Official Release of Frontier Resistance Paperback – Swancon 40

On Thursday I’m hopping on an aeroplane and heading off to Perth. I’m lucky enough to be going to Swancon – Perth’s Science Fiction convention. It’s the fortieth anniversary of Swancon, and this year it’s the Natcon – or National Convention.

At Swancon, on Saturday afternoon at 3pm, Frontier Resistance will be launched in paperback format by Hague Publishing. Resistance was launched in eBook format last year in October, and the first book in the Frontier series, Frontier Incursion, became a paperback last March. I believe there will be yummy bickies at the launch :)

I’ll also be participating in several panels throughout the convention. Here’s my program:

Friday: 10:00 – 11:00 Christopher vs Collins: Dystopias Past and Present – with Sue Ackerman, Tsana Dolichva and Cat Sparks

Saturday: 15:00 – 15:30 Launch of Frontier Resistance – with Andrew Harvey (Hague Publishing)

Saturday: 16:00 – 17:00 From Asimov to Zelazney: Upholding the Classics – with Sally Beasley, Stephen Dedman, Gina Goddard, Anna Hepworth

Sunday: 14:00 – 15:00 (Overused) Fan-Fiction Tropes – with Belinda Forbes, Desiree Heald, Candice Schilder

Sunday: 15:00 – 16:00 Spec Fic Writing – Science Portrayal in Fiction – with Prk, Amanda Bridgeman, Tsana Dolichva, Donna Maree Hanson, John Scalzi, Helen Stubbs

It’s an exciting list of things to chat about, and I’ll be some of the panels contain people whose writing skills and body of work are super-impressive. Apart from that, I’m looking forward to attending lots of panels, chatting to people, and hopefully I’ll catch up with some of the people I met at Continuum X last year.

If you’re there, please come on over and have a chatT

Fine Lines, Freedom and Responsibility

I’ve been attending sessions at the Newcastle Writers Festival all weekend. I purchased tickets to a number of sessions, and had a great time. Garth Nix reaffirmed for me that you don’t necessarily have to outline your stories to write a good one. I generally know where I’m starting, know where I’m finishing, and a few things that need to happen along the way. Then I start writing – with all of that sitting in my head.

I heard some great short stories from the inaugural Novascapes anthology – a Hunter Region speculative fiction anthology. I read a small excerpt from one of my works in progress, at the WIP session, and had a great time listening to stories from  ABC Open.

I also attended a couple of extremely thought provoking sessions – one of Australia’s attitude towards asylum seekers, and finished off the festival with a panel discussion about the fine lines between hate speech and free speech.

That got me thinking again. I spend a fair amount of time on the internet. I tweet intermittently, Facebook, read, comment and campaign – usually about feminist or health issues. I like to think that I have a social conscience and opinions that are valid.

I was thinking about a number of things, but particularly about accountability. When people are online, rather than face to face, it can be almost as if they change their personas, and spew forth things they’d otherwise not say. I often see thoughtless posts or comments, dashed off without consideration for the feelings of others. I see ‘likes’ and ‘shares,’ retweets and re-blogs, often only partially read, and sometimes even completely misunderstood.

Of course there are wonderful things shared, appreciated and commented upon, and there are cats – many cats. None of these things are bad.

What concerns me most, is that the fine line is often crossed. By the fine line, I mean the tiny gap between valid opinion and outright bigotry. Sometimes racism is hidden behind a thin veneer of ‘concern,’ or fear mongering is used to promote financial gain.

In my own time campaigning on the internet, I’ve had my Facebook photograph stolen and attached to a page that a troll used to abuse others, including my real profile. I’ve been abused and misrepresented. That was all pretty minor compared to some of the abuse others have suffered. That kind of stuff really makes me wonder – what is it that these people are looking for? Why do they troll in such an abusive fashion?

Here in Australia, we have many rights. We can express ourselves freely, and we can believe as we wish, follow our own faith, and access information on just about anything.

But that freedom can be abused. It can be used to denigrate, demean and misinform. Often those in power – and by ‘in power’ I mean those with an audience – seem to become intoxicated by their own selves, to the extent that they believe in the validity of their own opinions, whether those opinions are founded in good information or not. Some even go past opinion, and into the realm of almost cult like behaviour, dishing out posts, blog articles and tweets to their adoring followers, who then repost, retweet and reblog, never giving much thought to the content.

With an increased profile, comes increased responsibility, in my opinion. An increased responsibility to ensure that what you say is true, helpful, and ethical. Does it mean that we should shy away from difficult topics? Or topics where disagreement abounds? Of course not, but those topics should be addressed with civility and respect. Where misinformation is touted as fact, it needs to be countered – using evidence. There’s a nice piece on The Conversation website, which talks about opinion and fact. It’s titled, ‘No, you’re not entitled to your opinion.’ It’s an excellent piece, and it should be more widely read in my opinion. (Which you are, of course, entitled to ignore!)

When I see people deliberately spread hate, or argue without reason, I wonder why. Is it bloody minded stubbornness? Or is it because they just can’t let go of something? Or is it because they’ve never looked beyond the one thought. When I see them argue furiously, but without reason, or an attempt to understand the other person’s position, ignoring all evidence that suggests their stance has issues, I wonder whether they’ve ever learnt to think.

I suppose that I’m arguing myself into a corner here a bit, but my comments really come down to one simple thing. We can choose to behave with respect and responsibility, or we can choose not to. We can play nice, or we can play selfishly, as if the internet sandpit belongs only to ourselves and our opinions. We can choose to hide behind facades, or we can be who we actually are. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, but we can choose to conduct our discussions with integrity and thoughtfulness. Those discussions can be robust, but they don’t have to be abusive.

Time to hop off the soapbox.

I also

Terry Pratchett

If you’ve been living under a rock, you might have missed the announcement that one of the world’s most loved authors passed away last week. I was never going to do a post like this – probably like many others – but here I am, reflecting on the life and work of Terry Pratchett.

I began to read his stories when I was a university student in the mid eighties. Over the years I read more and more of them, and then I re-read them again and again. When I’m in need of a ‘comfort read’ it’s always a Pratchett book that I turn to.

His characters became old friends, and the Discworld a place to escape to for an hour or two’s vacation. As any reader of Pratchett knows, despite the humour in every book, there’s always a deeper message, along with some astute social commentary. Little pearls of wisdom were dispensed in every book, and each story made me look a little deeper at both myself and also the society in which I live.

Stories of tourists, wizardry, ‘headology’ and law vie with trolls, dwarves and goblins when you enter the Discworld. Themes from Shakespeare, Phantom of the Opera and the roots of multiple mythologies rub shoulders with crime fighting and racism and good old whodunnits.

I’ve met many favourite characters along the way. Vimes has always been one of my favourites. His stories often explored the darker side of the human character, and his internal wrestles highlighted the choices we all choose to make along the way. Granny Weatherwax’s character was similar in many ways, but she brought a different perspective to the way things were and can be perceived.

I know many people believe Going Postal and Making Money were the peak of Pratchett’s writing, but for me, the sheer scope of the moral and ethical issues that he covered in his Watch and Witch books are almost without compare. Even when Vimes or Granny Weatherwax made cameo appearances in other books, they were never less than memorable.

Much has been written about Death. In many ways he was anthropomorphised, but I always like to think of Death as anthropomorphising himself. I think that perhaps we saw more of Terry Pratchett the man, in his books about Death. There always appeared to be an element of self exploration when he wrote about Death, or even about Susan. I may be reading too much into this, however many of his later books featured Death, even if only momentarily or only in a thematic manner. We saw Tiffany Aching learning to shepherd people through the door, Vimes come close to death, and Cohen and his barbarians having one last fling.

Over the years, I’ve had the great pleasure of introducing my father, our kids, and various friends to the wonderful works of Terry Pratchett. I’ve enjoyed their giggles, snickers and comments as they’ve read his stories, and I’m sad that their creator has now left this earth.

I have no doubt though, that the works of Terry Pratchett will continue to be read with great joy for many, many years. He’s left a wonderful legacy of thoughtful, clever writing, despite living with what he referred to as the ‘embuggerance’ over the last few years.

His Twitter account announced his departure in the most fitting way possible. Wander on over and read those words, shed a tear or two perhaps, and celebrate his life by reading his books.

New Magazine

I’ve just spent about two hours trying to embed a link so that a magazine will show up on my blog.

Have you ever had a moment when you do the thing last that you should have done first? After fiddling with the html, copying, pasting, downloading embedding tools, shaking my head, threatening to disown my computer and grumbling in frustration, I finally used the search tool with the right word.

Then I discovered that what I was trying to embed was not supported by wordpress…

So, click the link below, and it’ll take you to the Authors Cave Science Fiction eZine.

Gosh, that was easy….AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!

Authors Cave eZine

Ups and Downs and All Kinds of Stuff

My blog feels a bit neglected at the moment, so my apologies for not updating for a couple of weeks. I usually post every Sunday night. Over the last few weeks our family has been rather busy. We’ve had the kids go back to Uni, my sister visit from the UK, Dad had an angiogram and Mum’s just had spinal surgery. The road between the Upper Hunter and Newcastle has been well used. We seem to have been driving here there and everywhere.

I’ve been flat out writing several things at once, and editing another, and trying very hard to make sure that I finally make up my mind about which one of the three things I really want to write that I’ll concentrate on.

I’m currently vacillating between ‘Disease in Space with Conspiracies,’ Slipping Bra Straps and Alien Invasions,’ and ‘Teen Girl Who Survives a Disaster When the Underworld Invades Australia.’ Every now and then I also contemplate ‘Talking Wombat on the Foot of the Bed.’ Can you tell that titles are a secondary consideration at this point? I have quite a lot of two of them written, and both the other two have first chapters because I wanted to play around with the characters and see whether I really like them.

The problem is, I really like them all. As normal, I’ve been running the early drafts of all of them past our daughter, and she tells me she’s leaning towards Disease in Space. I value her input as a reader, because that’s what she is – a voracious reader.

I’m also currently involved in the Freshly Squeezed Reads C1 Blitz, where writers submit the first chapter of their manuscript for critique. The earlybird first chapters went out to a panel of young adult readers recently and they critiqued them as part of the Digital Writers Festival. You can find their (very candid) thoughts here. It’s well worth spending the two hours listening to what they really thought about the strengths and weakness of the first chapters. They were articulate, thoughtful and generally blunt.

In other news, I received an email last week to say that one of my short stories has been accepted for an anthology. I’m really pleased about that. It’s a story that I’ve worked and reworked over a fair few years. Once all the bits and pieces are finalised, I’ll put up all the details.

Next week I plan to get back to less rambling and more focused writing – hopefully life will slow down a bit. It might.

Beginnings Are a Delicate Time (Or how to make sure your first chapter doesn’t crash and burn.)

There’s a quote from Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ that seems appropriate right now. “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”

If you’ve ever written a novel, you’ll know that the first chapter is something to agonise over – to get right. Some months ago, I wrote a post about getting the first page of the first chapter right – and if you’ve read it, you’ll know that I learnt about it the hard way.

In many ways, I’ve learnt about the whole of the first chapter the hard way as well, and I’m writing this in the hope that you won’t have to.

The first chapter is a huge part of your story. After the blurb/cover/title gets a prospective reader to take a look at your book, the first chapter is the make or break moment that keeps the reader from putting the story down and never experiencing the full greatness of your fabulous creation.

So, to the important points.

  1. A Killer First Line: It has to drag the reader into the whole first paragraph, and then onto the rest of the first chapter. Make it memorable. Make it not a cliche.
  2. Make it gripping: A Character Who Isn’t Going To Be a Minor Role: If you’re going to a lot of effort to drag the reader into the story, don’t make them love a character who isn’t going to hang around or be the focus of the story. If you do, you’ll probably find the reader discarding your book about the time they realise that the character they’ve come to love isn’t important.
  3. Much Showing: If you’re not sure what the difference is between showing and telling, stop right now and find out. Head off here and have a quick read. Make sure your reader is swept up in what your character is doing, and not reading a list of what they’ve had for dinner, or how many buttons their shirt has. (Unless of course they’re magic buttons, and the loss of one is about to end the universe.)
  4. Something Has to Happen: If you’re going to show something, it needs to be something important – something with direct bearing on the rest of the story, or at least demonstrates some of your character’s crucial conflicts.
  5. Pace It Well: To keep someone reading, they have to want to know what happens next. For some people, pacing seems almost instinctive, while others have to work at it. Your first chapter sets the tone for the rest of your story. If you start out glacially slow, your reader may not last until all the action starts. If you start with an enormous blast, and then stutter in the middle of the story, your reader might give up in despair, feeling cheated. They key to good pacing is to start out as you mean to continue, providing your reader with incentive to keep flipping the pages, desperate to find out what happens.
  6. Most of All, Know Where You’re Going At the End: Your first chapter needs to go somewhere and not fizzle out vaguely. It needs to lead into the next one.

Back to the quote “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.” It is delicate sometimes, it is difficult and it’s often a balancing act, but more than anything, getting that first chapter right means the reader reads the rest of your story, gets to know your characters and is ensnared by the world you’ve created for them.

If you’d like to head on over to Freshly Squeezed Reads, you’ll find some other great posts on first chapters. While you’re there, check on the #C1Blitz competition.

Australia Day

Tomorrow is Australia Day. I always have mixed feelings about Australia Day. It commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet and the official beginning of the European Settlement in Australia. It’s our National holiday – the one when we celebrate being Australian, and all things Australian. It’s full of beach, prawns, lamb (courtesy of clever marketing by the lamb board), flags and barbecues, and lots of people having fun together.

It has other connotations however. Some of our Indigenous Australians refer to the holiday as ‘Invasion Day.’ If you’d like to read more about their reasons, this link will take you to an excellent article on the SBS site, which discusses the very real reasons that many indigenous Australians feel very differently about this day, and find it difficult to celebrate. I find myself agreeing with them, and wonder if a different day, celebrating a different beginning – Federation perhaps – might be a better option.

We are now a multicultural nation, made of people from all over our world, all living on the driest continent in the world, living under an elected government, and sharing a unique lifestyle in a wonderfully diverse country.

My mixed feelings are generated in some part by the concept of ‘Invasion Day,’ but having said that, I see nothing wrong about Australians celebrating Australia at all – as long as we do it together.

Some other bits of me struggle with the rise of overt patriotism. If you’re reading this blog from another country, you’re probably wondering what I mean. While Australians are very proud to be Australian, we have a long history of not expressing our pride by clutching our chests, waving flags or singing our National Anthem (or even knowing the words). My generation and my parent’s one have been notoriously restrained in expressing our nationalism overtly. Of course we do cheer our sporting heroes loudly, but that’s because it’s sport, and that’s a completely different kettle of fish.

We can be aggressively smug about our dangerous wildlife, our ability to cope with heat, and nearly everyone regularly observes Anzac Day with vigour and enthusiasm. We enjoy the myth of the ‘Bronzed Aussie’ and our outback heritage while living mainly in cities around the edge of our dry continent. We look upon those who don’t know all the words to ‘Khe Sanh’ and ‘You’re The Voice‘with some derision, and always sing the choruses loudly. But that’s OK, because that’s culture and not patriotism.

Patriotism happens when people place their hands over their hearts when they sing their national anthems and look upon their flags with tears in their eyes. We do sing our national anthem, but fortunately usually only the first verse, or on very special occasions we sing the third one as well. Fortunately we’ve completely ditched the second, fourth and fifth verses in the modern anthem – they’re highly embarrassing. If you really want to, you can check them out here.

I’ve watched with some embarrassment as overt patriotism has slowly grown, because although it’s OK to be passionate about sport and music, it’s weird to be passionate about being Australian, and as Australia Day approaches, nowadays some people put Australian flags up in their front yards, others attach them to their cars, and there’s an explosion of green and gold (our national colours) all over the place. That’s OK, though, I can cope with that.

In every shire there’ll be Australia Day ceremonies where a few people will become Australian citizens and awards for Citizen of the Year, Young Citizen of the Year and other such nicenesses are presented. There will usually be a special guest who speaks and we sing the anthem. (First verse only.) That’s also OK.

But sadly, along with the flags and the clothing, there’s been an increase of what I’d call ‘Ugly Patriotism.’ It’s the kind of patriotism where flags are worn around backs as their wearers stagger around drunk and abusive, yelling “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy…” or some other much nastier slogan. It echoes across our town in drunken shouts, and cars pumping bass, as they drive past flailing their flags while more drunks lean precariously out of the car windows screaming incoherently and aggressively. This is what I struggle with. The idea that being Australian is to be a drunk yobbo. The idea that to be an Australian is to celebrate an inability to speak coherently, and flourish an Australian flag in order to do so.

More and more, there’s a group of Australians who celebrate things we shouldn’t be proud of – alcohol abuse, racism, and ‘stopping the boats.’ That kind of thing makes me ashamed to be Australian, and not even slightly proud.

So tomorrow I’ll celebrate Australia Day with mixed feelings. I am proud to be Australian – proud of our resilience, our ability to stick together when things get tough, and proud of our generosity when the chips are down. I will remember our indigenous people, and think about those we have incarcerated on Manus Island, and contemplate the future, hoping that we’ll get beyond the Aussie yobbo image as something to be celebrated. (And as I press the button to publish this post, I am now resigned to be called out as Un-Australian.)

Growing Up In An Uncertain World

It seems that every time I put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) lately, there’s been another tragedy. As a result of this week’s tumultuous events in France, I’ve been reflecting on my childhood, and the fears and issues that loomed large in my mind as a teen and a pre-teen.

Being born in the mid sixties, I grew up during the cold war, and in a time when the Vietnam War was still a huge presence in the media and in politics. Although I was a child at the time, I remember thinking quite deeply about those things.

Intermittently we’d hear about left wing extremism, and the occasional terrorist attack, which in my memory seems to have been an aircraft hijacking, somewhere far, far away from Australia. We worried more about the implications of nuclear war – the possibility that the world might literally end, in a nasty, lingering, horrible way. We read post apocalyptic books, like Neville Shute’s ‘On The Beach’ or watched ‘The China Syndrome’ which just reinforced our horror of the potential for radiation poisoning.

This week, I reflected that this generation probably hasn’t worried nearly as much as mine about nuclear war. I suspect they think more about the random terror event. Whether it’s Martin Bryant in Tasmania, the Bali Bombings, 9/11, Anders Breivik, the London bombings, the Boston Marathon bomb, Martin Place or this week’s attack in France, their short lives have been peppered with the blood of innocents spilled all over the internet and the television media.

As I wrote that list, I kept thinking of yet another event to add to it. Just today I woke to the news of a ten year old suicide bomber – my mind almost refused to process the idea of someone’s precious ten year old deliberately blowing herself up for some kind of ideology. Reports suggest she didn’t know what she was carrying. We may never know. I can’t imagine either of our kids even contemplating something like that at the same age – but they have grown up in an environment of first world privilege.

My generation has seen great evil, but also great good. We saw the Berlin Wall come down in 1989 – and we saw the end of The Cold War. We’ve seen the rise of globalism, with all that’s good and bad amongst it.

This week several people have expressed their concern about travelling as event after event seems to have exploded before our eyes. My response? Don’t let it change your life. Extremism only wins if it makes people fearful enough to change their lives and avoid things they might otherwise have done.

The other side of the issue that I’ve seen on the rise is the ‘They should all be got rid of’ people. It doesn’t matter what race, faith or ethnicity the terrorists are, or what they’ve done, some people suggest that all people who profess the same religion, came from the same country, or subscribe to anything different to the speaker should be kicked out of the country or forced to change their faith.

This isn’t helpful. It’s racist, it’s hateful, and it’s vindictive. While it’s normal and appropriate to feel angry with the individual perpetrators of acts of terror, it’s not appropriate, nor is it fitting or seemly (to use somewhat archaic terms) to expand that to blameless individuals who happen to share the same ethnicity.

In my mind, we should be much better than that. Sure, there’s bad in the world, but we don’t have to multiply it by behaving badly ourselves.

It is an uncertain world, but it’s a world that still has much to celebrate. We can celebrate the human spirit triumphing over adversity and look to making the future a better place. By doing that, we don’t bow to fear, or surrender to hatred.

Fires, Fires, and More Fires

It’s that time of year again. When the northern hemisphere snuggles into winter clothes and lights their fires to keep warm, here in Australia we begin putting them out. It’s bushfire season. As I write, there have been dreadful fires in South Australia and Victoria, and I’ve been watching my sister-in-law’s Facebook feed about a fire near her house in Western Australia.

We live in the Upper Hunter NSW, and at this point in time we have no fire issues at all. It’s hot, though. This week’s forecast goes: 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 37. (For all of you who haven’t quite made it into metric or celsius, that’s a range from 91 degrees to 100.4 degrees.)

Fire is a fact of life in Australia. I grew up in a semi rural area in the Hills on the outskirts of Perth. Summer was a combination of melting bitumen and smoke on the wind. In Spring, as soon as it was dry enough, we burnt off. Burning off was part of the normal preparation for summer. We’d pick an appropriate day, when the weather was suitable to make sure that the boundaries of our property were well burnt, so that any approaching fire would be stopped at the boundary.

Around the house was tidied up, and we made sure that there was very limited fuel available for any ember attacks. When new people moved in, all the neighbours made sure they knew how to burn off, and usually helped them the first year. The local vollies (volunteer fire fighters) began doing controlled burns in spring as well, preparing the area for summer.

Even with all of that, the hill opposite our house would burn every few years, and my sister and I would watch the glowing hillside for half the night, knowing that our Dad was guiding the firies up the tracks to access the area. When I was slightly older, my brother and I ran huge bins of water through the bush to refill the mobile backpacks. We were very fit in those days.

When I moved north into the Pilbara in my early twenties, one of the first things i did was to join the local volunteer brigade. I became a firefighter. I was fortunate to meet my husband in that fire brigade. (That might be a good subject for another post.) We fought fires for years – house fires, vehicle fires, and scrub and bushfires. We chased firebugs and dodged wind shifts. We learnt how to back burn using a drip torch in two parallel lines, and spent hours with fire rakes.

And over all of it, there was the smell of smoke and ash, the glowering plumes of smoke, and the red glow on the horizon. That red glow is almost indescribable. No matter the hour, when there’s enough smoke, the sky darkens to an ominous tint, and the horizon glows. Spiralling smoke and plumes of ash drift on the wind and the air is laden with the smell of burning eucalyptus or spinifex.

A bushfire smells like itself. For me, it’s one of the smells of the Australian summer, but it’s also the smell of sadness, fear, and urgency.

Years ago, I was part of a group escorting an American film crew into a National Park in the Pilbara. It was spring, and we’d had a lot of early, unseasonal rain. We were the only people in the park. The rangers decided it was an optimal time to do a few controlled burns. (Spinifex burns even when it’s green.)

We were in a campground on one side of a gorge, and the controlled burn was a fair way away on the other side of the gorge. There was a lot of smoke. The producer took me aside and and said, “If it gets closer, we’ll have to run for it!” We were camped at that point in the middle of a red dirt camping area about two hundred metres across. There were a few trees and a lot of dirt and rock. There was no vegetation on the ground. I replied, “Well, no, we’re pretty safe here, but if it got really out of control, and the fire jumped the gorge against the wind, we’d just put the cars in the middle of the dirt and sit inside them until it went over and away.” He said, “Really?” and I replied, “Well it’s a controlled burn, and we’d be perfectly safe with that much dirt around us.” He looked at me like I was mad and said, “You Australians have a very casual attitude towards fire,” and then walked off.

It wasn’t a casual attitude, but it was an Australian attitude, and one borne of much experience. (And trust in the park rangers who were very good at controlled burns.)

Of course a controlled burn is completely different to what’s been going on in South Australia, and in the last few years during the Black Saturday Fires and the Ash Wednesday fires. Those fires have been and are dreadfully dangerous, and no-one should take them casually.

I have an app on my phone that’s called ‘Fires Near Me’ – something no Australian should be without. It tells me where the fires are, how severe they are, and what I should be doing. We’ve taught our kids what to do in a fire, and we know that leaving early when there’s a warning is essential unless you have dedicated fire fighting equipment and systems on your property.

Tonight my thoughts are with our South Australian and Victorian friends. We hope and pray that the fire situation doesn’t worsen in the next few days when the heat increases again.

The End of 2014 and the Writing Year Ahead

As I sit here, buried under the cat (The cat MUST sit on me every time I write, and because it’s hot he’s extra cuddly) typing away, I’m pondering the past year.

I’m sure nearly every blogger in the world will write a retrospective post, and to a certain extent, so am I this year. On Christmas morning I was reflecting on the contrasts so evident in our world. It’s been a tragic year for so many. Here in Australia we’ve finished the year off with a siege in Martin Place, and south-east Asia has now seen the disappearance of the third aircraft of the year.

We live such sheltered lives here in Australia. Although we have crime, just like any place in the world, compared to many other places, we’re relatively untouched by gun crime and political motivate violence, which makes events such as the Martin Place siege even more shocking.

Our population is small compared to our land mass, and our continent is the driest on earth, which means that the vast majority of our people live around the edge, and primarily in our cities. A small population makes disasters even closer to home for much of the populace. As the events unfolded in Martin Place, I was struck by how immediate the whole thing felt. Our youngest studies not far from there, and I was grateful that he was home from Uni, and not locked down on his campus.

As we were reminded of the Boxing Day Tsunami, just a couple of days ago, I thought about the Bali bombings, the MH370 disaster, the shooting down of MH17, the current missing Air Asia flight and the ongoing Ebola epidemic in Africa. It seems as if 2014 has been characterised by enormous sadness and loss. There are ongoing wars in the Middle East, and conflict in Eastern Europe. My own country has a policy on Asylum seekers that shames me deeply.

Conversely, there have been some shining moments of the goodness of humanity. The #Illridewithyou hashtag was one here in Australia, demonstrating that out of darkness can come a drawing together of the community. Shortly after, a muslim bride laid her bouquet at the floral memorial, to the spontaneous applause of onlookers. We heard stories of miraculous survival from survivors of the Boxing Day Tsunami, and were able to rejoice with them, despite the memories of sadness.

I think that perspective is something we all need to consider. While disaster can strike at any moment, the human spirit often triumphs over adversity. Our stories are full of good defeating evil, people triumphing over dreadful circumstances, and love conquering all. Humanity seems born to hope.

My personal belief system reinforces this. It tells me that out of darkness there will be light. That sadness will give way to joy, and hope is the driver behind it all.

When I write, I hope to bring joy to people. That doesn’t mean that there will be no disasters in my stories – that wouldn’t be true to life in general, and certainly wouldn’t reflect the real world in any way, shape, or form, but I love stories of triumph over adversity, despite loss and grief. My favourite stories are those that offer hope despite the darkness and despite the grief. There’s a satisfaction in reading such a story. They make you laugh, cry, seethe and rejoice, and leave you wanting to know more about the characters and their lives.

I’ve written the final part of the Frontier Trilogy now, and I’ve begun several new stories, playing with a variety of characters. I sent a couple of the early short stories away to anthologies, just to see what might happen. One I received back with the comment “This feels like the beginning of a larger story.” I wasn’t unhappy with that at all, as it was, tentatively, the beginning of another book. The other made it through a couple of rounds but didn’t quite make it into the final cut for the anthology. Again, I wasn’t unhappy. That’s submission for you – sometimes stuff gets picked up and sometimes it doesn’t, and if it was good enough to get through the first couple of cuts then I feel that it’s done well.

I’m also about 25,000 words into another story – one completely different to the Frontier Trilogy, which should be full of political intrigue and action – if I get it right. I’m experimenting with using Scrivenor to write and compile it.

The new year is beckoning. I’m looking forward to what it might bring. Who knows what might happen? It’s a whole, new, wonderful year stretching ahead, full of the best and worst that man might do. At this point, I’m choosing to focus on the best.


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