About Me

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

My books

The first two novels of my trilogy, The Talismans, are not available as e-books at present, but I expect to get them back online shortly. However, I do have paperbacks of The Dagger of Dresnia at the low price of $25 including postage within Australia. I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below. The best way to contact me is via Facebook!

Buy The Talismans

The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. I hope to see my books back on Amazon under a new publisher in the near future.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Cloak of Challiver

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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Sunday, 24 February 2008

The final countdown!

Woo-hoo - six more sleeps and I take the bus to Adelaide! As well as getting to spend time with Annalou, I will see my daughter, maybe a son and a grandchild or two and at least a couple more friends whom so far I only know from mailing lists. Six days of Writers Week - joy oh joy! I'm looking forward to hearing Lian Hearn and Margo Lanagan in particular, as well as enjoying the good company and all the other goodies on offer at the festival.

For the first time, I feel as if I've broken the back of the job list - I'm crossing off more items than I'm adding each day and that's got to be good. I still have to tidy the garden, save all essential files to the neat portable hard drive my son Scott bought me for Christmas, clean the house (I don't, usually!) and sort out some things for The Specusphere. Three books eye me balefully, reminding me that I have to write reviews and upload them ready for the new issue that goes live next Saturday. Starting on 1 March, The Specusphere goes bi-monthly, so there will be a flurry of activity in the last week of February, April, June and so on. Of course, the first big bumper issue has to coincide with my travel plans but that sort of synchronicity is par for the course, at least in my life. Isn't it the same for everyone?
Sunday, 17 February 2008

What is meant by the term "Speculative Fiction"?

In a comment on last week’s post, Jo asked me to define the term “Speculative Fiction” and Juliet suggested that I might blog definitions of the speculative genres. This gave me food for thought, for such definitions vary from one expert to another – and I’m no expert! In the past I have had one foot in journalism and one foot in academic writing, so you will find this post has elements of both approaches. Typical of the journalistic approach, my research has largely been limited to Googling, much of which of course, took me to the ubiquitous Wikipedia. I am also indebted to Carol Ryles, who kindly sent me excerpts from The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

But first, to every Googler’s favourite encyclopaedia! In its article on Speculative Fiction, Wikipedia suggests that Speculative Fiction asks the classic "What if?" question and attempts to answer it. The article goes on to say that the term is often attributed to Robert A. Heinlein, who is first known to have used it in his 1948 essay On Writing of Speculative Fiction as a synonym for science fiction. In a later piece, he explicitly stated that his use of the term did not include fantasy. Wikipedia further goes on to say that while Heinlein may have come up with the term himself, there is one earlier citation: a piece in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1889, referring to Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000–1887. In that Looking Backward was a Utopian novel set over a century in the future, we would today probably recognise it as Science Fiction rather than Fantasy.

Yet if we take Wikipedia’s open-ended definition rather than Heinlein's exclusive one, we quickly see that SpecFic must encompass genres other than Science Fiction, since Science Fiction does not have a monopoly on “What if” questions. In recent years, the most usual definition of “Speculative Fiction” has included Fantasy, Horror and possibly Alternative History and Magical Realism, together with stories of the supernatural and those of superheroes, not all of which fall readily into one of the three basic categories of SpecFic. Wikipedia defines all these and more!

Heinlein is also quoted (from Science Fiction: Its Nature, Faults and Virtues ) as having said, "a handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method." Now this definition definitely excludes the other genres that we generally think of as speculative. How then, do we define those other genres? How, under Wikipedia’s definition, do the speculative genres differ from each other? More particularly, how does Fantasy differ from Science Fiction?

Rod Serling, writer and producer of The Twilight Zone, stated "Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible." That is as neat and succinct a definition of the difference as you are likely to find, and one that has been echoed by many other authorities since Serling’s day.

So, OK we can see that both Sci-Fi and Fantasy are speculative, but a modicum of consideration will demonstrate that their speculations hinge on different parameters. To see the parameters of Fantasy clearly, perhaps we need look no further than Ursula K. LeGuin, who, in her collection of essays entitled The Language of the Night, tells us, “Fantasy is the natural, the appropriate, language for the recounting of the spiritual journey and the struggle for the good and evil in the soul”. A little further on, she says, “Fantasy is the language of the inner self".

Fantasy, then, is very often allegorical. I, for one, think good fantasy is always so. It describes some aspect of the human journey and comments on it, and almost always ends on a note of hope. John Clute & John Grant, in their definitive Encyclopedia of Fantasy put it this way: “This story-driven urge to comedic completion also distinguishes full fantasy from its siblings, supernatural fictions and horror, whose plots often terminate – shockingly – before any resolution can be achieved”. Horror, I believe, exploits the horrific for its own sake, without making any comment on the human condition. Horror that does so comment is, perhaps, better defined as Dark Fantasy.

Wikipedia’s entry on Fantasy's sub-genres suggests no less than eighteen, with some of those having still further subdivisions. The list is mind boggling!

* 1 Alternate history
* 2 Bangsian fantasy
* 3 Comic fantasy
* 4 Contemporary fantasy
o 4.1 Urban fantasy
o 4.2 Elfpunk
* 5 Dark fantasy
* 6 Erotic fantasy
* 7 Fairytale fantasy
* 8 Heroic fantasy
* 9 High fantasy
* 10 Historical fantasy
o 10.1 Celtic Fantasy
o 10.2 Steampunk
o 10.3 Wuxia
o 10.4 Historical high fantasy
o 10.5 Medieval fantasy
* 11 Juvenile fantasy
* 12 Low fantasy
* 13 Fantasy of manners
* 14 Mythic fiction
o 14.1 Mythpunk
* 15 Romantic fantasy
* 16 Science fantasy
o 16.1 Sword and Planet
o 16.2 Dying Earth fiction
* 17 Superhero fantasy
* 18 Sword and sorcery

While one might argue against the necessity for so many subdivisions and, perhaps query the classifications (for example, is “Juvenile Fantasy” really a category? Might it not itself be divided into the same subdivisions as the adult variety?) the list serves as an object lesson in the difficulties of pinning down the speculative genres and trying to make them fit into clearly defined classes. Perhaps in another decade we will be defining the sub-genres altogether differently. One thing is certain: speculative stories have been with us since we sat around fires at the entrances to our caves and told stories that explained the unexplainable, and it will be with us until the last human dies on a planet that has outgrown our species.
Sunday, 10 February 2008

The countdown continues...

Only twenty more sleeps now, and I’ll be on a journey that will involve my participation in some wonderful events. First, the Adelaide Writers Festival, which runs from 2-7 March. We are lucky in Australia to have several excellent Arts Festivals, and they tend to have free “Writers Weeks” associated with them. This will be my first time at the Adelaide one, courtesy of my friend Annalou, and I’m looking forward to hearing some of the panels and talks by authors and publishers. I especially have my eye on sessions involving Margo Lanagan and Lian Hearn, two fine Australian Speculative Fiction writers, and the panel on “Directions in British and Australian Publishing”, with representatives from Scribe Publications here in Oz as well as three British houses. Another panel is called “Germaine’s Legacy”, with Germaine Greer herself on the panel. Still another is entitled “They Fuck You Up”. I must hear that one to find just who it is that’s causing all the problems in my world.

Then a few days with my daughter Billy in Adelaide before heading off to Perth (plane trip courtesy of another kind friend) where I’ll spend a week catching up with groups and individuals before the second highlight of the trip, Swancon, where I expect that, as usual, I shall be informed, entertained and embraced by the lovely SpecFic community. One of my favourite Aussie SpecFic writers, Glenda Larke, is one of the guests of honour. There is an excellent academic stream at Swancon this year as well as the usual discussion panels (they are always very good) book launches, demonstrations and social events. And books! I always go determined to buy only one book but it's impossible. I don't eat much in the week that follows a convention:-)

After Swancon, there should be three weeks house-sitting if all goes to plan and something else if all doesn’t, then another highlight – the Vipassana meditation retreat organised by Perth Insight Meditation Group. Insight meditation, I have found, is one of the best possible tools for the acquisition of self knowledge and the development of tolerance and compassion. We will spend twelve days in almost total silence, each meditator or "yogi" watching the mind's silly chatter and the body's reactions to thoughts and emotions as they arise. Many people are horrified at the thought of twelve days without talking - no mobile phone, no TV, no radio, no MP3 - but believe me, a Vipassana retreat is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. I have been honoured with a scholarship for this retreat, which will be under the care of Patrick Kearney, an excellent teacher.

I have been very lucky in my meditation teachers. I toyed with meditation, on and off, for perhaps twenty years before I did my first retreat. That was with Chime Shaw in Perth in 1988. I studied with Eric Harrison at Perth Meditation Centre for several years on and off eventually completing his Teacher Training course. The "on and off" was due to the three and a half years I spent overseas, sitting with many fine teachers in Nepal, England and the USA. It was at the Bhavana Centre in West Virginia where I was given the name Satima, which means “mindful”, and it is indeed a good reminder, every time I hear it, to stay present in the moment and to be as aware as possible of the fluctuations of the mind and body and of the world around me. Later, I moved on to the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, where I had the privilege of sitting with world renowned teachers such as Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, Stephen Armstrong, Kamala Masters and many others. I was on staff at IMS for about a year and a half and it was one of the happiest and most contented periods of my life. Even now, ten years later, I sometimes go to the IMS website to look at pictures of my beloved teachers and workmates there, and every time my heart is filled with joy. It’s a painful joy because I am no longer there, but all the same, a joy like no other to think of them all and send them lovingkindness.

Over the years I was away, “dharma-bumming” I learnt more about my mind than I ever discovered in a university or the many self-help books I’ve read. And Vipassana can help you with mundane things, too. It was at my last retreat with Patrick Kearney that I found the beginnings of the trilogy I’m writing – you know, the one that I can’t get right and am always complaining about! Maybe this time I’ll find out how to get it out of the unconscious and onto the page!
Sunday, 3 February 2008

Countdown for a Lucky Lady

I can't believe it's only 26 more sleeps before I set off to Adelaide to stay with my friend Annalou for the duration of the Adelaide Writers Festival! Eleven sleeps after that and I head off to Perth, first for Swancon - this year the National Science Fiction Convention - and then for a meditation retreat with Patrick Kearney, one of this country's finest teachers of Vipassana. It's been a busy time lately and I had almost lost track of time. Now I must start to pull myself toegther ready for the Big Adventure.

I have often moaned and bewailed the fact that I cannot afford to live in Perth anymore, yet I must admit that the Limestone Coast is a lovely part of the country. My sister Erica's daughter Linda has been down from Queensland for a flying visit and while she was here we visited places that locals seldom think to go to but which visitors always want to see. One such place was the Waterfall Gardens at Dartmoor, sone 40-odd kilometres from Mount Gambier. We found a beautiful park with natural waterfalls and creeks running into a river. I thought I knew this area quite well and I didn't even know it was there! Linda and I had a lovely walk down to the river, admiring the scenery on the way. The gardens are quite wild - a mixture of native and exotic plants, many of them weeds, growing in tight profusion. One outstanding feature was the Tiger Lilies, which used to be found in almost every garden when I was a child, but for some reason they have been ousted by newer hybrids these days, which is shame as they really are most attractive with their black-spotched orange blooms. They grow tiny bulblets in the leaf axils, so I carefully collected three of them to bring home and hopefully grow on. Nestled into a pot, within a few days they began to elongate, changing from balls to teardrops. Each little teardrop is particloured in black and brown, the colours divided by a curved silver line, rather in the fashion of a Yang-Yin symbol. I often wish I had a much better camera, and this is one of those times. Each bulblet is a tiny work of art that would probably go unseen in the garden.

But in China the news is of a harsher aspect of nature. Storms that have left huge cities without electricity have also deprived millions of people of their one chance in the year to visit loved ones far away. My heart goes out to them and to the countless people who must be lying sick and dying in cold flats because there is no heating in what must be a truly terrible winter.

It's sobering to realise that I whinge and whine about having to live far from the place I call home. At least I have a roof over my head, decent weather (although we're getting some unseasonably cold mornings!) and enough to eat, with a holiday to look forward to: one that will, moreover, cost me virtually nothing. I really have nothing to whine about. I've even had a stroke of luck in the form of an editing assignment from a PhD student in Perth, and her fees will pay my Swancon subscription. No, I have nothing to whine about, nothing at all. Once again, I am deeply touched by the generosity and kindness of friends who have provided me with transport and accommodation, to say nothing of the good company I will enjoy when we get together. May some of those people in China enjoy one tenth of the luck of this little fat old lady!
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