral planning, estate and wills and more.

Bookings Essential – RSVP to garry.bellenger@newcastlecrem.com.au

or call 4944 6000 Learn more

 

2019 Buzz Words Short Story Prize

Short story prize for adults writing for children

High Country Writers Retreat

Friday October 25 to Sunday October 27, 2019

2019 Writing NSW Grants Program

for regional writers 

 

2019 Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program

Open to picture book and junior fiction manuscripts. Entries close on 31 July

Odyssey House Victoria Annual Short Story Competition

1st prize $1000.

www.odyssey.org.au

Closes Friday November 1st

 

 

HWC Writing Groups

Attendance is free as part of your membership. 
There are vacancies in most of our groups especially: Belmont and Teralba.
See the whole list in the Members Area
Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Australian Literature Part 4

By | Australian Literature, News

Different Voices: new and emerging writers – blog by Susan Francis

My relationship with Newcastle, the city of my birth, was always problematic. Years were spent away from the place. And now? Well, I have to admit, hand over my heart, I’m in love with it. I discover myself residing in the kind of community that facilitates and supports me in something fundamental to my life: my writing. Here, I engage with other authors, attend local workshops and live a life I’d always, in the folded recesses of my heart, somehow imagined. Despite the personal cost, I’m thankful I’m here. I’m thankful that writing was a love I held in reserve. Because the local writing community encouraged my first peek over the barricade of grief.

My debut book, a memoir, being published by Allen and Unwin, is due out early next year. It’s my tale of love, loss, secrets – it’s about finding identity. And most recently, several of my short stories have been shortlisted in Australian and overseas competitions. Some even published. These days, I’m always meeting promising local or established novelists, playwrights and poets. In Newcastle, I constantly feel like I’ve dived face first into a deep bowl of words.

Volunteering for the Newcastle Writer’s Festival began the journey. That year, I also met the indomitable Wendy James, joined a writing group and signed up for the Hunter Writer’s Centre. Three years later and I attend launches and workshops listening to resident shining lights like Barry Maitland, Keri Glastonbury, Ryan O’Neill, Claire Albrecht, Michael Sala, Jaye Ford and Jean Kent.

And all of a sudden, I’m an emerging writer. At 58! My first book to be published at 59! Who’d have thought? Australian literature, at a neighbourhood level, is a garden-fresh, fascinating experience.

Simultaneously, on the national stage, I watch a wave of Australian literature explode – with the relatively new voices of indigenous writers, women writers, disabled writers, the words of refugee Australians and LGBTQ+ writers. These composers now shift in the direction of the mainstream. Behrouz Boochani, a refugee writing from Manus Prison won two prizes this year at the Victorian Premier’s Literature awards. Carly Findlay’s memoir about growing up disabled challenges everyone who reads it, to see our Australian selves differently. Holly Ringland and Nigel Featherstone create worlds reflecting identities never written about before, never shared, never even acknowledged.

Thus, as an older, white, middle-class woman – I have to ask myself – what do I have to say that is new or even helpful?

When I began writing my book, I remember my late husband said, Suz, write about the love we share and the fact that we are older. Write about our adventures, the emotional and the intimate. He believed one of the remaining marginalised groups within Australian society was us.

So, what do I have to say? Because for a few years I did buy into the idea that I was no longer relevant. 

Surprisingly, I have much to say. I have a love discovered later in life to describe. I have grief to express. Images of homeless, elderly women to draw. Or that slumping you suffer under immovable menopausal weight; the creeping, loneliness of ageing; a search for a meaningful life when you live alone, and you’re limping into your sixties with asthma making it hard to breathe in the winter dark. I have the bravery and stoicism of my elderly mother to respect and write about. I have friendship to celebrate and coffee on Thursday mornings in Beaumont Street. I have the sunshine.

Ageing is a difficult, often painful subject to explore. Which is why, sometimes, people don’t like to hear or read about the matter. 

But what I’m learning as I grow older is actually something I’ve always understood – about the gift of identifying yourself on the page. When I recall being a young girl and discovering hope for my plain self because I read about other plain girls – that aha moment – that moment when reading made me realise I was not alone – that moment is equally significant now. 

Australian literature is no longer theoretical for me. Australian literature is alive and circling around me. It’s local. It’s real. And I’m a part of it. Australian literature. Does such a thing exist? Seems like an irrelevant question.

 

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWCSusan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You can listen to that here:

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/susan-francis-rpt/10467926

Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

for love alone Christina Stead

Australian Literature Part 2

By | Australian Literature, News

Something Novel – Australian Novelists – blog by Susan Francis

In my mid-twenties I formed an attachment to an extremely astute young man: a poet who would invite me ice skating in Prince Alfred Park on Friday nights. Skating in the dark, beneath strings of fairy lights hung from the gum trees – there was nothing more magical. The swish of the blades cutting across the ice, the warmth of my hand held in his, it was all impossibly romantic. So, when the boy took pains to explain to me that he’d noticed every novel on my bookshelf was written by a woman, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. I remember trailing my finger along the spines: Stead, Lohrey and Lette. Ruth Park and Shirley Hazzard. Baynton and Bedford. Grenville and Franklin. There, too, the non-Australian fiction of Atkinson, the Brontes and French. Woolf, Lee and Lessing.

So when someone these days asks me that impossible question: what’s your favourite Australian novel, I make sure to mention Tim Winton. The lyrical descriptions of the Australian landscape discovered in Peter Temple’s crime fiction. Christopher Koch and the evocative picture he painted of Jakarta. I talk about Martin Boyd who has a favoured place stacked beside Peter Carey. There is Stow and Maitland and McGahan. These days my bookshelves hold a more even gender mix. But one thing still holds true; maybe a dirty secret of sorts? For an Australian novel to make it onto my top twenty, somewhere amongst the pages I like to recognise a reflection of a world I know or an individual who strikes a chord. I read Australian fiction to be assured I’m not the only player on the stage.

What’s your favourite Australian novel? I’m reluctant to alight on any one text because the range of Australian fiction is vast. The list is as long as our country is wide. And each work positively enunciates our poignant flaws. And I love that! Australian fiction informs so much about who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. But, if pressed, I admit, it is to Christina Stead’s novel, For Love Alone, that I always return.

Written in 1944, I studied this broad, brown land of a book for my Masters degree, drawn by Stead’s particular understanding of what it means to be an Australian woman. The book was panned by any number of academics for its introspectiveness and realist style. Many preferred the magic realism of The Man Who Loved Children. But when I read this book for the first time, I fell in love with the determined and homely Teresa. The link formed between this character and Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife was due to the values held by both: a shared focus on getting on with things and a singular toughness; a determination to make sense of the world around them. Hazel Rowley wrote in her biography: ” . . . Stead’s earliest memories were all associated with a sense of rejection, which she attributed to her physical unattractiveness. In all her stories about her childhood, she is acutely conscious of personal appearance . . .” And this, of course, is another reason I am so captivated by the book.

Melbourne University Publishing reissued the novel in 2011 and maintain: For Love Alone is the story of the intelligent and determined Teresa Hawkins, who believes in passionate love and yearns to experience it . . . [Stead] superbly evoking life in Sydney and London in the 1930s. 

 Soon, in 2020, my own book will be published. Yet another story of a plain, single-minded Australian woman who gives up everything to travel overseas, following the love of her life. And despite the tragedies and the awful revelations my journey revealed, there is a pattern I like here, a pattern I have only recently identified by revisiting Stead’s work. Independent, brave, raw. A little gauche. The Australian female protagonist who travels far to discover herself. She is a reflection of the landscape from where she originates. A reflection of her nation’s blunt, unattractive prejudices. A protagonist decided to succeed.

Recognising that woman, recognising myself, makes For Love Alone one of my favourite Australian novels.

Susan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You can listen to that here:

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/susan-francis-rpt/10467926

Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC
book cover of Seven Little Australians

Australian Literature Part 1

By | Australian Literature, News

Pages of Us – Introduction  – blog article by Susan Francis

Australian Literature. Does such a thing exist? That was the response from my Head Teacher at the UK school where I taught English. ‘Christina Stead . . .’ , I began to respond but, in the face of her hoots of incredulity, I stopped. Any feelings of inadequacy I may have been experiencing, in the face of teaching the English canon to the English, did not require further reinforcement.

Smarting as I was, my passion and my curiosity for our national literature never dimmed. To this day, I still become excited introducing Garner or Harrison or Winton to the students I tutor. My words speed up, my hands fly in front of my face because it is ‘us’. Us on the page. Us in the images. Us in the colloquial. ‘So what?’ they ask me. So what?

Growing up as a teenager in the 1970s in Newcastle was an uneasy time for me. Overweight and still wearing the cat’s eye glasses on trend at the time (there were no other options) my fit on the wide sandy plains of Nobby’s Beach was not organic. I don’t think I ever ‘fitted’. But I did find acceptance of myself in the books I read. There, between the pages, existed other plain girls, other girls who liked to read and found it difficult to make friends. I discovered my ‘unfitted self’ amongst the personalities and, therefore, I was. I was George in The Famous Five, I was Judy from Seven Little Australians, Laura from The Getting of Wisdom and Jo from Little Women. While these novels were chosen from various western cultures, the point is, through the reflection of my own character in those texts, I determined I wasn’t the only one who preferred a library to a netball court. And this of course is not an uncommon experience.

I draw the same analogy about our sunburnt nation. Our identity developed from and alongside the literature that reflected our unique environment, our vernacular and our irrepressible character. Charles Harpur, our first genuine Australian poet, who lived for more than a decade in the Hunter Valley, is renowned for being the earliest writer creating images inspired by the Australian landscape. John Miller writes he was ‘the only poet of the time who achieves an original Australian voice’. While other poets imagined nymphs and the green rolling hills of the old country, Harpur deliberately wrote what he saw.

The other legend to whom I believe we owe so much is Henry Lawson. Perhaps now out of fashion, he is undoubtedly the poet who, for me, best tries to capture the spirit of the early settlers. His beautiful and profound depiction of the resilient drover’s wife, who alone ‘rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying [her] dead child’, still quietens the 21st century noise around me. Reading Lawson’s work reminds me of how tough it was in Australia not long ago and from where our empathy for the underdog originates. But more than that, these early Australian writers placed us on the page and provided every European Australian the opportunity to be. The magnificent aspect of reading is that, as F. Scott Fitzgerald says, ‘you discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.’ So, for a country as isolated as we are, our own literature is profoundly important.

Of course I cannot finish without stating that the mirror Australian literature holds up for me is different to the First Australians’ experience or the experience of those living with a disability or the LGBTQIA experience. And I do not attempt to represent that experience. But I can begin to hope that, for all Australians, our literature starts to reflect more varied experiences because accepting oneself partly requires recognising oneself on the page.

Identity is linked inextricably to Australian literature.

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Susan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You an listen to that here:  https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/susan-francis-rpt/10467926

Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

person's hand holding an iphone showing rows of books

Spec Fic Writing Pt 4

By | News, Speculative Fiction

SpecFic for Fun and Profit

I’ve never bought into the genre writing vs. literary writing argument, because it doesn’t take too much research to find out which side makes most of the money.

You can’t eat accolades after all.

If you want to make a living from your writing, you have always had a better chance as a genre writer. But, until a few years ago, it was still only a slim chance.

If you are still pursuing the traditional publishing avenue, that slim chance is now next-to-no chance, as the sheer volume of work being submitted to the gatekeepers (publishers and agents) has got to the point that even high quality work doesn’t make it through the slush pile.

Yet the reports say that speculative fiction (SpecFic), especially science fiction and fantasy, are experiencing a renaissance; that more SpecFic writers are making a decent living than ever before.

So why the contradiction – why is it even harder to get published, but more and more authors are making a good living?

There isn’t a contradiction in my view – the renaissance is merely the traditional publishing world finally recognising what has been going on for about 10 years now – independent publishers have not only stolen the keys to the kingdom, but they have run away with the crown jewels too!

For clarity, an independent publisher, or indie, is a professional who self publishes their books either under their own name or through a publishing business they own. Not to be confused with the myriad small publishers who publish the work of multiple authors.

Indies account for half of all online book sales. In 2017 that added up to 113 million unit sales of digital books (eBooks) in North America alone. The so-called Big 5 (Random House et al.) were a distant second with 26% of total unit sales.

Of all the authors who debuted in the last five years, four out of every five authors making a decent living from their writing are indies.

Why is this?

The top reason is the difference in profit. Because indies cut out all the middlemen and sell direct to readers, royalties are much higher. In the science fiction and fantasy genre in 2018, the Big 5 publishers were ahead of the indies in terms of total dollar sales (41% vs. 35%), but the indies were taking home a whopping 3 – 4 times as much money as their traditionally published brothers and sisters.

Money isn’t everything, of course, your writing still has to be fun.

This is where I believe the true renaissance is. SpecFic writers have always explored the boundaries of the known (science fiction), dug deep into our psyches (horror and supernatural) and taken off into the realms of the impossible (fantasy).

Traditional publishing has always struggled with SpecFic, because much of the really good stuff is very hard to massage into a financial spreadsheet.

Indies have no such constraint. We can fly the depths of our imaginations without fear of what a publisher might think – we only have to care about what readers like. We don’t have to worry about shifting 10,000 units in the first week to cover our massive overheads, we just upload our book and start the next one. We don’t see numbers on a royalty statement every three months, we get to chat to real people every day; readers who are as passionate about our writing as we are. We get to make a living, and our readers get to read what they love.

We get to have fun.

And we all profit.

 

BIO:

Nigel George is a traditionally published author turned successful indie publisher. He splits his time between writing and self-publishing fiction and non-fiction books and teaching other authors how to become successful indie publishers. You can find him at indiepublishingmachine.com

picture of dragon

Spec Fic Writing Pt 3

By | News, Speculative Fiction

Writing mythic spec fic: 6 tips

You’re setting off on an epic quest. You plan to slash through jungles, slay monsters, summon storms, and conquer civilisations. But how do you get your readers to follow you? With a powerful story to capture and sustain their interest, they’ll happily share your journey. To help you pack, here are my favourite tips.

  • Sharpen your archetypes

Fantasy and folk tales buzz with magical archetypes that reflect common values (like angels) and taboos (like devils). Most readers instantly recognise a little girl in a red cloak wandering through a forest as vulnerable.

Universal symbols like towers, swords, and magic beans can trigger emotions and tie a story’s themes together. They can also serve as prompts for your plot, setting, and characters.

  • Careful where you aim that thing

Weaving archetypal themes and motifs into my writing adds oomph, right?

Well, yes, but don’t get heavy-handed. Loaded weapons are risky, and most potent when waved around vaguely as a threat, not fired gung-ho. So apply your archetypes sparingly. Add your own unique spin. And don’t mix your metaphors (I admit, this one’s tricky). 

  • Morph your monsters

Warning! In the treasure-house of symbolism lurks the monster cliché. Hackneyed themes and overused archetypes must be challenged. Keep your creatures quirky.

Sometimes all it takes to invert a well-known trope is a little twist, a refreshing slice of lemon in your story spritzer, like the trickster lioness in my Leo zodiac story Safari Blonde. Other times, extensive changes to the trope are necessary. Either way, upending the story makes it far more interesting.

  • Play God

Should I retell an old myth, or write a new one?

Rewriting might be simpler but call for more research. World-building from scratch might be more fun, but ground it in reality. I’m finding the eco-religion in my novel-in-progress doesn’t work without referencing real religions. I guess even God needs source material!

Mythology opens windows to the past. Writing alternate history allows huge creative license as long as you stay in factual boundaries. Skating these windowsills requires balance, but it sparks infinite possibilities.

  • Pull up your pantheons

I think of gods and goddesses as personified archetypes, each with a character and backstory. The sheer diversity of world deities and pantheons means options galore. My newest story involves the Celtic goddess Brigantia, who later became Saint Brigid.

One way to liven things up is to set a traditional myth or deity in a contemporary world, à la popular superhero movie. In my story The Halo Effect, the Greek god Morpheus and the Morpheus character from The Matrix help a drug dealer change his ways.

  • Plant the magic beans

Spec fic writers are uniquely placed to tackle big questions through myth and allegory, point out social inequalities, explore the past or future, and find magic in the mundane.

Embed an archetype in your plot, character, or setting, and watch your story grow into something fresh. When mythology, history, romance, adventure, and spirituality sprout a lush tale, that’s my idea of fiction heaven. What more could a reader ask for?

Nicole Sellers received a gold star from her primary school principal for a one-page sci-fi story about an underwater city. She went on to study creative writing at UOW, majoring in poetry. While raising children she earned a living as a tarot reader, massage therapist, herbalist, and yoga instructor, and continued to write. Nicole’s poems and articles have appeared in Plumwood Mountain, Spiral Nature, International Light, the anthology Grieve 6, and elsewhere. Her novella was recently shortlisted for publication in Aussie Speculative Fiction’s Drowned Earth series. Patchwork Raven will release her zodiac-themed story as an illuminated manuscript in August, and she is a contributor to the forthcoming Story Hunters speculative fiction anthology. Nicole facilitates the HWC Belmont creative writing group. To find out more about her work, visit https://www.nicolerainsellers.com/

Nicole Sellers, HWC member
Book cover 'Fire In the Veins'

Spec Fic Writing Pt 2

By | News, Speculative Fiction

Putting the characters in the driver’s seat by Graham Davidson

Why be a control freak when you can let your characters drive the story for you? 

Put a group of Spec fiction writers together and they’ll often get caught up in the Pantsers versus Plotters debate. For those unfamiliar with the argument, Pantsers generally start with a setting and some basic characters, then make up the story as they go with no idea how it will end till they get there. Plotters on the other hand will meticulously plan their story, with a clear picture of the story’s conclusion before they put pen to paper. Both methods are as valid as each other, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. Yet one thing I’ve found most Pantsers and Plotters agree on is that their characters should have free rein to drive the story.

So, why is this one area where two such diametrically opposed approaches find common ground?

The answer is simple. Getting to know your characters is like getting to know people in the real world. No matter how much you analyse them beforehand, it’s not until you see them interact with others and face difficult situations that you know how they’ll react. For me, discovering how characters are going to react to a given situation, and what little secrets they may have hidden, is one of the great joys in writing. An example that comes to mind from my recent Witches of the Cross-worlds middle grade novel, Hunter, is a gravedigger named Sean O’Malley. After a pauper’s funeral presided over by one of the novel’s central characters, the Reverend Alfred Casey, the priest rides off leaving O’Malley to fill the grave. As soon as the priest is out of sight O’Malley jumps into the grave and steals the dead man’s shoes, something I hadn’t planned or expected… it just seemed to happen. O’Malley went on to become one of the central characters in the book; a portrait of self-serving, evil intent.

When sitting at the keyboard it’s as though I’m observing and chronicling an unfolding story. At the start of a scene I’ll play the director; making sure everyone’s where they should be, and that the mood is right. I might put words into one character’s mouth to begin with, but after that it’s time to sit back and let the imagination run free with how the characters respond to situations and interact with each other. Meanwhile, I madly try to write it down while it remains fresh in the mind’s eye. When writing dialogue, this means skipping all attribution until the conversation is finished. You can always add tags where needed later.

The rewards are many when characters do or say something unexpected… like O’Malley stealing the dead man’s shoes. This is often when I’ll decide to end the scene, even if my original intention had been to carry it on for longer.

When a character’s actions or words take the writer by surprise, you can feel confident it will do the same for the reader. And that will keep them turning the pages to see what other surprises may lie in wait for them.

spaceship

Spec Fic Writing Pt 1

By | News, Speculative Fiction

Take Us To Your Reader by Michael Tippett

Let’s address the oliphaunt in the room, shall we?

Speculative fiction is finally getting the respect it deserves.

Not too long ago there was a stigma attached to being a genre writer—more so if you huddled under the ‘spec-fic’ umbrella of horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

Thankfully, all this is changing. Speculative fiction is pushing into the mainstream.

Some would argue it’s been doing so for years.

Long before a certain boy wizard came out of a cupboard under the stairs, Shakespeare was writing about ghosts, fairies, and witches. Shelley penned the nightmare vision of her modern Prometheus over two centuries ago. Then there was Kafka, Huxley, Orwell, and—in recent times—the likes of Atwood and McCarthy. All these literary giants have lent their weight to genres that some would proclaim as escapist fiction.

I get that change doesn’t always come easy. No doubt there are still readers who regard speculative fiction as nothing more than cheap entertainment; just as there are those who deem literary fiction to be pretentious or elitist. Personally, I’ve never bought into this tired debate.

But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered ditching elves and orcs in pursuit of literary esteem. I tried it during last year’s NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

After two stages of intense competition, those of us who made it through to the final round had just 24 hours to write our crowning piece. Unlike previous rounds where random genres were assigned, we now had the freedom to choose our own. I decided to do my homework.

Reading through the winning stories from previous years, it became obvious that most of the pieces had a literary bent. I can do literary, I remember thinking. Something poignant, profound. Perhaps a dysfunctional family saga with a metaphorical title?

I had a solid game plan. But when Round 3 started, I was feeling uninspired and miserable. This lasted for the first few hours until, in a fit of frustration, I ditched the literary angle and went with a story I wanted to tell: a horror piece set during an alien invasion. It felt liberating to go this way, even though I was bummed that I had blown any chance of placing in the competition. So, imagine my utter disbelief when I was later informed that I had taken first place.

I learned a great deal from this. It was recognition. Validation. Not just for me as a writer, but also for the genres I love. For the tales of rocket ships and strange planets. For monsters lurking under our beds or inside our hearts. For post-apocalyptic landscapes ravaged by zombies / robots / plague / climate change.

Speculative fiction has earned its seat at the adult table. Yes, it can be cheap entertainment (don’t make that sound like a bad thing), but I also believe it has the power to explore the human condition as deeply as any literature…even if the characters themselves happen to be somewhat more—or less—than human.

Michael’s short story, Cherub, won the Hunter Writers Centre Members’ Prize and People’s Choice Award in the 2015 Grieve Project. He was also a top ten finalist in NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2017 and winner of NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2018.

Michael Tippett, writer