About Me

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I am a writer, editor, reviewer and dance teacher based in Perth, Western Australia.

My books

My first novel, The Dagger of Dresnia (Book 1 of The Talismans) is published by Satalyte - it's available from their website as well as from Amazon.com and other online outlets. Book 2, The Cloak of Challiver, is in preparation. I also have a short story, La Belle Dame, in print - see Mythic Resonance below.

The Dagger of Dresnia

Buy The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia, Book 1 of The Talismans Trilogy, is available in paperback and e-book from the publisher, Satalyte Publications - click on the cover to visit their online shop. You can also purchase it from Amazon.com and other online retailers. The paperback can also be found in selected bookstores in Australia.

Mythic Resonance

Buy Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

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Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong,  Australia

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've Lived - Sydney

Places I've Lived - Sydney
Sydney Conservatorium - my old school

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier
Blue Lake

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day
From Kings Park

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night
From Kings Park

Inner Peace Blog

Inner Peace Blog
Awarded by Joanna Fay. Click on the image to visit her lovely website!

Versatile Blogger Award

Versatile Blogger Award
Awarded by Kim Falconer. Click on the pic to check out her Quantum Astrology blog!

Fabulous Blog Award

Fabulous Blog Award
Awarded by Kathryn Warner. Click on the pic to check out her Edward II blog!

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Saturday, 10 October 2015

Book review: The Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World, Half a Sea and Half a War make up The Shattered Sea, another excellent trilogy from Joe Abercrombie. Not, perhaps, as gripping as the author's First Law trilogy, but a good read with a story full of ups and downs and well-drawn characters.

Abercrombie, as usual, creates excellent characters, well-rounded and individualistic: cardboard cutouts they are not! There is a different central character in each book: Yarvi, the protagonist of Half a King and a somewhat minor character in book two, Half the World, turns up again in book three, Half a War, so he is the unifying factor of the over-arching story. Book two, Half the World, features characters from well down the social scale, yet it contains a touching love story as well as lots of action and a particularly likeable protagonist. 'The girl who wants to be a fighter' is a common stock character in fantasy, but Thorn is so well-drawn we hear her darkest thoughts, see her deepest fears and live with all her strengths and weaknesses, so she is raised from stock character status to leading light.

The shining light in book three is another female - Skara, a young woman who defends her destined role and learns how to deal with opposition on all fronts, and at the end there is a hint that she might also find the fulfillment that most illusory of dreams - true love.

The story overall is a complex one, made up of many threads. To make any sense of the trilogy one should sit down and read the three books in order within a few weeks, at most. The complexity of the story grows out of the complexities of the characters and their supporting circumstances, so there are lots of twists and turns.

This trilogy's main theme is, to my mind, ambition and how dependent success is on character and circumstance. Every character finds his or her own level in life - sometimes moving up, sometimes down, depending the strength of their ambition, their characters and their supporting circumstances. It's a bumpy ride, but it does end on a note of hope for the future - not necessarily a thing we expect from an Abercrombie tale! I'd be interested to read a fourth book, featuring  Skara ten years later, when love's young dream has had a chance to turn sour. Now that would be true Abercrombie style!
Sunday, 6 September 2015

Travel and Triage

Today my karma apparently called for a journey. Mercury was on my midheaven and the north node of the moon was conjunct my natal Neptune, but I don’t think I can blame them for the cause of the excursion. The fact is I lost a contact lens. And I lost it in my eye.  

Anyone who’s worn contacts knows how ornery they can be. I find them exasperating, but I do prefer exercising in contacts rather than spectacles, which have an evil habit of flying off one’s face during turns or other fast movements. On Friday, after my usual exercise class, I took out the right lens successfully, but the left one refused to cooperate. First it folded in half, then when I tried to take it out, it made a beeline for the underside of my eye and lodged there, no doubt laughing at my frustration. I went to the optometrist, but she couldn’t coax it out and as it was knock-off time on Friday she was understandably unwilling to waste any more time on it. Very often, a lost contact will find its own way back into place, and I could always go to the outpatients if it didn’t.  

And it didn’t. On Saturday, the eye became sorer and sorer, so this morning, Sunday, I decided to pay a visit to the lovely new Fiona Stanley Hospital. Thank heaven for the circle route bus, which passes my door and also that of the hospital, although it was about a forty minute bus ride. Once there, I sought out the Emergency Department, where a couple of ladies – obviously on staff but it what capacity I don’t know - asked me where I was from, and when I mentioned the name of my suburb, they asked why I hadn’t gone to Royal Perth Hospital, which is marginally closer to home. My explanation was that RPH is always packed with people waiting in outpatients. I didn’t add that on a Sunday morning at RPH I could expect to fall farther and farther down the queue as people hurt in drunken brawls overnight and kids injured at sports practice filled up the waiting room. Besides, Fiona Stanley Hospital is beautiful, and very new. 

Dr Stanley is an Australian epidemiologist noted for her work in the arena of public health, especially her research into child and maternal health as well as birth disorders such as cerebral palsy. The hospital that bears her name was opened only last year, and it is magnificent. What’s more, they have magic-workers on staff. 

As I approached the triage desk, my sore eye started to water. By the time I sat down I was actually weeping! The young lady whom I took to be a reception clerk asked what was wrong. ‘I’ve got a contact lens stuck under my eye ball,’ I replied.  

‘Would you like me to get it out?’ asked the bright young lady. I was doubtful. After all, she was behind a narrow window, seated at a desk. I didn’t think she’d be able to get hold of it. Besides, wasn't she an admin person rather than a medical one?

‘Yes, I can!’ was her cheerful response. ‘It’s washed itself into the corner of your eye’. And reaching across the desk, she removed the offending lens and handed it to me with a smile.

 I told the two ladies on the way out that the young lady was brilliant and should be a doctor, and one of them confided that my little heroine was a prize-winning, multi-certified nursing sister, certainly bright enough to be a doctor, but she loved being a triage nurse.  

My eye is now fine, and I’ve decided I love Fiona Stanley Hospital!
Sunday, 30 August 2015

Buddhists confer #2

The Venerable Robina Courtin, one of the many fine speakers at the conference
So, at last a round-up of day two of the Global Buddhist Conference, held in Perth over the weekend of August 8-9, 2015.

Once again, the audience was challenged and entertained by a variety of speakers. Unfortunately, public transport could not get me there early enough to hear the first session, in which Peter Fitzpatrick, Dr Eng Kong Tan, Dr Chien Hoong Gooi discussed depression and suicide, topics that touch many of us personally or tangentially.

The second session, Buddhist Journeys, involved Lhakpa Tsamchoe, Sarah Napthali, Bikkhu Buddharakkhita and Ven Miao You. If you saw the film ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ you will know the actress Lhakpa Tsamchoe, who spoke cheerfully and confidently about her journey. As a Tibetan layperson, her spiritual practice was entirely devotional, and it’s only in the last few years that she has started to meditate. However, she made up for the late start by undertaking a three year retreat, after training in the Goenka method of meditation practice. She showed us many fascinating slides of her career. It was almost a travelogue, showing us scenes from the USA as well as Tibet and India.

Sarah Napthali talked about emotional honesty and authenticity. These are hard lessons for all of us, and many of us do not learn them until mid-life, if we learn them at all. She learnt to meditate in order to cope with a difficult workplace. She learnt to judge her day by considering how much she remained in the present moment, rather than by how much she achieved.

The Venerable Miao You spoke on her transformation from corporate woman to Buddhist nun. At work she was known as ‘the dragon lady’ and freely admits that she is by nature a control freak who never said ‘sorry’. After a close shave in an accident she took counsel from a psychologist, who helped her to learn mindfulness through cognitive behavioural therapy.  She realised that the practice of the six paramitas – generosity, morality, tolerance, energy, contemplation and insight – was a key factor in learning to live a wholesome life.

Bikkhu Buddharakkhita from Uganda had a conflicted path into Buddhism. Brought up as Roman Catholic, he only arrived at Buddhism after a journey through Bahai, born-again Christianity and Hinduism. He met the Dalai Lama, and like many who have met this amazing man, was deeply touched by his presence. He first encountered Buddhism in 1990 while living in India and was ordained at the Tathagata Meditation Center in California. I was very interested to learn that he spent eight years at the Bhavana Society, West Virginia, since I also went there in 1995 to study meditation under Bhante Gunaratana. (Believe it or not, I was seriously considering taking robes myself, but quickly realised that I did not have anything like the necessary degree of humility!) Bikkhu Buddharakkhita has also spent time at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, where I worked for over a year as their registrar. He has founded a monastery in Uganda.

The third session was fascinating. Dhammaruwan (who, like Bikkhu Buddharakkhita, has 'done time' at IMS and the Bhavana Centre) Dennis Sheppard, Prof Bernard Carr and Ajahn Brahm spoke on ‘past lives, hypnosis and psychic phenomena’.  Sheppard pointed out that while hypnosis involves dissociation, meditation requires  unification. Professor Carr, who studied under Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, spoke on the interface of science and Buddhism. They both, he said, involve the mind, and psychic phenomena link the two. The panel agreed that psychical research is the scientific study of unexplained interactions between mind and matter. Certainly many serious meditators report psychic phenomena arising spontaneously in their practice.

The final session of the conference involved Ajahn Brahmali, Ajahn Brahm and all the speakers with a final short concert from the Laura Bernay Jazz Ensemble! Ajahn Brahmali gave us a quick resume of the conference and its theme, with particular reference to the concept of ‘robots with consciousness!  And, of course, the necessity to continually refer back to the basic teachings of the Buddha.

Whew! Congrats to any non-Buddhists who've made it through to the end!
Monday, 24 August 2015

Sci-Fi and the Buddha dhamma

Let’s get back to the Global Buddhist Conference, held in Perth over the second weekend in August.  As promised, here is my take on the final panel of Day One.

It was a Lulu of a panel, especially for a conference concerned primarily with matters spiritual! To me, as a writer, it was the dhamma taught by means of science fiction. What is a cyborg?  When does science fiction become science fact? Where does the physical stop and the spiritual start? Where does humanity stop and technology start? Where does imagination stop and reality start? 

As the opening speaker on this panel, Bhante Sujato, reminded us ‘Jedi Knight is just a subset of Buddhism’. The Jedi Knights, of course, are characters in the Star Wars movies, and the concept of Jedi as a religion was probably seized upon first by people who resented the census question on religious preference. The idea took off: at last count, over 60,000 people in Australia chose to state ‘Jedi Knight’ as their religion in the census. Jedi-as-faith took off in other countries, notably Canada and especially New Zealand, where, if census figures are to be believed, it was the second largest religion in 2001! Where does sci fi stop and religion start? It will be interesting to see what the numbers are in next year’s Aussie census!

Can we bring science and wisdom together to create the future? Neil Harbison, a real live cyborg, suggests we can. He was born with vision that only recognises grayscale: he cannot see colours at all. As he explains with a rueful smile, to him, France, Italy and Canada all have the same flag!

A musician as well as an artist, Harbison persuaded a surgeon to set him up with an antenna that would enable him to ‘hear’ colours. The antenna sprouts from within his occipital bone and is now a permanent part of his anatomy. He can now ‘hear’ colours of all kinds, and can compose music just by observing the world around him. Red comes out as the musical note F, blue is heard as C sharp. He can even hear ultraviolet and infrared. And he can ‘listen’ to people’s faces!

The next speaker, Stelarc, is an artist with an interest in science, especially in regard to the human form. He performs with mechanical and electronic devices that through external stimuli program repetitive movements. Having seen Stelarc perform before, I knew what to expect. It is quite eerie. Through movement, he can activate a model of his head, complete with vocals. He looks forward to the day when it will be possible to replace an ailing heart with one that works by the same method and doesn’t even need to beat. Only a man who has had himself strung up by metal hooks though his back and has a cartilage ‘ear’ implanted in his arm could have that kind of imagination.

GuyBen-Ary, Artist-in-residence at the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts at the University of Western Australia, was the next speaker. Most of what he said was beyond my comprehension, but I understand that he does really strange things such as growing his own cells in a petrie dish then connects it to a synthesiser to create abstract-sounding jazz. Check out his website to learn more.

Damith Herath obtained his Ph.D. in robotics from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Autonomous Systems (CAS) at the University of Technology, Sydney, having earlier completed his BSc Eng (Hons) degree in production engineering from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. He has worked as a researcher, academic and consultant in fields related to Robotics, Automation and Manufacturing (and Robotic Art).

What does intelligence mean in regard to machines? Date and power do not add up to sentience or consciousness, Herath says, and we are a long way off being able to create truly intelligent machines. Perhaps it is actually impossible. But who knows? It has long been realised that SF anticipates science and always has, ever since the days of HG Wells and Jules Verne. In response to a question from the floor on the wisdom or otherwise of taxpayers’ money being spent on the arts, Herath assured us that Intel employs a writer to create sci-fi stories for the company’s engineers to turn into reality.

Overall, this was, to a speculative fiction writer, the most intriguing panel of the conference. It left me wondering, ‘Where does spec-fic stop and the dhamma start?’ 

Next time, I'll write about day two of the Global Buddhist Conference.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

New opus from Marianne de Pierres

Marianne de Pierres, one of my favourite Aussie novelists, has a new book coming out in October. MYTHMAKER is the sequel to PEACEMAKER, winner of the best SF book category in this year's Aurealis Awards. De Pierres is a prolific and versatile author, having written crime fiction, YA fiction and children’s books as well as SF and fantasy. 

And in case you can't wait until release date, here's the blurb:

Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for an organisation called GJIC with Nate Sixkiller as her immediate boss. Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another. Then there’s the escalation of Mythos sightings, and the bounty on her head. Oddly, the strange and dangerous Hamish Burns is the only one she can rely on. Virgin’s life gets... untidy.

Joey HiFi 's artwork brilliantly foreshadows the story. And while you're waiting for MYTHMAKER, go and grab PEACEMAKER if you don't have your copy yet.

MYTHMAKER will be released in October by Angry Robot Books.
Saturday, 15 August 2015

Buddhists Confer #1

Last weekend, Perth had the privilege of hosting the 9th Global Conference on Buddhism, thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, together with Ajahn Brahmavamso Mahathera and his brother monks of the Bodhinyana Forest Monastery. It was heartwarming to see so many sects and ethnic groups all rejoicing in the teachings of the Buddha together. 

There were friends from other faiths there too: Buddhism makes no claim to exclusivity and everyone was welcome to listen, question and comment. All the world's faiths preach peace and brotherhood amongst human beings, but Buddhism, so far as I can tell, is the only faith that teaches its followers how to do it. The fact that the various sects in Buddhism laugh at their differences rather than arguing over them says a lot about the way Buddhists think. 

As if to emphasise the inclusive nature of Buddhism, the proceedings started with a really lovely 'Welcome to Country' with Bill, a wonderful singer and dijderidoo player, to entertain and enlighten us, followed by a fascinating talk from Gail Wynne on the history of the Nyungar tribes of the Perth region. The opening continued with an address from the Hon Dr Michael Nahan, MLA, who pointed out that Buddhist adherence in Australia has increased by 40% in recent years, with the Dalai Lama (head of one of the sects of Tibetan Buddhism, but universally honoured by Buddhists and other people of all faiths and none) attracting as large a crowd as the Rolling Stones. Dr Nahan made us laugh by telling the tale of a recent trip to Asia, where people continually asked if he knew Ajahn Brahm. When he responded in the affirmative, they immediately wanted to include him in a 'selfie'! 

There was a video message from respected American monk Bhikku Bodhi, who spoke on justice. 'All beings' he said, 'need to be treated with compassion,' and to this end he'd founded the organisation Buddhist Global Relief to fight chronic hunger and malnutrition worldwide. The movement places great emphasis on improving the position of women and girls, endeavouring to keep girls in school and to raise the status of women generally in places where, sadly, they are still regarded as second-class citizens. 

More than 800 people had come to the conference from all five continents and many countries, including Finland! The speakers were varied also - Robina Courtin, a nun in the Tibetan tradition, joked her way through her introduction, ending by telling us she was a 'radical Lesbian separatist feminist' who also supported the Sydney Swans, an Australian Rules Football team! Father Bob Maguire, an octagenarian Roman Catholic priest, echoed Bhikku Bodhi's words, saying that as a nation we needed to look after the 'unloved and the unlovely' members of our society. Father Bob can be sarcastic and cynical when speaking of the church hierarchy. 'There is a clash of cultures' he said. 'Either you put the church first or the poor first, and often Jesus' (who would certainly have done the latter) 'doesn't even get a look in'. He went on to say that we should ask indigenous leaders for spiritual instruction, because we need to learn to respect our ancestors and the natural world around us.' Father Bob ended his talk by saying he was a 'card-carrying non-paedophile' to which Ajahn Brahm added by saying he himself was a 'card-carrying heretic' because he ordained women! 

The next panel discussion, 'Mindfulness is wellness' was presented by Piyal Walpola MD PhD; Ven Zinai Shi (Buddhist scholar, teacher and meditator with a special interest in the dialogue between Buddhist psychology and modern psychology) and Professor George Burns, Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the Cairnmillar Institute, Melbourne. They brought up some interesting links. 

'Anxiety and depression', said Dr Walpola, 'are a result of distorted cognition'. (Buddhism lays much emphasis on seeing things as they really are, right now, in the present moment.) 'Clinging to ideas of how we want things to be can only lead to suffering' he went on. 'If we constantly ruminate on the past, it can lead to depression, and if we cling to thoughts of the future, anxiety often results. With mindfulness training, the sense of self decreases and sensory perception increases. This improves working memory and reduces cognitive decline.'

Venerable Zinai Shi spoke of the effects of mindfulness training on cancer patients. The main result was a sense of 'acceptance of uncertainty'.  In conclusion, Prof. Burns showed us a picture of a toilet bowl with a fly painted on the inner surface. This was an effort to reduce 'spillage' in male public toilets, and apparently it worked well because the user was inclined to aim for the fly! Mindful urinating can be excellent awareness practice. 

On that note I'll leave the conference for now, since the last panel of the day warrants a post of its own! It combined dhamma and science fiction. Yes, honestly!
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