About Me

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Perth, Western Australia, Australia
I am based in Perth, Western Australia. You might enjoy my books - The Dagger of Dresnia, the first book of the Talismans Trilogy, is available at all good online book shops as is Book two, The Cloak of Challiver. Book three, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation. I trained in piano and singing at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. I also trained in dance (Scully-Borovansky, WAAPA) and drama (NIDA). Since 1987 I have been writing reviews of performances in all genres for a variety of publications, including Music Maker, ArtsWest, Dance Australia, The Australian and others. Now semi-retired, I still write occasionally for the ArtsHub website.

My books

The first two books of my trilogy, The Talismans, (The Dagger of Dresnia, and book two, The Cloak of Challiver) are available in e-book format from Smashwords, Amazon and other online sellers. Book three of the trilogy, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation.I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below - as well as well as a few poems in various places. The best way to contact me is via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/satimaflavell

Buy The Talismans

The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. However, The Dagger of Dresnia and The Cloak of Challiver are available as ebooks on the usual book-selling websites, and book three, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation. The easiest way to contact me is via Facebook.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Cloak of Challiver, Book two of The Talismans

The Cloak of Challiver, Book two of The Talismans
Available as an e-book on Amazon and other online booksellers.

Mythic Resonance

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
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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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Monday, 30 January 2012

Studying Anatomy or How One Thing Leads to Another

One thing all writers have in common is the fact that they’re into words, bigtime. A gift for languages is not uncommon: most writers I know have at least a smattering of knowledge about languages other than their own. And words can even be the key to getting us to learn other subjects. I love it when I have to write a scene that demands research such as a sword fight or a walk in a northern hemisphere forest in spring. I not only garner facts, but new words to add to the collection. These ventures have some practical spin-offs: most writers are useful to have on your team at a quiz night and can be relied on to play a decent hand at Scrabble. And they can bandy about words that are not usually found outside specialist dictionaries.

Anatomy, for example, is longstanding fascination of mine. The parts that make up a physical being, be it a flower, a mouse, a raven or an elephant, form such wonderfully cohesive wholes that one wonders how the heck it all happened.

Physiologists, geneticists and experts on evolution can give us some answers, but they are hard put to explain their findings in terms ordinary mortals can understand. Me, I just look at the petals and stamens and wonder at the beauty of the flower and stand amazed at the cleverness of the evolution that brought it about. Any deeper interest I have in anatomy has to do with its wonderful vocabulary.

As a uni dropout back in the early sixties, when I had no money and less sense, I did whatever I could to earn a crust. This involved doing a great many things that my parents wouldn’t have approved of, some of which required me to get naked. One such money-spinner was posing nude for artists and photographers.

A regular gig was posing for the art students at East Sydney Tech, now the National Art School. The school was (and still is) housed in the old Darlinghurst Gaol, an ancient edifice with thick stone walls that kept the sun out and the cold in – nice in summer, but it made for little joy in nude modelling in winter-time! The door would be open to let in light, and they would put a two-bar electric radiator close to me. This meant that one half of my anatomy was freezing and one half burning. I remember one time when the lecturer completely forgot to give me the obligatory stretch break after 20 minutes. When she finally remembered, I had trouble standing up. The cold half had gone completely to sleep while my buttocks must have been ruddier than the cherry, although it would have taken more than a Handel aria, or even a Puccini one, to warm my tiny hands, to say nothing of my entire front and most of my left leg.

I didn’t only model for straightforward sketching classes. One nice gig – I got to keep my clothes on! – was posing for the portrait class. It was mind-blowing to look at the students’ work as it took shape, week by week. Of course, the lighting was subtly different for each one, depending on what part of the room they were in. Some added glamour to my appearance, some painted me half in shadow, but the most surprising one was of me as a boy! The features were there, but the clothes had somehow become masculine and my trade-mark pony-tail had metamorphosed into a short back and sides! OK, so maybe my girl-friends calling me The Titless Wonder was not entirely unwarranted…

But the most interesting term was the one in which I was the female model for the anatomy class. It meant taking my clothes off again, but the weather was better by then so I didn’t mind as much. I hadn’t done Biology in high school, so the entire subject matter of the course was a revelation. As a dancer, I knew how to pose, of course, and I also knew what poses would make which muscles stand out. What I hadn’t known was the names of the muscles. We spent several classes on the visible musculature of the leg, and I think I can still, even today, recite the names from hip to toe, for the lecturer was determined that his students should not just able to sketch the muscles, but know their names and functions as well: gluteus maximus. fascia lata, sartorius, plantaris, tibialis, gastrocnemius, extensor digitorum longus and a dozen more. I can’t remember exactly where they are or what they do anymore, but the names still roll trippingly off my tongue, and what lovely words they are! Latin, like its grandchild Italian, has a poetic, sonorous, musical feel to it. I could listen to either language for hours.

I got to know some very interesting people through modelling, including Thea Proctor (1879-1966), the well-known artist. She was nearing the end of her life when I modelled for her and her friends, but she was sprightly and intelligent, her mind still as sharp as her lino-cutting tools. I still have a sketch she did of me, which funnily enough did not look remotely like the ‘me’ of the time (I was dancing then, and weighed less than 50 kilos) but it looks very like the mature me with curves more voluminous than voluptuous!

Naturally, the snippets of anatomy I learnt from modelling stood me in good stead when I later became a dance teacher and later still, when I decided to update my expertise by studying at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. There, our anatomy lecturer would take contorted poses that looked like something from one of those statuary groups that depict an attack on some helpless tribe by another that wasn’t so helpless, sometimes twisting one arm behind her back or overhead in a dramatic manner that made me think she should have been an actor instead of a physiologist. She was a hard taskmaster, making us name the agonist and the antagonist and other such technicalities that I never did quite figure out. But I learnt a lot more lovely words: pectoralis major, brachialis, latissimus dorsi, supraspinatus...

Isn’t it funny how one thing leads to another in life? In the last decade or two, I’ve done quite a lot of academic editing, and I am quite fearless in tackling theses and papers in the medical arena. I’ve had a crack at most of the health sciences, predominantly physiotherapy. After meeting extensor digitorum longus and his mates, fascinating facts concerning COPD or female incontinence hold no terrors. And it’s unlikely that I will be intimidated by any jargon, ever again!

Pictures courtesy Wikimedia Commons:
by Ralf Roletschek [GFDL 1.2 (www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons (Even though that pic is from Germany, it looks a lot like the environs of the old gaol where I worked!)
by Mikael Häggström (w:Gray's muscle pictures) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Thursday, 19 January 2012

Real self-publishing

Graham Clements, a colleague on the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre's spec-fic mailing list, recently complained on his blog that he'd just read a book from a well-known publisher and found rather a lot of typos.

I am not surprised by the news. In the current economic climate, I suspect that a lot of shortcuts and cutbacks are being made by publishers. But on the brighter side, I'm pleased to report that more and more self-publishers are engaging freelance editors before uploading their work.

I like to distinguish between self-publishing and what used to be called 'vanity publishing'. A better name for it might be 'desperation publishing' because it seems to pull in people who haven't a clue how to get their work out there and in desperation they pay some dodgy outfit to publish their books.

Bad idea.

Much better to do it yourself.

True self-publishing means that you engage your own editor, designer, layout person and printing firm and buy your own ISBN, which makes you a publisher in your own right and therefore a true 'self-publisher'. Paying some firm, even a relatively reliable one, to do all those tasks for a few hundred dollars — well, you get the book you deserve! Three rounds of editing, which used to be the standard at publishing houses, don't come cheap, and nor do all the other services needed to get a book up to scratch.

With vanity publishing, editing is the first thing to go. If you're lucky you'll get a light copy-edit, and some firms don't even do that much, even though they say they do! If you absolutely must publish through a vanity press, at least get your work edited first by a reliable freelance. Like me. (Ok, a bit of self-promotion there, but I'd be the first to admit that I'm not the only one! Check out the listings on the Society of Editors website for your state.)

But I can’t afford it! I hear you cry.

If you do the sums, it is indeed frightening. Three rounds of editing will take at least 40 hours. Most editors charge at least $40 per hour, and many charge more, so it’s safest to allow a minimum of $2000 for editing. Allow another thousand for your ISBN, art and layout. So an e-book is going to set you back about $3,000, and a print book a good deal more. For a firm to advertise that it can do it for a tenth of that price, you’re just not going to get as good a job, are you? As with all things, you get what you pay for.

But here’s the escape clause. You can cheat a bit by doing away with one round of editing. To do that, you need to have a very high standard of self-editing, friends in your critique group who are already advanced and proficient writers, and half a dozen beta-readers-cum-proofreaders with eagle eyes to pick up typos.

Here’s the sequence:
1.    Thoroughly learn your craft in regard to spelling, grammar, syntax and punctuation.
2.    Join a crit group that contains writers more advanced than you are, people who, perhaps, have already had a few short stories or even novels published by traditional publishing houses. If you can’t find such a group, go to workshops. Lots of workshops. Or enrol in a writing class, online or face to face. Many people do all the above.
3.    Read as widely as you can on the craft of your own genre. (And it goes without saying that you will read other things as well, both fiction and non-fiction!)
4.    Be prepared to write, rewrite and rewrite again. Two full drafts are a minimum and you might find you need to do four or five!
5.    Only when you and your critters feel your book is as good as it can be, engage an editor. Most editors are honest souls who genuinely want to help writers, so ask the one you choose to give you a considered opinion of the story and the way you’ve written it. Editors vary in their procedures, but I like to do what I call a mini-assessment first, based on the first twenty or so pages and a synopsis – and I often find I have to teach the writer how to create a synopsis! So if this is one of your bugbears, read my article on The Specusphere about synopsis-writing.
6.    When you’ve finished working with your editor, find half a dozen new people willing to read your manuscript, making sure at least some of them have really good English skills and can pick up spelling and typographical errors (‘typos’).

This procedure will speed up the editing process enormously, saving you at least half the cost you’d have to pay if you sent your raw first draft to an editor.

Remember that anyone who wants money from you to publish your book is a vanity publisher, even if they claim not to be. Writers are much better advised to set up their own outfits, be their own bosses and have complete control over every stage of the work.

Let's face it, you aren't likely to make a fortune from any self-published book, although with e-publishing there are notable exceptions and anyone prepared to do a bit of marketing and promotion can at least hope to break even eventually. So why be a cheapskate? If you're doing it for love, surely it's better to spend more and be proud of what you've done? As my mother was fond of telling me, if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And a well-written, well-edited and well-presented self-published book can hold its head up in any company!
Monday, 2 January 2012

2011 - my personal retrospective

I’m pleased to report that 2011, while not the Perfect Year I’ve been looking for since 1943, was somewhat better for me than its seven or eight predecessors! I hope all my friends and family have enjoyed the year and can look forward even better things to come in 2012, Mayan calendar and end-of-the-world doomsayers notwithstanding.

I found late in 2010 that I had a pretty full calendar of house-sitting engagements for this year, so I decided to use the opportunity to move back to Perth. After due consideration, I gave up my flat in Mount Gambier, South Australia, and sold or gave away all my furniture and most of my personal effects. I even cut my wardrobe by half and my bookstock by two thirds! So all I have in the world now will fit into a few suitcases and 40-odd cardboard boxes of the kind you buy at the post office for $2.20-ish. Much of my stuff is stashed in the garage at the home of my sister Anne and her husband Brian in Mount Gambier and the rest requires a couple of camels or the motorised equivalent thereof to shift me from house to house! However, for the second half of the year I’ve been in one place. Since mid-June, I’ve been house-sitting for my friends Tom and Wendy, who are away on a protracted and very exciting world tour. A wonderful experience for them, and for me, it's nice to feel settled, if only temporarily!

In mid-January I move on again, this time out to York, which lies about 100 km inland from the city of Perth. I’m going to stay with my friend Pam, who has an enormous garden and is keen to have help with the hand watering, as she spends about half her time in Perth on business. Every summer she loses a few little plants and every winter she replaces them and adds more, a kind of three steps forward and one back sort of arrangement. So hopefully this year the losses will be minimal, since I will be there to keep the water up to them over the stinking hot York summer. It’s a tiny town of only about 2,000 people. You can find out about it in the helpful Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York,_Western_Australia. Those of you who live in gentler climes will wince at the climate details – in summer it seldom drops much under 30 degrees Celsius in the daytime and in winter the nights can sometimes be freezing. It’s also in a bush-fire prone area! All being well, I shall stay in York until Easter, and I’m hoping that after that I’ll rise to the top of the waiting list at the retirement village where I’ve had my name down for nearly a year. If not, I shall have to look for more house-sitting.

Having a rent-free year means I’ve been able to save enough to replace my furniture when I do find somewhere to live. Of course, despite my good intentions, I’ve already replaced with new titles a fair number of the books I sold or gave away before leaving Mount Gambier. However, my recreational reading time has been sadly reduced due to other commitments. With my Specusphere colleagues, Stephen and Amanda, I’ve been involved in the production of an anthology of short stories. (See my blog post Mythic Resonance to learn more on that one.) It’s our first venture into hard copy and my first time at helping to edit an anthology, and while it’s been very time consuming it’s also been very worthwhile from a personal and professional development standpoint. Mythic Resonance will be available sometime in the next few weeks, all being well. Watch this blog for details!

Another commitment has been membership of a judging panel for a national speculative fiction award. As it’s still in process, I won’t comment further at present, but it is also proving a most interesting and valuable, if time consuming, experience.

Due to all this busy-ness, my writing has been virtually moribund and even my blogging has suffered – I’ve barely kept this blog alive and haven’t posted on the Egoboo one since May! Fortunately, my colleagues there – Carol Ryles, Helen Venn, Joanna Fay, Keira McKenzie, Laura E. Goodin and Sarah Parker – carry the blog along. Sarah, especially, always seems to come up with something timely, even it’s just a link to another blog. Many hands make light work.

Being a glutton for punishment, though, I’ve started a third blog, this one for the Perth Shakespeare Club, at http://perthshakespeareclub.blogspot.com/ but there I can rely on other members to do at least some of the posting and if nothing comes through I can just report on the latest meeting!

I’ve also started a Facebook Page for the Shakespeare Club and have kept up my personal presence there, too. It’s by far my favourite of all the social media sites. However, through another site, Friends Reunited, I have been in touch with Gudrun, an old school friend from Tamworth, NSW, where I lived for about four years in late childhood. Gudrun has recently visited Perth and, and we met on Boxing Day – our first meeting in almost five and half decades!

I’ve also caught up with an old WAAPA friend, Angela, and through her I’ve joined a Dhamma group. It’s a private one, held at the home of some kind friends of Angela’s. They have set up a big screen TV with Skype so that talks by Buddhist teachers can be brought to us live from the UK. It’s great to be with like-minded friends to hear the dhamma and to meditate. We had a lovely end of year celebration with a ‘Buddhist Christmas tree’! That’s got to be multi-culturalism at its best!

Angela has been my transport mainstay for nights at the theatre, too, now that I’m writing theatre reviews once more. It’s been wonderful to go to shows again, since being on the pension means most of them are out of range financially. Here’s a list of the shows I’ve reviewed so far. It’s more for archival purposes than to bore you witless, so don’t feel obliged to read any or all of them! But most of the shows were very, very good, demonstrating that Western Australia can come up with top-flight entertainment, both home-grown and imported.

The Enchanters (Prickly Pear Ensemble)
Helix (solo dancer Daryl Brandwood)
The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) (The HOO-HA)
Julius Caesar (Bell Shakespeare)
Neon Lights (West Australian Ballet Company)
When Dad Married Fury (Janus Entertainment)
We Unfold (Sydney Dance Company)
The Taming of the Shrew (West Australian Ballet Company)
Chamber Jam – September (North St Music/Ellington Jazz Club)
Chamber Jam – October (North St Music/Ellington Jazz Club)
The Magic Pudding (Janus Entertainment)
When the rain stops falling (Black Swan State Theatre Company)
Symphony by the bay (Perth Symphony Orchestra)
Blood Brothers (IAJ International)

Family history-wise, the big find of 2011 was the will of my 3x great-grandfather, Samuel Flavell, who died in Sedgley, Staffordshire in 1864. The will, which was made in 1856, came to my attention through a link on the Sedgley mailing list (hosted by Rootsweb.com) and I acquired a copy via the Staffordshire Record Office. If this is your bloodline, too, and you’d like to purchase a copy, these are the details you’ll need to order it from the archives:
• Harwood and Evers, Solicitors, Stourbridge - Deposited by Messrs. Harward and Evers, solicitors, of 1 Worcester Street, Stourbridge, Worcs.
• [no title] D695/1/13/1/2 1856-1892
• Contents: Draft will and probate of wills of clients of Gould & Elcock including J. Greenway, J. Wakefield, R. Venables, E. Harvey, B. Jevon, J. Webb, J. Harland, S. Flavell.

The last one is our Sam and a copy of his will only costs six pounds. It tells us that he left a widow, Dianna, and three adult children – Edward, Samuel and Rosehannah – and he was wealthy enough to leave each child a couple of houses. What happened? Recent generations have been lucky to own one! I wonder if Sam fell on hard times in the last few years of his life and had to sell his properties. Such is life.

In October, I had a very pleasant break in Mandurah (see the Wikipedia article on this lovely town at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandurah) with my sister Anne, her husband Brian and their daughter Frances, together with canine friend Lulu, who is quite a dancer! She can stay on her back legs longer than any other untrained dog I've met. We had beautiful weather and enjoyed some lovely times at the shops by the jetty or just gazing at the yachts on the bay from the front veranda of our borrowed holiday cottage!

Health wise, things haven’t been too good for me this year, and it’s my own fault! Once I was settled in the longest house-sit ever, I decided to use my improved financial state and proximity to the city to participate in a number of keep-fit activities. I can walk into the city from my house-sit, and did so several times a week. However, I found I was getting out of breath every time. I’d already been doing belly dancing for several years and attending yoga classes on-and-off, too, but I decided I needed to engage in more aerobic activities. This turned out to be a bad idea, because my heart wasn’t up to it and after three weeks of classes I had to give up. More visits to the health-care professionals, more medication, more expense … So now I’m on a weight-loss kick, eating very little (for me!) and exercising only for short periods a couple of times a day. I do hope I can lose a lot – I should really be aiming to lose 30 kg, but being realistic I know that probably won’t happen. Nevertheless, if I can lose enough to get back to the fitness classes under medical supervision I’ll be happy.

Financially, things are looking up, though. I have had more editing work this year than in the previous two years together. This is largely due to the rise in self-publishing, and I’m pleased to see that many authors are having their work professionally edited before taking the plunge into print. I still do some academic work, but doing ‘mini-assessments’ for aspiring authors has accounted for much of my work this year. That’s got to be a good thing, because the standard of self-publishing, historically, has been abominably low. If I can do my bit to raise the standard a little I’ll be very happy.

And to finish with, here’s a list of the books I’ve read and reviewed for The Specusphere this year. It’s a pathetic effort compared to previous years. I really have taken on too much in 2011!

The Thief Taker’s Apprentice by Stephen Deas
The Folly Series by Ben Aaronovitch (first two books: Rivers of London and Moon over Soho)
Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis
Horses for King Arthur by LS Lawrence

I have read a lot of other books, including nearly half the oeuvre of Bernard Cornwell and Ken Follet's medieval duology. Along with fantasy, my favourites are historical novels. Good, well-written ones that don't take too many liberties with the facts!

So off we go into 2012! A new year and hopefully lots of new adventures of the enjoyable kind! Best of luck to all of you for the coming twelve months. May we all be well, happy, peaceful and at ease with the conditions of our lives.
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