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

RIVER OF BONES: Life is a Highway

Road trips are a way of life in Australia, so much so Triple J and ABC Open ran the Road Trip Relay last year (if you needed proof of the institutional position of the road trip in Aussie culture!)

My childhood and adolescence are liberally peppered with road trips. No one lived closed to us when we moved out of Melbourne so we were always on the road. At 14 my parents sold up everything and we spent three months traveling up the east coast pulling a 32-foot caravan. Aged 22, I left Cairns to join my boyfriend of the time and travel the wheat harvest trail from Roma in Central West Queensland all the way down to Padthaway in South Australia (I saw lots of the country side at 25km an hour from the passenger seat of a combine harvester). The road trip is something I’m well acquainted with, and for which I have a deep abiding love of (wind in your hair, stereo cranked up, wide open road ahead), but River of Bones didn’t begin as a story about a road trip. It evolved into one.

WRONG WAY, TURN BACK

From the morning I took down my dream I knew the main characters in Elyora were a band. This gave them a reason to be on the highway. Originally I had them pegged as a young, sassy Melbourne outfit making their way north to Sydney. And then I travelled the Hume highway.

Most. Soulless. Road. Ever.

So it was a double take on where they were going and who they actually were.

BRISBANE 475KM

My in-laws are scattered across the New England Tablelands in NSW. The New England highway is the direct route there and cuts straight through the townships of Tenterfield, Glenn Innes, Armidale and a multitude of tiny little places with their own stories lingering by the side of the road. (Deep Water for instance has the great falling down Eclipse Theatre, the exterior a faded, peeling blue).

When the Hume Highway failed to inspire I knew the New England was a perfect fit. There are a plethora of little roads coming off it, unlike the Hume which is all big off ramps. Not to mention I knew the New England highway well and could immediately envisage Faunabate traveling down it.

2013-05-21 12.50.11Armidale was a starting point. It has a Uni, a social melting pot perfect for an emerging indie band but it was too close to where I wanted the band to turn off the highway (all spawned by Jo wanting to devour a meat pie at the Glenn Innes bakery to stick it to vegan Benny in her passive aggressive assault on him, which was cut in subsequent drafts but the location markers remained!)

I took the starting point further west to Tamworth and decided that Hal and Jo would be from one of the tiny towns along there (Jo from Nundle and Hal from Woolomin). In doing so I realised the band was more than just a creative outlet for Jo. It was her escape pass from the country. And I had underpinnings of what was to play out later in the narrative – the irony of claustrophobia in a vast landscape.

IMG_2240The additional benefit of Hal and Jo as country kids was the impact of their reaction to Elyora. They are both well versed with rural economic degradation and isolation, of being in parts of the country where there is no phone service, so their entry into Elyora is not simply city meets country culture shock, but a deep sense of something being intrinsically wrong there.

I KNOW WHERE ELYORA IS

This is what Dave casually said to me on our trip to Gloucester in January and there was an immediate shiver down my back.

Although I see Elyora Road and all the buildings along that decrepit strip of tarmac as clearly as any of the other almost dead country towns I’ve been to… I’ve never believed it’s real. That’s just crazy talk.

“What are you talking about?”

“I know where Elyora is,” he repeated.

“It’s not a real place.”

“I know. But I know where it would be. Want to go there?”

Did I really want to turn off the New England highway in search of a proposed version of Elyora? Surely one learns lessons from their writing? Surely. Especially when one has also watched The Cars That Ate Paris.

Curiosity killed the cat…IMG_2339We stopped in Ben Lomond on the way back to Brisbane, when I’d got my head around tempting fate. I felt more than a faint tremor of filthy anticipation in the pit of my stomach as we drove down Ben Lomond road. The only thing that stopped me from freaking totally was the fact I videoed the whole thing, you know, in case I ever needed a book trailer.

ALMOST BUT…

No town is every going to look exactly like Elyora… it is a mash up of elements from all the tiny country towns I’ve ever been to, but there was one house there that gave me the absolute willies.

IMG_2341The town also has three churches. One of them totally cordoned off so you could only peep at it from the road.

IMG_2356One with weeping angels in the graveyard.

IMG_2361I’m glad we visited without incident but now, every time we drive past I get the icky feeling on the back of my neck that perhaps Elyora does lie down the Ben Lomond Road. Lord forbid I ever hear stray strains of The Andrews Sisters as we drive past.

2013-01-06 13.05.30AND ACROSS THE DITCH

It wasn’t just the aspects of rural NSW that shaped the characters and narrative in River of Bones. Tomorrow I’ll talk about how finding the perfect monster fed and expanded additional locations central to the novella.

We’ve all been to ‘one of those towns’… where the twang of banjos claw at the back of our brains. Where is your Elyora?


Thank you to everyone who has Tweeted, Facebooked, downloaded and talked to others about River of Bones. As this goes to press the novella is #6 on the free US charts under the horror sub-genre of the occult and #9 in the UK free horror charts.

RIVER OF BONES: Dream a Little Dream

River_of_Bones2RIVER OF BONES, my supernatural thriller, is free for the rest of the week. You can pick up your copy at Amazon UK or Amazon USA (best for Aussie readers). To coincide with the giveaway I’ve lined up a series of blog posts to take the reader behind the creepy exterior.

IT BEGINS…

…in 2011, in a chalet in the middle of nowhere–a place four hours west of Brisbane called the Bunya Mountains. Amid the towering ancient Bunya Pines, and cold, howling winds, I tried to reconnect with my writing via Natalie Goldberg’s WILD MIND. While my Mr Ds were off exploring I’d spend an hour reading and work my way through the writing prompt for the day, scribbling with mad abandon in a tattered red exercise book.

In the earliest pages are two dreams: the first about an overburdened lint filter (looking back it’s the perfect metaphor for how I was feeling at the time!); the second, an epic dream in technicolour, twisted and distorted as all good dreams are. I remember waking from it knowing there was more than a kernel of a story idea.

TO DREAM, TO WRITE

21st of August, 2011

Last night I dreamed about a place–with dilapidated houses. The fist one had a grand driveway and stone pillars which would have once held an impressive gate. When you looked up the hill there was nothing. You expected to see a grand old house–in good repair or falling apart–but there was nothing of the sort. At the top a neat chalet with the lights on.

Further on there were tumble down houses, over grown yards. One house was three storeys high at one end, two at the other, white weatherboard, ugly, ostentatious in the fact someone felt the need to build a third level to an extremely ordinary and ugly house.

There were men living in the town and a ramshackle service station–the old sort with a shed like store and two pumps out the front. In the drive way there was a hippie stand of food, festive flights festooning the drab surrounding giving it all a surreal look.

Walking up to the hippie food stand there were large goodie-balls rolled in coconut. I wanted to buy one but the stall holder told me they were specifically for the IT people who were coming (a hang over from finishing Snow Crash yesterday?)

In the forest there was a water hole fed by a creek and in the water hole were mermaids who lured men it to swim with them. When they did they were caught forever to live in the tiny town. There was one woman and one child–a merchild. She was forced to give up her tail to raise her child on land.

(Realised my people travelling through are musos–in an old town that breaks down. My MC is the only other woman in the town–the male band members lured there. The town of Elyora is not even on the map. The woman with the child had the name Elyora–decided it made a funky, weird sounding name. The sort you’d find in the middle of nowhere–travelling between two towns).

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

I unearthed the old exercise book several weeks ago. I was amazed at how much of the dream I recorded and how much of the original dream made it into RIVER OF BONES/ELYORA (anyone who has read it, will pick up the crossovers immediately). What I had forgotten were the strings of festive lights, the hippies, the goodie balls and the IT folk. Though I’m certain the wait for the IT people to arrive is probably the foundation for the Government facility on the other side of the river. Ironically anything that may have had a hint of lightness/happiness was exorcised. Well, I did set out specifically to write horror!

I’d also somehow forgotten, in the search for the perfect monster, that I’d started off with mermaids and a female mermaid forced from the river to care for her baby on land. That shocked me (how fragile the memory is!) The boy child laid unconscious foundations for  Gus and the mother’s ‘enslavement’ (being forced from the river to raise the boy) the forerunner of what waited for Jo on the other side of her fever in the Elyora homestead. Funny how things lurk even if they’ve been jettisoned from the conscious part of the brain.

INDEBTED

It’s so rare for me to keep any kind of record of what I’m writing. I’m so grateful for the hand scrawled dream and the record of the earliest word counts on the original draft. Writing on the original draft ended on 1st September with 5953 words.

With the birthpunk novellas I’m mindful of keeping some kind of recollections of the journey. Whether they’ll inform anything in the future other than my own keepsake, remains to be seen.

Do you keep a record of what you are writing? What inspired/shaped it? Do dreams inspire or inform your writing?


Download your free copy of the Aurealis shortlisted RIVER OF BONES (Elyora) now at Amazon UK or Amazon USA. For those who read the novella in it’s first incarnation as ELYORA, the new opening expands the characters of Mrs Briggs and Stanley Blessing in a stand alone piece of flash fiction.

River of Bones Released

It’s publication day for RIVER of BONES (aka ELYORA). It’s available now on Kindle UK and Kindle USA, published by Endeavour Press in the UK.

It’s October 1974 and all is not well in the town of Elyora. First the clocks stop. And men in shiny suits turn up offering payment for the inconvenience. Then the phone lines stop working. And finally, the power goes out. The trouble is, no one comes to explain that.

River_of_Bones2Fast forward to December 2012. Jo, Benny and Hal, members of the band Faunabate, have no idea what they’re in for when their car suddenly breaks down on the way to their first gig.

Their nearest town? Elyora. Upon arrival it quickly becomes clear that this is not your normal town. Why are all the magazines dated at 1974? Why have all of their clocks stopped? And where exactly have all the people gone?

There are some towns you don’t ever want to visit. And Elyora is one of them.  Because not everyone gets out alive…

Spawned from a dream about a creepy house and river in August 2010 and based in countless road trips along the New England highway, the original novella entitled ELYORA was originally written during the high octane vibe of the June Rabbit Hole, fueled by a Yacht Club DJ’s mix tape and deftly shaped by my crit partner Dan Powell and emerging editor Lesley Halm for publication in a special December edition of Review of Australian Fiction.

RIVER OF BONES has a brand new opening (for old readers – the characters of Mrs Briggs and Mike are revisited) but it remains the twisted road trip that takes the reader beyond the city to the country, beyond mobile service to an isolation that threatens personal autonomy. To a place where we confront the demons we create in order to save ourselves.

Add RIVER OF BONES to your Goodreads shelf.

Welcome, the Serpent!

serpentpendant

Ox starts a new lucky life cycle in 2013. Finally your hard work is rewarded. ~ Susan Levitt

I wrote a few weeks ago how it was hard to let go of the Year of the Dragon and here I find myself almost a month into the new year hanging back on the welcome. Well here goes, welcome year of the water serpent!

Like the dragon, the serpent is not demonised in eastern traditions. The serpent is a goddess, heroine and healer in the ancient myths of China. The year of the Serpent is a powerful year for rebirth and transformation in all areas of life. I’m an Ox and the Serpent Year comes with auspicious tidings, melding effortlessly with what is set for the Sagittarius, Aries and Virgo triad in my chart.

Consolidate

My theme for this year is: consolidate.

A quick flick through the dictionary turns up the following definitions:

  • to strengthen, solidify
  • bring together separate parts into a single unified form
  • to discard unused or unwanted items and organise the remaining

This year I’m setting aside business to concentrate on writing*. It’s time! The conversations I had in the lead up to the making this decision, and several things I’ve read since, all point to this being the right time (especially to bite the bullet and develop my idea for the sub-genre of birthpunk) to do so.

It’s the year to bring together all the skills, experience, lessons and connections I’ve made in the last five year and put them to work for me. Time to shed one skin and grow a new one.

Breaking Down Consolidation, The Year Ahead

Last year I just wanted to fall in love with writing. This year I want my writing to:

  • continue to push boundaries
  • reach a larger audience and,
  • begin to reap financial rewards for the creative investments.

It’s where the early blush of romance gives way to the practicalities of sharing your life with someone, for life! Where you take stock of your individuals lives and see what needs to be done to bring those two lives together in a permanent way.

With this in mind I’m focusing on these key projects/areas:

  • complete Post Marked: Piper’s Reach and do what is required to sub it to a publisher
  • repackage ELYORA for submission to a new publisher, as well as develop a feature-length script for it.
  • write the first draft of six interlocking #birthpunk novellas (aprox 180,000 words)
  • write at least one short story a month (with a view to overseas submission)
  • make one pro sale
  • strengthen and extend my network (including keeping in regular contact with my close writing colleagues)

In addition to writing I have con and festival panels in April (IronFest and NatCon), I’m presenting an editing and critiquing IQ seminar in May, am listed as a mentor with the QWC and have a podcast with Devin Watson in the works.

The Year of the Serpent is a slower paced year and I can already feel it. The list of things I’m setting out to do may seem huge, but in comparison to other years, it feels rather short! There is less pressure, I’m not working for others, I’m working for myself.

I’m shedding the skin that helped to nurture and develop many new writers and launch and grow a publishing house. This new writerly skin feels a tight, but I’ll suck in my stomach and not fling my arms around too much…until it feels and moves like a second skin.

What skin are you willing to shed this year, so a new one may grow?

* eP will go into moth balls for between six and twelve months to undergo it’s own metamorphosis. More on the eP website shortly about this

The Next Big Thing: ELYORA

The front cover that accompanied Dan's beta reading copy.

The front cover that accompanied Dan’s beta reading copy.

Jo Anderton tagged me last week on The Next Big Thing meme. So without further ado…

What is the working title of your next book?

My upcoming novella is called ELYORA. It is the name it was first born as a short story under and will go to print as.

Where did the idea come from for the novella?

It began with a dream in August last year while we were on holidays in the Bunya Mountains. The dream included a woman called Eylora, a very weird house and a malevolent river. I twisted the woman’s name, and christened the town, central to the novella, Elyora.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s definitely horror, with a smattering of mystery and erotica thrown in for good measure.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I’d be asking my readers this once the novella is released. I’m not a visual person. I have no idea.

Having said that, I did vaguely model the character of Benny on Angus Stone, the musician. It’d be a nice touch of irony to have Angus play Benny in a film adaptation!

And speaking of movies, it is my plan to write a screenplay for ELYORA next year.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Revenge is timeless.

To find her missing band members and make it out of Elyora, Jo must remember who she is and how she came to be there, before they are all sung down to the river.

Will your novella be self-published or represented by an agency?

ELYORA is set for electronic publication in a few short weeks via The Review of Australian Fiction. The novella will be one part of the special Rabbit Hole edition and will be a free download. No reason not to download and enjoy it!

I’m still debating as to whether I submit it elsewhere for print publication or self publish the paperback.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft of ELYORA was never completed. Pressed by a tight deadline, I began the second draft revisions without an ending, in a hope that I’d have worked out how the narrative played out by the time I reached there on the second pass over.

That said, the first 5000 words were disgorged in less than three hours when I came home from holidays. Then it sat. And sat. I took it from 5000 to 19000 words across the Saturday afternoon and Sunday of The Rabbit Hole, then added another 5,000 words to bring me to the point where I wasn’t sure what happened next.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m not sure I can compare it. I’m only a recent convert to the horror genre, and I read mainly short stories. Reading Kirstyn McDermott’s Madigan Mine definitely had an influence on the way in which I rewrote Jo’s internal dialogue, though we deal with the issue of possession in very different ways.

My beta reader Dan Powell said the original draft had a creeping unease reminiscent of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, but as I have yet to read it, I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to compare ELYORA to it (especially as Dan tells me the set up is vastly different to mine).

My partner, Dave, maintains it all sounds like The Cars That Ate Paris, from what I’ve told him of it. Again, I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t say. They’re both horror, have cars and based in small country towns!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I said earlier, it was intended to be a short story but at 5,000 words I knew it was never going to be contained to even a long short story. When it was announced on the Saturday of The Rabbit Hole (June) that Review of Australian Fiction were interested in looking at any stories or novellas that came out of the three-day event in June I threw everything else aside and launched back into the world of Elyora.

New layers of ideas grew and melded to the existing narrative on each successive revision (of which there were far too many for the nutty deadlines I’ve been working under).

For example, I specified Ethan’s wife nationality as German on the 3rd rewrite, when I finally came across a folk tale and a monster that fit with the scenario I’d created. That in turned influenced what I named her (Eleanor). The German nationality also became a boon for the underlying premise of the story: ‘just what monster are you creating today’.

I have to give a tip of the hat to the 20-odd people who constituted The Elyora Brains Trust on Facebook. The Brains Trust gave the story Hal’s tattoo (and the accompanying story), the dashboard ornaments, the German terms of endearment and a bunch of encouragement at a time when I was flailing. My Dad helped me out with information on cars, clocks, fuel pumps and petroleum companies. My friend Susan gave me Fauna Bate as a band name when we were talking about it at school one afternoon. Last but not least, another friend, Kerryn, sent me a text message after a movie night we’d all had together saying: what if XYZ happened in your story… and gave me the ending I’d been looking for (but it meant a major rearrangement of the timeline).

What else about the novella might pique the reader’s interest?

ELYORA is set just off the New England Highway—between Armidale and Glenn Innes in New South Wales (the same road we take several times a year to visit my in-laws). If you’re travelling that way this Christmas period, or you know that road well, I dare you to look for the turn off to Elyora! You might want to think twice about taking it though.

UPDATE: ELYORA was released on the 21st December and is available now at Bookish–for free!

My blog feels like the place memes come to die. The idea is to tag five further people, but I am tagging just one (a combination to the age of the meme, the mess the last month has been for me–contributing to a lack of organisation and the time of year!)

Over to you S.G. Larner!

ELYORA Accepted For Publication

The  cover created for the eBook  version sent to Dan.

The hard yards are paying off with writing this year.

The first weekend in June I busted out 21,000 words across a weekend for The Rabbit Hole. I know lots of people poo-poo events such as it (and NaNoWriMo) as “novelty events” with no discernible benefit, but I beg to differ.

Last night I got word my novella, Elyora, written during The Rabbit Hole, will be published in Review of Australian Fiction‘s special December Edition Down the Rabbit Hole.

I’m ecstatic.It’s the first longer piece I’ve attempted and completed as an adult. It’s also the first at the novella length and my debut outing writing horror. And well, there’s the great honour of being considered publishable by RAF.

When indie-rock band, Fauna Bate, break down on their way to Brisbane they seek help in Elyora, a derelict town scrubbed off the map by the Government and populated by locals suffering a disturbing kind of amnesia. When the schism between band members widens and the repeating history of the town encroaches, Jo must remember who she is and find her fellow band members before they are all sung down to the river. ELYORA BLURB

There’s still much work to be done. While the story in itself is tight, the writing in place is appalling. Not even 40+ hours slaving over it in the week leading up to the deadline, could iron out all the bad writing, spelling and grammatical mistakes. A two month break from it will put me in good stead to review and rework it. I’m itching to get back among Elyora’s characters and landscape. I’m also looking forward to sitting on the author side of author-editor relationship. It will be a welcomed sea change to the last five years.

Many thanks to the folk on Facebook who became the Elyora Brains Trust in late July, providing me with rich details I could never have dreamed up in a million years; to Susan who named the band and sparked what became the brains trust; Adam who cheered from the sidelines; Dan who made it the best work possible; my Dad who provided details and dates for cars, petrol bowsers and clocks; my oldest mate Ty who joined the party with a volley of insightful questions; John Banbury on Flickr who provided me with up close photos of petrol bowsers; Laura and Alan, who offered an Evil Plan B should the original publishing options not work my way; and my Mr Ds who allowed me to slink off into my cave for a week.

More proof in this day an age that an author benefits from not existing as an island.

As this goes live, the younger Mr D is wandering around the house after the older Mr D giving him a break down of  ELYORA (told him it’s about what happens when you bully and ostracize people) ie. the watered down, appropriate for an eight-year-old version, but still mentions the body in the garage. I need to get him on the PR bandwagon.