Farewell, Year of the Serpent

IMG_5589What can I say? Apparently the Year of the Serpent is meant to be an auspicious year for Oxen folk like me. It is known as a year of rebirth and transformation in all areas of life. I themed it ‘the year of consolidation’ as I set out to strengthen and solidify my writing life, setting aside business to allow me to do this. It was intended as a year of bringing all my skills together, all the experiences, lessons and connections and making them work for me.

What was the reality of it all?

A tangle. An implosion. A life that resembled the Poseidon Adventure, just with a better soundtrack.

A Dramatic Run Down, Sans Bad Acting  [*Cue Appropriate Music*]

The year began in the aftermath of ex-tropical cyclone Oswald and three days without power. Then there was the return of the school shit bearing down on us as Mr D’s anxiety and school refusal peaked in aggressive and violent behaviour. We ended up with five broken weeks of attendance in first term and our household became a tempest of broken promises and expectations, a sense of drowning, hollow hopes and minor wins and more set backs than any human in their right mind can remain stoic in the face of.

Woven through this was the successful submission and sale of my novella Elyora (River of Bones) to Endeavour Press in early March, followed several days later by its inclusion on the Aurealias short list. It was like riding a rollercoaster that never ended.

By the end of April River of Bones had been released, Adam and I had completed the final season of Post Marked: Piper’s Reach, I’d enjoyed (as best I could with the family issues and the first horrendous head cold in more than a year) NatCon and Mr D had been withdrawn from mainstream school and enrolled in Distance Education. Whatever hopes I had left of a year of writing went out the window.

My brain barely functioned creatively as I worked to wrap my head around Maths and English and Science plus weathering the full force of Mr D’s anger and apathy as I worked to have him re-engage with the learning process again, while he emotionally detoxed from mainstream schooling. And dealing with my own version of cabin fever through it all. Working to maintain my own mental health.

IMG_4677In July we got out of Brisbane and spent two weeks in Longreach and the surrounds. It was the reset we needed as a family. I spent the first few days in bed with a fever and then the second week bunking off in the morning to mark up the completed Piper’s Reach manuscript. I returned with the manuscript completed, an idea for a rural romance and the resolve to complete the steam punk romance story I’d penned the opening sections of in Brisbane airport in April waiting to fly out to Sydney. It sucks though how the verve that accompanies you into the first week of ‘real life’ rarely stays put for more than that first week.

Through July and early into August I was a diligent Distance Ed tutor. I did what I was told, I was upbeat and positive with Mr D. We made all our deadlines with work and in some respects, were ahead. I worked hard on the weekends at my steam punk romance, forced myself into the headspace and kept at it even though it kept beating me at every turn. And we became parents again… to a spoodle named Duke.IMG_5375

Mid-August I got glandular fever as my body’s last hurrah to being young, or perhaps my body giving in to eight months of emotional turmoil and the physical exhaustion that comes with. I spent three weeks bed ridden. I had to ask for help. I was so sick it didn’t bother me to ask for help. It was the lowest point in a year of low points, but also the point where I decided enough was enough. In the midst of all the sickness I managed to finally find a pendant for the year, and once I had it, it felt as though the year turned for me as I hung the silver and red coral serpent around my neck. As I crawled my way back to health, I let go of the need to abide by Distance Education’s stupidity. I found a way into my steampunk romance and wrote like a demon. In the end I submitted ahead of the due date but with the fear a rejection of the story would crush me.

October I railed hard against Distance Education, with the repetition and the lack of creativity. I became ‘one of those parents’, even though I knew I was angry with all the wrong people. I despised the way English was conceptualised and taught. I found myself in a pitched battle I was never going to win. I hated what it took from me. I hated how it bored Dylan and how I was responsible for making it engaging and interactive when it was none of that. I was on the verge of the next big decision.

IMG_4910And throughout this, Adam and I chipped away at the edits of Post Marked Piper’s Reach. I got up early each morning and spent an hour editing and revising and every week or so, we got together to revise our revisions, read aloud the letters and deconstruct at a deeper level what was actually going on in the letters. It kept me going when I was able to sustain any other kind of writing.

At the end of October I decided to do NaNoWriMo. I was jacked off with Distance Education, we’d reached THE END as far as I was concerned and I’d decided I was going to withdraw us at the end of the year and do autonomous home schooling. It was partly rebellion against everything Distance Education had sucked out of me, partly hearing Rus Vanwestervelt was doing NaNo that had me decide several days before the end of October to take the plunge and write my steampunk romance out as a novella length work.

I did what Jack Dann advises: give writing the best part of your day. So I wrote in the morning before life and school cluttered my head. I wrote with the aim of getting 2000-2500 words a day, to enable me to enjoy my 40th birthday party later on in the month. And I wrote with the intention of finishing the manuscript. Within the first week I knew it was not going to be a novella, as I suspected and kept writing. And I wrote and wrote and wrote and ended up on November 29th with a 79,000 word completed first draft manuscript of my first solo novel. This meant when the rejection letter came in December for ‘Between Minutes’ it fell with far less of a blow.

In December my head broke and poetry came out. I gave up on Distance Education, surrendered to home schooling and when I did the opportunity for Mr D to attend Brisbane Independent School came to us. It was Mr DIMG_6849’s decision to return to school and while we counted down to school starting across December and January, with twinkles of hope and possibility, I spent the festive season in lock, down-burn out wondering what the hell had happened (another loss of confidence despite having just completed my first novel). The upside was hours spent gazing into the glass water of the water hole at the bottom of the hill at my mother-in-laws.

But come the turn of the new calendar year, a new story came, and I’ve been writing poetry and tackling my birthpunk novella, now entitled “Encursion”. After five years, the writing was fun, and fast-paced and a bit mental! While I didn’t complete the novella as I had set out to do (albeit with a bit of a tight deadline) I’m in neck deep and I will continue until I type: THE END. And Piper’s Reach is finally there. Edited up and ready to send to Toni and Rus. Ready for us to take the next big leap of faith!

Write A List, Before You Beat Yourself Up

The Year of the Serpent wasn’t the year I expected, it wasn’t exactly the year I wanted, but it was a year that was productive despite all the challenges thrown my way. Despite having to give away my dream of a year of writing. I can say that now. Several months ago I was treating myself as an absolute failure.

The year’s work looks something like this (and I am a bit astounded when I actually look at it all):

  • 555 and Nothing New to Begin accepted at Tincture Magazine
  • Completed short stories: Twice Forgotten (4500), Between Minutes* (7800), First to Hundred* (4200) and At Arm’s Length (2200) *Submitted and rejected.
  • Completed first draft of gothic horror novel
  • Completed first draft of The Griefing Yard (with Stacey)
  • Worked on shorts Tag Hubert’s Requiem and The Indictment of Portia Simpson
  • Completed writing Post Marked: Piper’s Reach (87,000 all up)
  • Completed the editing of Post Marked: Piper’s Reach (92,000)
  • Pitched (unsuccessfully) Post Marked: Piper’s Reach to Hachette during GenreCon.
  • Submitted first page of Post Marked: Piper’s Reach to First Impressions with positive feed back
  • Delivered my first editing workshop for QWC
  • Did my first mentoring through QWC
  • Sat on panels at Conflux/NatCon
  • Chaired my first panel (GenreCon).
  • Completed 28 days of Post-It Note Poetry in February
  • Wrote poetry throughout January (2013) for Month of Poetry
  • Read my first poem in public for At The End, Poetry event
  • Participated actively in both my online writing groups, including beta reading on a regular basis.
  • Submitted my first poem to a journal.
  • Partnered with Nicole Murphy to publish In Fabula Divino (launched April 2012) and Prana Writer’s Group to publish The Gold Coast Anthology (for launch in May 2013)
  • Released through eP Tom and Mike’s book The Machine Who Was Also a Boy
  • Was offered several exciting editing and publishing opportunities (that I am, for now, sitting on patiently waiting for the right time!)

When I look at the list, it’s hardly a year of doing nothing, though it felt at times like nothing was happening; a consequence of working on longer pieces that will bear fruit further down the track?

Social Consolidation, In The Best Kind of Way

While it is easy to bemoan the Year of the Serpent as a really tough year, the year that almost broke me, I was blessed in so many other ways: I was surrounded by caring, compassionate and encouraging friends.

IMG_5261Thank you to The Furies: Stacey and Helen (sisters-in-words and so much more!), to Rob (the untangler of knotted narratives and ever-ready coffee partner/cheer squad/all round awesome person), Sean (the wish enabler), Adam (insert bestest before writing partner, friend and chooser of new music), Nicky (the bringer of wisdom and chicken soup), Angela ( fairy godmother in disguise), Kevin (unexpected hoarder of brilliant new friends and ideas), Lois (catalyst for awesome), Rus (Zen master of the mental reset and agent provocateur of the creative), Alex (party planner extraordinaire and generous giver of business wisdom), Tom (partner in beer, sanity disher and listener to obscure narrative ideas) and Emily (the girl voted most likely to inspire Mr D to shower, brush his teeth and leave the house!)

It was the kind of ‘social consolidation’ I wasn’t expecting but I am ever so grateful for.

Thank you also to Dave and Mr D who let me escape on weekends to regroup my sanity and chase words; who were caring, kind and considerate throughout all our travails, especially when I was at my worst.

There are many other people who assisted in small and large ways; if you are reading this, you are probably one of them. Thank you!

The Take Home Message

We rarely get what we want. Instead, the Universe sends us what we need. And I give thanks and gratitude for everything, small or large, brilliant or devastating that the Year of the Serpent wrought; I have changed, evolved and perhaps been rebirthed in some areas of my life, as is the manifesto of a Serpent Year.

Now to welcome in The Year of the Green Horse, with all it’s dashing derring-do.

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Fifty-Something Postcards from the Horse’s Mouth

My narrative skills were honed telling stories as a teenager. Not just the angsty,thinly-veiled fiction about the boys we had crushes on that I entertained my girlfriends with, but via the letters I wrote (to those same friends) when I moved from Victoria to Queensland in 1988.

I corresponded with five girlfriends during my time in Queensland. There was never a time when I didn’t have a half-written letter in the back of a folder.

When Adam and I began writing Piper’s Reach in 2012 I went through the striped Tuperware bag that held all the teeanger/early 20’s letters and repatriated them. I managed to send back all but two bundles of letters. One of those bundles belonged to my friend Kim.

kim

L-R: Me, Kim, Melissa and Helen
December 1989

For years I’d wondered what happened to Kim. My Year 8 drama partner in dance (we did interpretive dance to Pump up the Volume), my next door locker mate in Mr Smith’s homeroom in Grade 8 and 9 and my general go-to person for deeper insights into life. (And I remember Kim’s brother wanted to grow up to be a taxidermist!) I still have photos of Kim’s debutante ball. I remember being at her place in 1989 watching ‘Beetlejuice’.

Even though Kim didn’t move on to St Martins with us in our senior years, we remained friends and wrote letters into our early 20’s when I again moved interstate. The last letter I remember receiving from Kim was after her trip to the Czech Republic. I was sitting at the dining room table at my parent’s place in Gordonvale reading it in the height of the monsoonal heat and humidity, as Kim described the freezing European winter, the astounding architecture and how it was juxtaposed against the grey, morose locals (grey in their clothing, downtrodden in their Communism pall). It’s weird, that some twenty years later, with all the things I have read and seen, that image remains in my head.

In August last year, during my delirium of glandular fever, I received a message via Facebook from Kim, who was writing from Japan. I was ecstatic as she had been the one friend I had been unable to track down of my five original girlfriends from the Sacred Heart years. Two weeks later I had to go back, when the fever calmed, to check that I hadn’t hallucatinated the messages into being.

PostCard Project 1

“I chose this post card as much for its clear instructions as for its wonderfully over-exposed picture of Christchurch.”

I remember now why she was always a favourite friend and why for two decades I missed her so much. Her sense of humour, generosity of spirit and encouragement, the commonality (resonated across 20 years!), her calm craziness and unparalleled view on the world. Since we’ve reconnected I’ve been promising to write, promising to find her bundle of letters and send them on. And failed on all counts.

Over Christmas I was thinking about what kooky project I could raise for purely entertainment purposes in 2014. I wanted to do something related to the post (I miss Piper’s Reach for many reasons, but receiving letters every few weeks is one of them!) I wanted to do something simple – post cards, rather than letters. And somewhere along the way Kim and I agreed to write one postcard a week for the Year of the Horse. Turns out I am not the only one with a penchant for slightly mad ideas and the ability to rope people into them!

While we’re still a few days out of the new year, the first post card from Kim arrived today. And I am so excited. Tuesday is an auspicious day to receive mail. In Year 12 it was the day Ty’s letters would arrive and I’d run down the footpath after ballroom dancing lessons to grab up his letters from the post box and devour them on my bed before being called for dinner.

Today there was tea on the verandah! But the nostalgia lingers in the best ways. Especially when so well articulated in handwriting so well known.

postcard 1.1

 

At The End, Poetry and Other Adventures in Public Reading

attheendTomorrow evening I’m doing my first public poetry reading as part of Tom Dullemond’s “At The End, Poetry” at West End’s The End Bar.

I’m reading Papier Mâché the first poem I wrote in December last year. It is a poem of creativity and longing and letting go the things that no longer serve you. Kind of timely in some ways.

The reading kicks off at 6pm. The theme cocktail of the night draws its name from Stacey’s Memories of Wonderland.

And in other reading news, I’ll be reading on the 8th February as part of the QWC’s first Whispers salon. The theme is ‘false starts’ and I’m looking forward to unveiling a little of my birthpunk world from Encursion.

Good-Bye Jude and Ella-Louise

Pipers Reach Promo PictureI’m feeling emotionally fragile this morning after last night’s final editing session with Adam on Post Marked: Piper’s Reach. Actually that’s a bit of an understatement. I’m emotionally gutted, made worse by the fact I wasn’t expecting this. Even though we finished writing the letters back in April and have read through it multiple times, been over the end multiple times, and apparently grieved it all… reading aloud the letters last night truly rendered me bereft. And grieving all over again.

#iamnotcrying

That was the hashtag we tweeted under last night. When Adam suggested it, I thought, ‘Yeah okay’. Three months had passed since we’d last been together to edit and I forgot that editing meant reading aloud. And reading aloud last night meant… reading those letters aloud: the final words of Ella-Louise and Jude to each other.

The ones wrought from the depths of their heart as the realisations surfaced about who they were, what they had done and what was left to do next. Of the two of them brokering something of a resolution and believing in future, even if it wasn’t the future they originally wanted.

When my voice began to wobble, somewhere around the final 20 page mark, I knew I was in for a long haul of tears. And I so didn’t want to be the first to cry, but I have a reputation as being a bit of a sook. It would have been all wrong, had I not cried first.

Amplification

When you write in such close creative quarters with someone, you get to know them pretty well. You get to know a little about what makes them tick, what makes them laugh, what you think will make them cry. You create characters you both love (and sometimes hate, or want to slap some sense into). You share a very intimate space.

My challenge throughout the 14 months of writing was to ‘make Adam cry’. A rather noble gesture and one I took quiet seriously. And I thought I knew how to do it. Turns out I brought him to the brink several times without pushing him over.

I was certain the end would do it.

That final letter.

And when I didn’t make Adam cry the night we exchanged those final letters back in April I was shocked. In fact, I was a little incensed. How could he NOT cry? Did he have a bloody heart of stone?

What I didn’t realise was Adam was incapable of expressing any kind of emotion such was the physical and emotional impact of that final letter. He walked around in shock for a week, trying to process the ending. And later we got to talk about just how it felt, began to pick it apart (if you’re writing partner can’t see the ending that’s coming, that’s a good thing right?) but I felt a little cheated. I had wanted to make him cry, like he had been making me cry across the three seasons.

Turns out, it’s not such a great thing to want.

It’s one thing to cry alone, another thing to cry in company.

Adam said last night, that the process of reading aloud amplified the emotion. It absolutely did. It also stripped bare our reactions to the words. I started crying for the words, but then I was crying because Adam was crying and thankfully we were separated by a State, with video cams off, which at least gave us a modicum privacy with our tears. Perhaps stopped us from dissolving completely into sobbing, hiccupping messes. Well temporarily!

We Could Be Heroes

It wasn’t like we hadn’t read it ad nauseum. It wasn’t like we didn’t know what was coming. It wasn’t like it was going to be a surprise… and yet it was. I was bowled over by just how visceral the emotions were. Of how deeply they tore through me.

I knew the exact moment we (collectively) would crack. I felt a little sick knowing those words were coming.

I tweeted: @revhappiness is going to say that heroes line and I will bawl.

Adam’s speed slowed, his voice quietened, the pauses between paragraphs and sentences lengthened, I could hear him struggling to get the words out and then came the line and there was a very long pause as we both were consumed by emotion. Neither of us were ashamed to admit we were crying.

But there was still one letter to go.

I don’t know how I read it. I was so choked up. It was like I was whispering Ella-Louise’s final words for a long way away. And then it was over.

For the last time.

There was nothing but silence. And snuffles. And more silence. Because what do you say when it is: The End?

How To Say Good-Bye

A friend told me this week that crying is being close to your soul. And last night it felt as though I lay within the souls of Ella-Louise and Jude. This morning I feel as though I’ve lost two close friends. I feel, even now, as though I could begin sobbing at any moment. While they left with each other a small part of themselves, I know they left a small part of themselves with Adam and I.

It is as though I’m up on The Point being buffered by a summer storm that blew in from nowhere, but a storm I knew in my heart was coming.

We created this montage as a tribute to the series and farewell for our readers back in June, but now the clip feels more like a eulogy; to friends well met and fairly parted.

Solidarity for Steubenville Hacktivist (In Verse)

Written in solidarity and recognition of the unjust legal backlash against hacktivist, Deric Lostutter, who was instrumental in revealing the cover up of the Steubenville High rape. Lostutter potentially faces up to ten years jail time in an adult prison if found guilty of the charges bought against him by the FBI, compared to the rapists he exposed (who received sentences of one and two years in juvenile detention). Ma’lik Richmond was released from juvenile detention on the 11th having served just nine months of a twelve month sentence.

Inspired by Political Blindspot’s article today and Sarah Mehmet’s comments that Lostutter’s only crime was challenging the status quo.

* * *
Truth danced on red shoes
until you hacked it free.
They persecuted you
for the crime of
undermining the status quo.
And from your cell
welcoming cheers went up
as the first of the shoemakers were freed.
The community closed ranks
while the girl they’d tied the red shoes to
was forgotten.
Her tears moistened your whetstone
as you sharpened your axe
and passed it on.

Birthpunk Happened Today

I started writing my birthpunk novella in 2010 as part of Fourth Fiction. It was a story that suckered everyone in and when Fourth Fiction ended, I promised to write another 12 installments to finish the story off. I wrote a few more after the official contest closed but found it impossible to regain the original momentum of the story.

And every year since then I have promised my good friend Chris Chartrand I would finish the bloody story. It’s embarrassing how many years I have been promising him this. If the idea of birthpunk and the world I’ve created to explore the ideas, hadn’t struck a chord in everyone I accidentally (or purposely) spoke about it to (including three guys who work with my partner, at the Christmas party last year!), the idea, the characters and the story would have been long ago abandoned.

IT DOESN’T SOUND LIKE THIS, OR THIS, OR FUCKING THIS EITHER

Last year I had a crack at finishing the novella, but I knew deep down the voice was all wrong. The more I worked on it the more I knew just how wrong the voice was, yet felt powerless to change it. What made it worse, I could not bridge what I was writing with what I had previously written. And yet again the novella went to ground, as a dormant idea. The idea of trying to fix it when I picked it up at the end of last year was daunting. I knew it needed a new opening.

COMING FULL CIRCLES TO START AGAIN

Nik said to me the other day: nothing is ever wasted. And that’s very true. All the crap words I wrote last year (that appeared to go no where) gave me an opportunity to understand the world better (especially the world ‘above’ the Deme and their activities) and I have a far better grasp on Sylvie’s motivations: how she came to feel and behave as she does, how she came to be where she starts and ultimately ends.

But still, there was something missing!

“So it’s like a Matthew Reilly novel with births.”

Stacey said that to me on New Years Eve and it was like a light bulb went on in my head. She’s known about this project for as long as we’ve been friends, almost as long as I’ve been writing it, but it was something in what I was saying about the frustration of the narrative pace and how it was keeping me from writing that spawned her insight.

It’s funny how a single throw away comment can bring your entire project into focus.

I’m not entirely sure I originally set out to write a dystopic-action-birth-rebellion story but it appears this is what it has evolved into over the years. Welcome to birthpunk!

NEW WORDS PENDING

With a general stylistic framework in place, I’ve spent the last nine days brainstorming a new opening. I knew the stakes had to be high for Sylvie from the beginning. So I found somewhere stupidly dangerous for a birth, in a society that has already outlawed natural birth and made everywhere outside of a hospital and scheduled Caesarean section a dangerous way and place to birth if you are caught.

With a building in mind and an idea of who might be in it birthing, I set to unravel the Amalia strata of society as I walked the puppy and stumbled onto something far more disturbing than I could ever have imagined (and my imagination is a pretty twisted place).

So where is the most dangerous place for Sylvie to be called to attend a birth? Who is the birthing woman she considers a risk to them all? I’ll leave you with this opening section (of first draft goodness!) to whet your appetite.

* * *

ENCURSION: Sylvie’s Story

A Byrthed Novella

Sylvie had never been called to this safe house. Standing on the broken curb, several feet outside the ring lock fence, she took in the building: long, low with a roof that pitched from one side, rather than the middle and appeared to be a former warehouse. It looked nothing like a safe house, but wasn’t that what made them all complicit and the perfect places to hide birthing women? Sylvie looked a block down, taking in the neighbourhood. The full moon brought definition to broken buildings, echoes of anti-Government graffiti fading on the walls. Auto corpses rotted in the centre of the street. They were deep in the heart of the city she realised, and shivered. Close to the Dead Zone. That’s what made a building this size safe for them, she told herself, but knew it was a lie. Nowhere was safe.

The Driver, a man she’d never travelled with, took one last 360-degree surveillance turn of the street and bent to pick the padlock on the gate. Sylvie noted the rolls of barbed wire at the top.

Where the hell were they breaking into?

“Security’s been taken care of inside,” Daniel whispered into her ear. He knew her thoughts well.

“Security,” she hissed. “This isn’t how we do things.”

“Things are changing,” Daniel replied and there was a hard edge to his voice Sylvie didn’t remember.

But neither of them were novices now. And Daniel was riding shotgun. She pushed from her head that of the three of them he was the expendable one if they were raided.

The gate clattered free and the three of them slipped through. The gate was left pushed to but unlocked. There wouldn’t be time on an emergency retreat to unlock it. And they always planned for the worst-case scenario.

Sylvie turned to look over her shoulder as her boots bit into the well-maintained driveway. They’d left the stolen car roughly parked over the disintegrating concrete path. From a casual glance it looked abandoned. She hesitated, looking down again toward the Dead Zone.

“C’mon,” Daniel urged. “This one has to run on the clock.”

“On the clock?”

He gave her a gentle push between her shoulders and she bit down an acid retort.

The security system was offline and they entered through an unlocked rear door moving through an industrial kitchen, deeper into the building through a hall of trestle tables set up as a dining room and then a side door into a long corridor. Doors punctuated the wall every few feet. The soft glow of the illumi-ball in the Driver’s hand cast a ghostly, green pall on the doors, and Sylvie saw every one had a number handwritten on a small white board. Further down the corridor she noticed the black, lace-up shoes left neatly to the side of each door.

“Where are we?” Sylvie asked in as loud a whisper as she dared, refusing to continue on until she got a straight answer. This birth felt wrong, pit of her stomach wrong.

“It’s not your concern,” The Driver said.

“It’s too dangerous. I want out.”

“Everything about what we do is dangerous.”

And it hit her where they were: the numbers, the sensible black shoes, the dining hall.

“We’re in an Amalia enclave.” She tightened her grip on the oxygen canister she carried and spun on her heel. “I won’t do it.”

She tried to barge past Daniel, back out the way they’d come, but he caught hold of her. His fingers and eyes bored into her. Where was the boy she’d trained with, who taught her self defence and read her snippets from a tattered book of Neruda, who she imagined herself in love with for so many years?

He sensed the shift in tension in her body and said, “Don’t. Don’t fight me.”

“You do your duty,” the Driver hissed, hauling her away from Daniel. “And once you’ve done it, you’ll understand.”

He shoved her ahead of him hard enough to assert his authority but not to hurt her. The jab of her midwife’s kit in her back kept her moving.

Under his breath, he was counting off doors. She looked ahead and knew there was no point in running. She would have to fight off him and Daniel, and while she had the oxygen bottle, they were both trained fighters. She had enough skill to use in the chaos of a raid, not in a situation like this.

And the old defeatist attitude crept in…where would she run?

“Here,” grunted The Driver. He opened the door and held it for her.

She’d run to Joseph. Find somewhere safe for him to collect her and they could go to ground early. Or he could hide her in his penthouse.

But Joseph had said he needed time. Two more weeks to ensure they could all disappear forever. It was too soon. And their Amalia…there was no way they could hide her from the wet nurse.

The fucking Amalias.

How could Maia have sent her into a nest of Government spies? Did Maia sense it was more than the anger over her mother’s death at the heart of her disenfranchisement. With her quiet rebellion against the life she was told she would live.

None of that mattered now. She was here and on the other side there was a birthing woman.

Sylvie took a deep breath and forced the stale air, the angst and anger out of her and stepped into the tiny room.

The Driver passed her the illumi-ball and Sylvie waited for her eyes to adjust

In the long, thing room a heavily pregnant woman lay on her back in the centre of a narrow iron bed, arms pulled back over her head, fingers curled through the bars of bed head. A twisted piece of material, jammed between her jaw, muffled her cries of distress.

“You came.” The ragged voice belonged to an equally ragged woman, hidden by the bulk of the birthing woman until she stood. “I think she’s close, but it’s hard to tell. None of us ever see a birth. They take the girls down into a room in the basement.”

Sylvie turned to the Driver. “I don’t understand?”

“This isn’t a halfway house,” the woman said. “This is an education centre.”

“But she’s pregnant.”

“Of course she’s pregnant,” the woman snapped. “That’s part of the schedule of education and modification. You’re a midwife. You know how lactation works.”

“Mara,” the birthing woman moaned, coming out of her trance and pulling the rag from her mouth. “Mara,” she cried.

“Shhhhh,” Mara soothed. “The midwife is here now.”

“I can’t Mara. You have to stop it. Call matron. Take me down like all the other girls. If they catch me….”

“No one’s going to catch you, my darling,” she stroked the woman’s damp hair. “Matron is asleep. Everyone’s asleep. And they won’t be waking up until you’re safely out of here.”

“This isn’t just a birth,” the Driver said, stepping back toward the door. “It’s an extraction and Maia swore you had the guts to handle it.”

The mention of her mother’s best friend and the Deme’s guiding force came as a slap in the face. Now  they trusted her to go above and beyond what she had been trained to do. Now they had given her what she wanted for years to do, a chance to actually do something. Now, when she’d already made the decision to do something for herself.

Extraction. That’s what the Driver had said. And she knew this was her last birth with the Deme. This was the precursor to her extraction. A test run for Joseph and his wife and baby.

“How long do we have?” the Driver asked.

“I can’t say.” Mara’s voice trembled then steadied. “It wasn’t an exact dosage. Six hours perhaps, eight for others. Four at the very least.” She pulled a small watch face on a chain from inside her dress. “That was two hours ago.”

“Mara, it’s coming again,” the birthing woman moaned. Mara put the rag back in the woman’s mouth, muting the scream that tore from her throat.

When the contraction passed Mara looked up at Sylvie. “Please, help my sister. You can’t let them take her baby away.”

2013: As It Was Read

IMG_3821Regular readers will know that I am a bit weird. I don’t run my writing year as per the Gregorian calendar, but instead by the Chinese calendar. For convenience sake, I’ve been using the standard year as my goal posts for reading (simply because it is easier and I am lazy!)

Despite the shit fight that was 2013, I managed to keep a comprehensive list of the books. I read 34 books (2 short of what I had been aiming for – with 3 books a month). November was pretty much a write-off for reading, as I poured 79,000 words out in four weeks for NaNo.

FAVOURITES

I’m picky with my books, so it’s often hard to pick a best of. This year, THE SHINING GIRLS by Lauren Beukes stood head and shoulders above everything else I read, both in storytelling and in writing. Filling out the rest of the top five in no particular order were:

THE WASP FACTORY Iain Banks
CLOUD ATLAS David Mitchell
WARM BODIES Isaac Marion
THE LAST BANQUET Jonathan Grimwood

Honourable mentions:

PERFECTIONS Kirstyn McDermott
PATH OF THE NIGHT Dirk Flintheart
NEUROMANCER William Gibson
WORLD WAR Z: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE ZOMBIE WAR Max Brooks

Best anthologies:

YEARS BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY V 5 ed. Bill Congreve
     – this came out before I was even writing again!
MIDNIGHT AND MOONSHINE Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter
NOT SO PERFECT Nik Perring

THE FULL LIST

Re-Reads (6)

THE GREAT GATSBY F. Scott Fitzgerald
THE RED TENT Anita Diamant
THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE Audrey Niffenegger
THE BOOK THIEF Marcus Zusak
ROIL Trent Jamieson
WHEN WE HAVE WINGS Claire Corbett

Anthologies and Collections (8)

IN FABULA DIVINO Ed. Nicole Murphy
BLOODY PARCHMENT: HIDDEN THINGS, LOST THINGS AND OTHER STORIES ed Nerine Dorman
YEARS BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY V 5 ed. Bill Congreve
THE TURNING Tim Winton (Re-read)
LIVING WITH THE DEAD Martin Livings
MIDNIGHT AND MOONSHINE Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter
NOT SO PERFECT Nik Perring
NEXT eds. Simon Petrie and Robert Porteous

New Reads (18)

CLOUD ATLAS David Mitchell
LETTERS FROM SKYE Jessica Brockmole (E)
AMERICAN GODS Neil Gaiman
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD Richard Yates
THE MACHINE WHO WAS ALSO A BOY Mike McRae & Tom Dullemond
BETWEEN TWO THORNS Emma Newman
WARM BODIES Isaac Marion
SCARE ME Richard Jay Parker
THE WASP FACTORY Iain Banks
AURORA: DARWIN Amanda Bridgeman
WORLD WAR Z: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE ZOMBIE WAR Max Brooks (E)
PERFECTIONS Kirstyn McDermott
PATH OF THE NIGHT Dirk Flintheart (E)
PIG ISLAND Mo Hayder
THE LAST BANQUET Jonathan Grimwood (E)
NEUROMANCER William Gibson
RYDERS RIDGE Charlotte Nash
THE SHINING GIRLS Lauren Beukes

Novellas (2)

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE Shirley Jackson
DARK RITE David Wood & Alan Baxter