Judge’s Report for the KSP Speculative Fiction Award

Back in November, I had the pleasure of judging the annual Katharine Susannah Prichard Speculative Fiction Award. The results along with my judge’s report can be found at the KSP website, along with the results of the Short Fiction Award and The Karen W Treanor Poetry Awards.

It was great see the wide range of speculative fiction ideas presented by both new and accomplished writers. The winning stories of the Open Section were of a high standard and would require minimal polishing for publication. The Young Writer’s Section had a range of stories with varying strengths in different areas; but all tackled thought-provoking ideas. To judge these fairly, I needed to consider each entrant’s age, which ranged from eleven to twenty years. Overall, my decisions were based on stories that not only held my attention from beginning to end, but also resonated with aspects of the real word while seamlessly incorporating fantastical elements. I looked for stories that illuminated something interesting about the human condition, told from the points of view of well-rounded characters whose personalities were not based on stereotypes. More…

Congratulations to the winners and commendeds. Congratulations also to my writing buddy, Joanne Mills for her poem, Flying is Easy, which won third place in The Karen W Treanor Poetry Awards.

Review: The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke

Orbit, 2013
ISBN 978-0-356-50272-4

Glenda Larke’s years spent as an Australian living in Malaysia are often reflected in her fantasy fiction through the use of non-stereotypical settings and postcolonial themes. Her world-building is complex, distinctive and believable, while her characters’ strengths and (intentional) flaws are both admirable and pleasingly infuriating. The Lascar’s Dagger, Book One of The Forsaken Lands Trilogy continues that tradition and is easily one of Larke’s best.

Saker is a priest, scholar and spy. Handsome and quick thinking, he is courageous and driven by a strong sense of morality which, in matters of the heart, lead him along paths that a hard-hearted or perhaps wiser man would leave untrodden. His story begins with a routine spying mission which is almost ruined when he is attacked by a barefooted sailor – a Lascar from the mostly unexplored islands on the opposite side of the world. When the Lascar disappears into a nearby canal, Saker unwittingly gains possession of his dagger.

Looking over his shoulder, Saker saw the unharmed sailor one last time through the opening of the shutter. He was outside the warehouse, hanging on to a beam of the overhang. He made some sort of hand gesture just before he swung up on to the top of the roof, as agile as a squirrel.

Saker thought it was a wave of farewell, but then he saw the flash of a dagger blade flying through the air.

Not at any of the men below, but at him.

Impossibly, it spiralled through the air, its point always facing his way. It whirred noisily as it came, and the merchants below swivelled to follow its passage. Saker hurtled himself upwards on to the roof.

Something tugged at his trousers and scraped his leg. Grabbing up the rope and the coat he’d left there, he set off at a run up to the ridge of the warehouse roof.

He heard doors crash open below, followed by shouts in the streets. He didn’t stop. He was already on the roof of the neighbouring warehouse when he heard the second pistol shot, followed almost immediately by the bang of an arquebus.

He didn’t look back, but he did look down.

The wavy dagger was firmly stuck through his trousers below the knee, and his leg was stinging.

Larke_LascarsDagger_TP-300x450Saker soon learns that the dagger has a will of its own and if he does not discover its purpose, his knack for attracting trouble may well destroy him.

What follows is an entertaining and thoughtful tale of danger and discovery as Saker is sent to the royal court of Ardrone ostensibly as a spiritual advisor, but in reality as a spy. Immediately he finds himself embroiled in plots and counterplots as Lady Mathilda, a princess who longs to be king, proves herself to be both intelligent and conniving.

At the same time, Saker is blinded to the true nature of Mathilda’s dowdy yet outspoken handmaid, Sorrel Redwing. A woman with a tragic past and hidden magic, Sorrel outwardly disdains him. When the two interact, sparks fly. Saker cannot tell if she is his friend or enemy.

As always with Larke’s fiction, the setting is not simply a backdrop, but as much a player as the characters themselves. The Kingdom of Ardrone and the Regality of Lowmeer are both patriarchal societies separated not only by borders but also by their differing interpretations of religion, their divergent cultures and their leaders’ lust for power. In both regions, religion is linked to magic, while magic is an integral aspect of religion. Both are easily corrupted to support the needs of those who rule.

As a result, the novel’s conflicts and outcomes are logical developments inside the rich social tapestry woven around them. At the same time they are full of surprises that add up to a book that is difficult to put down.

Although I’d like to discuss the Lascar’s place and the post-colonial themes in this novel, I cannot do so without giving too much away. Therefore I will deal with them in my review of Book Two: The Dagger’s Path, which is due out in January 2015.

Story to be Reprinted in Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013


My story, “The Silence of Clockwork”, edited by Elizabeth Fitzgerald and originally published in the 2013 Conflux Convention Programme, has been picked up by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene for The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror Volume 4: 2013 which will be released in late November.

This is the first time I’ve had a story in one of these and I’m especially chuffed as this story is written in the same world as my steampunk fantasy novel, Heart Fire, and is told from the point of view of one of the major characters, a centuries-old shapeshifter known as Ruk. One of the problems I had when writing this story was to not give in to overloading it with backstory, while at the same time telling enough of Ruk’s past to make his actions feel logical.

It’s certainly an honour to be part of this impressive table of contents:

Lee Battersby, “Disciple of the Torrent”, Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land
• Deborah Biancotti, “All the Lost Ones”, Exotic Gothic 5 Vol I
• Trudi Canavan, “Camp Follower”, Fearsome Journeys
• Robert G. Cook, “Glasskin”, Review of Australian Fiction Vol 5 #6
• Rowena Cory Daniells, “The Ways of the Wyrding Women”, One Small Step
• Terry Dowling, “The Sleepover”, Exotic Gothic 5 Vol II
• Thoraiya Dyer, “After Hours”, Asymmetry
• Marion Halligan, “A Castle in Toorak”, Griffith Review #42
• Dmetri Kakmi, “The Boy by the Gate”, The New Gothic
• David Kernot, “Harry’s Dead Poodle”, Cover of Darkness Magazine
• Margo Lanagan, “Black Swan Event”, Griffith Review #42
• S.G. Larner, “Poppies”, Aurealis #65
• Martin Livings, “La Mort d’un Roturer”, This is How You Die
• Kirstyn McDermott, “Caution: Contains Small Parts”, Caution: Contains Small Parts
• Claire McKenna, “The Ninety Two”, Next
• C.S. McMullen, “The Nest”, Nightmare Magazine
• Juliet Marillier, “By Bone-Light “, Prickle Moon
• David Thomas Moore, “Old Souls”, The Book of the Dead
• Faith Mudge, “The Oblivion Box”, Dreaming of Djinn
• Ryan O’Neill, “Sticks and Stones”, The Great Unknown
• Angela Rega, “Almost Beautiful”, Next
• Tansy Rayner Roberts, “The Raven and Her Victory”, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe
• Nicky Rowlands, “On the Wall”, Next
Carol Ryles, “The Silence of Clockwork”, Conflux 9 Convention Programme
• Angela Slatter, “Flight”, Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales
• Anna Tambour, “Bowfin Island”, Caledonia Dreamin’
• Kaaron Warren, “Born and Bread”, Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales
• Janeen Webb, “Hell is Where the Heart is”, Next

Kisses by Clockwork Cover Revealed

Kisses by clockwork

Ticonderoga Publications have released the fabulous cover for their forthcoming anthology, Kisses by Clockwork, which includes my dark, fantasy romance, “Siri and the Chaosmaker”.

I wrote the first draft for this story in Clarion West 2008 Week 2. I have given it several revisions since, with the final edit while on holiday in France as I was taking the TVG High-speed train from Paris to Avignon. Lovely scenery, nice place to write.

Kisses by Clockwork will be launched in a few weeks at Continuum in Melbourne. Stay tuned for details.

Sale to “Kisses by Clockwork”

My steampunk/fantasy/dark romance, “Siri and The Chaos-Maker, has been accepted in Ticonderoga’s upcoming anthology, Kisses by Clockwork. I wrote the first draft for this story during Clarion West 2008 and have been tinkering with it off and on ever since. It’s set in the same world as my novel, Heart Fire, but in a different country and era.

Contributing to Kisses by Clockwork’s 105,000 words are:

  • Marilag Angway, “Smuggler’s Deal”
  • Cherith Baldry, “The Venetian Cat”
  • Gio Clairval, “The Writing Cembalo”
  • M L D Curelas, “Ironclad”
  • Ray Dean, “Practically Perfect”
  • Stephanie Gunn, “Escapement”
  • Richard Harland, “The Kiss of Reba Maul”
  • Rebecca Harwell, “Love in the Time of Clockwork Horses”
  • Faith Mudge, “Descension”
  • Nicole Murphy, “The Wild Colonial Clockwork Boy”
  • Katrina Nicholson, “Lady Presto Magnifico and the Disappearing Glass Ceiling”
  • Anthony Panegyres, “The Tic-Toc Boy of Constantinople”
  • Amanda Pillar, “A Clockwork Heart”
  • Angela Rega, “The Law of Love”
  • Carol Ryles, “Siri and the Chaos-Maker”
  • DC White, “South, to Glory”

Clockwork Kisses is scheduled to be published in April.

Many thanks to my Clarion buddies and to my novel crit group, Egoboo WA (Satima Flavell, Helen Venn, Joanna Fay, Sarah Parker, Keira McKenzie and Laura E Goodin) for critting this for me.

Pre-World Fantasy Convention 2013

This trip seemed so long in the planning, but here I am at last in Brighton UK, waiting for World Fantasy Convention 2013 to begin. I’ve registered, picked up my load of books and pamphlets, met a few people and looking out at the wet, windy weather, wishing I could bring it back with me during the Perth summer.

Getting to the con has been a month long effort. Phil and I decided to take a holiday in France and Italy, starting out in Paris:

Paris Fromagerie

Before heading down to the fabulous village of Loches, where the sights, history and food kept us busy for a full five days:


imageThen down to the Luberon:


Then sur Le pont d’Avignon


And on to Cinque Terre (Italy)


And finally Firenze:


After WFC, we’re touring south England for a few days, before heading to London until mid November.

More photos of our grand 2013 Europe tour with details can be found at Phil’s blog.

Why I Love Steampunk

nanna2This picture isn’t a dress-up. It’s my great-grandfather with my grandmother (his 13th daughter) taken sometime in the late 1890s. I adore their outfits and especially Nanna’s boots, though I wonder how much she enjoyed wearing them at the time.

For me, steampunk isn’t just about dressing up, even though I’m currently finishing off my own costume to wear at the next opportunity. For me, steampunk is also a different way of writing about the now, drawing on the past, present and future with the benefit of hindsight, foresight and a good deal of playfulness. As Eric Rabkin states in The Fantastic in Literature,

“If we know the world to which a reader escapes, we know the world from which he comes” (Princeton University Press, 1977: p.83).

In the theoretical component of my recently completed PhD, Steampunk: Imagined Histories and Technologies of Science and Fantasy, I argued that literary steampunk is not limited simply to texts representing steam-driven machinery, but also includes fantastical texts that rely on pseudo-Victorianism often set in imaginary worlds characterized by anachronism, pseudoscience, technofantasy, magic, hybridity and imagined events inspired by science fictional history as well as real history.

In my PhD’s creative component — my novel Heart Fire — I drew on common steampunk tropes such as automatons, mad science and air ships. At the same time I remained aware that, in the past decade, steampunk has gained increasing popularity as both a literary genre and an aesthetic. As a result I sought to subvert clichés by combining them with fantasy elements that are unusual to steampunk, using them to compare and contrast science with the occult, taking the stance that in Victorian times both were considered to be valid disciplines. In this respect, I do not see my work as crossing genres, but instead as imitating the Victorian worldview.

With this in mind, I combined science and fantasy in Heart Fire, posing the questions: what if the occult were real and how would a world function if magic could either enhance or destroy science-based technology? My aim was to use old clichés in unexpected ways, showing repercussions from the misuse of technology from the perspectives of both the upper and lower classes. This allowed me to follow the steampunk tradition and at the same time aim for originality through tropes that are generally seen to fall outside of what is expected within the genre.

In other words, steampunk allowed my imagination to step outside the laws of physics that dictate purely science fictional texts. In Heart Fire, I created my own laws, part real, part myth and part dream. To make them believable, I explored their repercussions from many perspectives, reinforcing them with realism, detail and the fantasy technique of internal consistency within the text.

This not only added up to a whole lot of fun, but also enabled me to create an imaginary world in which to set new books as well as a handful of short stories.

The Clarion West 2013 Write-a-thon Needs You

Are you looking for something to encourage you to get back into a regular pattern of writing over the next six weeks? Or are you thinking about pushing yourself further?

If so, then the Clarion West Write-a-thon needs you! Here, you can not only take part in the fun of setting yourself new goals, but you can also help to raise funds for one of the world’s best workshops for writers of speculative fiction. Anyone can join by simply heading over to the Write-a-thon sign-up page before June 22nd and fill in details about yourself, your writing and your goals.

Shadow the workshop from June 23 through August 2 and write, write, write! Write 15 minutes or 4 hours a day, 250 words a day, or maybe 8,000 words a week (we call that a “Swanwick”); revise a story or a chapter of your novel every week; complete a story, novella, or trilogy; submit three short stories to professional markets; or do something else completely different.
Remember to keep asking for support and donations for Clarion West from friends and family — send them online to the Write-a-thon web page you’ll create, with the personal PayPal link we’ll add for you. 

For 2013, Clarion West are hoping to sign up 300 participants—workshop alumni and instructors, and authors who’ve never attended—all sorts of people. You.

This year, my goals for the Write-a-thon are 500 words a day of new fiction. It might be on my new novel, or it might be on the novelette I’m working on. Depends on where my muse takes me. If you go to my Write-a-thon page, you’ll also find an excerpt from my novel, Heart Fire.

For me, the Clarion West Workshop not only crammed ten years worth of writing experience into a mere six weeks, but also introduced me to a bunch of people who I now consider to be life-long friends. Together, we knuckled down to the seemingly impossible task of turning out a new short story every week, as well as critiquing up to 30,000 words per night. Each morning, we’d sit down to a three-hour critiquing session, which was honest, informative, at times confronting, but ultimately worth every minute. These sessions were led by professional writers, experts in their field.

In 2008 we had Paul Park, Connie Willis, Mary Rosenblum, Cory Doctorow, Sheree M Thomas and Chuck Palahniuk.

This year it will be Elizabeth Hand, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Margo Lanagan, Samuel R Delaney and Ellen Datlow.

If not for fundraising schemes like the Write-a-thon, this amazing writing experience would not be possible.

During the last Write-a-thon I took part in, my goal was 5000 new words per week. I ended up doing 7000 per week, ie, 49,000 words in six weeks – almost half the total rewrite of the novel draft I was working on at the time. It broke the back of a seemingly impossible task and showed me that when my mind was made up, I could do it.

Clarion West Write-a- thon

Sign up before June 22nd

You’ll find an excerpt of some of the words I wrote during the 2011 Write-a-thon at my Write-a-thon page. Here you will also be able to sponsor me by PayPal. Every dollar – no matter how small – counts.

Short Story Competition Win

My short story, “The Silence of Clockwork”, picked up third prize in the Conflux 9 short story competition. I’m especially pleased about this as the story works as a prequel to my novel, Heart Fire, by showing some of the history of its male protagonist, Ruk, a bold, daring shapeshifting spirit who plots to escape the human word, but his shifterness prevents him.

Conflux 9 was held in Canberra in late April. It’s theme was steampunk (angels, junk and steam), an added bonus.

I wrote and edited the “Silence of Clockwork” at the same time as I was madly finishing my PhD, squeezing it in before bed over 5 days — the quickest 3000 word story, I’ve completed ever! It was subsequently published in the Conflux 9 Convention Programme book (page 37).

Many thanks to the Conflux 9 judges, Joanne Anderton, Jenny Blackford, Dirk Flinthart,  to Elizabeth Fitzgerald for her fine editing, and also to the convention organizers for putting on such a great convention.